Join Date: Aug 2006
LG's C1 Express Dual Series Tablet PC: Small And Fast, But Doesn't Last Long Enough
Product Category: Ultra-portable convertible Tablet PC
Where to Buy: Various Online Resellers in Canada
Price: $2769.99 CAD (approximately $2606 USD)
Specifications: 271 x 205.5 x 27 mm in size, 1.3 KG (2.9 pounds) in weight. Further details below or listed on the LG product page.
- Incredibly small, light, and thin;
- Impressive processor and graphics chip for the size;
- Came without any junk trial version software pre-installed;
- High-build quality with a three year warranty, good overall aesthetics.
- Poor battery life with standard-sized battery;
- Quirky software/driver issues make for a bumpy experience;
- Expensive, with only 1 GB of RAM included;
- Glossy black finish is a magnet for fingerprints.
The LG C1 is an intriguing laptop with a surprising amount of power crammed into an extremely small and lightweight frame. On paper it looks unbeatable, but in real day to day use, lacklustre battery life and quirky software issues take some of the shine off what would otherwise be a stellar laptop. For some people, this may be the ultimate ultra-portable laptop � it certainly breaks new ground in some areas. For others, the limitations (including the high price) may outweigh the wow factor.
Read on for the full review!
This review is a bit more personal for me than most � I�ve been actively looking for a new small and highly portable notebook to replace my aging Fujitsu P7010D (a unit with a 10.6" screen), so I�m approaching this LG C1 with a very critical eye. A bit of background is in order: the P7010D has been a champ for me, and it�s my second laptop of its type from Fujitsu - I also owned a P5010D � but I�m looking for something a bit different this time around. For my needs, the Fujitsu laptops were the perfect blend of size and battery life, but my needs have changed a little. So many other small laptops sacrifice battery life in the drive to be as thin and light as possible, but Fujitsu doesn�t skimp in that department, offering around six hours of battery life from the main battery, and a removable optical drive bay that accepts a second battery, boosting the total battery life to 11 hours. The new Vista-generation P7230 laptop got a touch worse, offering 10 hours of battery life with both batteries.
Worse still, I wanted something with a dual-core CPU for RAW photo processing and Fujitsu is still only offering the single core 1.2 Ghz ULV Core Solo. It�s not easy to balance battery life and a fast CPU, but I knew that if I wanted to have an acceptable experience processing RAW photos on vacation and elsewhere, a dual-core CPU was mandatory. I looked at a few choices, and was impressed by the specs of the LG C1 so I requested a unit for review � and here we are.
Out of Box Experience
The LG C1 comes in an average-looking laptop box: brown cardboard with black plastic inserts. Given the cost of the laptop, I would have liked to have seen something a bit more luxurious � LG should look at how a company like HTC America presents their $500 smartphones and take notes. A high-quality out of box experience builds the confidence of the buyer, reinforcing that they�ve purchased an item of quality. Inside the box there�s everything you�d expect: the laptop itself, with a plastic sheet on the piano black top to prevent scratches, an external USB-powered DVD burner, a telephone cable for the modem (who still uses those?), a few CDs, and some paperwork (there�s no thick manual here, only a quick start guide). There�s also a microfibre cloth, which is a nice touch.
Interestingly enough, the C1 comes loaded with basically zero extra software � no trialware junk that I had to remove (affectionately referred to as �crapware� by many people), but also no useful programs beyond what ships with Windows Vista Business, save one CD: a Cyberlink DVD suite that includes a Cyberlink DVD playback program, Power2Go 5.0 (a CD/DVD burning suite) and Instant Burn 5.0 (packet writing software). Some people may complain that there�s not more �added value software� included, but I think LG should be applauded for this: they�re allowing people to put the software they want on the system, and it saves people from the hassle of having to uninstall extra software they don�t really want. When I buy a Dell, Toshiba, or HP computer I always have to waste an hour or two of my time cleaning it up. There�s also a recovery disc that has Windows Vista Business on it � again, LG did the right thing for the customer here by not using phantom partitions and other tricks that use up the hard drive space. They simply give you the DVD and if you need to use it to restore your system, you pop it in the DVD drive. Well done LG, well done.
Small Enough For You?
