Vodafone Webbook review: cheap and cheerful Ubuntu netbook - TechCentral

Vodafone Webbook review: cheap and cheerful Ubuntu netbook

Cellular network operator Vodacom recently launched a netbook, the Vodafone Webbook, that, at R1 499, it hopes will give South Africans an affordable entry into personal computing. TechCentral put the Webbook through its paces.

The computer, which runs the Ubuntu Linux operating system — specifically Ubuntu 10.04, code-named Lucid Lynx — has a 10-inch LCD screen, 512MB RAM, and 4GB of flash storage.

It sports an 800MHz Freescale iMX515 processor that is based on the ARM Cortex-A8. It also includes a low-end webcam — centred above the screen — and a built-in microphone for Skype calling.

Ubuntu is a fairly low-demand operating system, which results in the Webbook going from off to booted in under 40 seconds, with another 20-second delay for it to be operational after logging in.

Unfortunately, despite the reasonable boot time, the device is a little sluggish, but then it’s a R1 499 netbook so it’s more than a little optimistic to expect high-speed performance.

It’s not the speed of the Webbook that is most likely to cause users problems, but rather the machine’s lack of storage space. With a 4GB flash drive, 2,4GB of which is used by the operating system and applications like OpenOffice.org, the Webbook isn’t meant for storing multimedia files.

But then, like Google’s Chromebook, the idea of devices like the Webbook is that most of what a user does will be cloud-based, obviating the need for local document storage.

With this in mind, the Webbook supports 3G (via a Sim slot) and Wi-Fi. It comes with Mozilla’s Firefox Web browser preinstalled that defaults to a Vodacom-branded search page on first launch.

Being a netbook, the Webbook has a slightly-smaller-than-normal keyboard that takes a little getting used to. The black, textured trackpad has a left- and right-click button beneath it and is surprisingly responsive for such a low-cost device.

The machine has two USB 2.0 ports — one on each side — and a 3,5mm headphone/speaker jack.

Weighing in at just under a kilogram the Webbook is as lightweight as one would expect from a netbook. Vodacom claims up to seven hours of battery life, but even five of actual time would be more than respectable.

As Vodacom is promoting the Webbook, it’s no surprise it comes bundled with a variety of data plans. It’s available with 100MB of data a month for 24 months at R1 899 outright, or on a contract deal at R189/month for 24 months that includes 500MB of data a month over the contract period.

Users can also opt for a top-up option that includes a modem and 100MB of data a month for the first three months at R169 on Vodacom’s Top Up 135 package.

Considering its target market, the Vodafone Webbook is a respectable device. For its price, it’s surprisingly well equipped and is exactly the kind of product that countries like SA need to reduce the barriers to entry to getting online.

It’s not going to impress power users at all, but then that’s not its mandate.

Our only real quibble is the lack of storage — we feel it should be at least 8GB — but at the price (less than an entry-level smartphone) it certainly fills a gap in the market.  — Craig Wilson, TechCentral

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