Category: Laptops

Greenpeace sees red over Dell's toxic record

Greenpeace activists unfurl a banner during a Greenpeace direct communication at Dell Computer May 26, 2010, in Round Rock, Texas. Photo by Harry Cabluck

Greenpeace activists unfurl a banner during a Greenpeace direct communication at Dell Computer May 26, 2010, in Round Rock, Texas. Photo by Harry Cabluck

It seems that Dell Computer is in the toxic hot-seat today. In a brazen publicity stunt, Greenpeace members managed to scale the walls of a building located on Dell’s Round Rock campus and then hung a banner declaring “Michael, what the Dell? Design out toxics.”

Greenpeace is hoping to draw attention to the fact that Dell has backtracked on a previous promise to eliminate all toxic chemicals from their products by 2009. Dell’s new timeline pushes back this commitment to 2011.
“Dell continues to sell products that are littered with toxic chemicals, despite promises made years ago to phase them out,” said Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner Casey Harrell. “Dell can’t fulfill its aim to be the greenest technology company on the planet until it follows the lead of Apple, HP and Indian brands HCL and Wipro, which are phasing out the use of these toxic chemicals.”

Greenpeace’s full-frontal assault on Dell won’t end with a banner that will likely be taken down by the time you read this. They are also taking their case to the court of public opinion via a  TV ad that will air in Austin, Texas on several channels, including MTV and ESPN, that “explains Dell’s backtracking”.

The spot asks Austin residents to call CEO Michael Dell and tell him to honor his company’s word to phase out toxic chemicals.

According to Greenpeace, two tech companies that are doing their part to get rid of the nasty ingredients found in consumer electronics are Apple and HP. Both of these tech giants have removed PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and BFRs (brominated flame retardants) from their new line of PCs. As a result, they have been ranked higher than Dell on the most recent edition of the quarterly Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics.

The top five companies on the list are Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Philips, Motorola and Apple, while the bottom five ranked companies are, in descending order: Toshiba, Fujitsu, Microsoft, Lenovo, and Nintendo.

I recently bought one of Dell’s new Inspiron Mini 10 netbook computers. Overall, I’m pleased with the gadget, especially when I consider it’s sub-$300 price tag. But I confess I did not take Dell’s environmental record into account when I made my purchase decision. There’s no question, the environment matters and I feel a little guilty at having played a role in damaging it further. But if I’m being honest, I don’t think that I’d have made a different decision, even knowing what I know now. When it comes time to retire my Mini 10, I’m hoping that Dell will take it back and recycle it responsibly, ensuring that none of these toxics make their way into our food chain.

What do you think? Does a company’s environmental track-record have an impact on your decision to buy their products? If Apple’s record was the same as Dell’s, would you hesitate ordering up a new iPad (okay maybe you would hesitate anyway, but that’s a post for another time). Let us know.


Lenovo debuts 'hybrid' PC

IdeaPad U1Claiming that it’s an industry first, Lenovo has just taken the wraps off a new PC called the IdeaPad U1. The company is referring to smooth and sleek-looking device as a “Hybrid” PC. The difference between a hybrid and convertible or tablet PC, apparently, is that the Hybrid actually contains two CPUs instead of one.

The result is a 3.4 lb laptop, running Windows 7, which can then morph on-the-fly into a completely independent slate PC which runs a custom Lenovo OS dubbed “Skylight”.

The company’s press release says that:

“Leveraging the benefits of both CPU, the two devices can synchronize to work as one with the ability to share battery power, 3G wireless, data and documents. In this way, the base laptop system can serve as a hub and docking station and the slate tablet as a mobile device. The two PCs have been engineered to work together and independently through Lenovo’s Hybrid Switch technology that enables seamless toggling between the two processors. For instance, users can surf the Web in laptop mode and then continue from the same point without interruption if they detach to tablet mode.”

When in tablet mode, the 11.6″ HD LED screen (which is multitouch capable) displays either a six or four-part user interface…

“[the] six-section screen display is designed to enhance the mobile internet experience by letting users easily multitouch access multiple Web-based applications at once such as email, calendars, RSS readers and social networking Web sites. The four-section screen display option is perfect as a media center on the PC such as photos, music, videos and to view/edit documents.”

Connectivity is pretty standard, except for the Wi-Fi module which only does a/b/g – no draft N. It will also come equipped with an embedded 3G module which will provide connectivity for both tablet and laptop modes.

