The first clamshell convertible in a UMPC form factor, Fujitsu's LifeBook U810 is a strong contender in a growing field, despite some quirks. We're still apprehensive about this mini-PC category, and we'd like to see a mobile broadband option, but at only $999, the U810 has a lot to offer highly mobile users who are in the market for a companion to a primary PC (view our photo gallery).
Our tested configuration came in white, but only black units will be available in the U.S. If not for the four-cell battery hanging off the back, this notebook would be about the size of a small Mead notepad. As it is, the 1.6-pound, 6.7 x 6 x 1-inch U810 is small enough to fit in a large purse or a side pocket in a shoulder bag.
Fujitsu packs in lots of buttons and external controls, starting with the mouse pointing stick on the right, above the keyboard. Next to that are two scrolling buttons and a Function toggle. On the left are the mouse buttons and a small speaker. Navigating the system with the mouse and buttons was intuitive when we held the system in our hands. On a desk or table, however, navigation became awkward. And in both situations, our hands started to cramp after only a few minutes. Also, we had to slow the mouse-tracking down a notch to gain accuracy; its default setting made us miss the mark too many times.
Below the bright 5.6-inch Crystal View SVGA display, you'll find three buttons: one to control lights that shine on the keyboard for typing in the dark, one to launch the onscreen keyboard for the Tablet interface, and one to control the four-way screen orientation. On the right is an Alt button and the fingerprint reader, and above the screen, you'll find a 0.3-megapixel webcam and a microphone for videoconferencing. We like the separate volume dial on the left, although it could have been more responsive. The U810 has only one USB port, but you'll find slots for both SD and Compact Flash cards, as well as a Wi-Fi toggle on the left.
The small keyboard takes some getting used to. It's too small for regular typing but too big for thumb typing, which means you need to set the system down and peck with your pointers. We don't mind that for quick e-mails, but we certainly didn't have the patience to type this review on it. The small keyboard is to be expected, but packing as many as three functions on a key is too much. Also, the Tab key is combined with the too-small space bar, and there's no right-Shift key. The function commands are combined with the number keys, and--our biggest gripe--the arrow keys require the function command to work, since they're combined with the period and backslash keys.
As a Tablet, the U810 is acceptable. The swivel screen goes only one direction, and the super-slim stylus is tricky to get in and out of its holster. But once you lay the screen flat, put the battery side closest to your elbow, and switch the orientation, it's pretty decent. If you're right-handed, all the buttons end up along the left-hand side, which would be backward for larger Tablets, but because this one is so small, you're more likely to hold it in your hand and push the buttons (Fn, Scrolling, onscreen keyboard, and orientation switcher) with your thumb. The passive touchscreen worked okay with a stylus, but it doesn't work with your fingers at all. On several occasions, we found ourselves trying two or more times to make selections, but it responded to flicking gestures well.
Performance from the U810 was mixed. We haven't run MobileMark 2007 on many machines yet, but we've run it enough to know that a score of 39 isn't good (the 150 to 250 range is typical for larger notebooks). The 800-MHz Intel A110 processor handled day-to-day productivity tasks well enough, though. Just don't expect to use Vista's Aero interface or do any multitasking. Its 3DMark03 score of 538 means you're limited to Spider Solitaire and the like for gaming, but its integrated Intel 945 graphics chipset handled video well enough to allow us to watch a movie on a plane.
There's no optical drive, so we downloaded the action-packed Transformers trailer and were impressed with the results. We saw some latency and choppiness, but not enough to detract from the clip. Sound was very loud, although it was standard-fare tinny notebook quality with distortion at high volumes. We like that the U810 never got hot. After a few straight hours of use, it still felt cool.
Wireless performance and endurance are high points for this mini PC. We got 5 hours and 14 minutes of battery life on our MobileMark 2007 rundown test (just 16 minutes shy of the rated 5:30). And the U810's 802.11a/b/g connection managed 17 and 13.7 Mbps of throughput at 15 and 50 feet from our access point, respectively. Mobile broadband isn't yet available for the U810, which limits its usability. If you're going to take this with you everywhere, you need to be connected everywhere. Fujitsu says it will offer an HSDPA version in February of 2008.
With all this mobility, security is most important, and along with the fingerprint reader, Fujitsu includes TPM circuitry, a BIOS password, and Boot Sector Write Prevention, which protects the U810 from the most dangerous viruses. Fujitsu backs the system with a one- or three-year limited warranty ($179) and 24/7 toll-free support.
As far as UMPCs go, the U810 is a pretty strong contender, and you can't beat the price for a unit with a usable built-in keyboard and Tablet functionality. It's sleeker than the FlipStart, which is the only other clamshell unit on the market and costs $1,000 more but offers EV-DO. The OQO model 02 is even sleeker but costs about $300 more with integrated EV-DO. If you've been thinking about dipping your toe into the UMPC waters, the Fujitsu LifeBook U810 is an affordable way to do so, but some may want to wait for the mobile broadband version.
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