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Fujitsu LifeBook U820
Editor's rating (1-5):
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What's hot: One of the smallest Windows PCs on the planet.
What's not: Tiny keyboard, display is hard on the eyes.
Reviewed April 2, 2009 by Lisa Gade, Editor
When we reviewed the Fujitsu U810 ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) 1.5 years ago, we came away impressed. With its 5.6" display and 1.56 lbs. weight, the U810 was the smallest Windows PC available with a traditional convertible notebook design, and that rated high on the geek-o-meter. It was nearly half the price of the OQO model 02 at the time and it had a better keyboard and much better battery life. A year and a half is a long time in the world of technology, and the U810's charms have waned with the introduction of low cost netbooks and significant price drops for the OQO. Sony released their Vaio P Series ultra-portable, which weighs just a bit less than the Fujitsu but sports a much larger keyboard and a higher resolution, wider display. So Fujitsu released the 2nd generation U820 at the end of 2008 with updated specs and a GPS. How does it look against the competition?
With a starting price of $1,049 it's obviously priced out of the cheapie netbook category and instead joins the ranks of the higher end UMPCs and micro PCs with second generation Intel Atom processors, namely the the OQO model 02+ and Sony Vaio P. The Sony Vaio P is actually slightly lighter at 1.4 lbs. and is considerably thinner-- thin enough to slip into a back pocket but long enough at 9.65 inches that it sticks way out of that pocket. The Vaio P lacks a touch screen and tablet features so if those are important to you, that narrows the selection down to the OQO model 02 and Fujitsu U820. The U820's keyboard is very small, but it's still a traditionally designed keyboard unlike the OQO which has a BlackBerry-esque thumb board. The U820 also features unbeatable battery life thanks to the high capacity 5200 mAh Lithium Ion battery that gives the U a Quasimodo hump.
The Acer Aspire One 8.9" netbook, Sony Vaio P and the Fujitsu U820.
Compared to budget netbooks like the Aspire One and Eee PC, the Fujitsu offers a lot: incredible small size and half the weight, super battery life, a 1.3MP webcam, GPS (and a good one too) with Garmin Mobile, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR, Atheros WiFi 802.11n (most netbooks only do 802.11b/g) and a higher resolution display.
In terms of looks, the U820 looks and feels well made and we like the black glossy top compared to the U810's plainer lid. We also like the all-black sides compared to the silver trim on the U810. The high capacity battery looks strange sticking out the back but it does make a great carry handle and it allows the machine to run for up to 7 hours! In all respects, the U820 looks like a teeny-tiny traditional convertible notebook. It has a clamshell design with a miniaturized notebook style keyboard, ports on the sides and front, a wireless slider switch and LED indicators for charging, wireless and hard disk activity. At 6.73 x 6 x 1.46 inches, it's quite small but thick.
A notebook for Barbie? Hand me the magnifying glass
The U820 looks 1) very much like the U810, 2) like a normal notebook that's been shrunk, and we mean seriously shrunk. It has a 5.6" color touch screen display that runs at an absurd 1280 x 800 pixels. No matter how good your eyes are, this portable will have you squinting. The screen is sharp, which means you can read the incredibly tiny text (assuming good eyes), but it's ever so small, even with the dpi increased to 144 in Vista. The Fujitsu U810 had reached the limits of practical computing at 1024 x 600, but Fujitsu decided to take it perhaps a step too far. The good news is that at 800 pixels high, dialogs do not run off the bottom of the screen (sometimes the OK and cancel buttons were off screen on the U810 and the same is true of the 800 x 480 OQO). The hardware zoom button on the display bezel makes things too large and thus helps little unless you don't mind panning around endlessly.
The good news is that you can reduce the resolution. You'll need to use the Intel Ultra Mobile GMA Driver control panel to do this, because Vista's display settings don't offer a stretch to fill the screen mode and thus leaves you with a big black border and still tiny text. In the Intel control panel, go to Display Settings and tap the Aspect Ratio button to select Full Screen (no border) mode when reducing resolution. 1024 x 600 (the U810's native resolution) works well for short periods of use if your eyes are good. Otherwise it's 800 x 480 to maintain the widesceen aspect ratio with no distortion. The bad news? We couldn't get the touch screen to calibrate when running at anything other than 1280 x 800.
The U820 has a passive touch screen that's sharp, though not as sharp as the non-touch screen on the Sony Vaio P, and not as vibrant as the Vaio P or OQO model 02+. Sony's XBrite LED backlit display wins hands down on clarity and looks, but non-touch screens have a distinct advantage since they don't have an added digitizer layer on top of the LCD. The Fujitsu U820's display has adequate brightness but it's not super-bright at the max setting. That max setting is bright enough to allow for outdoor use, though there's lots of glare.
Top to bottom: Fujitsu LifeBook U820, Acer Aspire One and the Fujitsu P8020 12" notebook.
