Coming along a little late to the netbook party is Stone. Their launching of a netbook is typical of the recent move of smaller companies to get in on the act where larger organisations like Acer, MSI and Asus have lead the way. But is there any reason to pick the Neo over the others in an already saturated market?
Out of the box, you'll find typical netbook specs here. The Neo is running the Intel Atom N270 processor at 1.6GHz, with 1GB RAM, and a 160GB hard drive and features a 10.1-inch 1240 x 600-pixel resolution display and runs Windows XP.
Adding into the mix you get the normal connection options. The chassis is carrying the Ethernet and Wi-Fi connections to hook into your networks, as well as VGA around the back to connect to a larger display or projector if you choose.
Other physical connections give you two USB connections, one on each side of the device and the front sees the mic and headphone 3.5mm jacks. It's a good layout of connections, thoughtfully placed for real world use, unlike some models that just cram them in anywhere. It also has an SD card slot.
There is also an Express Card 34 slot, which is a less common feature on netbooks, but does add the potential to expand the netbook a little further, perhaps with a 3G modem, although you'd probably have more success in that department with a USB modem.
The screen itself is rather good. Shunning the trend towards glossy finishes, the Neo has a matte finish. It handles reflections well and is practical to use whilst on the move outdoors, but it is not unique in offering this.
The keyboard itself reasonably good too. It gives a nice firm typing action without the sort of flex to blights many small format keyboards. Stone have also been mindful of the layout, so you'll find the likes of delete in the top right-hand corner and control in the bottom left, so it favours those moving over from a regular-sized keyboard.
The keyboard also stretches from left to right using the entire width available, which we always like to see. One oddity is a strip of foamy material along the bottom of the keyboard. At first we thought it was part of the packaging, but it seemed too firmly attached. Whatever the purpose, we couldn't figure it out.
The trackpad is rather small however and has individual left and right click buttons underneath. To the right side of the trackpad is a scroll area, although it is not marked in any way - leave a finger in the top right-hand corner and it scrolls up, and down in the bottom corner. The trackpad is easily bettered by a portable notebook mouse for any serious work.
Stone have also included some shortcut buttons on the deck of the Neo, which will launch the webcam, email or browser. For the type of device this is, it targets your needs rather well, so it's a good additional feature here.
The webcam is the standard bezel-mounted type, accompanied by a mic below the screen, so you are ready to rock with Skype or any other online video application. The onboard stereo speakers give a reasonable level of volume and we found them fine for watching films whilst ensconced in hotel rooms.
The performance is typical of netbooks of this class. They are great for light computing work and getting things done on the move, but it doesn't take a step beyond this remit. Open too many windows and the machine quickly starts to drag its feet. It handles standard definition video with no problems, but it can't handle HD content, either from a camera or of the YouTube HD variety.
So on to the design and materials, which in many cases is the only differentiator for netbooks. The Stone Neo is a bit on the chunky side it has to be said. Whilst competitors are slimming down, the Neo is quite fat at the back end at 36mm, with an otherwise regular footprint of 262 x 184mm. It weighs 1.3kg, which is a little heavier than average.
It is constructed from plastics, with a gloss lid, but a matte finish inside so you are spared the fingerprints that some other models present you. The result of the extra chunk, though, is that it feels pretty sturdy. The display doesn't flex easily and the hinges feel solid. Yes, it's big, but is feels more substantial with it.
It does tend to run a little hot however, with noticeable warmth under the palms as we type this, with a stream of hot exhaust blowing out the side when you start to get demanding. It's relatively quiet to run though, with disc noise and fan noise never being excessive.
Battery life is average at around 3.5 hours. It would typically see us through a movie with some time spent browsing around this, but it simply doesn't compare to the 6 or 7 hours that some models are now offering, albeit with a larger battery.
So overall this is an average spec netbook with average performance. It follows the tried and tested formula and merges together specifications that can be found from a number of manufacturers. We like the keyboard and we like the matte display, but we liked them last year on the MSI Wind too.
The Stone Neo doesn't push the boundaries where many others in the netbook space are, so it perhaps won’t get too many people excited. The £316 price point is a little higher than some competitors like the Advent 4211c or Samsung NC10, which have similar specs in a slimmer package.
It might not be the best looking of recent netbooks, but what the Stone Neo does give you is a 3-year warranty, which let's face it, is likely to see you through the life of the device. If you are not worried about the latest and greatest and value the security of a warranty, then it might just be for you.
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