Road warriors have settled largely on notebooks with 13.3-inch LCDs, which tend to deliver the best balance of portability and screen size. But if you could get a 14.1-inch display in a notebook with the same dimensions and weight as a 13.3-inch model, would you jump at it? That’s what Fujitsu delivers in its LifeBook S6520. It’s one of the most portable 14.1-inch laptops we’ve seen, and it delivers most of the features a business user would need.
If you like your laptop to wear basic black, the S6520 will suit you just fine. The matte-finish chassis has touches of glossy black and silver-gray trim, but the design goal here was certainly to blend in, not stand out. While the system’s looks aren’t thrilling, its form factor is. Weighing 4.0 pounds—and just 3.7 pounds if you swap out the optical drive for a weight saver—the S6520 is among the lightest 14.1-inch notebooks available. By comparison, the classic Lenovo ThinkPad T series weighs 5.2 pounds when equipped with the same size screen. The S6520’s dimensions are also impressively small for the class; at 12.4 x 9.2 inches, its footprint is smaller than the ThinkPad T’s (13.2 x 9.3) and similar to that of many 13.3-inch notebooks.
Flip the lid to see why: Fujitsu engineers have shaved as much width as possible from the sides of the screen’s bezel, so the LED-backlit widescreen LCD comes within millimeters of the edges. But there’s still room in the trimmed-down chassis for a full-size keyboard, done in an attractive winter white and set in a silver surround. The pebbled surface of the touchpad has little friction while providing good tactile feedback, though we wish it were a touch larger. The mouse buttons are properly sized, however, even with a fingerprint reader nestled between.
Fujitsu has included four programmable quick-launch buttons above the Function-key row, but no dedicated multimedia control keys. That omission is still typical (unfortunately) of most business-class notebooks, though Fujitsu didn’t even include discrete volume/mute controls, which are now common. And the Function-key combination for mute is a few keys to the left of the combos for volume; grouping them together would have made more sense.
In hands-on use, the LifeBook S6520 is a pleasure. The notebook feels solid in the hands and remains exceedingly quiet, even during the multitasking chores that pushed CPU usage to 80 percent. The keyboard is comfortable, though we did note some flex. Small-business buyers will be happy to see that Fujitsu includes all the discs you’ll need in the box, rather than pointing you to a partition on the hard drive should you need an item from the original factory image.
Display and Audio
The 1280 x 800 glossy screen delivered crisp text and wide viewing angles, along with plenty of brightness and excellent color reproduction. It also handled video well, exhibiting very little motion blur and good reproduction of dark scenes in our Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl DVD. Volume from the built-in speakers was weak, however, which could be a problem for presenters. On the plus side, Fujitsu includes its Display Manager utility for quickly switching video output to the VGA port and setting other presentation-oriented parameters.
The image quality from the 1.3-megapixel webcam is usable but not great; in both bright and low-light situations, there was an annoying amount of motion blur, even with the resolution set to 640 x 480. The face-tracking feature was also subpar, with the camera doing a poor job of following a subject moving within the frame. The monitor feature is clever, though, letting you set the included software to automatically start recording video when the camera detects motion.
The S6520 delivers the standard ports for this class, including three USB, FireWire, VGA, Ethernet, modem, headphone and mic. There’s a mini-plug S-Video jack for use with the included adapter, though we would prefer a standard S-Video jack be built in so there’s no dongle to lose. We also wish the S6520 included an HDMI jack, since more external display devices (including the latest projectors) are moving to that standard. For connectivity you get Bluetooth 2.1 and 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, but there’s no embedded wireless broadband option, unlike on the leading business notebooks. You can, however, add that capability using the included PC Card slot, which sits right above the 5-in-1 memory card reader.
Security and Durability
Fujitsu has security-minded businesses covered with an array of features for the S6520. In addition to the fingerprint reader, the four numbered application-launch keys can be programmed with a PIN security code a user must enter at startup to gain access. The embedded TPM handles authentication and can be used to securely store private keys and certificates for file and folder encryption, Web, e-mail, digital signatures, and passwords. The PC Card slot can be used with Smart Card devices, and Fujitsu offers an optional subscription to the Computrace notebook tracking and recovery service.
The S6520’s hard drive (a 250GB, 5,400-rpm unit in our test config, though a range of 5,400-rpm and 7,200-rpm models are available) has active protection to keep the hard drive heads from impacting the platter surface in the event the machine gets dropped. The keyboard is spill-resistant, and the lid is made of magnesium to protect the screen.
Employing Intel’s Centrino 2 platform, our S6520 featured a 2.4-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor and 2GB of RAM (expandable to 4GB). While it booted in a sluggish 1 minute and 8 seconds, it scored 3,383 on PCMark Vantage, roughly 700 points above average for thin-and-light notebooks. Other performance indicators show the S6520 is fast enough for most typical 2D business chores: The machine showed acceptable throughput of 14.9 MBps on the LAPTOP Transfer Test (copying and moving a 4.97GB folder of mixed media), and the S6520 handled our real-world multitasking scenario with aplomb, needing 4 minutes and 10 seconds to convert about 2 hours’ worth of music from MP3 to AAC format in iTunes, and that time increased only 3 percent (to 4:18) when we performed the same encoding with a Windows Defender AV scan running in the background.
The Intel GMA 4500 MHD graphics are decent but not made for lots of 3D gaming. On 3DMark03 (which tests DirectX 9 performance), the S6520 notched a score of 2,857, and on 3DMark06 (which tests DirectX 9 3D graphics, CPU, and 3D features), it managed a score of 1,029—both about 300 points higher than the category average. Our F.E.A.R. test (run at 1024 x 768) showed an unplayable rate of 8 frames per second, and even dropping to 800 x 600-pixel resolution yielded only 24 fps.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
More importantly for road warriors, the S6520’s battery life is good. The standard six-cell battery lasted for nearly 4 hours on our LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). If you need more runtime, you can put a second battery (a three-cell unit priced at $138) in place of the optical drive or buy a second standard battery ($120). On our wireless LAN tests, the machine’s 802.11a/b/g/n radio performed well, delivering 19.7 Mbps at 15 feet and 17.4 Mbps at 50 feet from our access point.
Software and Warranty
In addition to the Windows Vista Business OS, Fujitsu preloads the S6520 with the Evernote note-taking and organizational application. It stores snippets of documents, Web pages, and other clips in a scrollable-tape format. It’s a handy tool for business users (not to mention students) who need a central repository for all the disparate notes and files related to a project.
In the box you’ll also find a recovery disc, a disc with the TPM drivers and utilities, CyberLink PowerDirector, an OEM version of Roxio Creator for making CDs and DVDs, and ArcSoft’s Webcam Companion 2, which is very easy to use, with icons for capture, monitoring, and editing.
A one-year international limited warranty comes standard, upgradeable to three years. Also available is a separate screen damage protection plan.
The Fujitsu LifeBook S6520 is available in three customizable configurations starting at $1,479, $1,749, and $1,869. That’s a few-hundred dollars more than similarly equipped 14.1-inch models that aren’t as small and light as the S6520, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad T400. But for road warriors who want a constant companion with the comfort of the larger screen, the S6520 is money well spent.