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Smooth Creations Smoothbook Slice

Date: October 27, 2008
Author(s): Jonathan Varga-Szabo

The choice in netbooks used to be slim, but that’s far from being the case today. With all the competition, companies have to be creative in how they design their product, and in the case of Smooth Creation’s Smoothbook Slice, how they differentiate themselves is in the look. So if you ever wanted a netbook with a very unique paint job that defines who you are, read on.



Introduction

Smooth Creations is a smaller company, with a bigger agenda: Luxury, high-performance computing. While netbooks aren’t characterized by high-performance, Smooth Creations has characterized them with the luxury of a personality. The company’s Smoothbook Slice is another leg in the netbook-door. Available with or without the killer custom paint-jobs Smooth Creations is known for, the Slice packs an adequate punch into a small package.

Based on the MSI Wind, the Slice has a 10″ WSVGA (1024×600) LCD screen, is back-lit by LEDs, and a luxuriously large keyboard for a netbook; the Slice has many of the components other netbook users crave. Intel’s newer Atom processor, running at 1.6GHz, is used in the system to allow for a smaller form-factor, and better battery-life. Also featured are a 1.3 megapixel web cam, integrated microphone, card reader, and 3 USB 2.0 ports.

Upon arrival, I noticed a one truly unique trait about the packaging: there wasn’t any. The Slice went through shipment in its hipster-white faux-leather zippered case/wallet. The case, while it did protect it during shipment, was a nice personal touch from Smooth Creations, with their logo front and center, and the “SLICE” in the lower-right corner of the front. The case gives the Slice a more “custom” feel, without the boring old cardboard-box routine.

Inside, the case is less than spacious, since the netbook doesn’t really need it. However, if you were to stuff the power adapter into the case, it would create quite an obvious lump in the profile. Also, the case lacks a handle, for convenient carrying. I can’t say I was impressed here, but the case does its job: protecting the paint.

The Slice is supposedly “custom airbrushed.” It may look custom, but I highly doubt it was done by a professional. The rose/tulip/asparagus/mint mutant on the lid definitely looks unlike any flower I’ve ever seen. The petals say tulip, the stem says asparagus, the leaves scream spearmint, and the thorns whisper rose. It may not appeal to people obsessed with details.

Though, I have to say, the rest of the paint, in its glittery Pepto-Bismol pinkness, is actually quite nice, and very smooth. The glitter is not overdone, and is tasteful. This is most definitely not a manly-man’s notebook, though Smooth Creations has made more masculine paint jobs available. The water droplet effects are actually pretty cool… it’s just the flower that bothers me. Also, in the lower left corner is another branding, which reads “SMOOTHBOOK SLICE,” in silver.

Without a doubt, the lid would be way cooler without the flower, and in my case, a more masculine color. The lower-left corner silver branding would look fantastic on a glossy glittery-black paint. When I finally finished observing the exterior, I discovered opening the Slice was effortless, and smooth, due to its latchless design. The only issue with this is that the notebook does not close as securely as a latched design would. Even with a latchless design, my XPS m1210 has no issue staying closed, since it has a certain “snap” shut. The Slice, however, tends to sort of flop open, like a slack-jawed neanderthal’s mouth.

Moving onto the interior, the black keyboard contrasts a bit with the glittery-pink paint. The paint covers the touchpad as well, but the touchpad is still fully functional, and the paint actually enhanced my comfort in its use, letting my finger easily glide over its surface. Also, since the paint is conformal over the touchpad, it eliminates any true crevices in which dirt could get stuck in.

Next, take a look at the touchpad buttons, err… button. A partial holler at the MacBook, perhaps? It’s the same sort of system, you press the left side, you get a left click; you press the right, you get a right click. Unlike the MacBook, however, the touchpad is quite small. It really could have been wider, just by a smidgen. I actually found the unibutton to be a bit confusing, as did my friends who tried the netbook.

Testing

In the lower-right corner, you’ll see a familiar bit of silver text: “SMOOTH CREATIONS.” This is seen just above a series of LEDs, which actually tell you a lot more than most other notebook’s status indicators. From left to right: Bluetooth, WiFi, Sleep Mode, Battery, Caps Lock, Num Lock, Scroll Lock, and Hard Drive activity. I appreciate having all the status indicators in one place, but one question: where is the Power indicator? On the power button, of course. This might not seem like a big deal to most, but I find that it makes more sense than to have it anywhere else. This time, it’s in the upper-right corner of the netbook, just above the keyboard.

The keyboard is actually one of the better ones I’ve experienced on a netbook. It’s very comfortable for touch-typers, since everything is in a similar location as a regular notebook’s keyboard. Also, in a very Thinkpad-like fashion, the Fn button is where the Ctrl key should be. It’s the only peeve I’ve got about the keyboard.

The screen, with the regular anti-glare coating, is proportional to the keyboard, and fits very well in the chassis. The frame around it is adequate, but doesn’t make the screen seem smaller. As you look toward the top of the frame, you see a web cam. Unfortunately, the web cam probably doesn’t see you, since by default it is turned off. It’s easily turned on, but even so, it has a mild case of cataracts. The image is a bit grainy, choppy, and has a slight waviness to it, due to the warped plastic that protects the web cam’s own lens. The microphone is to the far right, in the corner of the frame. The camera activity light, instead of a soothing blue, or standard green, is an unappealing yellow.

