What is the defining characteristic of a netbook? Is it size, weight, price, a low-power CPU? By most measures, Packard Bell's dot m/a is like any Asus EeePC, Acer One, Sony Vaio W or other cookie-cutter that makes up over a fifth of all laptop sales.

But really, the dot m/a is something new: a very comfortable halfway house between netbook and full-blown notebook.

Big screen

The first, and most obvious thing, that's different is its size. Samsung has its 12in NC20 out there already, but the Via Nano CPU stops that from being a serious competitor for your cash. The dot m/a is the first 11.1in model, and Packard Bell hasn't hamstrung the performance.

Increasing the viewing diagonal loses a bit of the portability that makes netbooks desirable. Without the battery, though, the dot m/a is still very light, because it's thinner than a second generation 8.9in netbook like the EeePC 901. Build quality is at the higher end of the netbook scale, too: it may not be a Phillipe Stark special, but it is well finished and without any obvious weakness in the hinges or shell.

AMD powered

Inside the case things get more intriguing. It's the only machine we know of that uses the Athlon L110 processor, but despite ticking over at just 1.2GHz it's more than capable of holding its own against the more popular Intel Atom. If anything, it seems more responsive for multitasking and general desktop work.

The graphics, meanwhile, come billed as an AMD Radeon X1250 chip. Capable of running Vista comfortably, it can also assist the CPU with video decoding tasks. Which means that, unlike most netbooks, the dot m/a can get 720p video up and running at an acceptable pace. And the sharp, large screen has the pixels to prove it.


Bigger battery

All of this is a natural growth phase for the netbook, bulking up on processing power and starting to develop into a more mature platform. Like most adolescents, though, it's not quite comfortable in its own body yet.

For a start, the six-cell battery pack (which costs an extra £50) pushes up the weight to a hefty 1.5kg and sticks out at the back. You need it though – even with this larger battery attached it only makes four hours of battery life under general usage.

The keyboard isn't quite right either. Although the keys themselves are large and friendly, they fit too close together and travel too far, making it uncomfortable and easy to clip an adjacent key if typing fast.

Anyone who's after a netbook will probably be drawn back to the simpler charms of the Asus SeaShell EeePC, thanks to its better battery life, sleeker design and lighter weight. But if you're eyeing up something more grown-up yet still single core, like the more expensive MSI X-Slim or HP's dv2, then the dot m/a isn't just a confident youth, it renders all other choices obsolete.


Stuff says... 

Packard Bell dot m/a review

It's not perfect, but an unusual size and spec make it king of a category above its netbook originals