byJoanna Stern||October 1st 2010 at 10:22amOctober 1st 2010 10:22 am
It's been over nine months since Steve Ballmer whipped out the HP Slate at CES and divulged that there'd be Windows 7 "Slate PCs" hitting the market. It sure was a memorable keynote, but since that fateful day all we've got to show for actual Win 7 tablets are a slew of leaked videos of HP's elusive device, information / trade show sightings of lots of similar products, and the less than stellar Archos 9. Until now that is. A small company, interestingly and rather ironically called Netbook Navigator, has managed to get its act together slightly ahead of the rest with its Nav 9 Slate PC. Starting at $599, the 8.9-inch resistive-touch Windows 7 Home Premium tablet is powered by an Intel Atom N280 processor and can be configured with up to 2GB of RAM and 32GB of flash storage. Yep, it sounds a heck of a lot like your first generation netbook with its keyboard cut off... and, well, that turns out to be just one of the Nav 9's major problems. You'll want to see what we mean in our full review after the break. %Gallery-103660%
One of the first Win 7 slates out there
Good selection of ports
Built-in 3G module option
Poor battery life
Resistive touchscreen, terrible LCD quality
Uses older Atom processor
From afar the Nav 9's silver edges and black bezel look rather striking, but when you get up close the cheap make of the device is what will strike you the most. The rounded edges do make the tablet comfortable to hold, but the black plastic, glossy bezel isn't just an eyesore, it makes it feel more like a toy than a serious piece of hardware. We'll be coming back to that cheap screen in the next section, don't you worry! Sure, there aren't any real Windows 7 tablets to compare it to, but the iPad, Samsung Galaxy Tab, and JooJoo (yes, even the JooJoo) are certainly more handsome and solidly built devices.
The Nav 9 also feels rather chunky for an 8.9-inch tablet. It clocks in at two pounds -- 0.5-pounds more than the larger screened iPad -- and is .8 inches thick --0.2 inches thicker than the 12.1-inch JooJoo. (Of course, it's thinner and lighter than the average 10-inch netbook.) At least that extra girth makes for some added port room – the left edge is home to two USB jacks, headphone, microphone sockets and a proprietary port for a VGA adapter. (The actual adapter is actually included in the box.) The right edge contains one more USB port, a 2-in-1 card reader and a SIM card slot. Sadly, there's no pen slot anywhere on the tablet – and yes, we blame the misplacement of the small, chrome stylus on that! There's also a 1.3 megapixel webcam on the top bezel for video calling or snapping shots.
As you've seen in the pictures, the Nav 9's 8.9-inch, 1024x600-resolution screen is extremely glossy. (Seriously, it's a photography nightmare!) But our major issues come in the quality of the plastic LCD. We realize we're used to glass displays, but even for plastic, the one on the Nav 9 feels extremely chintzy. It's mushy when you press on it, and when you slide your finger across the plastic it typically makes a squeaky sound of sorts. To boot, we didn't think viewing angles could be so bad. You must (seriously, it's a must!) look at this tablet dead on – trying to see something on the screen from the side or even slightly off axis is just not an option, unless you're into looking at completely dark screens. We'd like to think Netbook Navigator was thinking about privacy concerns and chose to make the display look like a 3M privacy filter, but we're gonna say that's not what happened here. It's just bad.
The low-pressure resistive screen performance isn't much better. It doesn't require as firm as a press as most resistive displays, but we don't need to tell you it's just not what we're used to with capacitive screens. We preferred using the stylus instead of a fingertip or nail in most cases – it's just easier to get around Windows 7 with a finer point. Does a finger work for scrolling or pinching-to-zoom? Sure, but finding the right amount of pressure takes some getting used to. However, one of the benefits of the resistive screen is being able to write using the stylus. Handwriting recognition was decent, but there's a slight lag between pen strokes and the appearing ink. Still we prefer, the experience of the HP TouchSmart Tm2t, which combines Wacom's pen technology with a multitouch capacitive screen.
The Nav 9 also doesn't have an accelerometer, so adjusting the orientation of the device is quite a chore – it requires going into the display settings every time you'd like to switch from landscape to portrait and visa versa. We dug around for some freeware to help out, but we really do wish there was a physical button for this task. It's also incredibly hard to change the display brightness. There's no physical button for this either and it's also been taken out of the power management settings for some reason – we were forced to adjust it using the graphics properties menu.
