Technology in Practice. What works? Who gets it?
Lugging notebook computers with all their associated peripherals can be quite a drag for road warriors as they rush from gate to gate. Fortunately, notebooks have continued to get smaller—although as the size decreases, the functionality decreases as well. Microsoft has sought to deal with this in its Origami Project, in partnership with hardware manufacturers, by combining a full-fledged operating system with tablet PC functionality. This form factor is known as Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC).
First-generation UMPC devices suffered from lack of power and most did not include a keyboard, depending entirely on pen input. Now, though,
is looking to overcome these deficiencies with its
U810 Mini-Notebook UMPC, which it introduced to the market in late 2007. At first glance, the Fujitsu U810 appears similar to a traditional notebook computer, complete with keyboard and screen. However, you quickly see that unlike most notebooks, this one is smaller than
many hardcover books. And when you turn the screen over, you have a full-fledged tablet PC with a passive digitizer similar to the touch screens found on Palm and other PDA devices.
At 6.6 x 6.5 x 1.1 inches, the U810 packs an Intel A110 800 MHz CPU, 1 gigabyte of RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, a built-in Web camera, a fingerprint security device, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth networking. It also has a USB 2.0 port, as well as SecureDigital and CompactFlash card slots and a 5.6-inch 1024 x 600 screen—all wrapped into a package that weighs in at 1.6 pounds (2 pounds with AC adapter).
In addition, the U810 includes a dongle to allow you to connect it to an external monitor as well as a wired LAN. It ships with Microsoft Vista Business installed, but it also includes MS XP Pro Tablet PC Edition if you wish to “downgrade” to that operating system. Oh, and did I mention that it costs less than $1,000? Available accessories include a variety of cases and a docking station.
Neat innovations, with some drawbacks. To reduce the size and weight of the U810, Fujitsu had to make some tradeoffs—which come in the form of a smaller screen and a keyboard that’s about 40 percent the size of the full keyboards found on other sub-notebooks. To get complete functionality and make everything fit on this small keyboard, Fujitsu engineers had to double-map some keys. One example of this is the Tab key: Inserting a tab in a document requires that you push the Fn key and then the Spacebar because the Spacebar is double-mapped with the Tab key. Similarly, the Arrow keys share space with punctuation keys. You move the U810’s cursor with the pointing stick and mouse buttons or by using your finger or the included stylus on the touch screen. Flip the screen over and input is done either by finger or by the stylus on the touch screen, although the pointing stick and mouse buttons are still accessible. The screen auto-rotates depending on whether you’re using the U810 in notebook mode or tablet mode. (You can also change the orientation by pushing the screen orientation button.)
The keyboard is one of the most impressive features of the U810 (see keyboard and application buttons above). Although it’s small and the placement and double-mapping of keys can be a bit frustrating, the keys are still much easier to use than the small “tic-tac” type keys found on similar devices from Samsung, Sony and OQO. Likewise, the keyboard and pointing stick combination in notebook mode makes the U810 much easier to use than its competitors—and it actually allows you to type and navigate as you normally do. The U810 also includes handwriting recognition functionality in its feature set.
The Intel CPU is designed for mobile devices, and during my test-drive I regularly got more than three hours of runtime between charges. However, the CPU speed and amount of RAM were apparent in the long boot times to start MS Vista Business. Once the OS started, though, I had little problem surfing the Internet or running MS Office 2007 and its applications.
The U810’s small footprint and weight make it an absolute joy to travel with, since it’s about 4 pounds lighter than my current Dell notebook and AC adapter. However, the small size and high resolution of the screen can become a strain when surfing the Web. The fact that the U810 only has one USB port also means that you must carry a small USB hub with you to use peripherals such as external optical drives, a mouse or other input devices. Also, the VGA/LAN dongle connects at the bottom of the keyboard, which is less than optimal.
If you’re looking to travel with a UMPC for checking e-mail, surfing the Web, and composing brief letters or other documents, the U810 may be for you. However, the screen size, lack of RAM and other shortcomings prevent me from recommending this as a replacement for a full-function notebook when traveling.
Scorecard With a maximum possible score of 20, here is how I rate it:
- Ease of Use: 3
- Quality of Materials: 4
- Feature Set: 4
- Value for Cost: 3
- Total Score: 14