Product Review: Low-cost laptop

14 Aug 2007

You know a product has become a commodity when you can buy one at your local supermarket.

That said, picking up a PC with the weekly groceries isn’t a brand new concept in retail. In years past, computer makers have tried various schemes to tempt buyers, such as selling kit at petrol station forecourts.

What has changed is the price point – or more exactly, what you get for it. Low-cost retailer Aldi is pitching a laptop attractively at €699.99, which is less than many people are paying out for plasma TVs.

Surprisingly it’s not the cheapest on the market – if all you care about is price, you can get a workmanlike machine for less than €500.

The laptop in question is a Medion MD96290. It’s not a well-known brand name but the trade-off is, you get a lot of horsepower in the machine for the money.

The processor is a Pentium dual-core, which is above the entry level. There’s double the memory (2048MB) than you would expect on most standard portables and the storage capacity is a very generous 120GB.

You get four hours’ battery life on a full charge but once you start running more than one application or reading from a CD-Rom at the same time, that duration drops off noticeably.

It comes with a keyboard that’s surprisingly responsive by laptop standards, even if the chassis feels flimsy compared to other portables I’ve reviewed.

The display is a 15.4 inch widescreen, with a backlight that’s good but not outstanding: fine for most purposes but possibly not the best if you intend spending long hours using it for work.

The accompanying literature includes plenty of warnings about damaging the screen, leading me to suspect that the Medion might not be as durable as other manufacturers’ models.

What’s more, it’s not light – with the battery attached, the laptop weighs in at a shade over 3kg, which is fairly heavy by laptop standards.

These factors suggest that while this may be a portable by design, it’s very clearly intended as a stationary machine.

It’s set up as a multimedia system, complete with an integrated webcam, so its best suited for web browsing, watching DVDs and the like.

Overall it would make a good second computer – a decent performer, efficient without being especially outstanding.

And the price is worth a second mention – deals like this are very good value. An extra benefit is that other manufacturers should be forced into shaving a few euro off their own machines and that can only be good news for buyers.

This laptop model went on sale last Thursday at Aldi’s 45 stores around Ireland and stocks may have run out by press time. Aldi has promised similar offers in the coming months.

On the strength of the model reviewed here, it may be worth leaving some room in the trolley next time you go shopping.

Pros Nice price, generous spec
Cons Heavy, flimsy chassis
Price: €700

By Gordon Smith