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NEC Versa DayLite

WHAT'S HOT: A bantamweight power miser with a special reflective screen, the DayLite is made for taking notes, consulting spreadsheets and performing other low-power office work outdoors. Without peripherals, this silver-and-charcoal-gray notebook weighs just 3 pounds--perfect for perching on your knees and toting between sites. With the USB floppy drive, USB CD-ROM drive, AC adapter, and phone cord added, it weighs a still-reasonable 4.9 pounds. The DayLite made good use of its two standard batteries and power-saving Crusoe processor in our battery rundown tests. The unit continued running for an impressive 4 hours and 20 minutes on one charge. When switched to outdoor mode (which doesn't require power-sucking backlighting), the DayLite can last up to 7.5 hours, according to NEC.

While other laptop screens wash out in bright sunshine, the DayLite's 10.4-inch reflective screen is easy to read outdoors. We had no trouble typing and reading documents, even when wearing sunglasses. A switch on the screen frame lets you toggle between outdoor and indoor modes. Our only complaint: The reflective screen is a tad dark and has a sparkling sheen outdoors, which we found somewhat distracting at first.

WHAT'S NOT: The DayLite, with its 600-MHz Transmeta Crusoe processor is slow in comparison with notebooks that use Intel or AMD CPUs. It picked up a PC WorldBench 4 score of only 49 in our tests; that's a little lower than we would expect from a portable with a 600-MHz processor. And we'll have to wait a while longer before manufacturers perfect an outdoor screen that works just as well inside the office. As NEC readily admits, the DayLite isn't really meant for indoor use; and squinting to make out desktop icons and menu items gets tiresome.

The DayLite offers even fewer standard connections than most ultralight laptops. There are no parallel, serial, or PS/2 connections, and attaching a monitor to the DayLite or hooking it up to a network entails plugging included adapter cables in to miniconnections located on the left side.

The keyboard is the most troublesome aspect of the DayLite. The space bar is too short, and we consistently missed the tiny Backspace and right Shift keys. Paging up or down requires time-consuming function combination keystrokes. In light of these deficiencies, we wonder why the designer devoted so much keyboard space to the sprawling Enter key, which is four times the size of the others.

WHAT ELSE: The DayLite is a lean outdoors machine with few extras, aside from its unusual battery design. The main power pack is a lithium-ion battery that attaches to the back of the notebook. A secondary, nonremovable lithium polymer battery sits behind the screen. The DayLite includes a single built-in speaker, with a small outlet beneath the last row of keys. The USB CD-ROM drive is a cute, slim silver device trimmed in black, but it's a relatively slow 6X-10X model with basic controls for playing, stopping, and ejecting discs. In the DayLite's favor, accessing both the hard drive and the memory slots is easy. NEC includes solid printed and electronic manuals.

UPSHOT: Businesses that absolutely must use a laptop outdoors may want to invest in this pricey ultralight on the strength of its useful reflective screen. Typical notebook users who would like to work outside occasionally, however, should opt instead for an add-on glare hood or, better yet, find a patch of shade. By Carla Thornton

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