The LG C1 is truly a small laptop: holding it in your hands, it feels lighter than the 1.31 KG (2.9 pounds) that it really weighs. On the outside, it�s an attractive combination of a matte black over the body, and a glossy �piano black� on the lid (check out this high-res photo). As good as it looks, that glossy lid was a magnet for fingerprints: it�s no mystery why LG includes a micro-fibre cloth. As much as I like my laptops to look good, I don�t like having to polish them on a regular basis so I wish LG had chosen a more practical finish for the lid. Once you open it, it�s a very black and white experience � literally. The side with the keyboard is a nice glossy white (which doesn�t show fingerprints), and the bezel around the screen is a semi-matte black that�s different than the matte black on the rest of the unit.
Figure 1: The LG C1 from the front.
Figure 2: As a convertible Tablet PC, the LG C1's screen can rotate around.
Figure 3: The keyboard is well laid out � I didn't have much trouble adapting to it.
The keyboard is about average: it has a nice snap to it, but isn�t too loud. Because I�m used to typing on the small keyboard of the Fujitsu P7010D, this keyboard wasn�t much of a stretch. There are subtle differences to be sure � I�m making typos now and then as I write this � but overall I�d say it�s a good keyboard. The Synaptics touch pad is superb � it�s just responsive enough to be useful, but not �twitchy� like some are. I don�t use an external mouse when I�m mobile, so it�s important that the touch pad be functional: I�ve found HP touchpads to be particularly poor, Fujitsu touchpads are excellent, and this LG is right up there.
Specification-wise the C1 is quite impressive for a laptop of its size. The CPU is an Intel Core Duo Processor U2500 (2MB L2 Cache, 1.2GHz speed) running on a 533MHz front-side bus. This is paired with the Intel 945PM chipset and Windows Vista Business edition. I would have preferred Windows Vista Home Premium, but Windows Vista Business only lacks the Media Center functionality and adds in some better backup tools (which, unfortunately, still aren't all that great). LG put 1 GB of RAM in this unit in the form of two 512 MB DDR2 chips running in dual channel mode at 667mhz. The C1 supports up to 4 GB of RAM, which is excellent, but I'm disappointed with LG for only putting in 1 GB of RAM � in the Vista era, 2 GB of RAM should be standard. If the C1 were priced at $1500, the 1 GB of RAM might be forgivable, but at the $2500 and up price point, 2 GB of RAM should be the norm. And because there are only two RAM slots, the first thing I'd have to do if I wanted to go to 2 GB of RAM is remove the two 512 MB chips � that's a waste.
The wide aspect-ratio screen is 10.6" in size from corner to corner, and runs at 1280 x 768 resolution (WXGA). This resolution is about as high as you'd want to go on a screen of this size � it's big enough to be easily visible from two feet away (about average working distance for laptops), but still high-resolution enough to work well for nearly any type of task. Because there's a touch-screen layer, the screen has a very slight "speckled" effect that makes the display less crisp than my Fujitsu screen. Brightness isn't as bright as I'd want it to be: at maximum brightness, it's adequate for use in non-direct sunlight. At anything less than maximum brightness, I found the screen to be lacking if the room was awash in non-direct sunlight. Graphics are driven by an NVIDIA GeForce Go 7300 (64 MB VRAM), a great departure from the sluggish Intel-based embedded graphics you'd normally see in a laptop of this type. As you'll see later on, the NVIDIA solution means much better 3D performance, though I doubt you'd do to any serious gaming on a laptop with a screen this small. Still, it�s nice to see a nod to gamers who want to play anywhere.
Figure 4: The front-loading memory card slots.
Cards slots are handled in the front: there's a Type 1 CompactFlash card slot, which I was happy to see. The slot looked so slim that at first I thought it was an ExpressCard slot, but I quickly realized it was meant for a CompactFlash card. Unfortunately, this memory card slot is no different than most others: when copying files off the CF card, it grinds the system to a halt. Everything gets jerky, and it's brutally slow: I was seeing speeds of only around 800 KB/s when copying files from the card to the hard drive. I have an 8 GB CF card, and routinely shoot two or three GB of photos in a shoot, so you can imagine how long it would take to transfer. My Fujitsu P7010D is the same way. It often takes the laptop 45 minutes to transfer a few days of photos off the card. So, while I applaud LG for putting a CF card slot on the laptop � I won't buy a small and light laptop without a CF slot � I really wish they would have upped the performance to more acceptable levels. The other slot is a combination Secure Digital/xD/Memory Stick slot � I didn't test the speed on it, but I suspect it's similar to the CF card slot.