As with a full size convertible tablet, the display is mounted to the body via a center swivel hinge that's robust (our U810's stayed sturdy and firm for a year). You can use the U like a miniature notebook or a tiny tablet PC with a swivel of the display. The touch screen works decently, but given the high resolution and resulting tiny targets on screen, using the included stylus rather than a finger results in fewer unregistered or incorrectly registered taps. Fujitsu includes Microsoft OneNote 2007, and excellent application that makes use of handwritten drawings and notes.
The Fujitsu is a convertible tablet. Here it is in tablet mode. The large battery makes for a handy grip in tablet mode.
There's no room for a trackpad, so the U820 has a pointing stick on the upper right corner that's accessible in notebook and tablet modes. It's a small textured square rather than a tiny eraser stick nub, and the mouse left/right click buttons are located across the way on the upper left edge. For right handed folks this is a decent way to mouse around, but it's a torture for a leftie like me. The Fujitsu has only one USB port, and a USB mouse will tie that up. Better to use a Bluetooth mouse, and happily the U820 has Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR.
For the security minded, the U820, like the U810, has an Authentec fingerprint scanner with OmniPass software and a TPM. Computers this small are easy to lose and are powerful enough to carry lots of sensitive data, so we're happy to see the biometric security included standard.
Touchy on Typing
The notebook style keyboard is definitely a big step up from a thumb board, but touch typing requires slender and coordinated fingers. Most folks will do better typing with two index fingers. For such a small machine, key travel is good and there's a traditional oversized enter key and an elongated spacebar. The shift keys are reduced to single key width and there's not enough room for F1 through F12 keys, so F7-F12 double up with F1-F6 and require a press of the Fn key. For some reason, Fujitsu moved the period key that was located in a normal location on the U810: it's now to the right of the spacebar and that drove us bonkers.
Ports, Slots and Fans
The LifeBook has 1 USB 2.0 port, 3.5mm headphone and mic jacks and a proprietary port for the dongle adapter that houses 10/100 Ethernet and VGA ports. There's a docking connector for the optional $80 dock that adds 4 USB 2.0 ports, VGA and Ethernet. The U820 has both SD and Compact Flash card slots. The CF card slot is handy for serious photographers who want to proof photos, but for anyone else, it's a wash. Though the machine has a low wattage CPU, there is indeed a fan that's generally quiet/off unless the machine is playing video or doing heavy lifting in Garmin Mobile. For a unit this small, the fan is louder than we'd have expected (as loud as a standard notebook's at low to mid speed), but not as loud as the famously noisy Aspire One.
Above: the front edge with the proprietary dongle port and LED indicators.
Below: the right side with CF port, power slider switch, charging port and wireless switch.
A big thumbs up for the integrated GPS. It's not (for a change) part of a 3G modem and that means less fiddling with COM ports and turning wireless radios on and off. For those who do want 3G, Fujitsu offers an internal AT&T 3G HSUPA modem for $150 extra, though for some reason you can't get it in the base 60 gig HD model, only the 120 gig HD and SSD models which increases the cost of the radio in the end. The GPS (made by Kyocera according to Windows) manages to get a fix indoors near a window, and quickly at that. It gets a strong signal outdoors and is a fine companion for driving, though the tiny speaker could be louder to combat road noise. Fujitsu includes Garmin Mobile for maps and navigation, and it works similarly to Garmin's portable GPS models with easy to understand options and large, finger-friendly buttons. A car antenna (long wire with a magnetic puck at the end) is included, but reception was so good we had no need for it.
Great for MS Office and the web, forget video
As you'd expect from a tiny PC, especially one running Vista, the Fujitsu U820 isn't the kind of computer you'll use for serious gaming, programming or heavy Photoshop work. But it will work for light Photoshop work (editing 5 or fewer 8 meg images at a shot), MS Office, web browsing, Dreamweaver and music playback. The U820 runs Intel's second generation Atom processor, the 1.6GHZ Z530. It's significantly faster than the Intel A110 (Intel's first mass market CPU for little computers), but alas the Intel GMA 500 integrated graphics that accompany it hasn't impressed us. It can handle Aero on Vista, though Fujitsu ships the U820 with Aero's high end graphical effects turned off, but forget video playback. QVGA youtube videos barely play smoothly and video at higher resolutions and bitrates plays at 5 to 10 fps on average. This includes iTunes video which actually doesn't make use of the graphics processor and instead rely on the CPU. Odd that an Archos 5 and iPhone can do a much better job of video playback. Perhaps Intel will someday release drivers that improve performance but as it stands, the Fujitsu is fine as a portable music player but not as a video player. And yes, it's worse than the U810 running XP and the Vaio P (Vista) for video playback, though we wouldn't rate the P or U810 highly.
Fujitsu offers several LifeBook U820 configurations and all have the same hardware specs except the hard drive which is available in the base model at 60 gigs, 120 gigs for $250 more and a 64 gig SSD version that adds an absurd $1,100 to the base $1,049 price (as of 4/1/2009). We can't imagine why a 64 gig SSD drive should cost so much in 2009, and we find it hard to recommend spending that kind of money to double the price of the U820. In contrast, the Sony Vaio P is $899 with a 60 gig hard drive and $1,199 for the 64 gig SSD model-- a $300 upcharge. This is a shame since the U820's 4200 rpm ATA drive is a bottleneck at times. All models come with just 1 gig of DDR2 533MHz RAM (not upgradable), nearly all of which is used just booting into Vista.
