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Let's get one thing out of the way before we start this review — the Elonex Onet+ costs £125. On the plus side, this means that's it's a netbook that won't be accused of encroaching into cheap laptop territory, but it also means that you'll need to rein in your expectations. After all, you can't expect to get much computer for this amount of money, right? Well, wrong, as it turns out.
It may look like the kind of toy you give to a toddler to distract them from wiping jammy fingers all over your own laptop (and the and pink one we reviewed looks like a young girl's first make-up kit), but naff design is simply a side-effect of the price tag. In reality, the Elonex Onet+ is a fully functional computer, albeit one with a core specification that's bettered by some smartphones.
The Elonex Onet+ is powered by a RISC processor that runs at 400MHz — something similar is used by the iPhone 3GS, but its chip is 200MHz faster. Throw in 128Mb of memory and a 2Gb flash drive, and the result may not sound like much, but don't forget that we were all happily using PCs of similar specification a decade ago. The difference now, of course, is that operating systems and applications demand ever-faster components, but the Elonex Onet+ uses software that's been designed to run well with such severely limited resources.
As you might expect, the Elonex Onet+ uses Linux, but its Debian distro has been crafted specifically for this processor. It's hardly lightning fast, but there's little lag when launching applications and the system stays responsive as long as you're sensible about how many things you try to do at once. In fact the overall experience isn't much different to Linux on the ASUS Eee PC 701 with its 600MHz Celeron processor, or even Windows XP on some Atom-powered netbooks...
That's not to say that there aren't some usability issues with the Elonex Onet+, though these are the result of its size rather than its specification. Since it's not even as large at the Eee PC 701, there are obviously a few compromises with the screen and keyboard.
The screen is actually less of an problem than you might think — it may only have a 7in diagonal and an 800 x 480 resolution, but it's clear and bright (though there's no brightness control), and the pre-installed applications are designed to not display anything that won't fit on-screen. The same can't be said of the web browser, but having to scroll around a web page is a small price to pay for a laptop with, well, such a small price.
The keyboard is a bigger problem – or rather, a smaller one. It measures just 8in across and the alphanumeric keys are tiny; some punctuation keys are even smaller. It isn't unusable as such, but the only way for anyone with normal adult-size hands to type on it is with two carefully aimed fingers. Anyone with smaller mitts will find it far less painful, of course, and the keys are the ideal size for young children.
In fact kids are really the target audience for the Onet+ and Elonex is pitching it as a laptop for education. The size and very low weight certainly make it an obvious choice for kitting out the nippers, and the price means that it won't be the end of the world if it gets lost or stolen. The only catch is that the operating system provides no way to password-protect the laptop — there isn't even an option in the BIOS. Or even a user-accessible BIOS, for that matter...
Elonex supplies a reasonable selection of internet and productivity software with the Onet+, all accessed through a familiar tabbed interface. The web works well, too (wide pages notwithstanding), but the Firefox 2-based Bon Echo browser may limit the extensions you can install. It also doesn't support Flash, though there is a separate Flash-player application for running games.
If email, the web, word processing, spreadsheets and a handful of other simple applications are all you need then the Elonex Onet+ should suit, but anyone looking for more sophisticated functionality is out of luck. Applications that have been compiled for the processor-specific Debian distro are very thin on the ground and there isn't even way to switch to the standard Linux Desktop, let alone gain Root access. The user community is doing a good job of tracking down available resources though, and the Little Linux Laptop site is a good place to start.
Compared to other netbooks and low-cost laptops, the Elonex Onet+ looks like it's best avoided, but there's nothing else that approaches its size or weight for this kind of money. It's very easy to use, very difficult for errant users to break the operating system and very well made for the money. Yes, it's a shame that the keyboard is so very small, but kids and other undemanding users won't complain — not for £125.