This announcement comes at a time when the entire industry is holding its collective breath waiting to see what Apple’s much-rumoured ‘iTablet’ device will turn out to be when the company holds their next major event on January 27th. All we have to go on is a blog post from a former Apple and Google exec who claims the price point will be in the $1,000 range. Interestingly, that is exactly the target that Lenovo has put on the U1: the expected street price is $999 USD when it eventually goes on sale in June of this year.

I have to say,  that while Apple’s as yet unconfirmed device sounds like it will be an appealing package, if it lacks a physical keyboard option, or is underpowered in the CPU or battery-life departments (something that has been a problem in almost all battery-powered Apple devices), the Lenovo ‘Hybrid’ formula may turn out to be a winner. By combining the strengths of a laptop and a tablet into a single device, they sidestep the biggest question about the iTablet: is the market ready to embrace this platform?


More Photos of the U1:

IdeaPad U1_2IdeaPad U1_4

And the full specs:


Processor Upcoming Intel proccesor & Qualcomm ARM Snapdragon processors
Operating System 

Genuine Windows® 7 Home Premium and & Slate Mode Lenovocustomized UI with Skylight Interface

High-Resolution 11.6″ LED backlight display, 16:9 widescreenMultitouchPanel for both notebook mode and slate mode– two finger touch
Video Graphics 

Intel® Core2 Duo SU processors

Up to 4GB DDR3 DRAM 1066MHz & Slate 512MB DDR1

2.5″ SATA SSD up to 128GB & for Slate NAND Flash 16GB, Boot loader 512MB
Optical Drive 


Stereo Speakers on Slate, Integrated MIC
Integrated Comms 

Ethernet 10, 100, 802.11a/b/g, Bluetooth, WWAN
Ports and Slots 

Two USB 2.0 and one eSATA/USB combo port, external monitor (VGA DB-15, HDMI), Ethernet (RJ-45), 4-in-1 reader (Multi-Media Card, Memory Stick®, Memory Stick PRO™, Secure Digital Card

1.3M integrated web camera

Notebook is 1.7kg (3.7 lbs.) and Slate is 750g (1.6 lbs.)

292x205x 28.35mm, & Slate is 292X205X12.65mm (WxHxD)
Battery Life 

10 hrs , & Slate mode 8 hrs, 3G standby 60 hrs
Included Software 

Software options include: OneKey Rescue 7.0/ Lenovo Energy Management Software 4.0/ Adobe Reader 9.0/ McAfee Virus Scan Plus 2009/ Windows Live essential/ VeriFace 3.6/ Office professional 2007(for WW except CN/Japan)/ Office personal (Only for Japan)/ LPS(Lenovo Passport Service)3.0 (Only for CN/ Auto collage(only install in Win7 Home Premium)/ Lenovo ReadyComm5.1/ APS(Active Protection System) 1.0* Software may vary by region

Starts at $999.00 US

*Pricing may vary by region



Take your Wi-Fi with you anywhere with MiFi

Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

The answer, until recently has been “sorry chum, you’re out of luck”. That is unless you have a rocket stick for your laptop and you do some clever network tweaking in Windows 7.

Thankfully, there is now a much more sophisticated and robust solution in the form of the MiFi 2372 Intelligent Mobile Hotspot. Just released on the new Bell Network, think of this tiny gadget as 3G rocket stick and Wi-Fi router all rolled into one, plus a handy MicroSD slot which can act as a shared drive of up to 16GB.

You’re even free from the hassle of finding an AC outlet as the MiFi sports an internal rechargeable battery which the manufacturer claims can last for up to 4 hours on a single charge.

Here are the detailed specs:

  • Connects up to five Wi-Fi enabled devices simultaneously
  • Computers, PDA’s, cameras, music players, personal and game players and more
  • Rechargeable Lithium Ion Battery
  • GPS- enabled
  • Advanced internal antenna system
  • NovaSpeed® capable
  • Auto-install and auto-connectivity
  • 10M (30 ft) range of network coverage

The possibilities with a gadget like this are endless, but some of the ways it could be used include:

  • Turn your car into roving internet access port. When on vacation with the family, all of the passengers could be running internet-connected devices from netbooks, to MP3 players to portable gaming systems like Nintendo DS or Sony’s PSP and PSP Go.
  • Set up ad-hoc gaming parties in almost any location.
  • Internet for the cottage, campsite or cruise ship: You no longer need to wonder if there is internet access when you head out on vacation.

The MiFi allows up to 5 devices to connect via Wi-Fi and can support download speeds of up to 7.2 Mbps and uploads of up to 5.76 Mbps.

