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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fujitsu U1010

By TAN KIT HOONG

Processor: Intel Sealey 663 BGA processor (800MHz)
Memory: 1GB RAM
Graphics: Intel 945GM graphics
Display: 5.6in LCD (1,024 x 600pixels)
Storage: 40GB hard drive
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11a/b/g, Bluetooth 2.0, 3G-compatible
I/O ports: One USB 2.0 port, audio out and microphone
Operating system: Windows Vista Home Premium
Other features: SD card slot, CompactFlash card slot, docking port,
rotating screen, 3G SIM card slot, built-in VGA camera, built-in biometric
fingerprint reader, built-in trackpoint and touch-sensitive screen with stylus.
Dimensions (w x d x h): 17 x 13 x 3cm
Weight: 499g


While I can definitely see the appeal of an ultraportable notebook, this particular Lifebook is somewhat a let down by certain concessions that Fujitsu had to make to miniaturise it.

Before we go on with this review, however, let me just say that the U1010 we received is a prototype unit with some missing features and bugs that should be ironed out by the time it actually makes it to market.

NICE FEATURE: The Fujitsu U1010 has a rotating screen which you can flip around over the keyboard to use like a Tablet PC.

Something in my hands

When it arrived at our office, we were struck by how tiny the U1010 really is – although it's a full-fledged Windows Vista machine, it's not much bigger than a regular paperback novel and just about as thick.

In fact, Fujitsu designed it in such a way that it looks almost exactly like a miniature notebook and works like a Tablet PC – i.e. with a touchscreen interface.

On the hardware front, the U1010 is a true ultramobile PC (UMPC) and sports Intel's new Sealey processor running at 800MHz, It comes with a generous 1GB of RAM with graphics handled by the Intel 945GM integrated graphics chipset – not the most amazing specs but pretty decent for a UMPC.

The LCD monitor is in widescreen format and measures just 5.6in but has a relatively high 1,024 x 600-pixel resolution.

The resolution is so high relative to the screen size that it might be a problem for the long-sighted amongst us to read text.

However, the high resolution means that it's very nearly like a regular notebook and even has enough space for the Vista Sidebar.

COMPACT: The U1010 is not much bigger than a paperback novel.

The screen can also be rotated and closed over the keyboard so that you can work on it in the classic Tablet PC configuration – there's even a stylus for this purpose.

There are a whole lot of wireless options built-in – alongside with Bluetooth and WiFi, there's a SIM card slot and the wireless hardware supports 3G networks for fast wireless access when WiFi isn't available.

It all sounds really good up to this point, but it is on the usability front that this device doesn't quite measure up.

Mini keys

First off, we have to mention that the early evaluation unit that we got definitely had a few software bugs in it. For example, screen taps using the stylus was off by a few millimetres and for some reason the application to calibrate the screen wouldn't work at all. (Note: Fujitsu said there is an update to fix this but unfortunately we didn't receive it in time to give it a shot.)

The screen also did not re-orientate itself when the screen was flipped, which wouldn't be so bad if the trackpoint re-orientated itself properly, but it didn't – so when you pushed up on the trackpoint, the cursor would go down, and so on.

Of course, these issues should be fixed by the time the U1010 is actually in the shops so we won't fault it here.

Inset: A closeup of the built-in trackpoint located on the corner of the PC.

One thing that is unlikely to change, however, is the keyboard – I had a love-hate relationship with it.

While I liked the compact size and could get used to the reduced-size keys, I found certain quirks in the layout very difficult to get over.

The main problem is that the U1010 doesn't have the full complement of keys and is missing some important dedicated keys like the Tab and arrow keys – the functions of which are now shared with certain letter keys.

For example, to access the Tab function you have to simultaneously press the FN button together with the Space bar.

While this isn't much of a hassle by itself, the missing Tab key on the keyboard meant that I'd often hit the "Q" when I really wanted to hit Tab.

Another problem with this FN + Space bar for Tab is that the Flip 3D function of Windows Vista Home Premium requires a simultaneous three-finger salute – holding down the FN, Windows and Space Bar together just to switch between open windows.

Another problem is that the arrow keys are now shared with some other letter keys, and again requires you to hold down FN at the same time to access them.

All these missing keys coupled with the smaller-size keys means that the learning curve for this keyboard is quite steep.

Good multimedia device

On the upside, it's actually quite incredible to use this device to view movies and photos – the screen is pretty good and the built-in speakers are loud enough that you can often watch a movie without a pair of headphones.

Like a similar tiny Sony device I reviewed a while back, I think the U1010's appeal would be as a dedicated multimedia player or as a portable storage and photo-editing device for the itinerant photographer.

The user-unfriendliness of the keyboard is not fatal – even if you can't get used to it, you can use a USB or Bluetooth keyboard for the times when you really need to enter a lot of text.

Battery life with the tiny two-cell battery is about two to two-and-a-half hours, although Fujitsu reportedly has a four-cell battery that will bring this up to about five to seven hours.

More juice required

General software bugs aside, I think that this machine is a tiny bit under-powered to run Windows Vista Home Premium with all the flashy Aero features turned on – I experienced system slowdowns when opening various browser windows and running other stuff in the background.

I'm not even talking about playing videos while web-surfing here – just opening a few windows.

In the end, I got much better speeds by turning off Vista's transparency effects.

Perhaps it would have been better if Fujitsu had included a bit more RAM and/or a faster processor to run Vista, or perhaps bundle the U1010 with Windows XP instead, where the same hardware would be blazingly fast.

Conclusion

Overall the U1010 is a promising device, if Fujitsu fixes the slowdowns and software bugs that we experienced.

The keyboard itself is the only real sticking point here, and any user intending to get one of these babies should try typing on it before you make the jump or consider the possibility of using a third-party keyboard otherwise.

Pros: Tiny; feature-packed.

Cons: Keyboard takes some getting used to; not powerful enough to run Windows Vista Home Premium with all the Aero effects turned on.