Unlike Asus, who designed its Eee machine from scratch, the Packard Bell EasyNote XS (£350 inc. VAT) uses a reference design compiled by CPU manufacturer VIA.

This allows manufacturers to bring a device to market much more quickly.

Solid laptop design

The design is reassuringly sturdy, with a thick plastic casing that feels solid to the touch. The 7-inch screen stands on extended hinges, so a larger battery pack can be fitted, but it raises the screen so the user has a better line-of-sight.

The screen is a TFT panel that is impressively bright without casting too many reflections. The screen doesn't fill the whole lid, as Packard Bell has rather wisely kept the chassis larger than the screen dimensions, so that a larger keyboard can be fitted.

This does mean there is a large bezel around the display, creating room for a webcam that is curiously fitted to the right of the screen.

Unconventional layout

Due to the slightly larger design, the keyboard, while still on the small side, is larger than many of its 7-inch peers.The keyboard may be comfortable to use considering the size, but instead of a conventional touchpad and mouse buttons, you'll find they have been moved above the keyboard.

The touchpad is located on the right-hand side while the mouse buttons are positioned on the opposite side of the case. Initially, this feels a little odd as you need to hold the EasyNote in your hands and navigate.

This can be a little problematic until you are accustomed to it. The battery pack is a good size and lasted for 252 minutes.

A powerful Packard Bell

As this is a VIA reference design, it's only natural to find a VIA 1.2GHz C7-M powering the device.

Windows takes a while to boot up and as it hasn't been optimised for small devices, you won't find any programs custom-designed for the smaller screen.

However, when it came to performance, we found it more than quick enough for the everyday tasks you are likely to run when out and about.

Satisfying connectivity

Considering the size, connectivity is excellent with two USB ports and a DVI-out, along with support for fixed and wireless networks. When using the XS we never felt as though we were missing out on any essential connections.

The Packard Bell EasyNote XS is a good machine for those who need a compact machine with a quality keyboard and Windows XP.