Tools Of The Trade: The Flybook V33i ultra-compact notebook

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The Independent Online

The security alerts at UK airports will have prompted frequent business travellers to look again at what they need to carry with them. One way to meet the new, restricted, rules for hand luggage is to swap a standard laptop for an ultra-portable model.

One of the most compact on the market, and one of the more stylish, is the Flybook. Made by Taiwanese firm Dialogue, this is a feature-packed machine roughly the size of a portable DVD player. It weighs in at just over a kilogram.

The Flybook has a widescreen display that, at around eight inches across, shows an A4 document at full width but about a third of the depth. The size of the machine means the keyboard is something of a compromise: the keys feel positive but their small size and close spacing make it easy to hit the wrong letter. That said, it is far simpler to use than the fold-out keyboards available for handheld computers.

For web browsing and other applications where entering lots of data is not an issue, the Flybook offers another option. Swivel the screen around and fold it flat and the Flybook makes a very neat, portable tablet computer with a touch-sensitive screen.

A downside, though, is that Dialogue does not supply Microsoft's well-regarded OneNote software for tablet PCs, but instead an alternative called EverNote. The Flybook comes with Windows XP Professional but it is not the tablet PC edition. These problems can be fixed, but it would be annoying to have to do so given the product's price tag.

On the other hand, the Flybook has plenty of features. Its 40GB hard drive is roomy and there is an ethernet port, two Firewire sockets, two USB ports and a single PC card slot for devices like a 3G data card.

There is also an internal slot for a SIM card, as the machine has built-in support for a GPRS wireless data connection. But as Dialogue provided no documentation with the review sample and neither Orange nor Vodafone appear familiar with the Flybook, it was impossible to put this to the test. Nor did the Flybook seem to work with an industry-standard 3G/WiFi card.

These drawbacks, and the absence of a CD or DVD drive, make it hard to recommend the Flybook. It is pleasant to use but a good, full-sized tablet PC will be more flexible and powerful and should not have compatibility issues.