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Review of iBall CompBook Exemplaire

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iBall CompBook
iBall CompBook

Laptop manufacturers are on a race to the bottom. Prices have never been so affordable – even counting netbooks’ brief popularity – making a reasonably capable laptop available at under Rs 10,000 with Windows 10 license included is now possible and gives people who might never have thought it possible before access to full-fledged PC power for the first time ever. A quick glance at smartphone sales statistics reveals millions of units sold each month below Rs 10 000-15,000 segment who now have the option of spending their money on purchasing computers instead of just phones.

iBall CompBook
iBall CompBook

Recently, we reviewed the RDP ThinBook which sells for slightly over its launch price of Rs. 9,999; its 14-inch screen price remains unrivalled; however, more established iBall has come up with two contenders which come very close: 11.6-inch CompBook Excelance priced at Rs. 9,999 and 14-inch CompBook Exemplaire at Rs. 13,999 respectively. Both models share all specifications except screen size; today we review its larger model.

iBall CompBook Exemplaire look and feel

At its price point, there’s not much to criticise about the iBall CompBook Exemplaire. Extremely slim and lightweight, it could give several premium ultrabooks a run for their money with its incredible low profile design. Furthermore, there are no signs of cheapness or rough edges; its wedge shape echoes what we’ve seen on devices such as the Asus UX305 and RDP ThinBook. This iBall Exemplaire review finds the device’s value hard to beat.

iBall has chosen a deep brown hue for their CompBook, covering all surfaces except keyboard keys. There’s a stylised K logo in the centre of its lid and an iBall logo in one corner; additional features include DC power inlet with LED, USB 2.0 port, Mini HDMI output port, second USB port 3.5mm audio socket sockets and microSD card slot on either side of it; speakers at its base will project outward when used on flat surfaces but get muffled otherwise; no vents thanks to Atom processor that powers.

As soon as you open up the lid, the first thing you’ll notice is its signature red “i key”, an iconic symbol from iBall since their early PC keyboard and mouse offerings. Otherwise it is fairly standard; though placement of delete key could be improved and no Windows menu key existed on our review unit. In addition, there were no screen brightness adjustment shortcuts and Intel sticker on palm rest was crooked.

The screen and keyboard both seem surrounded by too much plastic, which shouldn’t be a major concern. Unfortunately, however, the screen itself is somewhat dim and grainy, often having problems with saturation of colours or blacks while viewing angles are poor compared with similar products at similar price points. Of course, we must keep in mind the very modest cost of the CompBook Exemplaire when reviewing its performance.

1.46kg makes this laptop ideal for travel and lighter than many mainstream ultrabooks, making it easy to carry along. However, its lightness means that its durability may be compromised: when typing on it the keyboard deck sinks inward while typing, and creaks when stretched beyond its limits. We noticed quite a bit of flex in its lid making bending and warping too easy even without opening or closing its lid; placing anything heavy may even cause its lid to dip lower.

Your box contains nothing besides the laptop itself – its only companion being a wall-wart charger with an extremely short cord and small size.

iBall CompBook Exemplaire specifications and software

Intel Atom Z3735F, built on Bay Trail architecture, remains powerful enough for basic usage despite being several years old. This CPU has proven popular among small, low-cost devices including Intel’s Compute Stick, iBall’s Splendo PC-On-Stick and tablets such as Globalspace Technologies Solt, Notion Ink Cain and Micromax Canvas Laptab LT6666 tablets. Running between 1.33GHz to 1.83GHz it consumes just 2.2W while providing basic Intel HD Graphics support capabilities integrated.

The CompBook Exemplaire features 2GB of RAM which is sufficient to run its CPU, but only 32GB of embedded local storage. Note that this is not typical SSD but more like permanently attached SD card; its capacity was severely limited when we turned our review unit on for the first time; only 21.5GB were free when we started up our review unit for testing! MicroSD support only goes up to 64GB which we found disappointing; standard-sized SD slots would have been preferable here too.

Sure, external storage devices will work with this laptop; however, both of its USB ports only support USB 2.0 speed – the first laptop we’ve encountered that doesn’t even support its 10-times faster counterpart, the RDP ThinBook had one USB 3.0 port.

Screen resolution on both 14-inch CompBook Exemplaire and 11.6-inch CompBook Excelance models is just 1366×768, making them typical low-cost laptops. What is unusual, however, is their battery capacities: both feature 37WHr batteries for optimal use compared to smartphones that typically offer 10,000mAh capacity measures; therefore these systems share many similarities with Intel-based smartphones or tablets in terms of internal components.

These specifications meet only the absolute bare minimum required to run Windows 10, such as Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity and an anemic VGA webcam. We would have preferred at least one USB 3.0 port and greater storage options along with perhaps an Ethernet port as we believe these specifications may have limited performance under load.

Referring back to Windows, what’s included here is a 32-bit edition of Windows 10 Home with no preinstalled programs other than standard junk that you can uninstall to create more space on the disk drive.

iBall CompBook Exemplaire Performance

Armed with knowledge of our hardware limitations, we conducted rigorous tests of the iBall CompBook Exemplaire. Thanks to its flash storage, it booted very quickly; general usage, however, was somewhat laggy with things such as opening Windows Settings app or context menus taking some time before they appeared upon being accessed; web surfing, document creation and HD video playback seemed trouble-free however; speakers however are just terrible; voices don’t come through clearly at all.

The keyboard of the CompBook Exemplaire is generally comfortable, though it does dip slightly at its center. Keys have wobbly action that’s nonetheless crisp – an advantage over tablets with similar pricing that offer only limited typing functionality. Multitouch gestures were easily recognized while palm rejection seemed subpar compared with more premium models we reviewed. The trackpad also performed quite well – multitouch gestures seemed recognized and recognized accurately while accuracy and palm rejection fell below par for us.

Connectivity and storage performance were both disappointing; we had to install our benchmarks individually as they didn’t all fit. PCMark 8 failed altogether while 3DMark did open, yet even its basic Fire Strike test produced zero scores from this CompBook. POVRay’s CPU-intensive render benchmark took 33 minutes 38 seconds for completion while SiSOFT Sandra revealed performance is comparable with other Z3735-based devices.

Battery life was impressively long-lived on both devices, even the Battery Eater Pro lasting 5 hours, 58 minutes. We managed to use the CompBook Exemplaire throughout a workday with light Web browsing and some YouTube video streaming; however, charging was only ever effective while in standby with lid closed; otherwise it simply seemed incapable of charging at all.

Verdict

Ultra-low cost Windows devices up until now have been plagued with two primary flaws: weak components and subpar form factors. While other products attempted to be versatile 2-in-1s or tablets, many simply failed to be useful tools for work despite our reservations about them (with caveats of course) due to opening up access for buyers who otherwise would never have had PCs in their homes; that alone represents a monumental achievement.

iBall is one of a few companies taking low-cost components and packaging them into more sensible bodies, creating something resembling an affordable tablet in laptop form. Make no mistake: this is basically an inexpensive tablet in laptop form – however it works and provides better productivity than anything similar we’ve seen previously in this price class. Though not fast or versatile by any stretch of the imagination, this machine makes an excellent productivity machine suitable for students needing to type reports, home users who simply want to send emails or browse the Web as well as office workers on field visits needing stay connected – perfect as either secondary PC or spare.

If you have been limited by budget smartphones and tablets as the only device at hand, now there is an exciting world waiting for you. While longevity of such devices may vary greatly from smartphone usage, they could help dramatically increase PC penetration and literacy both locally and globally.

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