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Fujitsu Lifebook U904 ultrabook hands-on review

17 Mar 2014

HANOVER: Fujitsu revealed its brand new 14in Lifebook U904 ultrabook at CeBIT this week, a business device that focuses on security and performance. As a top-end piece of hardware, the U904 is customisable in every area imaginable, and the device V3 tested was the pick of the bunch.

Design and build
At first sight, the U904 exudes quality, with its brushed metal outer coating feeling cool to touch and very sturdy. Fujitsu says the device weighs 1.39kg, although this will vary depending on the specification. Nonetheless, for a high-performance device, 1.39kg is more than acceptable for the business user on the move. The device is just 15.5mm thick, which Fujitsu claims makes it the thinnest business ultrabook on the market.

Fujitsu Lifebook U904 ultrabook front view

In terms of connectivity, the U904 has two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI connector, a single audio in/out jack, an SD card slot and a pull-out RJ-45 Ethernet port for when you want to hook up to wired internet instead of WiFi. A port replicator for docking stations is an optional extra, and can be found on the underside.

The U904's backlit keyboard is of the island or chiclet variety. As you would expect for a business-focused device, the keys have a good amount of travel and are fairly satisfying to use. The same goes for the touchpad, which does not feature physical buttons but instead requires the user to press down on the touchpad itself to perform a click.

The Fujitsu Lifebook U904 has a screen resolution of 3200x1800, a frankly enormous number of pixels for a 14in screen. Everything we saw on the device looked incredibly crisp, with colour vibrancy also looking very good indeed. The screen comes in both touch and non-touch variants – we used the non-touchscreen, but would have welcomed a touchscreen too for the occasional prod. With that being said, we can imagine touching icons on a small screen with so many pixels would be quite a challenge.

It was difficult to tell how well the screen could stand up to bright lighting conditions, but Fujitsu advertises the screen as having an anti-glare coating.

There is plenty of choice when it comes to internal components for the Lifebook U904. The unit we used had Intel's top-end i7-4600U processor running at up to 3.1GHz. A pair of Intel i5 processors are also available. Both the i7 and the higher-spec i5 chip – the 4300U – feature Intel vPro technology, which secures the device at a hardware level, a big selling point for users working with sensitive data, and for IT managers who can monitor the laptop remotely using vPro.

Fujitsu Lifebook U904 ultrabook closed

Given our brief time with the device, we were unable to put it fully through its paces, but it is fair to say that we have high expectations for a device running Intel's top-end chipsets.

Because of its compact size, Fujitsu has not included a separate graphics card with the device, instead opting to use Intel's integrated HD Graphics 4400, which may limit the device's handling of more intensive multimedia such as video editing and games.

The device starts life with 2GB of RAM on board, which can be boosted to up to 10GB. Storage-wise, a host of options are available, with four solid-state drives and a traditional hard disk available. The solid-state drives (SSDs) range from 128GB to 512GB, while the spinning disk option weighs in at 500GB with an additional 16GB of SSD cache, offering a blend of capacity and performance.

Fujitsu Lifebook pull-out network port

We were also impressed to see that the device has room for optional 3G or 4G connectivity, which will be perfect for workers who often find themselves out in the field.

Battery life is estimated at a reasonable 10 hours, but we were unable to verify this figure.

Fujitsu has paid a lot of attention to security, with the Lifebook U904 featuring a variety of optional extras intended to keep businesses' data secure.

While a traditional fingerprint scanner is available for this device, Fujitsu is keen to draw attention to its Palm Vein scanner technology, which scans the veins of a user's palm to verify their identity. The U904 is the first ultrabook to feature this technology, which is now thin enough to fit into smaller devices. Below you can see the sensor, which Fujitsu said it wants to make even smaller so eventually it could be used in phones and even everyday objects.

Fujitsu Palm Vein chip

Once you've been registered as a recognised user, you can use the Palm Vein sensor to log in. Administrators can also set up Palm Vein to authenticate other actions if needed, for example logging into a certain application. Users must place their hand a few inches above the sensor and follow the on-screen instructions, which will tell them to move their hand in a certain direction.

