NEC Versa S9100

NEC tries to muscle in on the ultra-portable space with the dainty-looking but tough Versa S9100.

Disappointingly, it doesn't match the Toughbook's spill-proof keyboard or drop resistance, however. Accidentally stand or sit on it and you might just be ok, but tip your coffee over the S9100, or knock it from a desk, and you'll be staring at a hefty repair bill.

The 12.1 inches of glossy LED-backlit display this toughness is protecting isn't the most impressive we've seen, however, and for this price we'd expect a little more. The native resolution of 1,280 x 800 pixels is partnered with ample brightness, but there is a little backlight leakage at the top and bottom. Colours weren't a forte either, with skintones taking on a slightly greenish hue; a trait which is exacerbated if you choose to dim the backlight.

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Tilt the Versa's lid back on its hinges and there's more cause for complaint: a US-layout keyboard. Apparently this will be the only keyboard layout available, and while it is something we could get used to, eventually, it's still a strange choice. We wouldn't choose to drive a left-hand drive car in the UK, so why buy a laptop with a US keyboard?

The keyboard is largely inoffensive otherwise, thanks to sensibly sized keys with a reasonably positive action, but there are further aggravations. The half-height Enter key often left us frequently hitting the Backslash key by mistake and the decision to move the Insert and Delete keys to the bottom edge isn't the most logical.

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The Versa S9100 did give us some reasons to be cheerful, however. Sitting idle, it managed to last over six hours, and heavy usage saw that dwindle to just short of two and half hours. That's not bad by any stretch, but with the Sony VGN-TZ31MN lasting over eight hours and nearly four hours respectively, it's not going to make any headlines.

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Performance is as modest as you'd expect given that this laptop has a low-voltage Intel Core 2 Duo U7600 powering things. With two cores running at just 1.2GHz, stamina, not speed, is the U7600's forte, as a score of 0.59 in our benchmarks testifies.

The NEC Versa S9100 is a curious blend of the brilliant and the barmy. Its finer attributes are well worth shouting about; it's light, compact, blessed with good stamina and, to top it all off, impressively resilient too.

But where it falls down, it falls down hard. The S9100 just doesn't look like a 1,100 laptop, and when you could have one of Sony's VGN-TZ31MN laptops for the same sort of money, it's not a difficult choice to make.

The Sony has better battery life, offers integrated 3G as an option and has a noticeably superior 1,366 x 768 display. With a better keyboard and integrated 3G, the NEC Versa S9100 could be a real contender. As it stands though, it's simply an interesting, and more robustly built alternative.

Verdict

NEC's foray into the ultraportable market is tougher than most, but it still struggles against the competition.

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CPU: 1.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo U7600

Memory: 2GB DDR2 667MHz RAM

Storage: 160GB hard disk

Graphics: Intel GMA X3100

Display: 12.1in 1,280 x 800 TFT

Ports: Gigabit Ethernet, 2 x USB 2.0, VGA, SD, PC Card slot

Wireless: 802.11abg+draft-n WLAN, Bluetooth

OS: Windows Vista Business

Dimensions(WxHxD): 292 x 214 x 30mm

Weight: 1.26kg.

Warranty: 1yr C&R warranty

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