A little over a year ago, we reviewed the iBall Compbook Exemplaire, a 14-inch notebook that cost less than Rs. 15,000. We found it to be underpowered and flimsy, but ultimately worthwhile, because there really isn't a lot of choice at this price level, and at least you could get basic work done. There still isn't much choice - and we still feel that there's a gap in the market where netbooks used to reign. Sure, tablets can be fun to use and easy to watch movies on, but typing, browsing the Web, and multitasking are still largely off the table. iBall was smart enough to take the guts of a tablet and put them into a clamshell with a usable keyboard and screen, without pushing costs up too high.
Now, we have with us the successor to that product, the new iBall Compbook Marvel 6. It looks very similar, but benefits from newer technology. The price is still the same, so we hope that iBall has managed to iron out some of the problems with the Exemplaire and give us a machine that's even better value for money.
At first glance, you wouldn't be able to tell that this is an ultra-low-cost laptop just by looking at it. The shell is made of a glossy blue-grey plastic with a textured finish, which actually looks quite slick. The only thing giving away this device's true nature is the iBall logo on the lid, which is printed on and looks just a little tacky. The finish even carries over to the bottom, which is free of vents because of the low-power CPU which doesn't need a fan.
The whole thing is pleasantly light, at just 1.41kg, but it doesn't feel very sturdy. The body flexes quite worryingly when you press it, especially in the centre of the lid where there's zero reinforcement. We definitely wouldn't place anything heavy on top of this laptop or let it get squashed inside a bag. There are also some rough edges where the plastic seams meet.
The hinge feels stiff, and it takes a little effort to raise the lid. The first thing you'll notice is that there's hardly any plastic around the 14-inch screen, giving this laptop a pretty modern look. Unfortunately, that also means there's little structural rigidity, and the lid can be flexed and bent quite easily, resulting in warping and discolouration on the screen.
The screen bezel and keyboard deck are both grey plastic, while the trackpad and keys are black except for iBall's trademark red 'i' key, a brand identifier that goes back to its earliest days as a PC peripherals company. Again, we're impressed just by looking at this device - it doesn't seem like a cheap piece of plastic at all - except for one thing. That one red key does look really cheesy and tends to be distracting, and we wish iBall would stop doing this even if it is distinctive.
In terms of the user experience, things get a little more down to earth. The screen is obviously of a low quality, and both photos and videos are a little dull and lifeless. It's glossy, and comes with a factory-fitted scratch protection film which you might or might not appreciate. Viewing angles are awful, and blacks look shiny even at roughly 30 degrees off-centre. However, the 1366x768 resolution at 14 inches is fairly standard even for laptops that cost six to eight times as much, and makes for a decently comfortable workspace. Text isn't too jagged and you can get all your everyday work done.
The keyboard keys are a bit stiff and make a loud sound when pressed. It takes very little effort to actuate them, and the lack of resistance takes a little getting used to. We were able to type comfortably and with our usual degree of accuracy quite quickly. The layout is good, without any major keys being dropped. The only problem is that the power button, integrated into the top-right corner, is way too easy to hit by accident - it should have at least been stiffer. We also noticed that while there are a lot of Fn-combo shortcuts including an old-fashioned virtual number pad, screen brightness controls are missing.
The entire keyboard deck flexes when typing, which in turn causes the lid to wobble back and forth. We found ourselves adjusting to a lighter touch to compensate. You can also feel the same thing happening when you try to click the trackpad. Sometimes, we would up clicking and right-clicking simultaneously when pressing the trackpad - we also had to learn to just tap, or click in the lower corners more deliberately. Other than that, tracking is smooth and Windows 10 gestures work well enough.
There isn't much to see on the Compbook Marvel 6's sides - only one USB 3.0 port, one USB 2.0 port, a Mini-HDMI video output, a 3.5mm combo audio socket, and a microSD card slot. This isn't a lot in terms of connectivity, and takes us back to the fact that this is essentially a low-cost tablet in laptop form.
In the box, you get a synthetic protective cover which can be used as a sleeve, a microfibre cleaning cloth, the wall-wart style charger, and for some reason a Micro-USB cable - maybe iBall forgot that this isn't actually a tablet with a Micro-USB charging port. There's also a hard drive mounting kit, which we'll get to in a moment.
Compared to last year's model, we see quite a big jump with the hardware. The CPU is now a Celeron N3350, which is a dual-core model without Hyper-Threading, and runs at a maximum of 2.4GHz. It's based on the 14nm Apollo Lake architecture, which is two steps ahead of the previous 22nm Bay Trail generation. Despite the Celeron brand, this CPU is effectively the successor of the once-popular Atom line, and that's the level of performance you should expect.