While Fujitsu claims Palm Vein scanners are 100 times more reliable than fingerprint scanners, the problem we can see with this technology is that it is still very slow. Even with a Fujitsu representative demonstrating the scanner, it took the device more than five seconds to recognise his hand and allow him to log in. While perhaps this is the price you pay for security, many users may be put off by its sluggishness.

Fujitsu Lifebook U904 Palm Vein

Other security options include Intel's vPro technology, as mentioned above, as well as Full Disk Encryption and a Trusted Platform Module to keep sensitive data extra safe.

The Lifebook U904 continues Fujitsu's theme of high-performance devices suitable for workers in fields that require both security and portability. While pricing for the device is yet to be announced and will vary depending on the options you choose, expect to be paying the better part of £1,400 for a device with all the trimmings.

As ever, this is a case of you get what you pay for, and if your business is looking to tick those performance and security boxes, the Lifebook U904 should certainly make your shortlist.

By V3's Michael Passingham

Sony Vaio Pro 13 hands-on review

06 Jun 2013

Sony boldly entered the ultrabook market last year, releasing its moderately priced Vaio T13. A solid entry into the ultrabook space, the T13 received generally positive reviews but failed to reignite corporate interest in Sony laptops, contributing to yet another lull in sales for the Japanese giant. Not willing to give up, Sony's retargeted the space, unveiling its top end Pro 13, claiming the device is the lightest touchscreen ultrabook ever made.

Sony Vaio Pro 13 side

Design and build
Visually, as is the case with most Sony devices, the Pro is very slick. The model we had some time with featured a brushed black finish, that combined with its hardline, slim dimensions and design gave it a very swish, corporate feel similar to that seen on Lenovo's X1 Carbon ultrabook. The Pro 13 was also very light for its size, measuring in at 322x216x17.2mm and weighing just 1.06kg, similar to the 1.08kg MacBook Air. The low weight is seriously impressive considering some of the hardcore components and ports housed in the Pro's carbon fibre chassis, with it boasting USB 3.0, USB 3.0 with charge, SD memory card, HDMI out, Bluetooth, NFC and WiFi connectivity options. Opening impressions also suggest the Pro is fairly well built, with it having as solid feel that left us sure it could survive a few odd bumps and scrapes.

Display-wise the Pro 13 comes with a 13.3in Full HD 1920x1080 Triluminos touchscreen. As we found on the similarly specced Vaio Duo 13 Sony convertible, the display is pleasant to use when viewed directly, but suffered from glare issues, regularly catching any stray light and featured surprisingly poor viewing angles, quickly becoming illegible when viewed at even a slight angle. However, to be fair to the Pro 13, the lighting conditions on the press-expo floor were particularly punishing, being strewn with ridiculously bright lights that made every device we had at hand difficult to use.Sony Vaio Pro 13 press event

Operating system and software
The Pro 13 will be released with Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro options. Windows 8 is yet to massively take off in the corporate space with many firms preferring to avoid the costly experience of a general upgrade and sticking to their older Windows 7, Vista or even XP systems. Our experience using Windows 8 on the Pro 13 was positive, with its nippy, responsive touchscreen making it a doddle to navigate, a fact aided by the fact Sony hasn't overloaded the device with too many custom applications.

In terms of power, the out of the box Pro 13 will feature an Intel Core i7-4500U with Turbo boost Technology, that will be backed up by 8GB of RAM and a hybrid solid state drive. While we didn't get a chance to properly put the Pro 13 though its paces or benchmark it, the on-paper specs mean it should be more than powerful enough for most business purposes and during our hands on we didn't notice any software bugs or glitches hampering its performance.

Sony Vaio Pro 13 closed

Our opening tests suggest the Pro 13 is a decent ultrabook, offering business users a solidly built, yet surprisingly light power-house Windows 8 experience. However, there's currently no word on how much the Pro 13 will cost when it's released later this month, meaning it's difficult to tell how much businesses will have to pay for the premium experience. Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Sony Vaio Pro 13.

