Fujitsu Siemens AMILO Mini Ui 3520 review

10 Dec 2008

The same old netbook coupled with poor ergonomics and a grainy screen makes this one to avoid.

Price when reviewed: 
230(£264 inc VAT)
3

Slowly but surely, the big players are wading into the netbook market. After Sony's declaration that the entire market was a mere 'race to the bottom', it seems everyone is, nevertheless, getting involved. Recently Samsung's NC10 and Toshiba's NB100-11R have joined the fray, with initial doubters Sony - and even Apple - rumoured to be preparing their own machines for release.

The latest big player to design its own netbook is Fujitsu Siemens, with its Amilo Mini Ui 3520. Initial impressions are good - it's certainly among the more striking netbooks we've recently seen.

In a market where one colour is usually the rule of thumb - even in the case of the Samsung NC10 with its stylish finish - the Amilo immediately stands out with its two-tone, black and white dramatics.

It may make a statement, then, but we're not too keen on the eighties-inspired lines: when stacked up against the likes of the Samsung, Acer Aspire One and HP Mini-Note, the Amilo looks decidedly retro. Fujitsu Siemens offer replacement lid-covers - there was one supplied in a tasteful burgundy shade - but when clipped into place, this just made thing worse.

Scattered around the chassis is the usual selection of ports and sockets. Two USB ports is slightly mean considering most netbooks have three, but a VGA output, headphone and microphone jacks, 4-in-1 card reader and ExpressCard/34 slot are par for the course.

Ergonomically, the Amilo is something of a mixed bag. The trackpad features buttons to the left and right, as opposed to their usual position below the pad, but they work well. They're light and responsive without feeling too flimsy. The pad itself is just as easy to use, despite the fact that it's small.

The keyboard, on the other hand, is far less comfortable. Almost two inches of space above the keyboard is left fallow except for a couple of tinny speakers, and this has the detrimental effect of making the keys shorter - so our fingers took a while to adjust and forever seemed to be missing keys.

The function buttons are smaller still, and even more fiddly, while several punctuation keys have been subjected to similar shrinkage. The keyboard doesn't extend to either side of the chassis - a criminal waste of space - and this all puts it well behind the likes of the Samsung NC10 on typability.

The screen isn't particularly impressive, either. While all netbook panels tend to exhibit some minor grain - the constraints of the incredibly tight budgets on which these products are designed - the Amilo is worse than most.

It's especially noticeable with uniform colours: Word documents, for instance, look almost as if the screen has been smudged. Colours aren't reproduced particularly well, either, with images appearing far too pale and lifeless for our liking.

Inside, the Amilo is the same netbook that we've become all too accustomed to. Intel's 1.6GHz Atom processor is partnered with 1GB of RAM, Intel GMA 950 graphics and a 60GB hard disk instead of the smaller, but quicker, solid-state drives that we've seen cropping up in a handful of other netbooks. Wireless connectivity is handled by an 802.11bg WLAN chip alongside Bluetooth, and Ethernet - although the latter is not Gigabit.

The identikit specification contributes to mediocre performance and reasonable battery life. In our 2D benchmarks, the Amilo managed a score of 0.37 - broadly similar to the rest of the netbook pack and enough to handle basic applications. Meanwhile, our light use battery test returned a time of four hours and thirteen minutes, which would have placed the Amilo in the top half of our recent netbook Labs test (see issue 172, on sale now) - a decent result, but again it can't match the eight hours of the Asus Eee PC 901, or 7hrs 26mins of the Samsung NC10.