NEC Versa S940

September 27th, 2005 Mobile Computing, Tech, The West Australian

A spokesperson from Sony, when interviewed about corporate branding, articulated the approach all global brands have to follow to even compete it today’s consumer electronics market, let alone succeed. ‘When it can be the only point of difference between brand X and Y, brands need to find common ground with the consumer,’ said the spin doctor, ‘and communicating and catering to a lifestyle that consumers understand or aspire to is a good way to build a connection.’

It’s a virtual admission that they all make the same product — those products are all constrained by the limits of technology to the same proportion, and the only difference from one to the other might be the shape of the logo slapped on the casing.

And so one area of difference that notebook manufacturers really have the chance to stand out (or shoot themselves in the foot) is in the way they present the same technology their competitor has to offer. The design becomes the brand.

At one end of the spectrum is the Sony VAIO and it’s ultra-sleek, incredibly sexy contemporaries. They look like something out of George Lucas’ scrapbook, and if you but them and get them home, it’s up to you to decide if the design enhances or restricts the experience.

At the other is the stuff that’s been obviously designed by geeks still wearing their hush puppies and pocket protectors from the late 1970s — somewhere Apple wouldn’t be caught dead and most other companies wouldn’t admit to belonging to.

The NEC versa series has mostly occupied the sweet spot at the crossroads of form and function. Not flashy, but far from ugly. No gleaming silver flourishes or NASA-inspired add-ons, everything is where you want and expect it, and the experience is comfortable.

If there’s a position that occupies the perfect blend of design and usability, the S940 is pretty close. Not too big and clunky at only 2kg, not having had everything stuffed into too small a space, the keyboard layout is comfortable and accessible, the lighting and tactility are pleasant and responsive, and the S940 is another successful addition to the already high quality Versa stable.

The specs are impressive as well. With a higher speed (5400rpm) 80Gb hard drive, it’s all set up for data-intensive applications like video editing and DVD construction (complemented by the dual layer DVD burner), although the graphics card isn’t the most flash around and the underside speakers are dreadfully tinny with no bass whatsoever — so don’t expect a very immersive gaming or movie watching experience.

All the port and connectivity bells and whistles are catered for including full Bluetooth access. Combined with a design that’s not trying to invoke memories of The Matrix but doesn’t make you think you should be using Windows 3.1, it’s a great buy for an office on the road with the capability to handle your high-intensity data crunching needs, especially for the surprising price tag.

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