Netbooks have seemingly gone about as small as they can go, so the new trend seems to be cramming more and more features into these typically features-light computers. The LT31 from Gateway has an impressive number of onboard features that make it more than just an ultra-portable Internet device. Aside from the obligatory wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity, there’s a Web cam, three USB ports, an SD card slot and a VGA-out port (so you can plug the device into a larger monitor when you’re not on the go). Although it runs an AMD Athlon 64 single-core processor, those used to more powerful computers will notice that the LT31 can feel a little sluggish, and that’s straight out of the box with no additional programs installed. One of the make-or-break features of a netbook is its keyboard, with some netbooks cramming the QWERTY keyboard into such a small space that it’s almost unusable. I’m pleased to report that the LT31 makes optimal use of the space available, resulting in large keys with no noticeable difficulty for touch typing.
However, while it supports the advanced touch-pad gestures that feature in Windows 7, the unit I tested was running Windows Vista Basic, so this functionality is lost on the user without an upgrade. Also, those in the market right now should be wary of purchasing a computer running anything less than Windows Vista Home Premium; where new purchases running Vista Home Premium, Vista Business and Vista Ultimate are eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 7 until the end of January, computers running Vista Home Basic (such as this one) are not.
PROS: A fairly large number of features in a nicely sized package, an integrated Web cam, three USB ports, it’s optimised for Windows 7 and features a great keyboard by netbook standards.
CONS: It’s fairly expensive for a netbook, running an OS that’s soon to be outdated (with no prospect of a free upgrade), and it can sometimes feel a little sluggish, even when you’re not pushing it too hard .
VERDICT: At $1099, the LT31 is at the expensive end of the netbook range where you almost have to consider opting for a fully fledged notebook. If you absolutely must have a netbook for convenience reasons, this is a mighty fine one – but you could most likely find a more powerful (albeit bulkier) laptop for a similar price.