Office work and web browsing don't give it any problems--but neither does looking at photos or watching moves.
Handling, design and build: numeric keypad and a good trackpad, but distinctively average quality
The 17.3'' 16:9 screen makes the LJ61 rather wide, and it won't go unnoticed. It has a rather traditional design, with black matte plastic on the inside and glossy materials around the screen and on the outside. Packard Bell has unfortunately chosen rather poor quality materials, which means the finish isn't as good as it could be. Even using a special micro fibre cloth, it's easy to scratch the glossy surfaces when you're cleaning them. We were also left wondering how long the hinge that supports the screen would last, as it seems too fragile.
The keyboard is solid and responsive, with large keys, measuring 17.5 mm square. Typing is fast and usually relatively quiet. Apart from the arrow keys and the function keys, which are only 10 mm across, all of the keys are full size, and we were delighted to spot a decent numeric keypad to the right hand side. Along the top are touch-sensitive controls that you can use to control the WiFi, launch a backup, activate the trackpad, adjust the volume or launch a custom app of your choice. They work quite well, but the backlighting system isn't very effective: when of them is lit up, the light spills out on either side, making the other buttons look like they're on as well.
The multitouch trackpad is excellent and pretty wide, although it still doesn't have a surface area to rival those found on Apple's laptops. A matte surface makes scrolling quick and accurate. The bar underneath that you use to click is also good quality and just as wide.
The webcam produces reasonably good quality video with just enough fluidity. The contrast is acceptable, although detail is lost in overexposed areas; it could do with a little more detail all over, in fact.
When you're using it for typing or surfing the web, the laptop remains quiet. All you can hear is a gentle hum, but the heat produced by the components is still well dissipated. It gets much louder, however, when it's working harder (editing photos or video, for instance).
There's a standard range of connectivity options, with VGA and HDMI video outputs, four USB 2.0 ports, RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet, a five-in-one memory card reader, and mini-jacks for headphones and a mic. You also get 802.11b/g/n WiFi and a DVD writer.
Underneath, a large panel gives access to the main components including the RAM, processor and graphics card. A second covers the hard drive.
|RJ45, VGA, HDMI, USB 2.0, mic, headphones and memory-card reader||2 x USB 2.0, DVD writer
|Patterned cover with Packard Bell logo
Processor Power: office work and HD video playback
Windows 7 index: 3.1. Details: CPU 4.1 - Memory 4.4 - Graphics 3.1 – Gaming graphics 4.5 – Main hard drive 5.9.
The Packard Bell EasyNote LJ61 uses an AMD Sempron SI-42 CPU. It's an entry-level single core processor that's well-suited to office work and web browsing, but you can also rely on it for watching video or doing a little bit of work on your latest photos. If you're hoping to do something more demanding, like retouching photos or editing and encoding video, you'll need to be patient as that will take a lot longer. An index score of just 34 puts this laptop close to the bottom of our overall table, making it almost three times worse than our standard reference model, the Fujistu-Siemens Amilo Mini Xi3650 with its Intel Core 2 Duo T9400 CPU which is indexed at 100.
The LJ61 comes with Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit edition. From the moment you switch it on, it takes 52 seconds to display the reach the Windows desktop, and another ten or so to finish loading the main software (without antivirus). It switches off in 14 seconds.
If you want to watch 1080p HD video (that's equivalent quality to a Blu-ray disc), you'll need to use the hardware acceleration on the dedicated ATI graphics card. The processor isn't powerful enough to do it on its own, and the CPU load falls from 100% to down below 10% when you let the graphics card carry some of the burden.
3D Gaming: older titles without much detail--or else back to 2D
Although it's not at all bad at decoding HD video, the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200 is nowhere near powerful enough for playing recent games. You'll have to make do with older, less demanding titles.
Audio Quality: perfectly acceptable
It's far from exceptional, but the quality of the sound produced by the small speakers on the LJ61 isn't bad at all. Listening to music or watching a film with the volume at a reasonable level is far from unpleasant. The Dolby post-processing does a lot to improve things, as we've already seen on other laptops that use the same technology. Obviously, it's still only a secondary solution and we can only recommend you stick with the headphone jack. It's pretty good, with only a very quiet buzz in the background.
Portability and Battery Life: don't stray too far from a power outlet
The six-cell, 4400 mAh battery in this laptop clearly isn't enough to keep it going for hours on end. In fact, the LJ61 didn't even manage two hours on our standard test--it lasted 1 hour 51 minutes looping video with the screen set to 100 cd/m², headphones plugged in and WiFi turned off. Even if it will last longer when you're using it for typing or spreadsheets, we still recommend you don't stray too far from a power outlet.
A 17.3'' laptop was always going to tip the scales, and at 3.4 kg and a large frame, this really isn't a laptop designed with mobility in mind.
- Comfortable keyboard and trackpad
- Decent sound
- Numeric keypad
- Poor quality glossy screen
- Short battery life
- Weak performance
- Flimsy glossy plastics get dirty quickly
As an entry-level laptop, the Packard Bell LJ61 is comfortable to use and is a perfectly acceptable machine for office use and web browsing that won't break the bank. Its widescreen display is an attractive feature, even if the quality isn't quite up to scratch. There are, however, much more solidly built laptops that offer better performance for only a little bit more more cash.