WinBook N4

While this corporate notebook has some nice features, it is a little pricey

WHAT'S HOT: The WinBook N4 offers solid, basic features that will appeal to corporate buyers. The all-in-one design features a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combination drive fixed on the right side and a floppy drive fixed on the left. Four shortcut buttons above the keyboard serve as application launchers (two are programmable) or as controls for playing music CDs. The N4's 15-inch screen has a high native resolution of 1400 by 1050 pixels, good for watching DVD movies or working on big spreadsheets.

WHAT'S NOT: WinBook's technical support hours--13 hours each weekday and 7 hours each Saturday--are somewhat behind the 24-hour daily support most vendors offer. The N4 is heavy, weighing in at 8.8 pounds including the AC adapter and phone cord. There's no switch or button on the case to toggle the dual-purpose shortcut buttons between their launch and music-control modes; you have to use an included utility.

WHAT ELSE: The N4's best points are its big screen, combination optical drive, and dark case with metallic accents. Other nice touches include a framed eject button on the optical drive (the frame makes the button easier to find with your fingers) and a battery gauge on the large square power pack. You get all the expected notebook connections but no serial port, built-in wireless, FireWire, or TV-out port, and you have only one PC Card slot.

Although the N4 is equipped with buttons capable of starting, stopping, and ejecting music CDs, it won't take the place of your CD player: An inconvenient function-key combination controls the volume, and the headphone jack is located far back on the left side. The speakers' location on the front allows them fairly good projection, but they sound a little flat and are adequate only for very casual listening.

Despite the unit's small Tab key, we had no problem typing on the N4. Its giant, squarish mouse buttons are so big you can't miss them. If you like a rock-solid feel, however, the N4's keyboard will put you off with its squishy keys. In the notebook's favor, RAM is easy to upgrade, and you can pull the hard drive out of the front of the case after you remove one small screw on the bottom. WinBook provides its usual comprehensive printed manual, and there's also some electronic documentation in the Windows Help and Support Center, but it's much less useful than the hard copy. (For example, notebook parts get only text descriptions, no drawings or photographs to help identify them.)

For a notebook equipped with Intel's fastest mobile P4 processor to date--the 1.8-GHz version--the N4 turned in a slightly disappointing PC WorldBench 4 score of 95. WinBook offers only a one-year warranty as standard, but you can upgrade to a three-year warranty for an additional $119.

UPSHOT: The N4 is unexciting--and at $2645 it's pricey, too. For this much money we expect at least a couple of whiz-bang features, and beyond the big screen and combo drive the N4 doesn't deliver. A notebook like Toshiba's 1.7-GHz Satellite 5105 does. It has media slots and USB 1.1 ports galore, not to mention fantastic sound, and at $2499 it costs significantly less than the N4.

By Carla Thornton

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