21 March 2009

ZT Affinity N4004i

An understated notebook with some glaring flay

ZT'S AFFINITY N4004I DOESN'T LOOK half bad on paper. It tests well enough (with the exception of graphics performance), has decent components, and has enough of the basics lot most users, It even has a 10-key numeric pad. Unfortunately, the N4004i suffers from a seriously cramped keyboard and a lackluster design.

Notebooks don't get much more plain-Jane than the N4004i. The 1.5x14.1x10.2-inch (HWD), 5.5-pound system has a matte black lid and a two-tone matte-black-and-silver keyboard deck, which reflects a solid build but not much else. The two elements that stand out, however, are the blue-encircled power button and the font on the keys, which has a gaming feel.

Unfortunately, any keyboard coolness ends there. Because it has a 10-key pad on the right side, everything from the letter "L" to the right is squished, including the right Shift, arrow, colon, quotes, period, Enter, question mark, bracket, and Backspace keys. Likewise, the touch pad is a little off center, so we found that every time we placed our hands on the keyboard, they were in the wrong spot.

The touch pad itself, however, is large, comfortable, and responsive. The mouse buttons are big enough, but they're loud and stiff. Watching movies on the N4004i was comfortable so long as only one person watched at a time, since the LCD's viewing angles are narrow. The 15.4-inch, 1,280x800-resolution display showed off The Matrix well, albeit with a touch of graininess.

And while the sound was predictably tinny, we were pleasantly suiptised by the volume, which was loud enough that we didn't need headphones.
For a mainstream notebook, we expect more ports at least a PC Card or ExpressCard option and HDMI. But the N4004i doesn't offer those. Instead, you get four USB ports, one VGA connector, a memory-card reader (SD, MultiMediaCard, Memory Stick), Ethernet and modem jacks, and a DVD±RW drive. You'll also find audio-out, headphone, and mic jacks in the front.

Likewise, we'd expect some multimedia buttons on the keyboard deck, but there are none. It does have four programmable quick-launch buttons next to the power button. In the upper bezel, you'll find a 1.3-megapixel camera, which looked very good on our tests. It had a little motion blur, but the picture was large and relatively clear, as far as integrated Webcams go.

ZT includes 2GB of Intel's Turbo Memory, which definitely helped Vista load applications. And the N4004i performed reasonably well, too, with its Intel Core 2 Duo P7350 processor. It managed a solid 2,972 on the Futuremark PCMark Vantage test, which is about average for its class. Likewise, it handled our Windows Media Encoder and Mines tests well, finishing them both faster than average, at 7 minutes and 43 seconds and 4 minutes and 27 seconds respectively.

On the other hand, when you compare these numbers against those of the $949 Lenovo IdeaPad Y530, they're a little disappointing. The IdeaPad costs $100 less but scored 3,161 on PCMark Vantage and took 7 minutes and 42 seconds and 4 minutes and 48 seconds to complete the Windows Media Encoder and iTunes tests. The N4004i did manage to beat the IdeaPad on Cinebench 10, however, with a score of 4,087, compared with the IdeaPad's 4,036. Graphics performance from the integrated GMA X4500 chip raised some eyebrows, with the N4004i scoring just 975 on Futuremark 3DMark06, compared with the IdeaPad's 2,084. The scores start to shake out a bit with battery life, especially since the N4004i has a nine-cell battery and managed 3 hours and 52 minutes on our battery-rundown test, compared with the IdeaPad's more normal 2 hours and 4 minutes. Gaming on either system is nothing to get excited about—neither returned more than 20 frames per second on F.E.A.R. and Company of Heroes.

The 320GB, 5,400rpm hard drive comes loaded with 64-bit Windows Vista Home Premium, a 90-day trial of Norton Internet Security 2008, and a 60-day trial of Microsoft Office Professional. You'll also find ZT's System Recovery Solution onboard, and you'll get lifetime 24/7 toll-free phone support.

All in all, the N4004i isn't a bad system. It's not overly slow, and it does have fine audio quality. But the keyboard is a deal breaker. And what's more, it's $100 more than the Lenovo IdeaPad YS30, which doesn't have any of these issues. We also wish it offered a few more ports and connectivity options. A PC Card and an HDMI port would have gone a long way toward bumping this system up a notch. We are fond of the Turbo Memory, but we're not convinced it's enough to make this purchase compelling. —Sarah E. Anderson

Computer Shopper March 2009


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