Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Review of HCL MiLeap-L

Recently HCL India released a series of ultraportables branded as MiLeap series. The cheapest one of these is a flash based (2GB), Intel class mate PC style, MiLeap X series. I purchased a slightly higher version of these machines called MiLeap L series that instead comes with a 30GB HDD. This review is on MiLeap L series, though I also intend to buy the flash based version of this device for my uncle for reasons given below ;)

Hardware Specs
This is an ultraportable with following main specs:
- Intel Celeron M ULV (ultra low voltage) processor @ 900 MHz
- 512 MB DDR2 RAM
- WiFi, 10/100 ethernet
- 2 USB ports
- 1 SD Card reader
- Inbuilt Mic and Speakers
- Audio out and in jacks
- Touchpad
- 7 inch TFT screen with 800x480 as max res
- Battery Backup: ~4Hrs
- Total weight (including battery): 1.44 Kg

General feel, usability...
I just love this piece :) HCL has done a nice thing in packaging this little laptop not only on the hardware front but on the preinstalled Ubuntu distribution. The preinstalled Ubuntu takes up about 3GB of disk (so i am not sure what the flash version is bundled with). As against a standard install this comes with all the required apps (OpenOffice, Gimp, a series of media players and best of all with all required codes) out of box. The only thing that I didn't like was a 8GB partition on which FreeDOS was installed (presumably for those who want to switch over to windows), which i immediately reformatted as ext3 :)

Ubuntu is quite usable on this little laptop. Word processing and all other apps open without much fuz and seems quite fast for me. The boot time is a bit slow, but thats mostly as a result of using a bit slower processor. Network configuration, WiFi to be specific is just a breeze and worked great for me.

All other usability features of Ubuntu works great, and I feel that this pretty good for people looking for office related tasks and also for surfing.

The most wonderful aspect of the whole thing is the preinstalled gcc compiler set, which just worked out of box. I feel with the price tag (17000 INR) this is a pretty good buy for students learning programming. Though vi is preinstalled, you need to download vim and emacs if you really intend to do serious programming. I also installed the latest JRE and was pleased to see that MeTA Studio ran effortlessly of it ;)

The keypad and the touchpad are also nicely designed and are pretty much usable. There was one small problem though, that I found when using vi, that there is only one SHIFT key, but with a small form factor like that it would be difficult to fit in any extra key.

Overall the battery backup is pretty good and goes well beyond 4 hrs if you use the screen with reduced brightness. With standard brightness too, the battery pack gives at least 4hrs backup.

On heating issue, this heats up as much as my Mobilis, so I think that there is not much of a problem with it. I have continuously used the machine for about 4 hours and find it okay. Some times the base gets heated up a bit, and so its advised not to keep it on your lap for along time ;)

Final thoughts
I think HCL and Intel have finally begun to introduce to Indian market of what I had said earlier in my blogs. I have used Mobilis from Encore and after nearly an year after I tried using it I find it a highly restrictive device that is overpriced (the only thing on which it scores over MiLeap is a battery backup of about 6hrs). I would highly recommend this (and other MiLeap series too) if you are on a lookout for an affordable ultraportable, or even a second computing device.

NB: The whole review was written and published from my MiLeap L :)

Update: About the sound, its pretty good for the form factor.
About the heating issue, I think the use of flash drive will drastically reduce the heat generation. Also the flash drive is more rugged with no moving parts and hence the reason I will be buying it (MiLeap X) for my uncle ;)

Update 2: Aniruddha had written in to ask if VGA connecter is available from MiLeap L, short answer is NO. Check comments for more info.