And that brings us to another major issue we had with the Nav 9 over the past few days – navigating and digging through Windows 7. As we've said many a time, for certain things, Windows 7 is just not an ideal operating system for tablets. Is it fine for using a finger to browse the web, play a movie in Windows Media Center, or swipe through pictures? Sure it is, but the underlying OS was built for mouse and keyboard input, and trying to dig through menus with a finger is far from a blithe experience. While some will prefer the straightforward Windows experience, we would have liked to see some sort of skin on top of Windows to make it easier to navigate, select programs and adjust settings. However, we should note here that this product is primarily aimed at, and probably most appropriate for, the enterprise or professional market. To that end, we're assuming a "vanilla" version of Windows 7 is exactly what the doctor ordered.
The Nav 9 will come with a relatively clean install of Windows 7 Home Premium – actually you'll be paying $150 for just Windows 7 Home as Netbook Navigator doesn't produce enough of these tablets just yet to include it in the overall cost. (Yes, that brings the starting price up to $749.) Our review unit was preloaded with a lot of software that was being tested on the device, including a neat DeskSpace application that lets you create different desktop environments. The only problem with that one was that it's not really intended for tablets, so to navigate to another desk "space" you have to select the screens from a shortcut on the taskbar. However, once you've got the hang of that it's fun to be able to spin the desktop around. As far as the software keyboard goes, it's your stock Windows 7 soft keyboard, but because of the screen size and resolution it's hard to make room for it on the screen. We preferred using the stylus for inputting text regardless.
Here's the part of the review where we break down and tell you that we were able to transform the slate into a decent workhorse and write this very review on the device itself. We paired it with a Bluetooth keyboard and attached a mouse and wrote most of this review in Word 2007.
Performance and battery life
If the Nav 9 were running Windows XP, it would have the exact specs of a first generation netbook. Our unit was powered by a 1.66GHz Intel Atom N280 processor, 2GB of RAM and a 32GB solid-state drive. (Note: our review unit is priced at $1,024 – it has the 3G modem and Win 7 Home Premium. The entry-level model with 1GB of RAM and a 16GB drive is just $600, but doesn't include the full Win 7 OS, just a 30-day trial.) The performance is what you'd expect of a netbook – it's fine for running a few standard programs – in our case Word, Firefox and Seesmic Desktop 2 – but it can lag when too much is thrown at it. We found programs opening relatively quickly and we assume that extra gig of RAM helps to that end.
Still, we would have liked to see this tablet pack newer netbook processor options even just for power savings alone. The N280 chip is about two years old at this point and Intel's N450 series or Z series have been vastly improved in terms of power savings and TDP. The Nav 9's three cell battery lasted 2:25 minutes on our video rundown test with brightness set at 45 percent (keep in mind when we ran this test we couldn't figure out how to adjust the brightness. We are retesting now at our typical 65 percent brightness setting.) No matter how you look at it, the endurance of this tablet is downright bad. Part of that is to blame on the older Atom CPU, but the bigger issue here is that the form factor isn't meant for these netbook organs. We're hopeful that Intel's future Atom OakTrail will change all that. We do have to say that we expected the heat on the tablet to be worse – it got a bit warm at times, but not unbearable by any means.
We do have to say that the Nav 9 can be configured with a number of connectivity options. Obviously, WiFi and Bluetooth are standard, but you can also add a 3G module. We popped in a AT&T SIM and didn't have any luck connecting, but we're sure any unlocked SIM will do.
Smack on the front of the Nav 9's box it says "the future of mobile computing." Sadly, the Nav 9 is the direct opposite of that. The tablet uses outdated netbook parts and a display that's just unacceptable by today's standards. As for its Windows 7 operating system, it is certainly robust, but the fact that it's not loaded with any touch-friendly software makes it less consumer friendly than other netveribles or Windows 7 convertible tablets out there. It may be more appropriate for the professional or enterprise market, but even then for $749 (that's the starting price when you actually configure this thing with an operating system) we're not sure we can recommend the Nav 9. Sure, it's one of the first Windows 7 "slates" out there and it could fill the void for those that are looking for a device like this, but we have faith that others will provide a better experience for a more affordable price. Hey, we've waited this long...