Although dinky laptops such as the Packard Bell Dot U are great for taking on trips and the regular commute, the reduced chassis space means that the keyboard and touchpad can sometimes be a little cramped, which hampers usability.
The Packard Bell Dot U's touchpad is quite small, and we found that the default sensitivity was a little off, so we had to adjust it in the Control Panel. However, once we got it to our liking, it proved fine to use despite its reduced area. Handily, a separate scrollbar on the right-hand side can be used to quickly scroll up and down web pages and documents.
Thankfully, the keyboard is one of the better ones we've used on a machine this compact. Packard Bell's usual flat design is in place, which may not suit every user due to a lack of individual key definition. We'd recommend trying the Dot U in a store before purchasing if possible.
Personally, we had no trouble touch-typing at speed, thanks to the well-sized keys. Usually, we find the arrow keys are cramped or the Return key is reduced to a single row in order to fit everything in, but the Packard Bell Dot U's board is perfectly designed, with everything given just enough space to fit.
Our only complaint is the shallow travel when each key is hit, which gives it an overly firm feel.
The11.6-inch screen is one of the sharpest displays we've seen recently on a laptop this size, on a par with the Dell M101z. The 1366 x 768 resolution produces fantastic levels of contrast, and even size six fonts are clearly readable, which is impressive for a laptop display.
If you enjoy working on intricate spreadsheets on the move, this is the laptop for you.
A glossy Super-TFT coating has been used on the Packard Bell Dot U's display to enhance the reproduction of colours, and breathe some life into images. This does make the screen quite reflective, but brightness levels are strong, which helps to counter its glossy nature.
Refreshingly, the display tilts back to near-horizontal, which allows you to get a comfortable viewing angle whether the Dot U is sat on a desk or table, or resting on your lap.
250GB of storage will prove enough for most people to store all of their important files, as well as a decent amount of music. However, the Packard Bell Dot U isn't made for carrying huge media collections around and the likes of video files will quickly fill it.
A feature the Packard Bell Dot U has in common with netbooks is the lack of an optical drive. If you want to watch DVDs, listen to CDs or install an application from a disc, you'll have to attach an external optical drive.
However, the Packard Bell Dot U's compact chassis still manages to find room for quite a few ports. An HDMI port enables video to be output to a high-definition display, alongside a standard VGA output.
Three USB ports mean peripherals such as mice and printers can be attached, while a five-in-one memory card is perfect for directly transferring your holiday snaps from your camera. Networking is also strong, with both 802.11n Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet providing the fastest means for connecting to wireless and wired networks at present.
Packard Bell has also bundled some decent software with the Dot U, which adds further value. Microsoft Works is joined by Adobe Photoshop Elements 8.0 – a stripped-down but still very useful version of the popular design package. There are plenty of useful tools for modifying your personal photos too, making this a great addition.
Packard Bell has also included a few of its own applications, including a useful recovery management app that enables you to back up and restore the Dot U. There's also a Social Networks app that streams content directly from your Facebook, Flickr and YouTube accounts, so you don't need to individually log on to all three.
We're hoping that Packard Bell expands this to include further popular social media sites such as Twitter at some point, or even enables you to add your own. We're not holding our breath, though.