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The WinBook XL2 First Glance

My first impressions of the new WinBook XL2. (Last updated November 2, 1998)

WinBook was kind enough to send me an evaluation model of their new XL-2. I was pretty hyped about this particular unit not only because it is a thin model that has both pointing devices (a touchpad and pointing stick)... but it is also an ALL-IN-ONE machine (3 drives and battery all internal). On top of that, it has a 14.1" screen, 300mhz Pentium II, 128MB SDRAM, 4MB ATi AGP video, 56k modem AND not only does it come with a DVD drive, but the floppy is an LS-120! How much? Try $3199... now you can see why I was excited.

It came in the usual double-boxed package, plain outer box with a WinBook inner box. The accessories box was on top and the notebook was packed in two foam pieces. Inside the accessories box was a Win98 disk and manual, a quick start sheet, a Winbook manual, AC pack and cord, spare eraser heads (for the trackpoint) and a phone cable for the internal modem.

As I unpacked the unit out of the foam and plastic, I noticed that it felt very solid and had a nice finish to it. The external case was styled better than the previous XLx units and even had LEDs for power, battery and battery status. As I opened the machine, I noticed the very spacious 14.1" screen and a very familiar keyboard layout... almost exactly like the previous XLx series (maybe exactly). It had both pointing devices and the touchpad is centered below the spacebar (so a little to the left in relation to the unit. There were function keys combos for "Display Off", "LCD/CRT", "Standby", "Suspend", brightness, volume, mute and loudness. Along the right side of the keyboard were the normal Home/Pg/End keys (in a vertical line) and the Ins/Del keys were in the lower right hand corner next to the cursor keys. Outside of the keyboard on the right-hand side were the status lights for DVD, HDD, FDD, num lock, caps lock and scroll lock. The power switch is located just above these lights. Also on the right side just outside the cursor keys is the built-in mic. The speakers are located just above the keyboard which is an ideal place to put them. Just below the display were the same 3 LEDs on the outside of the unit to indicate power, battery and battery status.

On the left from back to front there was the fan, a vent port, the modem port and 1 PC-Card (PCMCIA) slot (just below the palmrest). On the front from left to right is the HDD, the floppy/LS-120 and the DVD drive. On the right from back to front, the IR port, battery (really underneath), line-in, mic, line-out and the 2nd PC-Card slot. On the back, AC and a USB port, followed by a section with a door that covered the video-out (S-video and analog), VGA/monitor, serial and parallel. Then there is the PS/2 port and another section with a door for the docking port. And last but not least... the Kensington lock slot. As you can tell, this machine has basically every port you need.

I turned it on and was pleased by the brightness and clarity of the screen. Lighting is very even on this machine, even at different angles, there were no serious dropouts. I couldn't find any bad pixels but remember that you should expect a few on any TFt screen. But what really surprised me (as I posted on the newgroup) was the lower resolution modes. If you already own a 13.3" laptop or higher, you know that when using lower resolutions like SVGA (800x600) and VGA (640x480) you get either a smaller image with a black border around it or a stretched image with blurry fonts and graphics. Not with this unit... using the new ATi graphics chipset, it uses anti-aliasing to create a very close simulation of the lower resolution screens. It almost looks like native modes! So if you are one of those people who want the bigger screens but use the lower resolutions... this is the answer.

What about speed? Well, considering this is a 300mhz Pentium II with 128MB of SDRAM, I was expecting awesome peformance. From my initial WinStone tests I was not disappointed, the unit scored a 21.9 (you can compare this to the 18 or so I got on the WinBook XLi). And heat? Well... it seems to be just as hot as the previous XLs and I do notice the fan turning on often. The next question has to be battery life... well I haven't had time to run my usual rundown test but I can tell you that I was running some heavy application for 2 hours straight and it didn't need charging. I'll let you know in the full review.

Howabout the DVD? Well, it's always fun to watch a movie on your laptop but I hooked it up to my T.V. to get the full experience. I got a little pixelation on the picture but this being a pre-production unit, there may be some glitches. There is no hardware MPEG-2 but the unit is very capable of software MPEG-2. If you really need the hardware solution, you can buy a PC-Card for this task.

By the way, the floppy/LS-120 is bootable and does come up as the A: drive. In other notebooks, I've seen it as a D: drive but I guess a BIOS update has taken care of this. The LS-120 is a little noisy but it's great to be able to have a 1.44MB and a higher capacity media in one drive.

I am actually typing this review on the WinBook keyboard and it is not very difficult to get used to the location of the keys. Some of them are smaller than I prefer but as I've said in earlier reviews... your hands learn to adapt. The feel is great, not too spongy and not too stiff, and I like the key "cap size", some other notebook keyboards have very flat keys while others are almost desktop like (the older Micron XKE and IBM Thinkpads), this one is a compromise between the two. I tend to use the touchpad more but it's nice to know that I can also use the stick if necessary.

Sound is actually pretty loud, and I like the fact that you could either mute it or maximize it with a function key. I get a little interference at full volume but that seems to be standard on all portables. I wish it had a dial for the volume control but you can't have everything.

I must commend this unit on its size. An all-in-one notebook at about 1.5" thick is a great feat. Not only that, but if you think about it, this machine actually has the equivalent of 5 drives... the hard disk, a 1.44MB floppy, an LS-120, a CD-ROM AND a DVD-ROM. With the built-in modem you basically have everything you need. As for the weight... it's not exactly a feather but at about 7 lbs, it's the lightest in this "class" and is very manageable. For all the features you get (including the big 14.1" screen) this is an excellent desktop replacement without you having to get an arm/shoulder/back strain from lugging it around everywhere. And not having to carry any extra modules or cables just makes it that much easier. So far, this unit is the smallest "all-in-one" machine that doesn't sacrifice on any of the other features. And for $3199, that is a pretty hard price to match.

If you need more information on the XL2, you can read more about it on the Winbook site and you can check out my previous article.

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