Starting at a mere $400, the Everex CloudBook marks the latest entry to the expanding world of UMPC-type subnotebooks at affordable prices. With a 7-inch display, 1.2 GHz processor, and 30 GB hard drive, the CloudBook certainly doesn't make a very good desktop replacement computer, but it does look like one impressive little road warrior.
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As both an editor for a laptop review web site and as an average consumer I am in love with the low-priced UMPC-type subnotebook market. Laptops like the Everex CloudBook, the Asus Eee PC, and soon-to-be released subnotebooks from other manufacturers represent something truly innovative. In short, these affordable ultraportables are virtually "disposable" travel laptops. Granted, anyone would be upset if something happened to a $400 computer, but it's much more convenient to lose a $400 laptop than a laptop that costs $700 or more.
The other factor that makes these subnotebooks convenient is that they are much easier to carry for travel. Sure, they lack the power to serve as a primary workhorse for video or photo editing, but these laptops are designed to serve as temporary travel computers.
With that being said, last year I purchased an Asus Eee PC 4G for personal use and business travel. While I think the Eee PC is great, I'm quick to realize its shortcomings and limitations. When Everex announced the release of the CloudBook I was excited that this might be a perfect replacement for my Eee PC. The CloudBook offers more storage (30 GB vs 4 GB) and DVI out (rather than simple VGA) for better external monitor connections. Before our CloudBook review unit arrived I was planning to replace my Asus Eee PC with the CloudBook. Did this happen? Continue reading and you'll see.
The Everex CloudBook is an impressive little machine at first glance. The innovative grip-through LCD hinge design and compact form factor come together with smooth matte black plastics and a hint of metal reinforcement in just the right places. Weighing in at just two pounds the CloudBook was built around the VIA Nanobook reference design -- a subnotebook prototype developed by VIA as a platform for its new mobile technologies.
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The CloudBook does not have a latch to hold it closed, and while the hinge mechanism generally works well at holding the lid in place, it is very easy to move the lid by slightly shaking the notebook.
While we're on the topic of the screen lid, the hinge was designed so that you can reach under the CloudBook and grasp the back of the notebook with one hand (wrapping your fingers under the display) and type with your free hand. While this is a nice idea, it's hardly practical since the CloudBook uses a non-standard touchpad interface which requires two hands to use (more on this later).
On the bright side, there is almost no flex to the screen or chassis.
Everex decided to use the relatively new "gOS Rocket" operating system, which is a Linux variant using an attractive graphical user interface (GUI) to make it easy for Windows or Mac OS X users to understand. The first thing most people think when they see the gOS desktop for the first time is that it's Mac OS X.
Typical gOS Desktop
Unfortunately, surface appearance is where the similarity ends. While gOS isn't a bad operating system, it's clear that Everex did nothing to customize this operating system installation for use on the CloudBook.
For starters, the first time you turn on the CloudBook you are prompted to select your time zone and other settings on a number of dialog windows. Unfortunately, because the dialog windows aren't designed to fit on the 800 x 480 resolution display on the CloudBook, you cannot read the entire text. What's worse is that you cannot select the settings and click on the "OK" or "Next" buttons required to move forward with the setup process.
Of course, since gOS is a Linux-based operating system you can press and hold the "Alt" key while clicking on the dialog window to move the window so you can press the required buttons. Let's pause for a moment and let reality sink in here. The Everex CloudBook is a $400 laptop being sold at Wal-Mart. How many average Wal-Mart shoppers do you think know the "hold down Alt" trick for moving windows in Linux? It's safe to say most consumers will be calling Everex customer support after 5 minutes to figure out how to start using the CloudBook.
To test this, I called Everex tech support using the toll-free number located on the bottom of the device. I told them I just turned on my CloudBook and was stuck on the startup window and couldn't figure out what to do next (a little lie for the sake of a review isn't horrible). Rather than tell me to hold down the Alt key and drag the window I was put on hold for 15 minutes. When tech support finally returned they told me I could get a RMA (return merchandise authorization) to return my CloudBook for a replacement unit.
