Computers are an essential part of everyday life. Whether you’re updating your CV, streaming movies or just looking for a media player that doesn’t (always) require a constant power connection (thanks, Eskom), a PC is a must in the modern age. The trouble is the cost. Not everyone can drop R6k or more on an entry-level laptop and it’s with those folks in mind that Mecer has created its Xpression Z140C machine. Starting at just R2,700, it’s a true budget computer.
Which means it is not without its flaws. But when you’re looking for a fairly competent 14in notebook under R3,000, some concessions have to be made to the price. Not everything will be perfect. If it was, folks wouldn’t be willing to shell out in excess of R25k for a desktop replacement.
Built to persist (for as long as possible)
If we were going to choose one thing to improve the heck out of in the Mecer Z140C, it would be the build quality. Encased in tough(ish) white plastic all over, the notebook has a fairly rigid structure. Around the perimeter, anyway. The notebook’s lid, which houses that 14in IPS screen, has a lot more flex than we like to see in a laptop. Even slight pressure on the rear of the panel distorts the display. And while we could just not flex the lid, that’s not always intentional.
The body is also softer than we’d like, particularly directly underneath the hinge. A finger poked just about anywhere will lightly shift the casing, suggesting that there’s a lot more space inside than you’d expect. We didn’t crack it open, because we kinda had to give it back in one piece, but we were tempted. Just to see how it looks inside. And, speaking of the hinge, we really would have appreciated something a little stiffer in that line as well.
But if you’re not poking and prodding the Z140C, it looks just like a standard notebook. The chiclet keyboard is as big as it gets in a 14in chassis, the trackpad is clicky (too much so), and the ports are scattered to some fairly conventional locations.
Little price, little processor
Running the show in Mecer’s little machine is an Intel Atom x5-Z8350 — a quad-core Cherry Trail processor running at 1.44GHz. It’s backed by 2GB of DDR3 RAM and 32GB of eMMC storage. 18GB of that is available on an out-of-the-box machine. Windows 10 takes up most of the available space, but users can slot in additional microSD storage. And that’s not really optional, you’re going to run out of space in short order. Windows 10 updates will see to that, never mind adding the items that you want.
The 14in IPS display has a native resolution of 1,366 x 768 — still a standard for budget and entry-level notebooks. That’s acceptable enough, though, as the rest of the hardware doesn’t offer enough grunt to let you crank things up to full HD anyway. The integrated Intel 400 GPU doesn’t do much to elevate the already mundane specs. Spreadsheets, Word documents, audio and video files and a spot of Netflix? Sure, that’ll happen. Playing Fortnite or anything else that can’t also run in a web browser? Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Just the basics, here.
And we’d suggest an external mouse. The chiclet keyboard is fine enough, though we like a bit more travel in our keys, the trackpad is an annoyance to use. There’s almost too much travel and the whole thing is a clicky mess — we suspect because the trackpad is as cheap as possible. Expect to use more force than you’d expect to click and right-click.
Ever the understudy
In terms of performance, the Mecer Xpression Z140C is strictly amateur hour. That is, it’ll take care of your basic needs but it’s not going to feel particularly impressive while doing so. The processor/RAM/storage combination bottleneck the whole system and there’s a limit to how fast it’ll do anything. Woe unto you if you’re the type to load ALL the Chrome tabs at once. Ditto if you’re hoping for some portable gaming. It’s not going to happen here. And no, you can’t upgrade the system afterwards. Maybe the RAM. If you don’t mind invalidating all the warranties and possibly killing the machine dead (see: why we didn’t crack the machine open).
So expect some system lag, which will get worse over time — especially if you don’t install extra microSD storage. Multitasking is going to be an issue as well, so if you’re working on Office docs and browsing and attempting to stream Spotify or (worse) a Netflix window in the corner, you’re going to deal with stuttering tasks and general slowdown. But, again, you’re probably going to be paying less than R3k for this one. Turns out there’s a reason for that.
If you’re in the market for numbers, we also pushed the Z140C’s Intel Atom x5-Z8350 through GeekBench 4. Scores of 719 (single-core) and 2158 (multi-core) show that we’re looking at a functional machine here. It’s just a whole lot better at doing one thing at a time.
Mecer Xpression Z140C Verdict
Do you really want a Mecer Xpression Z140C? That all really depends on your budget — if it maxes out at R3,000, then yes, you want one. You’re not going to find a better machine in that price bracket unless it’s considerably older and secondhand. And the Z140C has proved very popular in South Africa, selling out on more than one occasion in its past incarnations.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking to save money but your budget stretches further, it’s hard to recommend the Z140C over something with 4GB of RAM and 500GB of storage (at a bare minimum). This is a ‘real’ computer but it’s made several sacrifices to come in at the price it does. As a school machine or something that isn’t going to handle more than Netflix, some typing, and internet banking, Mecer’s machine is an acceptable buy. If you really need to multitask, though, it’s worth spending the extra money on something with more under the hood.