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In Use

One look at the S10's keyboard in Figure 5 and experienced netbook users will see the "feature" that is causing me to request an RMA for it as soon as I finish this article. Instead of narrowing the arrow and punctuation keys like the MSI Wind or shrinking the arrow keys in both directions and nudging them down a half key like the Samsung NC10, Lenovo chose the layout used by the Asus Eee PC 1000H and others.

S10 Keyboard
Click to enlarge image

Figure 5: S10 Keyboard

The good news is that all the letter and punctuation keys in the ZXC row are the same size. The bad news is that the left shift key is about 1.5 X the width of the other keys and the right shift key is the same size as the others. But, even worse, the right shift key is moved to the outside of the row.

For at least my fingers, I just couldn't get the hang of reaching for that key. I kept hitting either the up arrow or Enter key unless I looked at the keyboard and carefully maneuvered my little finger over to it. Perhaps if you're a hunt-and-pecker that's ok. But for this touch-typist, this key placement is just plain wrong. And life's too short to type on poorly-designed keyboards.

Ironically, my usual complaint, the touchpad and/or mouse buttons are fine and dandy on the S10. The Synaptics touchpad even has a scroll area and there are separate left and right mouse buttons. The buttons required a firm press to activate, but worked no matter where I pressed them.

A few other things worth mentioning:

  • The front-mounted speakers produced surprisingly good sound, much better, in fact, than I get on any of my other notebooks. It is by no means hi-fi, but very loud and clear.
  • The 1024x 600 non-glare screen was nice and bright.
  • I didn't check out the 1.3 MP webcam, because Lenovo doesn't bundle a viewer application like the Samsung had.
  • I jumped the first time I plugged the (nice and small) power brick into the notebook while it was on. You get a FULL VOLUME "be-boop" that seems unnecessary and would be downright disruptive in a conference setting. You also get the "be-boop" when unplugging the adapter.
  • I didn't really stress the S10, but the fan would occasionally turn on for a few seconds—just long enough for me to know that it would be annoyingly noticeable if I were watching video or listening to music.

Verdict

So I'm 0 for 3 in my netbook search with the MSI Wind U100 and Samsung NC10 rejected for their disfunctional one-piece mouse button designs and now, the Lenovo S10 for its cramped keyboard and shrunken and misplaced right shift key. And, of course, the missing built-in Bluetooth.

I really don't know what is so hard about putting a decent combination of separate mouse buttons, Synaptics touchpad and thoughtfully-designed keyboards into a netbook. If Samsung had only put separate mouse buttons on the S10 (and set them a bit higher), my search would be over by now.

So have I learned my lesson yet about ordering something that I suspect that I won't be happy with? Unfortunately no. Against my better judgement, I put a Dell Mini 12 on order just yesterday, even though it will arrive with Vista Home and has only 1 GB of non-expandable memory (unless you count ReadyBoost).

Yeah, I know that paying $600 for a machine that is stretching the idea of an affordable, light, portable computer into something unholy (at least to "netbook" purists) seems doomed from the start. Not to mention that every review I have seen says that Vista makes the 12 run dog-slow (except for an interview with a Dell product manager who says that Vista runs "quite well" on his 12, thank you). All I can say is that it's a dirty job, but someone has to do it!

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