Notebooks

Review: Vodafone Webbook — cheap, plastic, nasty


The Vodafone Webbook is cheap, incredibly cheap (around R1 500 [US$ 184]). As such, criticising it feels a little odd. It’s a bit like taking apart a soup kitchen for not having an internationally renowned wine list or the local corner café for lacking the nuances of haute cuisine in its cooking.

Here’s the thing though, the Webbook feels cheap, something designed to throw to an unwashed proletariat desperate for the democratisation of technology. I get that there’s a reason it costs so little, but surely Vodafone could have given us just a little bit more?

Allow me to return to my soup kitchen simile for a moment. There’s every chance that the volunteers at the soup kitchen make the food they do with dedication and a genuine belief in what they’re doing. What might otherwise be a bland meal is enhanced by their goodwill and a common spirit of humanity. Salt, pepper and ubuntu as condiments. Similarly, the food at the corner café might come from ancient Tamil, Greek, or Persian recipes and will leave you feeling full and satisfied, or at least intrigued by exotic flavours.

Vodafone’s product has none of that. There is absolutely zero human touch to it. It feels like it was conceptualised, designed, built and packaged by robots. Not intelligent, functional robots either. No, the machines behind this are as cheap and ill thought out as their creation. Their robot firmware is probably crawling with malware too.

The nuts and bolts
The Webbook feels cheap. It’s plasticky and badly joined together. “Ah,” you might say, “It’s built from plastic; of course it’s going to feel plasticky”. Rubbish. Look around you and you’ll see that, properly formed, plastic can look, and feel, astonishingly beautiful and tactile.

The Webbook looks okay, no worse than any other ultra-affordable netbook — but it’s just awful to handle. I managed five minutes of web browsing on it the first time I used it, and struggled to toss it aside lightly. I’d much rather have thrown it with great force.

Possibly the worst offenders in this regard were the mouse buttons, more specifically their clicks. To say they’re frustrating is an understatement. I imagine that parents defeated by a baby food jar, with a screaming infant in the background, feel similar levels of annoyance. Even if they worked properly, the sound they make is enough to set your teeth on edge.

If you want to add peripherals, don’t go looking further than anything you can stick in a USB slot or a headphone socket (you get two of the former and one of the latter).

Even when you’re pushing the Webbook to its max, the battery-life is pretty impressive. That said, it doesn’t take much to push the Webbook to its max.

The screen is, again, okay. 1024X600 resolution. Not brilliant, just okay. That is, however, something I’m willing to live for the Webbook’s price.

There’s a webcam but don’t expect to record your Magnum Opus on it. The Webbook only has 4GB of memory. No, I’m not confusing it with available RAM, four little gigs is all the non-volatile capacity it has. Oh, and only about 1.5GB is available to you to store data.

If the limited space wasn’t enough to convince you not to do anything to complex on this machine then the 512MB of RAM and 800MHz processor probably will.

It’s all about connections man
“Ah ha!” I hear you say, “What about the cloud? It’s called the Webbook for a reason right?” Well, if you choose to go the 3G route and get as much data as we did with the plan it comes with (100MB), good luck. That’s just about enough data for a couple of hours of normal web browsing, never mind uploading chunky files onto web-based servers.

If you happen to have freely available Wi-Fi, that might be a possible solution, but not if your model’s anything like the one we had. The Wi-Fi connection dropped faster than a proverbial’s undergarments.

The Spirit of Unbuntu
The Webbook runs a pretty vanilla flavour of Ubuntu 10.04, easy to use and comes standard with a large, clearly defined app pop-out bar.

All the software on it is open-source and runs as well as you’d expect it to.

Navigating between the apps is a little slow, but nothing that’ll leave you tearing you hair out. That it is so slow is a little baffling, considering the stripped down nature of the device.

What will leave you tearing your hair out, if you’ve owned any other ultra-portable device in the last couple of years, is the startup time. In actual, real world time, it’s not that long (1:15) but it’s a stripped down solid-state machine. That’s slow. After a while, a slow computer start-up can drive you as insane as a broken lift.

So what’s the verdict then? I get that this is supposed to be a dirt cheap netbook, aimed at bringing technology to the masses, but I just can’t get past all its inherent nastiness. I can’t imagine what it’s like to aspire to have any computer — not a high-performance computer — just a computer, so the next sentence may just be me talking out of my bourgeois, privileged arse. If I were in that situation, though, I can’t help but feel that I’d work a little bit longer, save a little bit more (like US$30) and get something a hell of a lot better. That little bit of extra saving gets you a machine twice as powerful for a lot less than double the price.

Who it’s for:

  • Some incarnation of Vodafone’s vision of the tech-hungry masses

What we liked:

  • The price
  • The super long battery life
  • Open source software

What we didn’t like:

  • Everything else

Gear it or Burn it:

  • Burn it, with lots and lots of petrol
Looking for a bargain? Get this product at the best price. CLICK HERE

  • Anonymous

    I think Stuart Thomas might be missing a bit of the point here. I can fully understand where the view of this review would come from…I use an HP Pavilion, a Samsung Netbook and an iPad and having had those machines, I would most certainly feel the way Stuart Thomas feels. However, I work a lot with people in rural communities and so on, where the thought of owning a computer is far fetched, much less affording one. The same could be said about mobile phones…you have smart phones like BlackBerry, iPhone, Galaxy and others for technically savvy people who can afford them and then you have those R120 phones (that you can get at PEP Stores) that are really for those that can’t even afford those smart phones but nonetheless still need to be connected.

