Vye mini-v S37B sub-notebook
The people carrier of the sub-notebook world
Review The Vye mini-v S37B is another player in the increasing number of sub-notebooks appearing on shop shelves, spurred on by the runaway success of the Asus Eee PC.
However, where the Eee is a little compact runaround, the mini-v aspires to be the seven-seater people carrier with the collapsible seats and all the bells and whistles.
The S37B's most obvious attribute is its 7in, 1024 x 600 touchscreen mounted on a swivel which allows the S37B to be turned into a tablet PC. The little laptop also includes a 120GB hard drive, compared to the 4GB of solid-state storage found in the Eee.
Vye's mini-v S37B: challenged by Vista
At first glance, the device looks a little cheap and plasticy but once you have it on your hands the build feels solid, and the swivel is well made and should withstand some punishment.
Although the S37B is more powerful than the Eee PC 701, like most people carriers it's a little underpowered for the job it's trying to do. It packs in a single-core 800MHz Intel A110 processor, the predecessor to the 'Silverthorne' Atom and essentially and old Pentium III.
To that add 1GB of 400MHz DDR memory which, when the makers shoehorn Windows Vista into this little device, means it starts to feel a little clunky when you try and run more than one or two apps at the same time.
Trying to run the Vista interface on the integrated graphics core built into the S37B's Intel G945 chipset doesn't help either. It's got access to just 64MB of that 1GB memory. It does the job a lot better than you might expect looking at these specs but we can't help but think that Vista was a poor choice of operating system on Vye's part.
The S37B has a decent array of ports, including VGA; SD/MMC/MemoryStick and CompactFlash memory card slots; and two USB ports, one of which is located behind a cover alongside the 10/100Mb/s Ethernet port. Although two USB ports should probably be enough most of the time, any time a user wants to connect an external drive and a mouse and/or keyboard, that's all the available ports gone.
Some models come with a built-in antenna and TV tuner - perfect for telly on the go. 802.11b/g Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR come as standard.
Where the mini-v does really start to shine is in tablet mode. Unlike most tablet PCs, which need to be driven entirely by the stylus, there are a set of controls around the screen that can be used to navigate and control the device without needing to dig out the stylus every two seconds.
Takes off in tablet mode
There's a small nub for controlling the mouse pointer, and a direction pad which acts the same as the cursor keys on the keyboard. There's an Enter button, and dedicated keys for scrolling.
Above these is a user-definable Launcher button and another marked Shutter, which fires up the 1.3-megapixel webcam. A rotation key that allows you to easily flip the orientation of the display - perfect for when switching between tablet and notebook modes. These extra controls combined with the usual tablet features such as a freeform notepad, handwriting recognition and soft keyboard make the whole thing very easy to use.
The screen is pretty decent and can be seen in most lighting conditions. When calibrated properly, the touchscreen is suitably accurate. The handwriting recognition is impressive too. About the only annoyance is that there is no detection of unexpected taps. This means that should you accidentally touch the screen with your pinky while writing with the stylus strange things can happen.
For all the little niggles, we really liked this device. If you're a frequent traveller, having a fully featured combination notebook/tablet PC that weighs around 1kg to just toss into a bag is a serious plus.
What really helps this device stand out is its true sense of portability. With an extended battery in place and the screen set to 50 per cent brightness, the machine will run for over five hours on a single charge, we found. The touchscreen and tablet mode feels like a legitimate function and not some tacky add-on.
That battery life figure was the one we achieved in general use. For a more comparative test, we ran a 640 x 480 H.264 video continuously until the S37B gave up the ghost. Wi-Fi was turned off but the screen was set to maximum brightness.
Battery Life Results
Battery life on minutes
Longer bars are better
Please note that the S37B was supplied to us with a six-cell extended battery, whereas the other two Eee PCs and the s.book were not. Had we been provided with the standard, three-cell battery, we'd expect a score of around 198 minutes, which still puts the S37B ahead of the Eee PC 701 by 20 minutes.
Mobile telly is optional
This is a device designed to used out and about and can adapt to be used in almost any situation, but we're not convinced that £700 is a premium we're willing to pay for that level of convenience. The Asus EeePC 701 sells for around £220, a third of the price of the S37B.
The 701 has its flaws - the small storage capacity and the cramped, 800 x 480 screen - but then it is very cheap. Only slightly more expensive is the new Eee PC 900. It costs £330 - less than half the price of the S37B - but has an 8.9in, 1024 x 768 screen, and either 12GB or 20GB of storage depending on whether you choose the Windows XP or Linux version.
Unless you're desperate for Vista and/or tablet operation, it's hard too see what the extra £370 you'd pay for the S37B really brings you.
Well, it certainly gets 20m more battery life, as we've seen, and some extra performance too. Our PCMark05 tests show the S37B beating both the Eee PC 701 and the Maxdata Belinia s.book. But then the 701's processor runs at 630MHz - we can't see the Eee PC 900's 900MHz CPU being left behind by the S37B, though we won't know for sure we can test the new Asus machine with Windows XP.
Longer bars are better
For the record, the S37B scored a paltry 97.5 in 3DMark06 - PCMark05's graphics test wouldn't complete, as it wouldn't for the other machines, which is why there's no score on the graph.
Windows Vista itself rates the S37B as 2.0, broken down as CPU 2.1, Memory 4.5, Graphics 2.0, Gaming Graphics 2.6 and HDD 4.3.
If all you need is a spare notebook for email, internet and some basic office applications then a cheaper model such as the Asus will suit your needs adequately, but if you have the budget and you're looking for a more fully featured device, particularly in terms of battery life and the tablet functionality, then Vye's mini-V is definitely worth checking out.