By Alastair Stevenson. Follow him on Twitter: @MonkeyGuru

CES: Lenovo ThinkPad Helix hands-on review

09 Jan 2013

LAS VEGAS: The Helix is one of many new ThinkPads to be unveiled by Lenovo at the 2013, Consumer Electronics (CES) show. However, being the company's first tablet-come-laptop hybrid it is debatably the most interesting.

Taking on the likes of the Microsoft Surface and Samsung Ativ-series of hybrids, the Helix seeks to offer businesses an all-in-one tablet that also acts as an ultrabook.

Having beaten the rush to get our hands on the tablet, if our opening impressions are anything to go by, Lenovo may have actually managed to achieve its goal.

Design and build
At first glance the Helix has a lot more in common with its ThinkPad predecessors than other convertible laptops.

The Helix design is unashamedly barebones, featuring the same minimalist black, hard edged plastic design synonymous with all ThinkPad devices.

It's only when you open it up and look up close that you realise the Helix is actually a convertible, spotting the rather unsubtle left hand switch that when popped separates the 21mm tablet section from its dock.Lenovo Thinkpad Helix

Playing with the Helix we were fairly impressed by the hinge mechanism's builds quality. Despite being made of plastic the connecting section felt sturdy.

Popping the tablet in and out of the dock a few times we felt suitably reassured the section wouldn't break after prolonged use. The same was true of the Helix main tablet section, with it feeling fairly robust.

Our only qualm with the device is that it feels slightly heavier than many other convertible devices weighing a hefty 835g.

The Helix comes loaded with an 11.6in Full HD 1920x1080 pixels, 10-point multi-touch screen. During our opening tests we found that looks very nice, boasting great viewing angles, colour and brightness levels.

Testing the screen we found the Helix was pleasantly responsive, with it easily picking up and responding to every swipe and poke we threw at it.

Lenovo Thinkpad Helix detached

Another added boon for artistic users, is the inclusion of a Wacom stylus, that sits neatly in the Helix's top edge.

While we didn't have time to do anything but use the stylus to make a few quick doodles, we were impressed with how well it worked.

Using Photoshop Elements, we found the Helix was able to pick up on even minor variations in pressure and angle and are fairly certain it could be used for digital painting and design purposes.

Performance and price
The Helix is designed to offer users ultrabook-level performance with the top-end version coming loaded with an Intel Core i7 processor 8GB of RAM and 256GB of internal storage. However, for this, users will have to shell out a massive $1,500.

For those shopping on a budget Lenovo's also confirmed the Helix will be available in Intel i3 and i5 versions, though there is still no official word on how much these lower specced versions will cost.

Overall our opening impressions of the Helix are positive. However, costing over $700 more than other cheaper convertible laptop-tablet hybrids, we're unsure whether the Helix will be able to attract anyone but the wealthiest of users.

CES: Samsung Series 7 Ultra hands on review

08 Jan 2013

LAS VEGAS: Samsung initially announced its plans to use Windows 8 to increase its presence in the enterprise space in October 2012, when it unveiled its Ativ series of convertible tablet-laptop hybrids.

Following up its opening salvo, Samsung unveiled its Series 7 Ultra ultrabook at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on Monday.

Eager to get a look at the device, V3 wrestled past the crowds at Samsung's CES booth and took a hands on look at the Ultra to see how it measures up to its more established Lenovo, HP and Dell-built competition.

Design and build
The first thing that strikes you about the Ultra is its unashamedly ultrabook design, featuring the telltale polished aluminium chassis that has become synonymous with with the title.

With its familiar brushed metal finish, the Samsung Series 7 Ultra looks sleek and stylish and feels fairly solidly built.Samsung Series 7 Ultra keyboard

It also looks to be extremely travel friendly, measuring just 18.9mm thick and weighing a modest 1.65kg.

Underneath its shiny metal exterior, the Ultra packs a surprisingly large backlit keyboard. But during our tests we found the keyboard, though usable and responsive, did feel slightly less well built than the rest of the device. The keys had a disconcerting spongy feel when pressed.

