Packard Bell EasyNote TS £499.99
23rd Mar 2011 | 10:00
Luxury level laptop features at a low, low price? Surprisingly, it's possible
Packard Bell EasyNote TS: Overview
It would be fair to say that we were a tad skeptical when we got our first look at the Packard Bell EasyNote TS. It's ostensibly a pretty laptop without much obviously going for it bar its shiny lid, so we were a little bit dismissive – that's the sort of stock response we reserve for anything in the sub-£500 bracket.
Perhaps – and this does take a certain degree of humility to say – we shouldn't have been so hasty. Because while it's not up to the lofty 3D standards of the Sony Vaio F Series and it doesn't have the leg-melting power of the high-end Apple MacBook Pro, the EasyNote TS is a mid-range performer at a low-end price, and absolutely the sort of laptop we'd be happy to welcome into our own homes.
And we see a lot of laptops, so that's no mean feat.
Packard Bell was kind enough to send us the Ebony Black edition, perhaps to save our blushes at carrying around a coloured laptop, and having fully inspected the daisychain pattern – which also spreads over the wrist rest on the front of the case – we'd had to rescind our earlier assumption that this is in any way 'girly', at least on black; it's an utterly unisex pattern. Honest. It's a bit Louis Vuitton, if anything.
There's a pretty nifty chiclet keyboard spread across the entirety of the EasyNote TS, with a numerical pad, which is truly unusual for a laptop. It does mean the main typing surface is pushed over to the left of the unit, although the gesture-enabled trackpad (which is slick, responsive, and has a scroll section cleverly separated from the main body by a raised area) has been moved to match, which we applaud.
Packard Bell EasyNote TS: Specifications
It's important to separate the model we're testing here from other machines that also carry the EasyNote TS name, notably the HR100, a hefty Intel Core i7 monster kicking about at the high end. T
he HR040 on test here opts for the much more reasonable Core i5-2410M, a cutting edge Sandy Bridge-class mobile processor running at 2.3GHz. This is, it's worth noting, exactly the same processor as the cheaper of the new 13-inch MacBook Pro models – which is quite the performer – and the Sony Vaio S.
Both, we'd like to note, smaller and lighter than this hulking monster of a machine, although there's something to be said for running an energy-saving CPU in a larger machine, especially considering the rate at which Intel's current generation runs. The difference between this and an i7 might be significant, but we didn't feel hard done by.
Predictably, given its price point, Packard Bell hasn't gone the whole hog and stuck a GeForce card inside the HR040; you're stuck with the (actually rather good) Intel HD Graphics 3000 chipset built in to the processor.
This pipes into a 16:9 15.6-inch LED LCD – slightly wider in form that your average 15-inch laptop screen, but absolutely perfect for watching TV or DVDs on thanks to its mainstream widescreen format.
Inside there is the usual cavalcade of mid-to-low-end features: a 500GB hard drive, certainly not an unreasonable capacity of storage, along with 4GB of DDR3 – less than the 6GB the Core i7 model goes for, but enough that you won't be noticing any significant system slowdown even at a high load.
There's a USB 3.0 port, HDMI out, a 1.3-megapixel webcam, and a DVD drive – not Blu-ray, sadly – to round things off.
Packard Bell's pack-in software is worth a mention; the full version of Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 comes bundled with every machine in the range, which is a really nice bonus, although the rest of the installed shovelware isn't worth much of a look.
The much-heralded social networking software, for which there is a specific hotkey on the keyboard, is frankly rubbish. It seems to be limited to Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and nothing else, as if they were the only social networks in existence. Which they're not.
Alongside this is a selection of ad-supported games, such as Plants vs Zombies and Bejeweled 2, and a useful backup tool.
Packard Bell EasyNote TS: Performance
The low-end EasyNote TS is isn't a rip-roaring games machine however you spin it. There's no chance of it trumping a Core i7 gaming laptop, such as the Dell XPS 15.
It's not quite an all-powerful media box either; it does the important bits, but lacks a Blu-ray drive or the 3D gimmmick of a Sony Vaio F, and its speakers, mounted above the keyboard, are a little bit weedy. But it is the most reasonably specced £500 laptop you'll find.
Let's start with the keyboard, for that's the real obvious draw when looking at the EasyNote TS open. The chiclet design is actually very effective, with little travel on the keys and a good amount of space between them.
It's not quite as consistent as the keys on the 15-inch MacBook Pro; certain areas feel a little spongier than Apple's brilliantly designed keyboard, but we can't fault it for speed or accuracy. Whether you feel you really need a number pad is a matter of taste.
The screen is sharp and vibrant, but it suffers from the common flaw of low-price panels; a general inconsistency of brightness and an optimal viewing angle that's actually shorter than the panel itself. There's no good spot; either the top of the screen is washed out, or the bottom is.
This is a shame, because Intel's HD Graphics 3000 system actually does a strong job at pushing pixels around, even if it's not quite up the the same level as the highest end of discrete GeForce or Radeon chipsets.
It's in the same silicon package as the Sandy Bridge Core i5-2410 processor, and this clearly has its advantages; performance in 3D games is pretty decent, beyond what we'd expect from internal graphics, although you'll need to keep the resolution low in newer games.
Basically this is a slickly presented machine that performs at its level, but feels a rung higher. It's not Packard Bell that's made the big muscle advancements, it's Intel; its selection of silicon steroids are really doing the trick.
The Sandy Bridge processors are a vein-popping leap ahead of everything that went before, and this particular chip runs cool, fast, and the battery lasts an impressive length of time for such a large notebook.
3DMark 03 1024 x 768: 10,669
3DMark 06 1280 x 768: 3,070
Battery life: 4hrs 48m
Packard Bell EasyNote TS: Verdict
There hasn't really been a reason to upgrade in the past few years, particularly if you can't afford the high end. But the EasyNote TS, which comes in at a resolutely mid-range price, is proof that the line between laptop levels is blurring, and the overall level rocketing up. It's fast enough, it's classily designed, it feels solid and it behaves well.
Presentation is a real strong point here. The keyboard, while very slightly inconsistent, is reminiscent of much pricier machines, such as the Apple MacBook Pro. The trackpad, with its gesture control and multi-touch capabilities, does its job admirably without getting annoying. This is a well-designed package overall; the case is glossy and classy, and the whole thing is put together well.
But out of everything, we really liked the processor. Intel's Sandy Bridge range is a true example of next-gen chip design. It's blisteringly fast, handles graphics well and, in the case of the Core i5 on offer here, it runs coolly and efficiently. Let's not beat around the bush: this is a reason to upgrade on its own. The fact that this machine doesn't cost the earth is the icing on the cake.
Nothing is perfect; no matter how much we clenched our teeth and scrunched our eyes up and wished really hard. The on-chip Intel HD Graphics 3000 didn't reach past the level of a two-generations old discrete graphics card. That's way ahead of integrated graphics chipsets of the past, but it's not quite a world-beater.
And the screen. The poor, poor, low-cost widescreen panel, with its non-existent perfect viewing angle. We just want to give it a cuddle.
This is a great machine at a great price. The Sandy Bridge processor inside is astonishing, the case is built well with an excellent full-size keyboard, and if you can forgive a few cut corners, this is an ideal non-gaming laptop.