For more info on the MiFi and Bell’s 3G data plans, check out

Update: May 10, 2010

Looks like there’s a wee problem with Novatel’s MiFi product. Apparently the battery may “swell” and that, obviously, isn’t good. If you own one of these units, either through Bell or one of the other service providers that offered the MiFi, be sure to get in touch and see what they will do for you. Bell customers are getting their MiFi’s battery swapped free of charge, and during the 6-8 week turnaround time, they will be sent a Novatel TurboStick 3G to tide them over.

Consumers are confused about netbooks

Ok, so the child is actually holding a DVD player. But a netbook is nearly the same size.

Ok, so the child is actually holding a DVD player. But a netbook is nearly the same size.

Since Asus started the netbook craze a little over two years ago with their diminutive Eee PC, the netbook category has exploded. Nearly ever major PC brand (with the notable exception of Apple) has one, and prices have continued to drop as features and screen sizes have grown.

It’s no surprise that these little machines have become a hit: most models offer Windows XP, a 9″ or larger screen, built-in Wi-Fi, webcam, media card reader and a power-sipping processor that can last 5 hours or more on a a 3-cell battery. Higher-end models offer Solid State Drives, Bluetooth and multi-touch functionality. All this, starting at around $300.

There’s no doubt, netbooks offer superb value and portability for the money. So why then are a whopping 30% of all netbook purchases returned to the retailer where they were sold? The number comes from a recent Yankee Group report which concludes that consumers just aren’t well enough informed about the performance characteristics of netbooks before they buy.

Surprisingly, these consumers are not walking in to their local big box electronics retailer on a whim, and buying the first PC they see under $400. The same report claims that “consumers typically make a buying decision about a particular brand after hours, days or weeks of research—long before they ever walk into a store to purchase an item.”

If consumers are doing such due diligence yet are still unsatisfied with their purchase, it means that PC manufacturers, and all of us in the media, are doing a poor job educating buyers about netbooks before they even begin their research into which model is right for them.

The way to correct this apparent confusion is to start with some defintions that are meaningful to the average consumer. What is a netbook and what are the real differences between netbooks and their look-alike, but larger cousins, the laptops (or notebooks)?

Intel, the maker of the chips that are used in the vast majority of netbooks and notebooks, coined the term and has used it ever since to describe ultra-portable PCs that use their Atom processor. If we go with that as a starting point, any portable PC equipped with an Atom processor is a netbook, whereas any other CPU will make it a notebook.

But why does the processor matter? Aren’t size, weight, feature set etc. all important factors in identifying netbooks? Yes and no. While it’s true that most netbooks are small, with screen sizes never larger than 12″, and thin (often 1.5″ 1.5 cm thick) and light (some even as light as 2 lbs), it’s also true that they are no match for a notebook in the brains department.

And regardless how small and cheap a PC may be, if it can’t run all the software you could normally run (in the way that you normally run it) it’s not a notebook.

Well that sounds pretty clear: Atom processor = netbook, anything else = notebook. Right? Well…

It turns out that while Intel feels the netbook label is all about the CPU, other experts and some manufacturers disagree.

Sony just announced a machine they say is the world’s lightest laptop: the Vaio X.

And if the price is anything to go on, I’d have to agree. At $1300 it had better not be a netbook. But guess which processor is under the hood of this baby? Yup. An Intel Atom.

CNET, as recently as August of this year, argued that we should do away with the moniker altogether, claiming that “Netbooks are nothing more than smaller, cheaper notebooks,” and that “the distinction between the two can now be considered little more than marketing speak.” 

The same article doesn’t mention anything about the difference in processing power between the two categories, which is a shame, because it can really make a difference. How much depends on the CPU comparison, but Tom’s Hardware benchmarked the Atom against a fairly slow Celeron chip, and the Atom did not fare well. The Celeron was 35% faster, across the board. Remember the Vaio X? Still wondering about that $1300 price tag? Me too.

That sounds like a real knock against the Atom, but when you consider that the Atom consumes far less power than the Celeron, things begin to make sense, and it brings us back to the reason why netbooks are appealing despite their lack of processing power:  Their tiny size, and super-efficient internal components means that though they aren’t workhorses, they can go much longer without plugging in to a wall.

What consumers should remember is that while the line is blurring between netbooks and notebooks, there are some real differences in terms of performance. Want a super-portable PC that can give you quick and easy net access from a Wi-Fi hotspot so you can check your mail, surf the web, watch some videos and stay up-to-date on Facebook? Want to go up to a whole day without a recharge? Get a netbook.

But if you need a portable PC that can mutli-task, edit video, play 3D games, run Photoshop and do it all without grinding to a halt, you want a notebook.