The Ultra sports a surprising number of ports, despite its diminutive size, packing a single USB 3.0 port, a pair of USB 2.0 connectors, HDMI, mini VGA and HP/MIC options.Samsung Series 7 Ultra side

Another added boon for business users is the inclusion of a 720p HD camera, which when tested was more than adequate for video calling.

The Samsung Series 7 Ultra packs a 13.3in Full HD 1920 x 1080, 1080p, 10-point multi-touch screen.

Using the device we found the screen was suitably responsive, recognising our pinch, zoom and swipe commands instantly, making navigating its Windows 8 Pro operating system an absolute joy.

Ultrabook performance
The Ultra we tested was powered by an Intel Core i7 processor though there is also an Intel Core i5 model is to launch too.Samsung Series 7 Ultra Windows 8 Pro

Testing the i7 version we were pleased how well Ultra handled, with programmes loading blazingly fast. We're looking forward to pushing the Ultra further and seeing how it handles more intensive tasks come our full review.

Samsung claims the Ultra will boast an eight-hour battery life. If true this will be another strong selling point for the Ultra, adding to its "use on the go" travel friendly appeal.

The Samsung Series 7 Ultra offers great performance - although a critical point, as ever will be price, a key bit of information Samsung's chosen to keep quiet about.

Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Samsung Series 7 Ultra.

Intel shows off Windows 8 ultrabooks from Lenovo, Dell and Acer

30 Oct 2012

With Windows 8 now available, PC manufacturers will be hoping to see improved sales in the coming months after disappointing figures over recent quarters, mostly as firms and consumers awaited the launch of Microsoft's new platform.

Another firm that has plenty riding on this is Intel, which has thrown its weight behind the ultrabook category of devices now entering the market as it aims to boost sales of Windows device, and Windows 8 gives it another opportunity to do just that.

So it was no surprise that the firm held an event in central London on Tuesday showing off a raft of products from its partners such as Lenovo, Dell and Acer running the platform.

V3 popped along to have a look to try out some of the devices on show.

Certainly all the devices had something to recommend them, whether the novel combinations of display options such as the Lenovo Yoga (below) with four different viewing stances: laptop, tablet, ‘tent' or as a single screen, with the keyboard used as the stand at the back.

The device itself was nice to use, with a good quality keyboard and the system responsive to both touch and mouse-based inputs.

Lenovo Yoga Windows 8

We also had a chance to see the new Windows 8 version of the Acer Aspire S7 ultrabook (below). The device has been on the market for a while running Windows 7 and secured a four-star review when we looked at it last year.

Now it's been updated with a touchscreen system so it can run Windows 8 in full and is certainly one of the nicest looking devices on display, with a compact 13.3in screen and weighing a lightweight 1.35kg.

Acer Aspire S7 Windows 8 ultrabook top

However, if we're talking lightweight then we should probably mention the NEC Lavie Z Ultrabook (pictured below).

Although this isn't available in the UK at present and doesn't run Windows 8 either, the device is hugely popular in Japan for one key reason; its weight. It's just 875g.

The weight of devices is always something touted by manufacturers and usually it worth nothing more than a "yes it's quite light" comment but the NEC device was probably the lightest laptop device we've ever seen; there are paperback books that are heavier.

NEC Lavie Z Windows 8 ultrabook

While it's not set to come to the UK - a shame - it's a good indication of how light laptops could still become. With the portability of tablets often touted as a selling point over laptops devices like this undermine that argument to some degree.

Lastly, no product showcase would be complete without something from Dell, so Intel had brought along the Dell XPS 12 which has a rather nifty rotating screen that can be swivelled within its casing to work as either a tablet or a laptop.

This mean it can also be propped up in the "tent" style akin to the Lenovo Yoga, as pictured below.

Dell XPS 12 running Windows 8

Overall, then, it's clear there's no lack of interesting, novel and quality devices from numerous manufacturers on offer for Windows 8, with Intel's technology an integral part of that.

Whether consumers take to the new system and this helps boost flagging sales, though, is another matter.

