What is it: modular multimedia notebook.
Applications: ideal for sales presentations working with graphics away from the office or simple remote working.
You can?t judge a notebook by its cover, goes the old IT saying, and the Fujitsu Lifebook is no exception. If the machine is well specced but weighs a ton, users are bound to complain. And if it?s lightweight and compact, but can?t run Powerpoint with all the new animations and sounds, your salespeople will be unable to do their job.
That said, portability is the single most important factor in a good notebook, and the Lifebook looks like it could be a real contender in the portability stakes. For a start, the basic notebook is very slim, only 28mm. Anyone who?s actually travelled with a notebook will agree that packing it in with their luggage can be a real headache, and for many users, popping it inside a briefcase to avoid problems with bits of hand luggage on airlines is a genuinely important factor.
Not that the Lifebook skimps on keyboard or screen real estate. Although it?s thin, it?s also broad and long (299mm x230mm), gives plenty of space inside the shell for its 12.1 inch screen ? a rather excellent TFT was fitted to our review model ? and a very spacious keyboard.
The keys themselves don?t actually travel a great deal ? in layman?s terms, they don?t depress very far ? but their sheer size makes typing easy, as does the generous space given over to a wrist rest. And there?s a satisfying click at each key stroke, which may seem trivial, but for many users will increase the accuracy of their documents and save editing time.
The important functional keys ? return, backspace, shift etc. ? are also well-spaced and big enough to avoid easy mistakes while you?re word processing. Too many notebook vendors shave down these keys to save space and they kill productivity in the process. And when you?re working to a two-hour deadline imposed by battery life, that?s important.
The wrist rest also features the integral trackpad. This reporter really likes trackpads, except right now, producing this review on the Lifebook. The problem is that trackpads can be temperamental and, while you can get used to the Lifebook trackpad with time, it remains quirky. For example, it much prefers the blunt end of a biro to the point of a finger, and requires a fair bit of pressure to achieve any accuracy.
But the worst thing about the trackpad (and this lets the whole machine down to a degree) is that it is far too small. As it stands, you can get to the edge of the trackpad?s frame without getting the pointer ? and anything it?s dragging ? to the edge of the screen. If you change the pointer speed, you lose accuracy, and there is space on the wrist rest for the pad to have been about half as big again. Let?s hope the next version solves the problem.
Jon Powell, Lifebook product manager in the UK, defends the trackpad: ?We?ve used newer technology, which means the speed at which you move your finger across the trackpad increases the distance the pointer moves across the screen.?
But there?s more to the Lifebook than the basic laptop. There is an extra battery which clips to the underside of the unit at the back, creating a neat slope which improves the typing position. But it does add to the weight of the machine and, without it, the internal battery lasts an hour and a bit at best.
The fact that it does unclip weighs in its favour ? at least you can still reap the benefits of the unit?s slimness in transit. It?s worth noting that the mains adaptor is very small, which will please many road warriors fed up with lugging power ?bricks? around. The second extra element is the ?enhancement unit? ? essentially a tray for the laptop to sit on which includes an 8-speed CD-ROM drive, a 3.5in floppy drive, stereo speakers and a port replicator at the back.
It?s a good idea. You can even use it on the road without mains power, and if sales reps, for example, do a lot of work from CD-ROMs or need the stereo sound, it?d be fine sitting in the back of the car. Lugging both enhancement unit and notebook around may cause back strain (the notebook, unit and extra battery together weigh 3.6kg), but we?ve seen multimedia notebooks which are at least as big and heavy as the Lifebook-plus-enhancement unit ensemble, but without the flexibility.
That said, the enhancement unit is really designed for sitting on the desk and, although it makes the typing position very different, it?s easy to use. Solving the trackpad problem is a matter of attaching a mouse to the well-labelled port at the back.
Notebooks rely on battery life, and it?s almost impossible to find a machine which, under normal conditions, lasts much more than two hours. The Lifebook is no exception, but it?s comforting to have a reasonable amount of power management features available. It?s easy to configure the screen or hard disk to power down in periods of inactivity, and users can customise all the power saving features.
The specification is perfectly satisfactory. The 150MHz MMX Pentium chip handles most applications well, with multimedia presentations benefiting from both the MMX technology and the high-quality screen. The review model came with 32Mb of RAM, although the literature suggests that 16Mb is standard. It also appears that the maximum RAM is 48Mb, which will seem light for power graphics users ? a potentially lucrative market for this machine. There are two Type II PC Card slots, and an easy-to-find volume control.
The Lifebook comes with electronic manual, MS Works 4.0, Powercentre, an infra-red data transfer facility and bags of comms software. Fujitsu has made it easy to get working on the road without having to install extra software, and has even gone to the lengths of bundling its own encryption package for those sensitive files. Under the Data Protection Act, you have to secure customer information held on disk. And, as the RAF found out in the Gulf War, the boot of the car is far too easy a place from which to lift a #3,000-plus notebook.
Contact: Fujitsu on
Price: #3,315 with 32Mb of RAM and enhancement unit.
Verdict: Well specified, fast, excellent screen, good keyboard, interesting iteration of the docking station idea, allowing users to choose between bells ?n? whistles or portability. The Lifebook certainly ought to be a strong contender in the market for portable power and style. But the trackpad needs attention and, although with patience users may learn to cope, it does let a good machine down.
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