    In a nutshell, the Webbook is definitely not targeted to the likes of Stuart Thomas, myself and many others. It’s targeted to those that could not pay R2999 for a netbook, but would be willing to pay half that price. SA has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world and one of the major contributing factors to this is lack of access to low cost (or as you call it ‘cheap’) devices like this one. We all do know the state of affordability in SA and the Webbook may just be the help needed…that’s if the marketing is right that is. There are people who only need functionality and then there are others who want the functionality and all the bells and whistles. The Webbook must be for the former.

    My 2 Cents worth!

  • Anonymous

    I think Stuart Thomas might be missing a bit of the point here. I can fully understand where the view of this review would come from…I use an HP Pavilion, a Samsung Netbook and an iPad and having had those machines, I would most certainly feel the way Stuart Thomas feels. However, I work a lot with people in rural communities and so on, where the thought of owning a computer is far fetched, much less affording one. The same could be said about mobile phones…you have smart phones like BlackBerry, iPhone, Galaxy and others for technically savvy people who can afford them and then you have those R120 phones (that you can get at PEP Stores) that are really for those that can’t even afford those smart phones but nonetheless still need to be connected.

    In a nutshell, the Webbook is definitely not targeted to the likes of Stuart Thomas, myself and many others. It’s targeted to those that could not pay R2999 for a netbook, but would be willing to pay half that price. SA has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world and one of the major contributing factors to this is lack of access to low cost (or as you call it ‘cheap’) devices like this one. We all do know the state of affordability in SA and the Webbook may just be the help needed…that’s if the marketing is right that is. There are people who only need functionality and then there are others who want the functionality and all the bells and whistles. The Webbook must be for the former.

    My 2 Cents worth!

  • Anonymous

    I think Stuart Thomas might be missing a bit of the point here. I can fully understand where the view of this review would come from…I use an HP Pavilion, a Samsung Netbook and an iPad and having had those machines, I would most certainly feel the way Stuart Thomas feels. However, I work a lot with people in rural communities and so on, where the thought of owning a computer is far fetched, much less affording one. The same could be said about mobile phones…you have smart phones like BlackBerry, iPhone, Galaxy and others for technically savvy people who can afford them and then you have those R120 phones (that you can get at PEP Stores) that are really for those that can’t even afford those smart phones but nonetheless still need to be connected.

    In a nutshell, the Webbook is definitely not targeted to the likes of Stuart Thomas, myself and many others. It’s targeted to those that could not pay R2999 for a netbook, but would be willing to pay half that price. SA has one of the lowest internet penetration rates in the world and one of the major contributing factors to this is lack of access to low cost (or as you call it ‘cheap’) devices like this one. We all do know the state of affordability in SA and the Webbook may just be the help needed…that’s if the marketing is right that is. There are people who only need functionality and then there are others who want the functionality and all the bells and whistles. The Webbook must be for the former.

    My 2 Cents worth!

  • http://twitter.com/adielslarmie Adiel Slarmie

    agree with thabomakenete. Silly review

  • http://twitter.com/adielslarmie Adiel Slarmie

    agree with thabomakenete. Silly review

  • http://twitter.com/photoshopeffect Photoshop Updates

    excellent piece of
    information, I had come to know about your website  from my friend kishore, pune,i have read
    atleast 8 posts of yours by now, and let me tell you, your site gives the best
    and the most interesting information. This is just the kind of information that
    i had been looking for, i’m already your rss reader now and i would regularly
    watch out for the new posts, once again hats off to you! Thanx a lot once
    again, Regards,   vodafone

  • http://twitter.com/photoshopeffect Photoshop Updates

    excellent piece of
    information, I had come to know about your website  from my friend kishore, pune,i have read
    atleast 8 posts of yours by now, and let me tell you, your site gives the best
    and the most interesting information. This is just the kind of information that
    i had been looking for, i’m already your rss reader now and i would regularly
    watch out for the new posts, once again hats off to you! Thanx a lot once
    again, Regards,   vodafone

  • http://twitter.com/Daveonearth David Bowman

    Its the review of a brat, a child who has not had to go without. Probs a windows fanboy.

  • http://twitter.com/Daveonearth David Bowman

    Its the review of a brat, a child who has not had to go without. Probs a windows fanboy.

  • http://twitter.com/almehdin Daniel Sandman

    This review was pretty bad. Yes, 800mhz and 4gb ssd is really low but then this is a device for those who would not else afford it. My phone (a Nokia N9) got better spec than that.. If i was the buyer (or seller). I would put Archlinux on it instead which would be better performance wise.

    Ohh.. And the reviewer can’t have used it for long when he misses some pretty vital stuff.. like that Ubuntu comes with 5gb cloud storage for free.

    A fun fact is that the “creator” of the operating system also come from South Africa. ;)

  • http://twitter.com/Sephiroth_VII NCLI

    Uh, he liked the OS you know…

  • Anonymous

    Seems to be a very reasonable review to me. Sure there are poor people around, but trying to bring technology to the masses with crappy equipment does not seem to be the best way to go. Sounds like there’s a lot of room for improvement to improve the experience here without raising the price.

  • Pingback: genool.ueuo.com» Blog Archive » The Ubuntu Vodafone WebBook “Disappoints” Reviewers

  • Julio Reno

    I want to know how many sales haves this Webbook??

  • Anonymous

    Lubuntu would have made this netbook far more ‘useful’. As for being cheap I wouldn’t exact it to be that great for $184

  • Pingback: El Ubuntu Webbook es un juguete roto | | Ubuntizando.comUbuntizando.com

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