Fujitsu LifeBook U820 Review

  • MORE
$1299 BUY NOW »

Pros: Compact, lightweight design; Bright screen with sharp resolution; Integrated GPS and optional 3G; Over 5 hours of battery life

Cons: Keyboard too small for touch typists; Uncomfortable stylus; Sluggish performance; Expensive for a secondary system

Verdict: This tiny convertible tablet features GPS and good battery life for users on the go.

A truly unique hybrid, the Fujitsu LifeBook U820 combines the components and performance of a netbook with the features and starting price ($1,049) of an ultraportable tablet, all in a remarkably minuscule package. A follow-up to its U810, this device features integrated GPS functionality and optional mobile broadband, and it should appeal to a very specific group of users who are more concerned with portability than with performance muscle.

article continued below

Design

When closed, the all-black U820 could almost be mistaken for an e-book reader, but for its 1.2-inch thickness and its four-cell battery (which accounts for nearly an inch of the tablet's 6.1-inch depth). Still, the U820 is not much bigger than a trade paperback, and its 1.6-pound weight makes it easy to slip into even a small bag or briefcase.

Open the lid and you'll find a Lilliputian keyboard; the space bar measures just over an inch in length, and most of the other keys are half that size. This ultimately proves too small for touch-typing, yet too big for comfortable thumb typing. You're reduced to using one or two fingers on each hand to peck out letters painstakingly--an extremely slow process that's appropriate only for quick e-mails. In another concession to the compact case, some of the keys have been moved from their standard positions; most egregiously, the period key has been moved to the bottom row, beside the space bar.

Display

Aside from its portability, the most appealing feature of the U820 is its 1280 x 800-pixel, 5.6-inch screen, which is so bright that we were able to use the tablet outdoors on a sunny day that would wash out most other displays. The panel's WXGA resolution is a bit of a double-edged sword: photos and videos look great, but text and icons can be difficult to read. A magnifier button beneath the screen switches to a more legible resolution, but the results require too much scrolling.

Most users will prefer to swivel the display around and use the device as a tablet, which presents more comfortable options for navigation. The pointing stick and mouse buttons are located on either side of the display hinge, above the keyboard--awkward when the device is sitting on a table, but quite natural when holding the tablet in both hands. Two scroll buttons and a function toggle, also located on the display hinge, further help with tablet navigation. You can also make selections on the touchscreen using your fingers or the stylus, which slides into the display bezel for storage.

As a touchscreen, the display proved equally responsive to our fingers, the stylus, and the top of a pen, though our fingers left smudges on its glossy finish. When it came to handwriting, the screen seemed to lag a millisecond or two behind our stylus, which at first was a bit disconcerting. We were also disappointed with the narrow, flimsy stylus itself, which wasn't very comfortable for writing lengthy notes on-screen.

Webcam and Ports

Above the display sits a 1.3-megapixel webcam for videoconferencing. Video from the webcam was clear in all but the darkest environments; although the camera struggled to keep up with swift movements, the quality was adequate for Web chats.

Other features around the tiny case include a single USB port, headphone and microphone jacks, an SD Card reader, and a CompactFlash slot (which can be used like a PC Card to add functionality). There's also a port to connect to Fujitsu's docking station ($80); it lets you add an Ethernet port and VGA functionality (handy for giving presentations) via an included dongle.

Performance

The LifeBook U820 runs on a 1.6-GHz Intel Atom Z530 processor (designed for mobile Internet devices) paired with a paltry 1GB of RAM. That's not enough memory for Vista in our book, and you can't upgrade the RAM.

Performance was adequate during light productivity work, though there was some hesitation when switching application windows. The U820 also performed well below average on nearly all our benchmarks, scoring 378 in 3DMark03 and 51 in 3DMark06. We weren't able to run PCMark Vantage (which measures Vista application performance), but we tesedt the tablet's multitasking muscle by transcoding a 5-minute-and-24-second video clip. With nothing else running, the U820 took 5 minutes and 1 second to complete the task; with a virus scan running in the background, it took the system 7 minutes and 3 seconds to finish. Not good, but this machine isn't made to multitask.

Slow Hard Drive

The system's 120GB, 4,200-rpm hard drive booted Windows Vista Business in a somewhat slow 71 seconds, and completed the LAPTOP Transfer Test in 12 minutes 11 seconds, a rate of 7.0 MBps--half that of the mini-notebook average. An optional 64GB solid state drive adds $950 to the price.

Video and Audio

Because the U820 lacks an optical drive, we tested video performance with downloaded movie trailers. Not surprisingly, 480p HD versions of the fast-paced Slumdog Millionaire and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li trailers proved too much for the Atom platform. A 640 x 272 version ran much more smoothly, as did full-screen clips streamed on Hulu.com. Sound from these videos and from music was surprisingly passable, though we'd still recommend headphones for extended use.

Wi-Fi, GPS, and Battery Life

The laptop's 802.11a/b/g/n connection proved sufficient to stream online videos without stuttering or pausing at both 15 feet and 50 feet from our access point. We were pleased to see that Fujitsu offers optional HSUPA from AT&T ($150), though our review unit lacked this feature.

The laptop's 802.11a/b/g/n connection proved sufficient to stream online videos without stuttering or pausing at both 15 feet and 50 feet from our access point. We were pleased to see that Fujitsu offers optional HSUPA from AT&T ($150), though our review unit lacked this feature.

Even better, every U820 includes a built-in GPS receiver that pairs with preinstalled Garmin Mobile PC software--a highly useful add-on for such a mobile system. The receiver mapped our location in an urban area almost immediately; Fujitsu also includes an external GPS antenna to enhance reception if needed. The included Garmin Mobile PC software features a simple, intuitive interface and colorful maps for finding specific addresses or nearby points of interest.

On the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi), the U820 lasted a respectable 5 hours and 11 minutes--almost exactly the same as on the U810. Although that's not quite a full day's work, it surpasses the mini-notebook category average of 3 hours and 57 minutes.

Security, Software, and Warranty

Aside from the Garmin Mobile PC software, the U820 came with Adobe Reader, ArcSoft WebCam Companion 2, Microsoft Origami Experience, a full version of Microsoft Office OneNote 2007, a 60-day trial version of Microsoft Office, OmniPass fingerprint software, and the Fujitsu Driver Update utility.

Appropriately for such a highly mobile device, security features on the U820 include a fingerprint reader, Trusted Platform Module, Kensington lock slot, password-protected BIOS, and Boot Sector Write Prevention. Fujitsu backs the U820 with a one-year limited warranty and 24/7 toll-free support; extending the term to three years costs $179.

Fujitsu Lifebook U820 Verdict

The Fujitsu LifeBook U820's awkward keyboard and poky performance--not to mention its $1,049 starting price--will limit its appeal. However, its compact case and bright screen are marvels, and its thorough feature set will prove useful to frequent business travelers and others who want an extremely portable tablet to use as a secondary computer and GPS navigation device.

Recommended byOutbrain
Ask a Question
Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 1.6-GHz Intel Atom Z530
Operating System MS Windows Vista Business
RAM 1GB
RAM Upgradable to 1 GB
Hard Drive Size 120GB
Hard Drive Speed 4,200rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 5.6
Native Resolution 1200X800
Graphics Card Intel GMA 500
Video Memory 224MB
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth Bluetooth 2.1
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
USB Ports 1
Card Slots SD memory reader
Card Slots CF Card
Warranty/Support One-year limited/24/7 toll-free phone
Size 6.7 x 6.1 x 1.2 inches
Weight 1.6 pounds
Company Website http://www.fujitsupc.com