Hard Drive, Optical Drive
The hard drive is an 80 GB parallel ATA model � LG doesn't specify the speed, but I suspect it's a 4500 RPM or 5400 RPM drive at best. Unfortunately, I forgot to test the hard drive performance before I had to send it back. 80 GB is average � I wouldn't accept anything smaller, but 120 GB would have been even better.
Figure 5: The optical drive is small and looks great � but that USB cable is too short.
Optical drive duties are handled by a very slick external DVD Super Multi Dual Layer (DVD-R/RW, +R/RW, RAM) drive. The DVD burner impressed me greatly in that it runs off a single USB port for power � that makes it much more portable than similar drives I've seen that require their own power brick. It also looks great, with the same mirrored finish as the top of the laptop. My only criticism of it would be that the USB cable (that is also stored in a tucked-away zone under the drive) is extremely short � the optical drive has to align with the side of the laptop rather than with the back like most drives. It's not much a problem, except perhaps if you wanted to use the drive on an airplane (yes, both the laptop and the optical drive would fit on a table tray).
The C1 is a step down from the Fujitsu P7010D here, because with my Fujitsu I have the option of putting in the DVD burner if I want to travel with it and sacrifice some battery life. But for as often as I do that (which isn�t often), I can understand why LG chose to omit the internal drive on the C1. Although, if the C1 had a drive bay battery, it sure would have helped the overall battery life. I'm honestly completely baffled as to why more laptop manufacturers don't allow for removable optical drive bays and offer a second battery for that bay - I can probably count the number of laptops that have that feature today on one hand. Battery life is one of the top concerns for laptop owners, and putting a second battery in the laptop is a great way to boost overall run-time. What laptop owner wouldn't want that? It's also a money-maker for the laptop companies because they get to sell a $150-$200 accessory.
Figure 6: The volume is set with a rocker switch that moves back and forth � this is a great implementation, and pressing the rocker inward is a one-button mute. Very nice. The SRS WOW button is right next to it.
Ports, Ports, Ports
The usual array of ports are present: VGA out (why isn't DVI standard yet? VGA is dead - get an adaptor if you need to connect it to a projector), a 56K modem port (for those forced to live like it was 1993), a gigabit Ethernet port (kudos to LG for busting past 100 mbps), audio line-in, microphone-in, and an S/PDIF digital audio output port. Speaking of audio, the C1 has an included (presumably hardware-based) SRS WOW function that ties into the Realtek HD Audio chipset. It has three modes: SRS WOW HD, SRS TruSurround XT, and off. Does it make a difference? When playing audio on the external speakers, yes, the SRS WOW HD mode makes everything sound louder. When headphones are connected, the SRS WOW HD effect is more gimmick than anything else. The TruSurround XT setting is just bizarre-sounding and I�m not sure when you�d use it.
Figure 7: From left to right, we have the microphone input, the headphone output (which doubles as the digital optical out), and the line input.
Figure 8: The right side of the laptop has a single USB port next to the modem and gigabit Ethernet port. The other two USB ports are on the left side � I like a laptop with USB ports on both sides, it makes for more flexible configurations.
Getting back to the size got a minute, because I'm looking for a laptop to replace my current Fujitsu P7010D, here are a two comparison photos to give you an idea of how each laptop measures up.
Figure 9: The LG C1 is basically the same thickness as my Fujitsu, although it feels and looks thinner because it's narrower in some parts.
Figure 10: From the top, the laptops are nearly identical in size. The C1 is just a bit longer, and it's also a bit taller. This makes for a bit more of a snug fit in the neoprene cases I have for the Fujitsu.
Odds and Ends
The integrated wireless works well, though the impressively named �Hexa-Band Antenna� was no more sensitive at picking up WiFi signals than my Fujitsu P7010D. Performance over 802.11g was normal, as was overall range. There's an indicator for WiFi and hard drive status on the left side of the screen. I found it a bit distracting to see the blinking, but ultimately that's the kind of thing you'd tune out if you saw it on a regular basis.
