The Twinhead Durabook N14RA notebook takes a spill and a fall.
The Durabook's metallic dark blue case contains a magnesium alloy for strength and durability -- 20 times stronger than plastic, the company states. Pressing the LCD release didn't open the Durabook, but I realized I could just pry the laptop open, which is a handy advantage out in the field. The inside surface is textured, so fingerprints aren't left behind. The status indicator lights are clear enough: DVD drive, hard drive, number lock, caps and scroll lock, and wireless, but the accompanying symbols blend into the textured surface, making them hard to see. Price: $1200
The keyboard is pleasantly quiet. The embedded number lock keypad is a little confusing; it's not-so-instinctively hidden among the regular keys. The delete key is on the far right side of the keyboard, but I kept having to hunt for it, and the function keys are tiny.
The touchpad is nicely placed, but is positioned toward the left, leaving little room for lefties to comfortably rest their hands. Keys placed just below the touchpad function as right and left mouse buttons. There's also an up/down key that functions like the up/down arrow keys -- a nice touch.
There was no manual sent with the review notebook. Though you can download the PDF version online, I usually find manuals comforting, even if people mostly ignore them.
The AMD Turion 64 processor 1.59 GHz 992 MB of RAM seems speedy enough, but it takes a few minutes for the machine to boot up. The hard drive is an impressive 80 GB (also available in 40 GB and 60 GB) and there's a DVD-RW drive, which makes the notebook a little heavy at 5.65 pounds.
Writing a DVD takes just 3 to 4 minutes. The copy I made came through clearly without glitches. Erasing the DVD took a few seconds with the quick erase. However, rewriting onto it failed, so I did the full erase, which promised to take "some time." The "remaining time" for the process immediately popped up as 25 minutes, but it actually only took about 15 minutes. Afterward the rerecording went smoothly.
I enjoyed the unit's sound quality with headphones on. The sound was decent without the headphones, though a little tinny. The speakers are located on top near the touchpad. Unfortunately my left hand ended up resting on the left one. It's still better than having the speakers at the bottom of the unit, as many laptops do. DVDs also played smoothly and without skipping. The audio and video remained clear throughout the film. The optical drive's lock is designed to prevent accidental opening. It's a simple enough slide lock, and I don't know why more laptops don't have them.
The unit has an anti-shock mounted hard drive and LCD. It's supposed to survive 26 drops from 29 inches to plywood over concrete, with the power off and case closed. The average desk measures 29 inches high, so I shoved it off the edge with the power off. Alarmingly, even though I locked the DVD-RW drive, it popped open and the drive's faceplate came off. The faceplate easily snapped back on, and a CD played normally afterward. Since the notebook would probably be on when accidentally knocked to the ground, I tried it that way -- unit on, case open, document open. It survived a couple of hard knocks to the floor, and the optical drive stayed closed.
The keyboard, touchpad and switches are water-resistant, according to the company's Web site, so water shouldn't seep into the interior -- though the included demo kept saying waterproof. Now I know the difference between the two -- I couldn't dunk this one, but I spilled water on the keyboard with it running, then shook off the excess and wiped away whatever I could. The computer came through just fine.
The standard six-cell battery operates for three hours. The optional nine-cell battery operates for four hours.
All in all, the Durabook withstands the tests the company claims it can.
Rating: 4 out of 5
AMD Turion 64 MT28 and higher (25W) processor or Mobil AMD Sempron 2600+ and higher (25W) processor
40/60/80GB hard drive
256/512/1024MB (Max 1 GB) RAM
14.1-inch TFT bright LCD screen with XGA 1024x768-pixel resolution
Two USB 2.0 ports
PCMCIA x1 (Type II socket)
One 15-pin D-Sub connector for external monitor
DVD/CD-RW combo or DVD dual optical drive
Lithium-ion battery -- six-cell standard, nine-cell optional
56 Kbps internal modem
Built-in 802.11 b/g module
10/100 Mbps Ethernet jack