KELLNER: Lenovo S12 cools user’s enthusiasm

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Let’s call the Lenovo S12 the G. Harrold Carswell of netbooks, shall we?

The late Judge Carswell, as some will recall, was a U.S. District Court judge in Florida who was nominated for a U.S. Supreme Court seat by President Richard M. Nixon in 1970. The nomination was, to say the least, greeted coolly: Carswell had a 58 percent reversal rate on appeal, and some called him “mediocre” as a judge.

In turn, this led to a now-famous utterance by then-Sen. Roman Hruska of Nebraska: “Even if he is mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?”

The $429 (list price; currently discounted to $399 at Lenovo.com) S12 is, by my standards, an uninspiring product. The model I tested contained a VIA Nano processor made by VIA Technologies, as opposed to the Intel Corp. “Atom” processor found in many such devices. The VIA Nano is supposed to be faster and better on power consumption, but is it truly good enough to lure you away from Intel or AMD, two better-known brands?

In my testing, I found the processor to be OK, but not awe-inspiring. I couldn’t see much greater speed than with an Intel chip. Also, although many of today’s netbooks are shipping with Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 7 operating system, Lenovo is still, apparently, loading Windows XP on the device. That’s odd, since I’d thought Microsoft had canceled such arrangements with the advent of Windows 7. While I’m imagining the move is approved, since Lenovo wouldn’t want to cross Microsoft, it still strikes me as, well, odd.

In fact, it’s more than odd, it’s dripping irony: The Lenovo Web-site page where the S12 with the VIA Nano processor is being sold (http://bit.ly/4ZSraH) carries these words at the top: “Windows. Life without Walls. Lenovo recommends Windows 7.”

Well, Lenovo may recommend Windows 7, but it isn’t shipping Windows 7 with this product. This evokes a recollection of a certain “Seinfeld” sketch about a rental car reservation, but I digress.

So we have a “netbook” with a processor from a lesser-known supplier, an operating system two revisions behind Windows 7, and a 12-inch display. That part is nice, but comparable netbooks from Hewlett Packard, for example, sport 11.6-inch displays, just a hair under the S12’s official 12.1-inch screen for all intents and purposes, for the same $399 price. Also, the HP units use Intel chips, have Windows 7 and come from a company with as solid a reputation, if not more so, than Lenovo in the netbook space.

Oh, and both the HP and Lenovo models sport 160 gigabyte hard disc drives, so there’s no advantage there. Neither has a built-in optical drive, so again, no advantage.

If I sound confused, I’m still trying to find a reason to buy the Lenovo. Frankly, I’m not getting one, unless I was a person who really, really hated HP. For those folks, though, there’s always Toshiba or Dell or Asus or Samsung, all of which firms, I believe, are shipping products with the aforementioned Windows 7.

Why am I harping on the operating system? Two reasons: one, shipping with the latest operating system would suggest confidence (and, one hopes, testing) that your computer will run the software. Second, it skips over what may be a difficult upgrade path for a computer lacking the aforementioned optical drive. You know, the one you’d place your - wait for it - Windows 7 DVD into for installation.

That’s why I’m so puzzled by the S12. It almost screams out that it’s a product in search of a rationale. Perhaps there is one, but it escapes me, and I’ve been watching these products for a rather long time.

In 1970, the U.S. Senate took a pass on Carswell’s nomination. Today, I’d pass on buying a Lenovo S12 until the maker upgrades the operating system and gives us more of a reason to buy than five-tenths of an inch on a display screen.

c E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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