Design and human interface elements
Most netbooks have nearly identical components, so some of the key differentiating attributes are chassis design, port layout, and keyboard and touchpad performance.
Bucking the trend set by its competitors, the Neutrino's speakers sit just above the keyboard rather than in the LCD bezel or within the chassis. To pull that off, OCZ shifted the keyboard away from the hinge a bit, decreasing the size of the palm rest and the touchpad's tracking area.
On the bright side (no pun intended), the Neutrino's LED-backlit display can prove almost overwhelming. Thanks to both the luminosity and the matte panel finish, I had no problem using the Neutrino in outdoor conditions. (You know how I love to read my e-mail while lounging poolside.) Aside from a 1.3-megapixel webcam and a microphone, the area around the LCD is distraction-free, too.
The front edge houses an array of status indicator lights and the Neutrino's audio connectivity options. I usually prefer the headphone and microphone jacks to be on the front of a notebook, but on a device this small, they actually get in the way while typing. If all you're doing is watching a movie with headphones on, then you won't really notice. If you're trying to get some writing done while listening to music, however, the headphone cord can be distracting.
On the left side of the Neutrino is a lone USB 2.0 port, the system's thermal exhaust port (please don't fire any proton torpedoes at it), and finally, an ExpressCard/34 slot. We haven't seen many such slots in netbooks yet, so this is a noteworthy inclusionespecially since just about every mobile phone provider here in the U.S. offers data plans with ExpressCard adapters. Many carriers also offer USB adapters, however, so that isn't your only option.
Along the starboard side, you'll find the netbook's SDHC slot, an additional USB 2.0 port, an RJ45 port for Ethernet, and the power connector. The presence of only two USB 2.0 ports in total is somewhat disappointing. Those who need more could always carry a small USB hub or pick up a USB 2.0 ExpressCard adapter, but neither of those solutions is particularly convenient.
The back of the Neutrino is where you'll find the VGA output and battery compartment, along with a Kensington security slot. Bulky VGA cables generally get in the way when plugged into the side of a notebook, so placing the VGA port at the rear seems like a good design choice.
The Neutrino's keyboard has a standard 83-key layout with a scissor-switch design. All of the keys are where they should be, even down to the inverse-T layout for the arrows. Both shift keys are comfortably sized, as are common modifier keys like control, alt, and function.
Perhaps the biggest problem with typing on the Neutrino is the relatively small wrist rest. While this is an inherent drawback of the netbook concept, the Neutrino is a particularly bad offender because of the way its speakers are positioned. With less than 2" from the bottom of the space bar to the front of edge of the device, I found it best simply to rest my hands on the desk and reach up with my fingers to the keyboard. This left my hands in an awkwardly curved position that sufficed for typing but was hardly comfortable.
Shifting the keyboard closer to the front edge proves to be more trouble than it's worth. The touchpad's tracking area is quite small, and the buttons are just annoyingly tiny. That fact made using the touchpad an exercise in frustration: I had trouble tapping buttons with my thumb without getting the bottom edge of the touchpad with them, sending the cursor careening off its intended target. You'll need a mouse for any extended periods with the Neutrino.
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