As tablet computing takes centerstage, the prices of traditional keyboard equipped netbooks and laptops are being driven down. As of late 2010, the American drugstore chain CVS began selling a “Wireless Mobile Internet Device” or Netbook from Sylvania for only $99. This is truly a small computer. With the case closed, the Sylvania Netbook measures about 8 1/2-inches by 5 1/2-inches and about an inch tall. The screen is about 6 inches wide by 3 1/2-inches tall. Measuring diagonally from the lower left corner to the top right corner, the screen measures 7 inches. The keys are also downsized making for a tight compact keyboard. The case on my Sylvania was a girly red color and would fit well in a purse. However, men don’t carry purses.
The Sylvania 7-inch netbook has specifications that are very similar to the Android-powered Augen Genbook 74 from Kmart, but the machines are not the same. The Syvania 7-inch Netbook offers a 7-inch high resolution TFT screen with 800 x 480 pixel resolution, a 400 megahertz VIA 8505 processor, 128 megabytes of RAM, a 256 megabyte internal flash disk, 802.11 b/g wifi, an RG-45 ethernet connection, an SD card slot, stereo speakers, an earphone jack, a microphone jack, 3 USB ports, a lithium battery and an AC power adapter. With very limited internal storage, users are expected to bring an SD-card to the party for storing their files.
In the $99 space, netbooks are often based on the Linux or Android operating systems, but the Sylvania 7-inch Netbook runs on Windows CE. While it’s hip to bash Microsoft and the entire Windows line up, Windows CE offers the basics with a familiar user interface. Everyone on the planet is familiar with the Windows interface and this makes it easy to be productive on the Sylvania 7-inch Netbook. Of course, developers are flocking to Android and iPad development projects and that may limit the number of slick new applications available for Windows CE. According to the box, the Sylvania 7-inch netbook should be able to handle e-mail, web browsing, Facebook social networking, and Youtube video streaming. I was able to easily connect to my wireless home network, check my e-mail accounts with gmail, log into Facebook to see and make status updates, and view Youtube videos. Of course, on a $99 netbook, each of these functions was limited in some way.
For example, it’s easy enough to check e-mail, but typing isn’t comfortable and the inbox looks a little different. The keys offer a nice tactile response, but banging out an e-mail was a little more work than normal due to the small keyboard sized. Windows CE includes Wordpad so I was able to write and save documents easily. Logging into my wireless home network was easy, but I kind of fumbled into it and guessed where to type the password. Once I was logged in, light surfing was no problem. However, most of the websites I visited took me to their mobile versions which offered real functional limitations. Facebook would allow me to update my status, see my friends’ statuses and comment. But, the multimedia features and games were inaccessible. Youtube served up videos a little inconsistently. Most home videos of cute dogs and cats worked fine, but professional quality movie trailers and music videos were sometimes met with a “file not found” error. The volume was still a little low after I adjusted it all the way up. Nevertheless, I was able to do the basics with the Sylvania 7-inch Netbook.
With the exception of the tight keyboard, the ergonomics of the CVS Sylvania 7-inch Netbook are fairly good. The keys clack satisfactorily and the touchpad works very well making navigation easy. Like my Augen GenBook 74, the little Sylvania Netbook only weighs about 2 pounds, is less than half the size of a traditional laptop like my Acer Aspire 5515, and is very easy to carry around. Unfortunately, the power cord is a little short for carrying it far when tethered to an outlet. As an internet device, the Sylvania 7-inch Netbook boots very quickly compared to traditional computers. It took about 20 seconds to boot up and about 5 seconds to power down.
Overall, the Sylvania 7-inch Netbook has a niche at $99. People who don’t want to pay for an expensive data plan from a cellular carrier will still be able to access their e-mail from wireless hotspots. If you don’t want to commit to carrying a full-sized laptop or paying for the latest greatest tablet, the Sylvania is a nice little internet appliance for light computing duties.