I guess when I called there was no one working at Everex technical support who knew about Linux. If that's the case, maybe gOS was the wrong choice of operating system for the CloudBook. Although Windows has many faults I suspect fewer consumers would need to contact tech support just to turn on their laptops for the first time.
The CloudBook has generally acceptable performance, as it's based on the 1.2 GHz VIA C7-M ultra low voltage processor. That said, our benchmarking suggests the performance on this processor is comparable to much slower 700 MHz Intel processors. In fact, the wPrime processor benchmark indicates the 1.2 GHz VIA processor is slower than the 900 MHz Intel processor in the Asus Eee PC. In a nutshell, Everex had to sacrifice some performance in order to bring this ultra-mobile laptop to consumers for only $400.
Granted, the CloudBook only includes 512 MB of RAM, so we also tested the system with a 1 GB module of RAM from Crucial. The problem with doing that is there is no easy-access RAM door on the bottom of the CloudBook. You must completely disassemble the CloudBook in order to replace the RAM. Another problem is that Everex uses non-standard sized screws to hold the chassis together ... so most small screwdrivers are too large to remove the screws. What's worse is that opening the chassis voids the manufacturer's warranty ... making upgrades ill-advised for average consumers.
Adding 1 GB of DDR2 533 MHz SDRAM from Crucial did improve the PCMark05 score by almost 60 points (671 PCMarks after upgrade). However, given the difficulty involved with the upgrade and the lack of warranty after the upgrade, I can't say adding more RAM to the CloudBook is worth the trouble.
The VIA UniChrome Pro integrated graphics processor should provide adequate performance for some games with minimal system requirements. That said, don't expect this notebook to play the latest graphics-intense games... we're not dealing with a dedicated graphics card here, and in some cases the UniChrome Pro is less powerful than Intel integrated graphics.
The 7-inch WVGA (800 x 480 pixels) matte screen on the CloudBook isn't ideal for extended use and certainly isn't designed for HD video, but it does offer sharp contrast, excellent color, and reasonably even backlighting. Horizontal viewing angles were excellent, although vertical viewing angles were only average. The screen itself didn't suffer from ripples or stuck pixels, but I did notice some minor light leakage from the top edge of the display at maximum brightness.
One of the most impressive features about the screen on the CloudBook (and the video drivers that VIA uses) is that users can "scale" higher resolutions on the screen. In other words, you can fit 1000 x 600 pixels worth of resolution on the 800 x 480 screen. Scaling the display does cause some loss of fine details and text can be more difficult to read, but it's much nicer to view web sites at 1000 x 600 than it is using the default resolution.
Desktop at native 800 x 480 Resolution
Desktop scaled to 1000 x 600 resolution
Another interesting problem I encountered during my first day with the CloudBook involved connecting an external monitor to the built-in DVI port on the side of the notebook. After connecting an external display and changing the settings in the default gOS operating system the CloudBook responded with an error message and refused to display anything on the external monitor. After I disconnected the external monitor the built-in LCD could not be reset to the native 800 x 480 resolution and would only work in 640 x 480 mode ... not acceptable for much of anything.
After several hours of work I was forced to format the hard drive and install Microsoft Windows in order to restore the display to the correct default resolution. Again, that's just not something you expect from a brand new notebook.
After I installed Windows on the CloudBook and connected the external display to the DVI port I discovered that the CloudBook only supports one widescreen resolution (1000 x 600) so if you use a large widescreen external display you will not be able to set the correct resolution or aspect ratio on the CloudBook. For comparison purposes, we tested the Asus Eee PC with the same widescreen external monitor and the Asus model supported all the correct resolutions and aspect ratios.
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The keyboard on the CloudBook is cramped to say the least. It will take most users several hours or more to get used to typing on such a small area.