Figure 11: The hard drive light indicator (top) and WiFi indicator (bottom).
The included Bluetooth gave me my first taste of using Bluetooth with Windows Vista, and I have to admit, I was impressed! Things have certainly evolved. I used the wizard to search for Bluetooth devices, and it immediately found my T-Mobile Dash. I partnered with the Dash, then turned on the Windows Mobile Internet Sharing software (new in Windows Mobile 6), and on the laptop I selected Join a Personal Area Network (that part wasn�t overly intuitive). A few seconds later I was browsing the Web using the GRPS connection on my Dash. I quickly stopped though, because my blood-thirsty price-gouging cell phone carrier (Fido) makes me pay $25 CAD ($23 USD) for a pathetic 3 MB of data transfers per month. That�s a rant for another day...
Figure 12: These buttons work in laptop or slate mode, and they control things such as screen rotation, sleep, bringing up the on-screen keyboard, starting up the E-Note application, and scrolling up and down � but a real scroll wheel would have been nice.
Don�t Forget It�s a Tablet PC
The LG C1 is the first Tablet PC I�ve ever reviewed: I�ve always been interested in the concept, but I could never find a Tablet PC that could live up to my demands, with most of them having poor battery life in the goal to be as thin and light as possible. The LG C1 isn�t much different in that regard (more on that below). Not being a Tablet PC expert, I�m probably going to explain this incorrectly, but the LG C1 doesn�t use the Wacom technology that requires the use of a special pen � you can touch the screen of the C1 with your finger and it will respond. I thought this would make it very hard to use the C1, with my resting hand causing all sorts of problems with the screen, but that didn�t turn out to be an issue at all.
Figure 13: The telescoping stylus. It's not very comfortable to use � I wish LG would have used a full-length stylus, more like a Wacom pen, but perhaps they didn't have space. It felt like a bad PDA stylus in my hand.
The pen is stored in the lower-left corner of the screen, and it�s not an impressive writing device: the end is telescoping, so you end up with a pen that is solid on the lower 2/3rds and not really there on the upper third. It�s also a bit frustrating to get in and out: most of the time it doesn�t catch properly when you try to click it back into the holder. Just now I tried and after over 40 tries, rotating and pressing at different angles, I couldn�t get it to connect so it�s sitting on the table beside the laptop. Getting it out isn�t much better, taking several presses to get the spring mechanism to release. I understand the size constraints LG must have had, but this isn�t a great solution because it caused me a fair amount of frustration. I don't know if the review laptop was defective, but it was so frustrating I'd probably avoid taking it out unless I had no choice. The good news here is that since you can use any pen you want, you can leave the telescoping pen inside the C1 and use your own stylus and not have to deal with the hassle. That�s not much of a solution though, is it?
Figure 14: The worst thing about the stylus isn't how uncomfortable it is to hold over a long period of time, it's how hard it is to get it back into the holder.
Figure 15: The C1 in slate mode. It's light enough to hold comfortably, but not for extended periods of time. I wish the bezel around the screen was thinner so it would be "all screen" when in slate mode.
Stylus issues aside, what did I think of using the C1 as a Tablet PC? It was pretty cool to be able to rotate the screen around for a slide show and still retain control of the keyboard, and browsing the Web in slate mode was a nice change of pace. I spent a day at a vocal training clinic, and I used the C1 in slate mode with OneNote (which I installed myself) to take all my session notes. That was an interesting experience, because like many keyboard-jockies, I don�t write very much. The screen was easy to write on, and the stylus was adequate for the task. I don't know if it was the pen, or the screen, but I felt like the input resolution wasn't quite up to par � I felt like I had to write bigger than normal for it to pick up detail properly.
Figure 16: I ran into an alignment issue where I was unable to use the stylus to drag the vertical scroll bar in Internet Explorer up and down � this photo shows where I'm pressing, and where the actual cursor is. Thankfully, this was easy to correct by running the alignment tool.
Figure 17: I was curious to see how robust the screen rotation drivers and software were, so I did a screen rotation while a full-screen video was playing. As you can see, it went funky � not impressive. I had to exit the video, rotate the screen, and start it again. Come on Microsoft, you can do better than that.
