Remember when you got your first iPod and took it out of the box? The super smooth white plastic case just spoke quality even before you turned it on. I remember thinking that and also thinking "wouldn’t it be awesome if it was black instead of white?" This long before the U2 iPod became a reality.
The JVC Interlink XP741 is awe inspiring, jaw dropping gorgeous. The smooth glossy black finish tells you this product is one of a kind with no attention to detail overlooked in the design. You want to stroke it, it looks so good. Every seam and crevice on the JVC fits like it should, nothing wobbles or rattles, and using it for even a brief session tells you how good the design and production is at JVC. It makes you feel good.
The XP741 is a mini-notebook from JVC Japan that is about the size of a VHS cassette, if anyone remembers what those look like. It is a full Windows XP little dynamo with a lot of power under the hood despite it’s diminutive size. The evaluation unit I used for this review was supplied to me by Dynamism, the premiere source for all Japanese gadgets like the JVC and a great place to find all the coolest stuff you can’t get in the US normally.
Under the hood
When you first power on the XP741 you can’t help feeling a little awe watching Windows XP boot up the first time. The initial start up is fast and easy and you quickly find the JVC to be a full WinXP notebook in every way. The screen is a bright and vivid 8.9 inch LCD that runs natively at 1024 x 600 which leaves all the text a nice size for extended work sessions. It can be stepped down to 800 x 600 for those whose eyesight requires things on the screen to be a bit bigger, but I didn’t have any trouble reading and using the screen at the higher resolution.
The JVC has an Intel 855GME which is a Pentium M running at 1.1 GHz which is quite fast and offers snappy performance. This is aided by the 2 MB of L2 cache that comes standard on the sub-notebook. The Intel 855GME utilizes up to 64 MB of shared video memory that works very well for everything you might run, with the possible exception of very graphic intensive games. I have used several computers with the Intel shared video memory and have not run into any problems with it as long as the computer has enough RAM to share without impacting performance. The JVC comes standard with 256 MB of RAM that is expandable up to 768 MB. The evaluation unit I was provided had 768 MB of memory which is probably why the performance was so good. I strongly recommend owners of any Windows XP computer install at least 512 MB of memory, more if possible.
Sound quality from the integrated audio processor is good when external speakers are used. The JVC has stereo speakers integrated into the notebook that produces audio typical for such speakers. Audio sounds great through headphones so you can easily listen to your music collection if you wish.
The XP741 has a surprising number of ports and connectors for using with peripherals and networks:
- RJ-11 modem jack
- RJ-45 Ethernet (10/100 Base-T)
- Two USB 2.0
- iLink (IEEE 1394 Firewire)
- Microphone in
- Headphone out
- VGA port
The JVC also has integrated WiFi (802.11 b/g) for wireless network connections and a Type I/II PC Card slot for expansion. The XP741 weighs just 2 pounds with the internal battery, and 2.38 pounds with the standard battery (more on this later), and the physical size of the notebook is only 8.58" by 1.16" by 6.97", making this one of the smallest full sub-notebooks you will find. It is so easy to carry around throughout your day that it is a joy to use on a daily basis.
The XP741 has an unusual battery arrangement that bears some discussion. There is an internal battery (fixed) that JVC claims has a 2 hour battery life. In the real world I usually got about an hour and a half using just the internal battery. This is not a problem, however, because JVC also includes the "standard" battery, which is a tube shaped battery that clips onto the back of the XP741. The battery is quite small so it doesn’t add a lot of size or weight to the notebook, so I just left it attached all the time. The JVC will auto switch between batteries as needed for both running and charging. Total run time with both batteries in action was over 5 hours which is quite acceptable for a sub-notebook computer. JVC also has an extended battery available which is bulkier and heavier, but I did not have one at my disposal for this evaluation. A nice touch is the LED indicators JVC put on the front of the opened XP741 that shows you which of the two batteries is currently powering the device.
XP741 in action
I have used the JVC for a few weeks and overall I am impressed with the mobile capability of the device. It is so small and light you can take it almost anywhere and with the wireless connectivity you can work with email and the web whenever possible. I used it with the Verizon EVDO service and it was like having a tiny internet demon no matter where I happened to be. It is fun to use and creates quite a stir with observers whenever you whip it out. I am used to generating excitement from carrying around the Sony U750 for a good while but the XP741 caused even more fuss whenever I took it out. I think some people mistook the Sony for a PDA while everyone instantly is impressed that the JVC is a little notebook computer.
JVC thoughtfully provides a chamois pouch for storing the XP741 when you’re out and about. While this pouch didn’t provide any real protection (except from scratches) it doubles as a great screen cleaner making it very useful.
The XP741 is a great mobile email machine, it’s easy to carry on trips and having a bright screen made working with email very nice. I also found it great for surfing the web and working with the hundreds of RSS feeds I track daily. It is a lot of fun to work with such a small notebook computer and it is very versatile. I found the integrated WiFi to be easy to setup and the antennas are obviously very good as I had no connection problems the entire time I was using the JVC. It does mobile very well indeed.
Overall the JVC is a very nice machine, but as in all devices this small some concessions had to be made in the design that might impact some users. The keyboard is very small and when you add in the fact it is a Japanese keyboard you can understand why I found it difficult to use for extended periods. I have large hands and even though I normally don’t have problems using small keyboards I found this keyboard very tiring after typing on it for a while. The key placement is a little strange, a combination of trying to cram a full keyboard in such a small space and the inclusion of some Japanese keys that are needed in the home market. What I ended up doing for extended typing sessions was plugging in a Bluetooth USB dongle and using an external keyboard.
The Bluetooth dongle also helped me around the other thing I didn’t like about the XP741, the trackstick pointer. I have to admit prejudice against tracksticks in general, I just don’t like them so my point of view is no doubt biased. What I didn’t like about the XP741 trackstick was the stiffness. It was hard to use because it required a lot of pressure to move the cursor, and I quickly became very irritated with it. I ended up using a Bluetooth mouse for extended sessions and this worked very well.
The JVC Interlink XP741 is a beautiful, capable computer that can be easily carried virtually anywhere. Traveling with the JVC was wonderful due to the small size and weight, and the full capability of the sub-notebook made it invaluable on trips. Don’t overlook the lack of an included optical drive as the small size of the JVC precludes the possibility of integrating one. It would be nice if JVC provided an external drive for installing software. The XP741 is only sold in Japan so you must purchase them through importers such as Dynamism, so they may be too expensive for many. The JVC is currently selling for $1,999 for the base unit with 256 MB of memory and a 60 GB hard drive, and Dynamism has a full selection of accessories including extra RAM which I highly recommend. I really enjoyed using the JVC and hate to see it go, if only the keyboard was a little easier to use.