The Fujitsu LifeBook U810 skirts the line between an ultraportable convertible tablet and a UMPC (that’s ultramobile PC, if you haven’t been paying attention). We’ve always liked UMPCs in theory–shrinking a laptop down in size to something you can almost pocket–but these systems, including the OQO model 02 and the Sony VAIO UX390, shed so much usability and so many features along the way that they are more like souped-up smart phones than actual computers. There’s only so much one can do with a BlackBerry-style thumb keypad or, worse, an onscreen keyboard. And, sadly, they’ve been priced more like computers than smart phones.
The new $999 LifeBook U810 takes a different approach, mimicking a traditional laptop’s design, shrunk down to a 5.6-inch swiveling touch screen, along with a fairly full-featured keyboard, fingerprint reader, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi (but no mobile broadband yet). It also runs Intel’s mobile A110 CPU, which may account for its sometimes sluggish performance, as even full-size, dual-core laptops can struggle with Windows Vista. Though certainly ambitious, the U810 suffers from the same flaws we’ve seen in every UMPC to date, most notably, the awkward input options make it nearly impossible to take advantage of the full-fledged OS. Another, we found the 5.6-inch screen to be too small for everyday use and a bit too large for a portable Internet tool (perhaps the iPhone is better suited for that task). Still, for under $1,000, this is the best UMPC deal we’ve seen to date.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$999|
|Processor||800MHz Intel A110|
|Memory||1GB, 400MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||40GB 4,200rpm|
|Graphics||Mobile Intel Express 945GM (integrated)|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||6.6 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||5.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter [pounds]||1.6/2.2 pounds|
Despite its diminutive size, the U810 shares a basic design with full-size laptops. Its closest cousin is probably the Vulcan FlipStart 1.0, which has more of a clamshell design. The U810 is slightly wider and deeper than the FlipStart, but also thinner by about half an inch. The unit is small enough to fit in a jacket pocket, but a large battery protruding from the rear mars the silhouette and may make it harder to stow.
Our review unit had a black keyboard tray and screen bezel, with a matte white lid, but that particular color scheme will not be available to U.S. consumers. Instead, the American versions will be all black, based on some consumer research by Fujitsu that led the company to conclude that the white look for gadgets is definitely out (come to think of it, none of the latest iPods are white, either, so they may be on to something).
The keyboard is clearly the biggest innovation on the U810, and it is far better than the tic-tac style keys found on devices like the Samsung Q1 Ultra and the FlipStart. While miniaturized, the U810’s keys are the same general shape and style as any other laptops, and measure half an inch across. Unfortunately, to squeeze the keyboard into such a tiny space, several compromises had to be made, and many keys are forced to do double or triple duty. Some of the alt-key choices are annoying, others downright bizarre. Our biggest gripes are that the Tab key (double mapped to the space bar) and the arrow keys (double mapped to punctuation keys) require you to hold down a function key to access them. When scrolling through Web pages or working with Web forms, the up and down arrows and Tab key are vitally important, and having them mapped as secondary functions of other keys is a clear mistake. Despite this, we still found the keyboard on the U810 to be the easiest UMPC keyboard we’ve seen to date, in terms of text input, whether using it as a regular laptop keyboard or holding the unit in your hands and using your thumbs, BlackBerry-style.
Other input options include the touch screen, which works with your finger or the included stylus, or a pointing stick and mouse buttons, which are located at the back of the keyboard tray. The pointing stick’s location is a bit out of the way for regular use, but it keeps the pointer and mouse buttons available when the lid is folded down in tablet mode (more on that in a minute). There are also tiny page-up and page-down buttons next to the pointing stick, which still don’t make up for the lack of arrow keys on the keyboard.
We still think the Vulcan FlipStart offers the best input options and interface of any UMPC because it provides both a ThinkPad-style pencil eraser nub and a tiny 1.5-inch touch pad. We stand by our opinion that the pointing stick preference (and the ability to use one) is largely a generational issue, with older users who fondly recall IBM ThinkPad pointing sticks having a marked advantage over those of us who came of age in the touch-pad era.
As the U810 is a convertible laptop, the screen swivels around on a sturdy central hinge. The hinge only turns clockwise–we’re generally in favor of bidirectional hinges on tablets. The screen itself measures 5.6 inches and has a native resolution of 1,024×600, which provides for a good balance of screen real estate and readability. The thick bezel surrounding the screen mars the look somewhat, adding nearly an inch on either side of the display. The extra space does, however, allow for a fingerprint reader and stylus to be built into the lid.
|Fujitsu U810||Average for category [UPMC]|
|Audio||headphone/microphone jacks||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 2.0, SD card reader and CF card reader.||2 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, SD or multiformat memory card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet (via dongle), 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, Bluetooth.||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
With such a small footprint, you’re not going to find a lot of ports and connections built into the LifeBook U810. There’s only one USB port and no video output, but you do get both SD card and CF card slots (although we don’t know who still uses compact flash). Fujitsu says mobile broadband is coming in the near future, via AT&T, but for an ultramobile device such as this, clearly meant to be used on the go, we’d rather see it at launch.
To make up for the lack of connections on the actual unit, Fujitsu offers an $80 docking station that adds four extra USB ports, a VGA out, and an Ethernet jack (there’s also a small portable dongle for using an Ethernet cable with the U810 itself).The dock also holds the system at a raised angle for easy viewing (which we put to good use this past weekend referencing online mojito recipes with the U810 sitting in its dock on the kitchen counter).