The most realistic battery life test is always that of real use, so I decided to use the C1 in the most real-world test I could imagine. I used it to write this review using battery power with WiFi and Bluetooth turned on, and audio turned off (the Bluetooth radio should take next to no power). The screen brightness was set to maximum � I find the screen not terribly bright overall, so anything less than maximum brightness in a well-lit room is simply too dim. After charging the standard-size 3-cell battery fully to 100%, I powered it down completely and booted it up to start writing. The battery was immediately at 97% according to Windows Vista�s measurement tools, and after the operating system settled (which takes a couple of minutes), it estimated I had 1 hour and 55 minutes of battery life remaining. I changed the battery level settings to keep the laptop running until it hit 1%, at which time it would hibernate the laptop. I started writing this review one day at 4:15pm and by 4:25pm it was down to 86% battery life. After 61 minutes the battery was down to 44%, and it finally gave up on me at 1% battery life after one hour and thirty-six minutes. 96 minutes? That's it? That's not acceptable � sure, the C1 is thin and light, but what good is a thin and light laptop that requires you lug around the AC power adaptor wherever you go?
Another battery test I performed was to run a looping photo slideshow (no audio) using Picasa � the screen was at maximum brightness and WiFi/Bluetooth was also active. I ran the slideshow using Picasa�s �full resolution� slide show, and from a 100% charge it was down to 66% after only 20 minutes and 17% after 40 minutes. That last 17% of the battery life lasted longer than the first 17% - the final tally was 61 minutes of run time. The fan kicked on fairly often, because the CPU was probably working quite hard, but 61 minutes isn�t a very impressive number regardless of what the laptop was doing.
Figure 18: The 6-cell battery makes for a humpy C1.
So what about that high-capacity 6-cell battery then? I have a strong dislike for �hump� batteries � having anything protruding makes it hard to find form-fitting cases � so I wasn�t impressed when I saw how much the high-capacity battery stuck out from the C1. Worse still, I wasn�t able to properly test it because on several occasions the laptop simply wouldn�t boot with the bigger battery attached. I pulled the big battery off, connected the C1 to AC power, and it booted up fine. I knew the big battery was fully charged, but when it was connected the C1 wouldn�t boot. It was probably defective, but it was working for a while previously. Given that it has twice the number of cells as the normal battery, I can guess that the battery life would be just over three hours � but that's the minimum I'd expect from a laptop without a humped-out battery.
I have mixed feelings about LG including the big battery: it�s great that the customer doesn�t have to pay for it, but whenever I see two batteries included with an electronic device I think it�s an admission of how poor the battery life is with the main battery (Samsung does this with their Pocket PCs, which are known for having poor battery life) and I think they should have just made the laptop slightly bigger to allow for a larger battery. I can't imagine anyone who would be satisfied with 96 minutes of battery life, and the slender profile of the laptop is nullified when you have to bring the power brick with you everywhere.
And just for the record, I'd been hearing stories about how Vista's Aero Glass was chewing up battery life on laptops, so I repeated my first test (max brightness, WiFi and Bluetooth turned on, typing up this article) with Aero Glass turned off � and I got exactly the same 96 minutes of run time. One test doesn't definitively answer this question, but I think the concerns about Aero eating up battery life are mostly negative anti-Vista hype.
Benchmarking the LG C1
Many laptop reviews are theoretical in nature � they talk about performance and toss out benchmark numbers without a thought to context. I wanted to have a firm understanding how well the C1 stacked up compared to my other computer systems performing real-world tasks that I need my systems to perform, so I spent a few weeks coming up with a suitable benchmark. Using the demo version of DXO Optics Pro, I selected a test batch of 20 RAW images from my trip to Hawaii in late 2006. I used DXO Optics Pro to process the RAW images in batch mode using the DXO default settings: each image is processed for white balance levels, sharpness, color correction, contrast, noise reduction, optics distortion, and several other things.
This is a real-world test because DXO is set up to allow you to quickly adjust each RAW file with exactly the changes each image needs, then to process them all to JPEG, TIFF, or DNG in batch mode. This is a brutal test and it�s almost entirely CPU and RAM-based. I did some experiments with this test running at different clock speeds on the same system, and if I scaled the CPU and RAM speed back by 5%, I saw the benchmark take 5% longer to complete. Further, DXO Optics Pro is multi-threaded and runs beautifully on dual-core systems (I don�t have a quad-core CPU so I�m unable to test that scenario).