The keyboard is virtually identical to the keyboard used on the Asus Eee PC, and is probably the same part provided by the same OEM. However, unlike the keyboard on the Asus Eee PC, the keyboard on the CloudBook has significant flex that makes typing somewhat like pressing down on a plastic trampoline.
As mentioned previously, the touchpad interface on the CloudBook is quite unique compared to other notebooks currently on the market. The actual touchpad is located above the keyboard on the right side of the notebook, and is a small area about the size of a U.S. postage stamp. There is no dedicated area for scrolling (thank goodness) and the touchpad is so small that precise control is extremely difficult.
The left and right touchpad buttons are located above the keyboard on the left side of the notebook, and are likewise much smaller than typical touchpad buttons. Both buttons have deep feedback and well-cushioned clicks, but they are so small that it's easy to press the wrong button or both buttons at the same time.
Gaming is perhaps the single most difficult thing to do with the touchpad interface on the CloudBook. Most games require use of the touchpad, touchpad buttons, and multiple keyboard keys (such as W, A, S, and D). Trying to control a game while using the touchpad with your right hand and press the touchpad buttons with your left hand while pressing keyboard keys at the same time is next to impossible. If the CloudBook used a standard touchpad interface you could control the touchpad and touchpad buttons with one hand... and I just can't understand why VIA and Everex engineers didn't do this. (More on gaming later).
Bottom line, buy an external mouse if you're going to use the CloudBook.
The 30 GB hard drive in the CloudBook provides a reasonable amount of storage, but isn't anywhere near the amount of storage that most consumers are likely to want in a modern laptop. Sure, you've got enough storage for travel needs, but if you download tons of music, movies, and TV shows from iTunes and store them on the CloudBook's hard drive then you'll quickly run out of space.
Additionally, the slow 3600 rpm speed of the 30 GB hard disk means the CloudBook wastes a large amount of time trying to access data.
Both the average data transfer speed (read/write speed) and the average data access time (how long it takes the drive to locate data) for the 30 GB hard drive were slower than either the internal 4 GB SSD inside the Asus Eee PC or a 16 GB SDHC card used as a second storage drive inside the Eee PC.
Of course, you can use a SDHC card inside the card reader on the Everex CloudBook, but unlike most notebooks the card reader on the CloudBook doesn't allow SDHC cards to set flush against the edge of the notebook. Since SDHC cards stick out of the side of the CloudBook and can be accidentally removed with a simple bump it isn't a good idea to use an SDHC card as a second storage drive in this device.
Although the ultra-mobile form factor of the CloudBook cannot accommodate the standard array of ports you'll find on other notebooks, Everex did manage to include a reasonable number of ports.
The complete list of ports includes:
Although VIA and Everex engineers deserve serious credit for developing the CloudBook, it's safe to say that most consumers would have rather taken a third USB port or FireWire port instead of the DVI out... particularly since the VIA integrated graphics aren't particularly powerful.
Here's a quick tour of the notebook:
Front: No Ports or Indicators
Back: Just the Hinge and Battery
Right: Microphone In, Headphone Out,
Left: DVI out, 4-in-1 Card Reader
The CloudBook certainly isn't designed to play the latest graphics-intense video games like BioShock or Crysis, but it does meet the minimum requirements for many older games. During the review period I tested a number of older games like Freelancer and Freedom Fighters on this model.
The CloudBook was able to play these older games at acceptable frame rates, but level load times and cinematic cutscenes took much longer than they should have. In some cases the CloudBook took 15 seconds or more to load a new level compared to less than 5 seconds on typical notebooks or the Asus Eee PC.
In addition, I decided to test a freeware gaming application called 3DAnalyze on the CloudBook. This makes modern games playable on computers with modest integrated graphics by forcing the game to run without certain settings required for highly detailed 3D graphics. I've used 3DAnalyze on a number of laptops with integrated graphics (including the Asus Eee PC) to play games such as Halo and Shattered Union at 800 x 480 resolution.
