A touch cheaper
If you’re an Aldi follower, you know the score – cheap products come and go very quickly, including tech products. But are they worth the effort? We take a hands-on look at Aldi’s latest $249 touchscreen laptop.
Aldi’s advertising just calls it ‘Touch notebook’, though it’s branded Unisurf, but that’s typical of the Aldi marketing method. The company thrives on offering products cheaply for a very short time as ‘specials’. They come, they go – and they may or may not ever come again. Aldi typically provides a 60-day money back guarantee.
In this case, the Windows 10 Touch Notebook cost $249 and here’s what Aldi tells you:
- 11.6-inch 1080p (1920 x 1080 pixels) touchscreen with IPS (in plane switching) panel.
- Foldback keyboard (360 degrees) for use as a tablet.
- Intel HD onboard graphics (a basic graphics chipset built into the motherboard, not a separate graphics card).
- 32GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage and 4GB of memory (RAM).
- Front and rear 2MP (megapixel) cameras.
- Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi (wireless networking) and BlueTooth 4.0.
- An 8000mAh (milliamp hour) battery with claimed 8hrs of battery life.
What Aldi doesn’t tell you, but we found out through testing, is:
- Processor: Aldi didn’t actually advertise the main processor, but we found it had a modest-performance 1.44GHz Intel Atom x5-Z8350. We found that Netflix streams played OK, with some slight hints of dropped frames, but low-resolution YouTube streams (480p or lower) played back smoothly.
- Capacity: The 32GB SSD left us with just 10.4GB of usable storage space (after Windows Update and deleting its temporary files), which is minimal.
- Weight: 1329g (which we consider heavy for an 11.6in laptop). The weight of the power supply is an additional 90g and the length of the power cord is 117cm (which we consider short).
- Connection ports: 1 x USB 2.0; 1 x USB 3.0; 1 x micro-HDMI; 1 x microSD card slot.
We found the laptop felt quite sluggish overall. Browsing the web can be tiring as pages take a while to load and be slow to scroll, and even changing settings can take a while. The best way to use this laptop is to have only one main program open at a time and to disable automatic Windows Update. And exercise a good deal of patience. Disabling automatic Windows Update is normally not recommended as you then have to do it manually, and delays could pose problems with ongoing compatibility and security.
While Aldi claims 8hrs of battery life, we found it only stretched to a minute past 3hrs in our ‘heavy usage’ testing (playing videos). That’s a little on the short side, but what was more frustrating was the slow charging rate from the very underpowered 5V charger, which saw the laptop take 4hrs 11mins to charge up to 80% full, and more than 6hrs to hit 100% charged.
- The build quality is fairly low, as you’d expect from a bargain basement laptop. We found the laptop body rocked back and forth even when sitting flat on a desk. The weighting balance is poor for using it open on your lap, because it tends to fall backwards when you lift your hands off the palm rest.
- The touchpad had to be disabled for us to type properly. We found the keyboard tray flexed noticeably and the keys bounced while typing, which led to typos. We also found it hard to type without hitting the touchpad, and the pointer would inadvertently move or select text while we typed, producing errors and deleting text. We could see why they included a prominent ‘disable touchpad’ icon on the space bar.
- Sometimes the keyboard and touchpad did not lock when the unit was switched to tablet mode.
- The usable storage space is so low that you’ll need to plug in an external drive to provide enough space for running Windows Update.
- You can plug into an external TV or monitor, but the Micro-HDMI port means you’ll need a special adaptor or cable.
- Both the included 2MP cameras don’t handle video well, producing low frame rate video that’s quite wobbly.
- The microphone is located on the keyboard chassis, so when you’re talking to Cortana in tablet mode, it can have trouble picking up what you say. The built-in speakers also sound fairly tinny.
On the good side, the laptop:
- Operates silently, as there are no cooling fans.
- Has a full HD display screen with an IPS panel that gives you wide viewing angles. That makes it feasible to use the tablet in portrait for reading, for example, though it is highly reflective.
- Touchscreen is responsive for the most part when using apps such as Paint, but you’ll need to find a suitable third-party stylus for writing and drawing.
Are you keen to get one of Aldi’s mercurial specials? You’ll generally need to be quick. You can haunt the website early each day or, better yet, you can keep on top of upcoming deals by signing up online to the Aldi newsletter, but you’ll have to visit a bricks and mortar store to actually purchase.
However, just because you missed the boat with one of the special offers doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out what was on offer, because if you keep an eye on the website you’ll soon find more of the same. Each generation of product briefly on offer can give an indication of what to expect from subsequent specials. And if you were quick enough to snag one, you’re probably wondering how it compares.
Sometimes you just need a cheap laptop. Maybe it’s a low-cost backup device to give the kids, or to have basic computing while travelling without risking your good gear. You can’t really argue with the asking price, but it’s good to know what you’re getting for your money. If your needs are as modest as your budget, then you might find an Aldi special such as this one will suit your needs. But for a general use laptop, we suggest saving your pennies a bit longer and setting your sights a little higher.