The left edge of the Slice has two USB 2.0 ports, as well as the CPU vent, and the power jack. With the jack being on the side of the netbook, I expected a right-angled power adapter plug to match. This was not the case, and the plug was straight, which isn’t very convenient if you want the cable to be out of sight, or use a mouse if you are left handed. The other edge houses the last USB 2.0 port, card reader, microphone and headset inputs, VGA port, and Ethernet.

Unsurprisingly, there is no optical drive, which is actually a blessing for an on-the-go user. Optical drives are bulky energy-suckers, and have no place in a system that’s supposed to be portable and have a long battery life. Speaking of the battery, although difficult to remove, it’s 3-cell, 11.1v 2200mAh rating gives you about two hours of run time. This is a little bit on the low side, especially compared to the ASUS Eee PC 1000H’s nearly 7 hour battery time.

Although there is a larger 6 cell available, and rumors about an even larger 9 cell battery, the one provided does little to impress. The power adapter is unremarkable, and only different in its size. The “brick” is pretty small, compared to other laptop power adapters I’ve used. It’s approximately one-third the size of a regular adapter. The “brick” lacks a power indicator, though, which, if present, would really help in troubleshooting power issues.

Setup, Final Thoughts

Turning the Slice on for the first time, you get to see more branding on the screen that covers the POST. Afterwards, the BIOS entry options are shown, and then Windows XP begins to boot. I was surprised to see that Windows XP was already set up and waiting for me! This might be great for novice users, but at the same time, it doesn’t allow you to customize the things you would during a normal setup.

Next, the default user is “Smooth,” which, in my opinion, is really starting to cross the line. There’s a lot of branding all over the notebook, but I feel like the user name is one place that should be left to the user’s discretion. It’s relatively easy to change the username, but novice users may have trouble. For example, if your grandmother bought this laptop, would you really want her username to be “Smooth?”

Also, there was quite a bit of “stuff” left on the desktop. Lots of systematically named image files, setup files for 3D Asteroids and other applications, in addition to a populated Recycle Bin. Unfortunately, things a little more important than 3D Asteroids, like a competent anti-virus application, were not installed.

For a netbook, being on the Internet without virus protection could lead to some uncomfortable situations. Updates were also lacking, and upon the first few hours of usage nearly 16 Windows updates were needed. In addition, the XP color scheme that was left was a little less than appealing, with a very light shade of greenish-brown. Now, I’m no color expert, but the khaki-XP does very little to flatter the pink paint job.

While using the Slice, I found that a wireless signal was never quite completely connected. Although it was connected in some way, and I was able to surf the Internet, the Windows XP wireless configuration interface was always “Acquiring Network Address.” Also, the range on the wireless card was very disappointing. Places where I usually have an “Excellent” wireless signal were “Good” on the Slice. It almost feels as if the Slice needs a larger antenna, routed through the case.

In addition, the wireless card provided was 802.11b/g, not n. If an n card had been used, the range would have most definitely been better, not to mention the data rate. Since the Slice lacks a PCMCIA or ExpressCard slot, adding an 802.11n network adapter without opening the laptop would have to be via USB. While speaking of opening the case, the warranty sticker was already pierced on the unit I had. This worries me, especially if I have to send the Slice in for service, and my warranty is voided. This could have been due to it being a review sample, however, and might not be representative of a retail unit.

The Intel Atom makes most applications pretty zippy, especially at only 1.6GHz. I was expecting a much slower experience, because of the relatively low frequency, and lack of two cores. The system has one gigabyte of RAM, and is actually more than enough. System performance gave me no trouble whatsoever. However, when looking at the system properties, it should be noted that the system is “Manufactured and supported by: Microstar International,” with a lovely MSI logo.

It’s interesting that Smooth Creations did not brand the Slice more thoroughly. This really confused me, since the Slice is retailed by Smooth Creations, but is supported by Microstar International? Then Smooth Creations proceeds to break the warranty on the netbook? If something were to go wrong, who would I contact? Since the warranty is void, I doubt Microstar International would oblige to repair the unit.

Back to the system’s performance. Even though the 120GB hard drive runs at 5400 RPM, booting into Windows XP was actually very quick, as was waking the netbook from sleep mode, and besides the network and web cam issues I’d mentioned earlier, the Slice does everything that’s needed by the user, and does it pretty well.

Overall, the Slice is a good product, for the correct user. I have a few moral issues, however, with the product. Smooth Creations did not manufacture this product, but do have their branding everywhere, but insinuate that they expect Microstar International to support their product. Also, the Microstar International product costs about $400, when properly researched, while the Smoothbook Slice costs $549.

The paint job most definitely does not justify the nearly $150 markup. In the end, this review is really about the MSI Wind. The MSI Wind works well, with a few issues. The Smoothbook Slice is a designer product, and changes the exterior to appeal to the consumer. If this is what the consumer wants, it’s a great selling-point. For those concerned with performance, the paint is unnecessary, and the markup is a waste of time. The latter individuals should purchase the MSI Wind.

Eventually, it all comes down to the paint: is it worth $149? For some it may be, for others not. The Smooth Creations Smoothbook Slice is definitely a luxury computer, like most of the computer products Smooth Creations sells. Owning the Slice is making a statement, like owning a Hummer. While you don’t need the unique appearance, you can pay for it, and you aren’t afraid to. With many different paint jobs, customized to the user’s personality, the Slice is more than the MSI Wind in that it shows who you are. For those who can do that without spending an extra $149, the MSI Wind is more down your alleyway.

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