Sony Vaio T13 ultrabook hands-on review

17 May 2012

V3 got some hands-on time with Sony's T13 Vaio and we're pleased to say our initial impressions of the Japanese giant's first ever ultrabook are positive.

Sony announced the T13 earlier this month, promising it would offer the same sturdy design and long-life battery of any device carrying the ultrabook title.

The most noticeable aspect of the device when compared to other ultrabooks is its square edges. The hard lines are a nice change from the usual MacBook Air-like visual design seen on many ultrabooks.

Sony Vaio T13 ultrabook side

Another element that separates the T13's design from its competitors is its size, with it measuring in at 17.8mm thick - making it noticeably bigger in hand than its Asus and Dell competitors. It weighs in at 1.6kg, so more in the realms of a standard laptop.

The ultrabook's chassis is made of a magnesium alloy which, in general, gives the T13 a solid, sturdy feel. The one potential weak point we noticed when testing it was the screen, which as well as being fairly bendy, is locked to a fairly flimsy looking hinge.

The T13 is powered by a Sandy Bridge Intel Core i3 processor and backed up with 4GB of DDR3 RAM. In our tests the unit felt responsive and snappy, though we didn't have a chance to really put it through its paces, with Sony not letting us clock the processor's actual speed.

Sony Vaio T13 ultrabook closed

The device also packs a hybrid storage system made up of a 320GB HDD and a 32GB SSD. This means it boots from sleep mode incredibly incredibly quickly - a useful touch if you plan to use the ultrabook on the go.

The T13 features a 1,366x768 13in LED display, which remained incredibly clear with impressive viewing angles, even when viewed in low lighting conditions.

The device has xLOUD and Clear Phase audio technology features built in, meaning that it should also have some pretty decent sound quality, though during our time we didn't have a chance to really try out the T13's speakers.

Sony Vaio T13 ultrabook open

The T13's keyboard was fairly decent, being reasonably comfortable to type on. The one criticism we had was that the keys at times didn't feel very springy when pressed. The trackpad was also responsive, recognising multi-touch gestures with ease.

Sony claims that the T13 has a standby battery life of 90 days, which due to our time constraints we didn't get to test.

The T13 features two USB ports along its left side, one of which is actually USB 3.0. On its right these are complemented by a VGA port, an HDMI one, an Ethernet one and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Sony has remained tight-lipped about pricing, though representatives did confirm it would be released in the UK sometime in June. Check back at V3 closer to the time for a full review.

CES: Samsung Series 9 13in laptop hands on review

11 Jan 2012

LAS VEGAS: Samsung launched the second generation Series 9 laptop at CES in an effort to take on the MacBook Air and a raft of ultrabooks on the horizon.

The 13in Series 9 weighs 1.16kg, making it very lightweight. The 12.9mm chassis houses a 13in IPS display with a 1600x900 resolution. The screen also packs a very impressive brightness of 400nits. Despite being extremely thin and light, we found the device to be quite sturdy.

Samsung Series 9 13in laptop

Samsung offers a choice of Core i5 and Core i7 processors and up to 8GB of memory. The inclusion of a 256GB SSD allows for very fast resume times. The laptop will boot from deep hibernation in 9.8 seconds and wake up in 1.4 seconds.

Samsung Series 9 13in laptop side on
A Samsung spokesperson also told V3 that the device has been built to ensure users don't lose any work. Even if users find they have run out of battery, the laptop will retain some charge to power the RAM and allow users to restart the device from where they left off when it is plugged in. However, it is unclear exactly how long the RAM will remain charged for.

Samsung Series 9 13in keyboard

We weren't too impressed by the keyboard during our hands on test. The keys felt far too shallow, a problem that has plagued many a device – even the MacBook Air.

Connectivity was always going to be limited with the dimensions available. The 13in Series 9 features a USB 3.0 port, a USB 2.0 port, a headphone/microphone jack and an SD card slot. Samsung has also squeezed in an Ethernet port, as well as HDMI and VGA connectors.

Samsung claims the battery will last around six hours on the 13in, which is not quite all day usage, but will be long enough for most people.

Exact release date and pricing is expected to be announced soon.

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