BenQ Joybook Lite U101 netbook

BenQ's Joybook Lite U101 netbook is upgradeable, but isn't perfect

On the surface, BenQ's Joybook Lite U101 doesn't appear to have any features that differentiate it from all the other netbooks on the market. However out of all the netbooks we've tested, this is the easiest one to upgrade. It has easily accessible RAM and hard drive compartments, and this alone should garner interest from PC enthusiasts.

The specifications of the BenQ Joybook Lite U101 are no different to any other netbook on the market today; it has a 1.66GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, a 160GB, 5400rpm hard drive, integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics, 802.11g wireless networking (Atheros AR5007EG), 10/100 Ethernet (Realtek RTL8102E), a webcam and a built-in microphone. It comes with three USB 2.0 ports, an SD card reader, a D-Sub port, and, of course, a 10.1in screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio and a 1024x576 resolution.

The glossy screen of the BenQ Joybook Lite U101 has an LED back light and it can be easily viewed in direct sunlight. We wish it had a resolution of 1024x600 instead of 1024x576, because every vertical line counts when you are browsing Web pages and the more you can see the better.

The netbook's performance isn't groundbreaking, but it's not a sluggish unit either. It completed our iTunes MP3 encoding test in 7min 56sec, which is almost identical to the time it took the MSI Wind U100, and 27sec slower than the class-leading ASUS Eee PC SeaShell netbook. The Joybook Lite U101's performance probably would have been better in this benchmark if it was able to write data to disk a little quicker. In our tests, the hard drive (a Toshiba MK1652GSX) averaged a transfer rate of 13.94 megabytes per second, which is 7MBps slower than we were expecting.

As well as being slow, the hard drive in the Joybook Lite U101 is the loudest we have heard in a netbook. It's a 2.5in hard drive with a 5400rpm spin speed, and it is mounted at the rear of the machine near the battery compartment. It is held by two screws to the chassis and if you take out the battery and remove these screws, you can easily pull the drive out to replace it. It uses a standard SATA connection. We also noticed more vibration from the drive than we have noticed from drives in the other netbooks we have reviewed.

Next to the hard drive compartment is an empty space for a proprietary solid-state module. You can't just stick in any Serial ATA–based SSD into this space as it is only 4.3x6cm and it has a ribbon cable connection. Unfortunately, BenQ does not offer an SSD option in Australia, so this space will go to waste unless you can find a Joybook-compatible module somewhere online.

Other features that are present but not of any use at the moment are the SIM card slot and the installed HSPA modem utility. The BenQ Joybook Lite U101 does not actually have a 3G modem built into it, so you can't just insert the SIM card of your choice to gain Internet access while you are on the go (we tried it with Vodafone and Telstra data accounts just to be sure and received "No device detected" messages for both accounts). BenQ says "future expansion is in the pipeline" for this feature.

The BenQ Joybook Lite U101 feels a little flimsy, especially when opening the lid (the hinges sometimes click and generally feel a little rough). Its keyboard is a little bouncy, which detracts from the overall typing experience, and the Tab key is almost impossibly small. The Function keys are also small, but most people won't use them nearly as often as the Tab key.

Tab key issue aside, the Joybook Lite U101 is reasonably easy to type on. The keys are 16mm wide and have a 1mm gap between them. The touchpad is small but responsive, although its buttons are a little too stiff and the left- and right-click buttons are just one long piece of plastic rather than two individual buttons. This means it's hard to feel for each button.

In our battery test, the Joybook Lite U101 lasted only two hours. This is not as good as many other 10in netbooks on the market, but it is understandable considering the low 26 Watt-hour rating of its 3-cell battery.

It's the upgradeability of the BenQ Joybook Lite U101 that is it biggest selling point. There is 1GB of DDR2 memory built in to the netbook, but if you remove the bottom panel you can install 1GB in the vacant SO-DIMM slot. Memory upgrades are allowed by BenQ, but if you try and replace the hard drive, or if you open the SSD compartment, you will void the warranty. If this doesn't concern you, you can easily upgrade the storage capacity of the Joybook Lite U101, or even splurge on a 2.5in solid-state drive to make the netbook almost silent and definitely vibration free.