There's also a relatively generous 3GB of RAM, but only 32GB of embedded flash storage. You can use the microSD card slot for file storage, like you would on a smartphone or tablet, and there are always cloud services, depending on what kind of Internet access you have. Interestingly, there's also another option - iBall includes a tiny SATA cable and mounting brackets for a 2.5-inch hard drive or SSD. According to the included instruction leaflet, you'll have to unscrew the bottom of the laptop, which involves punching through two tamper-detection stickers and pulling off two of the rubber feet. It isn't clear whether this will void your warranty, though that's very likely. Once a drive is installed, the leaflet warns, you might find that the laptop becomes slow and jittery when USB devices are plugged in - because the battery can't handle so much load at the same time. This makes us wonder what the point of including the kit is, but we suppose having this choice is better than not.
Surprisingly, the Compbook Marvel 6 features high-speed dual-band Wi-Fi ac and Bluetooth 4.0. You also get a 2-megapixel webcam, a 38Whr battery, stereo speakers, and dual mics. We're also happy to see that a fully functional copy of Windows 10 Home is included, that too a 64-bit installation. There's no bloatware other than the usual Windows 10 apps, which is a relief considering the lack of storage space. Buyers should have absolutely no trouble getting started with using this laptop as soon as it's unpacked.
Over the course of our week-long review period, we found using this laptop quite pleasant. It obviously isn't meant to be a powerhouse, but most of our work happens within a Web browser, and we were able to load up Office 365 apps and use them even with a dozen or so other tabs open. It often took a few seconds for files to open and apps to load.
The keyboard flex will be a problem for heavy typers, but on the other hand, the wrist rest doesn't get warm at all. The screen is incredibly reflective and it can be hard to find a position that works well because of this issue on top of the poor viewing angles. We found that we were able to play 1080p videos without any trouble, and they were enjoyable as long as we were facing the screen dead-centre. The speakers are also very loud, though not all that clear. The webcam was practically useless even in broad daylight.
Very few of our benchmark tests were able to run on this weak processor. CineBench R15 gave us single-core and multi-core scores of 43 and 80 respectively - we're used to seeing figures in the high hundreds with today's mainstream PCs. POVRay took 19 minutes, 44 seconds to complete its benchmark run, and again, we usually see less than five minutes. However, for reference, last year's Compbook Exemplaire failed to run Cinebench, and took 33 minutes, 38 seconds in POVRay.
Graphics tests including 3DMark and Unigine Valley either failed to run or gave us less than 5fps on average, which is as good as failing. Since our regular game tests were out of the question, we tried a relatively light mobile game, Age of Empires: Castle Siege from the Windows Store. While it was able to run fullscreen, controls were sluggish and motion did stutter. This hardware really isn't meant for games at all.
To our surprise, PCMark was able to complete all its tests, and we logged 1,535, 1,633, and 1,928 respectively in the Home, Creative, and Work suites. We also logged 76.94 in Basemark Web 3.0 and 157 in WebXprt. Copying files from a USB 3.0 SSD to the internal storage seemed very quick, and we were able to log 239.22MBps random reads and 90.8MBps random writes with SiSoft SANDRA which are pretty good scores.
The final thing we have to test is battery life, and we were beyond pleased to note that the Compbook Marvel 6 was able to last for 5 hours, 38 minutes in the intensive Battery Eater Pro test where several mainstream models barely last three hours. Even with regular use, we were able to make it through a full working day with at least 50 percent remaining on the Windows battery meter multiple times. Of course, you can't do anything that really strains the battery, but it's great to know that you can leave home without the charger and not have a problem for two days.
If you need a PC and really cannot afford anything more than Rs. 15,000, the iBall Compbook Marvel 6 will not disappoint you. It's a fully functional computer and can run a Web browser and office apps without any problems. It's perfectly fine for audio and video playback, and its battery life is outstanding. It could easily work for students, entry-level office work, and anyone who needs basic connectivity while outdoors for long periods of time. It's a good enough starter PC for those who can't afford anything else, and is significantly better for productivity than any tablet or smartphone could ever be.
The biggest bonuses are the large screen, usable keyboard, low weight, multimedia capabilities, a full-featured version of Windows 10, and battery life. The downsides are limited storage and connectivity, relatively weak construction quality, and the performance constraints of a Celeron processor. Overall, there's a significant improvement compared to last year's model. We aren't sure how long this device will last out in the real world, both in terms of performance and physical wear and tear, but given its price, you could upgrade as often as you change your smartphone.
We think you get great value for money with the Combook Marvel 6, and hope that more companies start paying attention to this price range.
Price (MRP): Rs. 14,299
Ratings (Out of 5)