So how did my various systems measure up? Here�s how long each system took to process the same test on the same batch of 20 images, from slowest to fastest:
Fujitsu P7010D @ 1.2 Ghz (single core): 52 minutes
LG C1 @ 1.2 Ghz (two cores): 21 minutes
Fujitsu N6220 @ 1.86 Ghz (single core): 16 minutes
Core 2 Duo Extreme @ 3.44 Ghz (two cores): 4 minutes
As you can tell, this test exposes the raw CPU performance of each system: the Fujitsu P7010D with its single Pentium M CPU core running at 1.2 Ghz took a yawn-inducing 52 minutes to finish the task, but the LG C1 did quite well coming in at 21 minutes. I normally process my RAW images on the Fujitsu N6220 laptop if I�m at home, or on the Fujitsu 7010D if I�m mobile, so the C1 was much better for my mobile scenarios and nearly as good as the home scenario of 16 minutes. It's interesting to note, though, that the test results don't scale evenly based on the number of cores � with two cores running at 1.2 Ghz, 2.4 Ghz in total, you would have expected the C1 to beat the 1.86 ghz Fujitsu N6220. The raw (no pun intended) power of the Core 2 Duo Extreme CPU is apparent as it decimated every other system with a run time of only four minutes. I�m keen to get my hands on a quad-core CPU to see how the benchmark scales, and it DXO Optics Pro can utilize four cores.
I ran a few other benchmarks, including PC Mark 2005 and 3D Mark 2006. The C1 scored 2600 PCmarks - in comparison my Fujitsu P7010D scored 1096 PCmarks- and my Fujitsu N6220 (17" screen) scored 2157 PCmarks. That shows you what a high performer the C1 really is, beating out a much bigger and beefier laptop with double the RAM, a bigger and faster hard drive, etc. Just for fun I disabled one of the CPU cores on the C1, and after a Windows Vista blue screen of death, things were working fine so I ran the PC Mark 2005 test again and the C1 dished up 1658 PCmarks. Even as a single core machine, the C1 out-performs my P7010D at the same clock speed (different CPU generation though) by a healthy margin. On the 3D side of things, I was keen to see how the NVIDIA GeForce Go 7300 performed: the C1 clocked in at 1361 3Dmarks, and by comparison my N6220 with an ATI Mobility Radeon X600 could only manage 342 3Dmarks (makes me wonder if there's a driver problem there). With one core the C1 tested within three points of the dual core results, so the 3D Mark test definitely isn't multi-threaded.
The C1 is a fast laptop, there's no doubt about that � and that might explain the horrendous battery life. They clearly designed the C1 to deliver a punch, but perhaps more balance is in order to achieve a longer run-time. I should point out that the fan in the C1 is very quiet � even when it was running the benchmarks and maxing out the CPU, the fan was difficult to hear. That's very different from my P7010D, which is ridiculously loud when the fan is going full tilt (which happens far too often). The C1 is a very quiet laptop under all circumstances: LG hit an acoustic home run.
The LG C1 is a mixed bag: on one hand, it�s thin, light-weight, and packs a lot of features and performance into its small frame. The fact that it has a 10.6� screen and a Dual Core processor is quite rare, so LG has to be given engineering props for managing that feat. The 80 GB drive is spacious enough, and the WiFi and Bluetooth work well (though putting a 802.11n chipset in there would have been nice). With both CompactFlash and Secure Digital slots, it makes a good companion for the digital photographer (speed issues aside) � and the CPU and RAM is sufficient for most photo editing tasks, including crunching RAW files.
For me, the battery life is a show-stopper though. I like to travel as light as possible, only taking an AC adaptor with me when absolutely necessary, and the C1 wouldn't even last me through an afternoon of writing. If you can deal with only 96 minutes of battery life, the C1 is a fantastic laptop. Myself? I have to keep looking.
Jason Dunn owns and operates Thoughts Media Inc., a company dedicated to creating the best in online communities. He enjoys mobile devices, digital media content creation/editing, and pretty much all technology. He lives in Calgary, Alberta, Canada with his lovely wife, and his sometimes obedient dog. He's still on his quest for the ultimate ultra-portable laptop.