The Altro’s premise is much the same as the UX30’s, namely a thin and light ultraportable that costs less than that on offer from the likes of Apple, Toshiba and Sony. The ASUS UX30 slipped up in this regard by costing £999, but the Advent Altro has a much more appealing price tag of £600 — half that of the MacBook Air .
It’s easy to see how this lower price has been achieved though, and the Altro just doesn’t have the same fit and finish as the UX30. That’s not to say it doesn’t feel well made, but the silver plastic case looks a little cheap and there are some unsightly gaps between some of its seams.
At 22mm and 1.6kg, the Advent Altro still falls within the ‘thin and light’ laptop category, but large vents at either side spoil the sleek profile a little — though they do at least mean that the laptop’s underside is free from all-to-easily-blocked air intakes. The underside is also home to a wide, flat battery and, unlike on the ASUS UX30, this is removable — though you’ll probably crack a fingernail trying to prise it from its slot. Even so, don’t expect to get more than three hours’ of use out of it — or considerably less if you enable Wi-Fi and run a few programs at once.
Unusually for a laptop like this, the Advent Altro’s ports are relegated to its rear and at first glance, there doesn’t appear to be too many — just HDMI, a 3.5mm headphone socket and a single USB port. Even more unusual is the power socket — a wide, multi-pin socket that accepts an equally wide and ungainly plug, rather than the usual circular power tip.
There is a reason for this unorthodox delivery, though— the power socket doubles up as connector for the supplied port replicator. This small silver box plugs into the power socket via a short, thick cable and provides two USB, VGA and Ethernet ports, as well as a pass-though port for the power supply.
This is certainly one way to remedy a lack of onboard ports and it means that the Advent Altro can be easily used with a set of desktop peripherals. We’re not crazy about the arrangement though, not least because the proprietary power supply will be difficult to replace in an emergency.
The inside of the Advent Altro is pleasingly clean and clear of the usual naff touches that afflict many budget laptops, but there are still a few quirks. The first is that the tops of the ‘chiclet’ style keyboard sit rather high on their individual mounts and make the keys look far thicker than they really are. Second is that the top row of function keys have a traditional rectangular and closely packed layout, which sits oddly against the other widely spaced keys.
These are cosmetic problems rather than functional ones though, and the Advent Altro’s keyboard works well — but the final quibble is more problematic. Though large, the Altro’s trackpad has a shiny finish that simply creates too much friction for a finger to slide around smoothly and this is incredibly infuriating — so much so that we’d be tempted to take some fine sandpaper to it to roughen up the surface.
The 13.3” screen sits on an insubstantial-looking hinge that, while stiff, lets the lid wobble back and forth if the laptop is jiggled. Its 1366 x 768 resolution is well suited to a screen this size and while the display isn’t the sharpest we’ve seen, it’s otherwise perfectly usable.
Ultra Low Voltage Processors aren’t as powerful as their full-power counterparts and, at 1.2GHz, the Intel Celeron M 723 inside the Advent Altro is punier than most. It’s also single-core, lacks Hyper-Threading and doesn’t offer that much more performance than the Intel Atom N280 chip used in many netbooks. It gets the lowest score in Windows Vista’s Windows Experience Index too, though it feels nippy enough in use and has no problems with HD video playback.
The performance of the integrated Intel HD4500M 3D graphic chip isn’t really up to much, either. It’s enough for Vista’s Aero Glass interface, but little else — not that you’d realistically expect anything more from a laptop like this, of course.
Although we like the idea of the CULV processor, the Celeron M model in the Advent Altro just doesn’t offer enough performance to warrant the higher price. The rest of the specification is little better than a large netbook like the ASUS Eee PC 1101HA or Dell Inspiron 11z and the battery life is much worse. So, it’s another interesting portable but the Advent Altro isn’t terribly tempting.