With a Valentino Rossi (moto GP champion) decor, the Packard Bell dot VR46 is an original looking ultra-portable laptop. In the image of the bike and its driver, it is high performance, light and with good battery life, which puts it in an excellent position on the grid. Let's see how it takes the first bend.
Handling, design and build: matte plastic and nice handling
Some nice surprises here, beginning with when you open it up to discover the matte interior. Although the plastic is a rather banal black, we do like the fact that it doesn't pick up finger marks, in contrast to glossy plastic. It is well built, though we were expecting better given the Rossi image. The colours and materials used on the bike could have been transferred to the computer. Instead what you get is a timid "46" logo at the top of the screen and a hood decorated with the Valentino Rossi helmet logo.
The keyboard is nice and wide and takes up almost all the available space. We love the wide flat keys (17 x 17 mm) that offer great ease-of-use. Typing is supple, quiet and rapid. The keyboard has nothing to envy those on larger laptops, except perhaps the "Ctrl" and "Alt" keys (15 x 19 mm), as well as the arrow keys that have been reduced slightly vertically (9 x 17 mm).
The touchpad is slightly set into the shell and is smooth to the touch (slightly raised wrist rests). It has a nice matte surface and rapid, precise glide. Fairly wide (70 x 38 mm), it corresponds well to the screen format. The left and right clicks are in chrome and separated one from the other. They are part of the touchpad, which is practical.
The webcam offers a good image though lighter areas tend to be slightly overexposed. The colours and white balance are pretty good. We would have liked to see a bit more fluidity and sharpness.
In contrast with a GP bike, the Packard Bell dot VR46 is relatively quiet and the fan doesn't get overexcited without provocation; you do find quieter however and during more demanding tasks it does accelerate, though within reasonable bounds.
Connectivity is standard with 3 USB 2.0 ports, an HDMI, a VGA, an RJ45, a memory card reader and a headphones and a mic socket. Wi-Fi a/b/g/n is also included as is Bluetooth. The switches to activate these wireless links are rather poorly placed. Although they're at the front, you might find it difficult to turn them on if you have big fingers (you'll have to lift the laptop up a bit).
Under the laptop, two panels give access to the RAM and the hard drive.
|Packard Bell dot VR46 from above
||Memory card reader, headphones, mic, 2USB 2.0s antitheft, RJ45
|VGA, power, HDMI, USB 2.0
||Touchpad and clicks
Processing: a good ultra low power processor for all-round performance
Windows 7 index: 3.2. Detail: CPU 4.1 - Memory 4.8 - Graphics 3.2 - Gaming graphics 3.2 - Main hard drive 5.8.
The VR46 engine is effective and offers a good compromise between performance and power consumpiton. It includes an Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300. This is an ultra low consumption (ULV) dual core that is often found in ultra-portable laptops. In our test protocol it scored 50, which is half our reference machine, the Fujitsu Siemens Amilo Xi3650 (equipped with an Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 and 100 on the index).
This is plenty for general use as long as you're patient with demanding tasks such as encoding or editing video.
With Windows 7 Family Premium (64-bit - a plus), it starts up in 41 seconds (display of desktop) and the main applications load in around 20 seconds more (antivirus not installed). It switches off in 12 seconds.
1080p HD video (Blu-Ray equivalent) can be handled by the processor alone, or with the integrated Intel graphics solution. It's preferable to use the integrated graphics so you can free up the processor for other tasks. CPU occupation then falls from 75% to 10%.
3D gaming: old 3D titles or 2D games
The Intel integrated graphics part is insufficient to hope to do any recent 3D gaming. You'll have to make do with 2D games or old 3D titles with limited graphics settings. Forget 3D motorbike racing!
Audio: very good for an ultra-portable
Although they're small (limited by the lack of available space) the speakers on the Packard Bell dot VR46 produce pretty good sound. Don't expect much bass and of course treble dominates but the sound is listenable as a fallback solution. On most laptops we do still of course advise you to use the headphones out. Very clean, the jack out also works in optical S/PDIF mode, which is very practical for linking up the computer to an old amplifier without an HDMI in.
Mobility, battery life: enough to watch a few moto GPs!
With its 6 cell 4400 mAh battery, the Packard Bell dot VR46 gives 3h58 video playback (brightness at 100 cd/m², headphones plugged in and Wi-Fi disactivated). This is an honourable score given its configuration. Note that a 5600 mAh battery should be available according to the official Packard Bell site. After a rough estimation, we can suppose that it will allow over 5h30 of battery life.
In terms of mobility, this ultra-portable is comparable to the largest netbooks. 25 mm thick and 1.35 Kg make it easily transportable, especially as its charger is very compact.