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Can't decide between a handheld PDA and an ultralight notebook PC? Neither can some of the manufacturers aboard Intel Corp.'s Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC) bandwagon: Entries range from two-handed handhelds like the Samsung Q1 Ultra reviewedhere last summer to itsy-bitsy laptops like Sony's 4.5-inch-screened Vaio UX. About the only thing they have in common is Windows.
Fujitsu's LifeBook U810 stands out from its UMPC colleagues in at least two ways. For one thing, it's not just a pound-and-a-half PC but a pound-and-a-half, full-fledged Tablet PC convertible, with a 5.6-inch display that swivels and folds to switch between clamshell keyboard and touch-screen stylus modes. You might think of it as the bonsai version of Fujitsu's 3.6-pound LifeBook T2010.
For another, the U810 strives to avoid the sticker shock of entries like the $2,500 Vaio UX or most status-symbol subnotebooks: It has the psychologically appealing price of $999. (A model with Windows Vista Business instead of Home Premium is $1,099.)
Making the Most of Every Millimeter
Measuring 5.3 by 6.8 by 1.3 inches, the LifeBook crams in everything from a biometric fingerprint reader to a microphone and Web cam for videoconferencing. A hunting expedition will find one CompactFlash and one Secure Digital card slot, a single USB 2.0 port hidden behind a plastic flap, a power switch for the 802.11a/b/g WiFi radio, and a connector for a 5-inch dongle that adds VGA monitor and Ethernet ports. Bluetooth wireless is built in, too.
Like the Q1 Ultra, the U810 uses Intel's Ultra Mobile Platform A110 processor, a 3-watt battery sipper with an 800MHz clock speed, 400MHz front-side bus, and 512K of Level 2 cache. The real-world requirement for Vista systems is 2GB of memory, whereas the Fujitsu comes with only 1GB and cannot be upgraded.
Would-be gamers will run away when they see the LifeBook's Windows Experience Index score of 2.0 on Vista's 5.9-point scale. Aside from a few sluggish application load times, however, we found the system's performance perfectly adequate for the modest note-taking, word processing, presentation, and Web and e-mail tasks for which it's intended.
Of course, only in a pinch could you use the U810 as a desktop replacement. It has a minimal 40GB hard drive and no CD or DVD optical drive, though you can plug an external drive into its USB port -- Fujitsu sells a DVD±RW drive for $279, though its need for AC rather than battery power will keep you from watching movies on the plane.
An optional ($80) desktop docking station provides a monitor port, four USB ports, and LAN pass-through (but no power supply; you must use the one that comes with the U810 or buy another).
On the Road
Even if, as seems likely, you use the U810 as a second PC strictly for travel -- a PDA replacement, as it were -- you face several compromises. This is not a pocket-sized device, unless you're a geek in a baggy corduroy sports jacket. It's a bit bigger than a paperback novel and weighs slightly more than 1.5 pounds.
You can look at the U810's undersized keyboard in two ways: If you're a hunt-and-pecker coming from a PDA or BlackBerry, you'll find it a big improvement. If you're a touch typist coming from a desktop PC, you'll be miserable: The letters Q through P span just 5.5 inches versus a desktop keyboard's 7.5.
The familiar notebook Fn key, pressed simultaneously with another key, is required for not only occasional functions such as Caps Lock and the function keys F1 through F10, but for essential keys such as Tab, Delete, and the cursor arrows.
As for a mouse substitute, the U810 uses a ThinkPad-style pointing stick or mini-joystick located in the top right corner of the keyboard. You steer it with an index finger or thumb to move the cursor, then tap it to left-click -- or click left and right mouse buttons in the keyboard's top left corner. This system actually works pretty well, but it definitely takes some getting used to.
The same applies to the LifeBook's 5.6-inch widescreen display. Its 1,024 by 600 resolution makes icons and menu text appear pretty tiny, but it's bright and sharp enough that you won't mind that much.
Another input alternative is to swivel and fold back the screen, pull the petite (4-inch) stylus from its storage slot, and use the device as a Tablet PC, taking advantage of Microsoft's digital-ink and handwriting-recognition technologies. The operating system's pen-input pad is always available at the edge of the screen; tap it with the stylus or press a button beside the screen, and it pops into the center (or docks at top or bottom if you prefer). Another button rotates the display 90 degrees to accommodate your preferred grip on the clipboard.
Even without going to extra lengths to personalize the handwriting-recognition system, it interpreted our messy scrawl quite well -- good enough for jotting e-mails or other documents that you plan to edit later using a full-sized screen and keyboard. Note that the U810 does not have larger Tablet PCs' active digitizer (special stylus) technology, so it'll interpret accidentally tapping the screen with your finger or brushing your palm against it as you write as input.
All these compromises might sound like killers, but they're really not. Given the form factor and functionality it delivers, the LifeBook U810 is in fact an impressive package and a great solution for the right kind of user. Instead of being limited to a PDA's library of software, you can use virtually any program that runs under Vista. In addition to the Tablet PC toolkit led by the Windows Journal note-taking program, Vista Business versions of the Fujitsu come with Microsoft Office OneNote. (Home Premium models are preloaded with Microsoft Works instead.)
With a good pair of headphones, MP3 music sounded terrific -- much better than any PDA we've tried. Video ripped at appropriate bit rates played smoothly. Connection and voice quality fluctuated with the free Internet phone service Skype, but we've experienced the same on other PCs.
The U810 doesn't pretend to be suitable for everybody. But if you need more power than you can get with a PDA or smartphone but can't stand the idea of carrying a full-sized notebook, the Fujitsu could be exactly the mobile computer you need.
Adapted from SmallBusinessComputing.com.