Sometimes it is hard to pin down what makes a computer good. The Dreambook M81 10” netbook from Pioneer is a classic example. While nothing screams exceptional about this netbook, it is a well designed and built unit that is perfect for its role as a light and mobile computer.
The casing for the netbook is a piano gloss top and generic black plastic case. The screen is crisp and bright, and the handles video nicely. The keyboard is similar to the Apple keyboard, with flat island keys. While a numeric pad is missing and the design has the cursor keys squeezed into the bottom right of the keyboard, I found the keyboard well spaces and easy to use. The tradeoff between utility and size well accomplished, and I had no problem in using it for typing and browsing.
The Dreambook comes with Windows 7 Home Premium. With its 2GB memory, I found the system pleasingly responsive. Running the Windows Experience Index, the lowest rating was due to the Atom Processor, every other rating was similar to a desktop of 2 to 3 years old, so it is able to run most applications today well, and with its extra memory, will handle multi-tasking large apps nicely. Some basic games will run with the Intel GMA950 graphic chip and the 256MB total memory (64MB dedicated) is a nice touch, but don’t expect to play Crysis on this netbook.
The Dreambook is light, and I found it to be little effort to lug it around. I found it worked well with WiFi and 3G (via a HTC Desire and USB cable). Web based multimedia displayed will, with the only weakness being the typical tinny speakers found in most portable computers. You can easily use the computer for video chat, with a good camera built into the screen (this is rapidly becoming standard in all portable computers, but a nice touch none the less).The sound quality from using even cheap earbud headphones is great, a nice full sound, and capable of Direct 3D sound.
With a multi card reader and two USB slots, expansion in storage and peripherals is quite simple.
I do have slight issues with the power plug and fan. The power adapter cable feeds upwards not downwards as found in most power plugs, so I found I was unable to plug it in at work due to the way the power plugs are set up in my workstation. And the Dreambook fan was surprisingly noisy. While in real terms, it is not that noisy, the fact that the fan was audible while the Dreambook was idle was noticeable. These however are minor quibbles.
One of the nice features of the Dreambook is the purchase options. Glossy screens, memory, SSD or HDD options, inbuilt 3G modem from Optus, add or subtract the software bundled, downgrade to Windows XP, choose multiboot (up to four OS choices) and even the option to install Linux (Ubuntu) means you can tune your netbook to your heart’s desire. My dream setup was $795 with a hybrid SSD/HDD drive, 3G modem and multiboot., but you can go further with car mounting kits, 12V adapters and whatnot. This alone is very welcome allows tweaking to suit price or need.
With a starting price of $399, the Pioneer achieves what it sets out to do, a cheap, light but scalable netbook. Nothing flash in the components, this is a device that is greater than the sum of its parts. Editor's note: we gave it a very good rating at Notebook Hunter too.