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Viewsonic VNB102 Viewbook or how I broke two of my top buying rules

I broke two of my own rules today when I got myself a new ultra cheap netbook. It’s a viewbook actually or at least that’s what Viewsonic is calling their VNB102. But whatever Marketing is naming it, it’s a plain netbook that’s hardly exciting enough to write home about. Yet I’m writing about it here as it made me break my two top buying rules.

Viewsonic VNB102

My first rule is that when buying new tech stuff, I take the care to research the item carefully – to get as much user input on it. Well, in the case of the Viewsonic VNB102 I went straight ahead and bought it without even checking the full specs. Cause it was so damn cheap.

My second buying rule is that I should always try and buy stuff from brands that have a wider user base as it’s always easier to find help online when you have a problem later on. And with a wider user base there are always a bunch of tutorials flying around about how you can mod your device to make it better. Anyways, I totally neglected that when I went for the VNB102 as that’s Viewsonic’s first netbook. Why I did that? Cause it was so damn cheap.

My point is that sometimes things are so cheap that you don’t need to research them and you don’t even need to read what they are all about as long as the specs suit you. That’s also the main reason why we don’t review cheaper phones over at GSMArena.com. Budget devices are usually quite popular, they sell in millions and nobody reads about them online. That’s the hard truth. But I digress.

Since Viewsonic announced their VNB102 only two days ago, there are hardly any live photos of the device online, so I decided I’ll go ahead and post some along with my first impressions. Not that I believe anyone will research the thing seriously, but it’s a nice netbook in its own right and it deserves a proper presence on the net.

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Viewsonic VNB102

Viewsonic VNB102 is not Viewsonic’s first netbook. The European division of Viewsonic also lists two other models – the VNB100 and the VNB101. But the VNB102 is obviously the latest one.

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Viewsonic VNB102

Taking a look at the Viewsonic VNB102 specs

I’ve prepared a small Viewsonic VNB102 specs sheet for you to check out.

Viewsonic VNB102
Viewsonic VNB102

The only thing missing in it are the available battery options. The Viewsonic VNB102 will ship in either 3-cell (2200 mAh) or 6-cell (4200 mAh) Li-Ion battery. The 3-cell battery is supposed to give you 2-3 hours of uptime, while the heavier 6-cell battery should double that. Update 20 Jan: As it turns out battery performance is quite poor on that one. I can barely get 2 hours out of it with Windows 7 set to Power Saver power plan, screen brightness set to minimum and Wi-Fi turned off. Now that sucks. But I guess I should have anticipated it. And the real bummer is that I can’t even buy a 6-cell battery as an accessory here in Europe although it’s supposed to come as stock on the US version of VNB102.

The Viewsonic VNB102 packs a 10.1-inch LCD display with the common resolution of 1024×600 pixels. A thing you won’t find the manual is that the screen is actually glossy. I prefer glossy screens actually, so it came as a bonus for me. Update 20 Jan: Now that I’ve had enough time to tinker with the VNB102 I noticed the minimal level of screen brightness is quite high. I guess that takes its toll on the battery life, not to mention it can be quite straining on the eyes if you use the netbook in a pitch dark room. Another bugger is that when you plug the power cord the screen brightness always goes two levels up no matter what level you are at in the moment.

The other thing I dislike about it is that the hinge of the display doesn’t open fully and stops at say, 140-150 degrees thus making it hard to see the screen properly when you use the netbook in your lap where you need it opened almost as far as 180 degrees.

The hard drive on the VNB102 is a typical 160GB one. The particular one in my netbook is Western Digital’s WD1600BEVT. It’s a 5400RPM 2.5-inch SATA II drive with 8MB cache from the Scorpio Blue lineup made with battery-powered portables in mind. Since there’s a hidden recovery partition on it, the actual available user storage is around 140GB separated in two partitions by default.

Interestingly, the drive flaunts the WD’s ShockGuard technology, which obviously protects the drive mechanics and platter surfaces from shocks. WD’s SecurePark parks the recording heads off the disk surface during spin up, spin down, and when the drive is off. This ensures the recording head never touches the disk surface for hopefully improved long term reliability and improved non-operational shock tolerance.

Update 20 Jan:The keyboard is quite disappointing – its whole base wobbles in the center when you press a key. Not to mention that the keys seem quite small and I get a lot of unusual typos due to the crammed layout.

Several interesting points

The retail contents are quite modest – there’s no carrying pouch, no disc with drivers (you don’t need any under Win7) or a recovery disc. Those two discs were mentioned on the retail package, but there were none inside even though the security seal was untouched. I guess they’ve never been put inside.

But there’s a recovery partition on the hard drive that you can hopefully use to restore the OS to its sparkling new state if you mess things up.

Strangely, the manual says that the RAM (1GB by default) is not user upgradeable as it’s soldered directly to the motherboard. Well, as you’ll see, it’s not soldered to anything. You can upgrade your Viewsonic VNB102 to up to 2GB and it won’t void your warranty. It’s just that you have to throw away your old SO-DIMM (that’s the RAM stick) as there’s only one slot available.

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What hides under the Viewsonic VNB102 plastic covers on the bottom

VNB102 has its drawbacks too

A downer that you won’t notice at first sight is that the touchpad doesn’t have any gesture support – no two-finger scrolling, pinching, swiping or whatever. I guess I’ll find a way to add that via some modded drivers (if it’s a Synaptics trackpad), but it’s not there by default – at least not under the genuine Windows 7 Starter edition it came with. There’s simply no trackpad management software preinstalled and the trackpad uses the default Windows driver. Update 17 Dec: Viewsonic have just posted the VNB102 drivers several hours ago. It turns out that the trackpad is made by Alps. So far multi-touch is a no-go on the VNB102.

And secondly, you can’t adjust the amount of RAM allocated to the VGA in the BIOS. Now that’s a bummer cause I’d sure like to claim some back for my office applications and web browser.

And finally…

Well, that’s about it. Enjoy the shots of the Viewsonic VNB102 and let me know in the comments if you have any questions about it.

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