While the Asus Eee PC is able to play Halo and Shattered Union with acceptable frame rates thanks to 3DAnalyze, the Everex CloudBook was not able to accomplish this... most likely due to an incompatibility with the integrated VIA graphics.
The built-in stereo speakers located beneath the display hinge are the very definition of bad notebook speakers. Most budget laptops have terrible speakers that sound like someone speaking through a tin can, and indeed so does the CloudBook. The difference here is that the speakers on this model sound like someone speaking through extremely tiny tin cans.
The good news is that the audio out port (headphone minijack) provides excellent audio output. There's little or no distortion or static, and the sound on my earbuds was quite enjoyable.
The CloudBook uses a four-cell lithium-ion battery rated at 2200 mAh and 14.4 V. Everex claims five hours of battery life on the CloudBook, but my tests under gOS, Windows XP Pro, and Windows Vista Home Premium suggest the battery life is closer to three hours on average.
With the screen set to the lowest brightness setting and Wi-Fi off while typing Word documents and watching movie files I was able to get the CloudBook to last just more than three and a half hours.
Considering the small form factor of the CloudBook and the ultra low voltage VIA processor I expected the CloudBook to produce little in the way of heat and noise. Unfortunately, after only a few minutes of use I discovered it generates both heat and noise in abundance.
The processor cooling fan is always running on the low, medium, or high setting when the CloudBook is plugged in. I was able to tell the fan has three settings because I could easily hear the change in pitch as the fan throttled up and down. Imagine the sound of a muffled hair dryer running inside your notebook and you'll have some idea what the CloudBook sounds like when it's plugged in.
On the bright side, the fan typically stays at the lowest setting or off while the CloudBook is running on battery. The down side of this is that the VIA processor runs at a slower clock cycle most of the time while on battery power (regardless of the Windows power management settings) which means slower performance.
Despite the issue of fan noise, the most troublesome issue I encountered during the test period was heat. While plugged in the bottom of the CloudBook reached temperatures of 126 degrees Fahrenheit (too hot for direct skin contact over an extended period). HDTune reported hard drive temperatures as hot as 56 degrees Celsius (133 degrees Fahrenheit).
During my benchmarking tests (which stressed the system and generated more heat) the Wi-Fi card inside the CloudBook would stop working after 30-45 minutes of use. The only way to get the card to start working again was to turn off the CloudBook and let it cool down for at least 10 minutes before restarting the system and connecting to the Internet again.
When a notebook overheats to the point that it stops working every 30-45 minutes you know there's a serious problem. Below are images with the external temperatures listed in degrees Fahrenheit.
At first glance the CloudBook is an impressive design with some innovative features and some reasonably impressive specs for the $400 price tag. However, upon closer examination it's clear that VIA and Everex had to make a number of sacrifices to bring this ultra-mobile notebook to the market for such a low price.
The low-capacity, slow, hard drive, and slow overall performance make the CloudBook a less than compelling purchase compared to the current generation Asus Eee PC 4G... despite the other device's much smaller storage space.
The fact that the CloudBook cannot support the correct resolutions for widescreen external monitors is another problem for anyone who wants to connect this laptop to a larger screen.
The issue of excessive heat build up inside the CloudBook is perhaps the most obvious "deal killer." Who wants to own a laptop that you can only use for 30-45 minutes when connected to the Internet before you have to turn it off and let it cool down?
I do have to say the high-resolution scaling on the tiny screen and 30 GB of storage space are very nice features, but these benefits pale in comparison to the other problems and limitations the CloudBook brings to the table. In short, I have a hard time recommending the current generation of the Everex CloudBook for any consumer. Given the strength of the Asus Eee PC and upcoming budget subnotebooks from other manufacturers, there simply isn't a compelling reason to purchase the CloudBook.
The Everex CloudBook (starting at $400) is available in just one configuration at the time of this writing. It has the following specifications:
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