Speaking of Vista, the U810 shipped with Vista Home Premium or Vista Business with an XP Tablet Edition downgrade disc in the box. Windows XP made a great deal of sense on the 800MHz Intel A110 which was nearly brought to its knees by Vista. This time, likely due to pressure from Microsoft, Fujitsu offers only Windows Vista on their website. For companies ordering 25 or more U820 computers per year, Fujitsu will include a Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005 downgrade disc with Vista Business models. Some retailers have ordered this version, so XP is apparently available to consumers on the U820, but our Vista Business review unit did not ship with an XP disc. Vista runs adequately on the U820, so this isn't as much of a hardship as it would have been with the U810, but we expect it would really fly with XP.
Windows Experience Score:
Memory (RAM): 4.3
Graphics (desktop performance for Aero): 2.9
Gaming Graphics: 2.8
It might not be fast, but man it runs long!
Don't knock that little Intel Atom CPU when it comes to power consumption. It uses just 2 watts! Compare that to the 25 watt Intel Core 2 Duo on the Sony Vaio Z500 series 13.3" notebooks and 65 watts for Intel's new quad core notebook CPU. Combine that with the extended capacity 5800mAh battery that comes standard with the U820 in the US and you've got a machine that runs 5.5 to 7 hours depending on power management settings and applications running. If you really dislike the battery hump and added weight, Fujitsu sells a more compact 2 cell battery separately.
What we don't like is the rather large power brick. It's the same one used on the 12" Fujitsu P8020, and that's just too large and heavy for a tiny PC. Even Sony got the clue and shipped the Vaio P with an absolutely diminutive charger.
Obviously, a 5.6" display miniature Windows PC is a niche item. If you need a Windows computer most everywhere you go, the Fujitsu U820's light weight and small size are easy on the back and it's so small it doesn't scream "steal me" like a full size notebook. the U820 is capable of MS Office work, email, web and all manner of lightweight tasks. Just don't expect desktop replacement performance-- in fact, don't expect to use it as a portable video player either. The market has changed since the U810 came out in 2007 and now the U820 faces stiff competition from the OQO model 02+ and the Sony Vaio P. It's no longer considerably cheaper than other makes and the OQO is even more portable while the Vaio P has a very usable touch-typeable keyboard, wider screen, integrated EVDO Rev. A and drop dead good looks. What the Fujitsu U820 does offer is extreme battery life (the Vaio P with an extended battery falls an hour short of the U820) and a familiar notebook PC design.
Pro: Incredibly portable! Fantastic battery life.
Con: High resolution on a 5.6" display means text is too tiny, even if you have good eyes. Digitizer doesn't want to recalibrate to a lower display resolution. Expensive and adding desirable options like 3G and an SSD drive really drive the price up. Not really touch-typeable unless you're thin-fingered and very coordinated.
Price: $1,049 for base model with 60 gig hard drive, $1,299 for the 120 gig hard drive model. Add $1,100 for a 64 gig SSD.
Web Site: www.computers.us.fujitsu.com
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Display: 1280 x 800 pixel color touch display (passive, resistive). Screen size diagonally: 5.6". Intel GMA 500 integrated graphics using up to 224 megs shared memory.
Battery: 4 cell 5800 mAh 7.2v Lithium
Ion rechargeable. 37.4 watts/hour, claimed runtime: up to 7.5 hours. Large power brick included (world charger 100-240v AC). Smaller 2 cell 2900 mAh battery available separately.
Atom Z530 running at 1.6GHz processor. 1 gig DDR2 533MHz RAM. 60 or 120 gig 1.8" 4200rpm ATA hard drive (ours was a 120 gig Toshiba). 64 gig SSD is optional.
Size: 6.73” (W) x 6.14” (D) x 1.16-1.46” (H). weight: 1.56 pounds.
Camera: 1.3MP webcam.
GPS: Integrated GPS (made by Kyocera) with Garmin Mobile software bundled. Comes with external car antenna.
in speaker, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone
jack. RealTek ALC269 HD audio.
Networking: Atheros XSPAN WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n, wired 10/100 Ethernet via included dongle and Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR. AT&T HSUPA broadband is optional for $150 and requires purchase of the 120 gig hard drive model or the SSD model.
Vista Home Premium and Windows Vista Business available. Vista Business includes a downgrade to XP Tablet Edition when purchasing 25 or more U820 computers per year. MS Works 9.0, Microsoft Office One Note 2007, MS Office 2007 60 day trial. MS Origami for Vista, OmniPass fingerprint scanner security software, Adobe Reader 8, various Fujitsu utilities and ArcSoft WebCam Companion 2.
Ports and Expansion: 1
SD slot and 1 Compact Flash I/II card slot. 1 USB 2.0 port, 3.5mm stereo out and mic in ports, port for docking station/dongle adapter which has VGA and Ethernet ports.
Security: Integrated Fingerprint Sensor and embedded TPM. Boot Sector Write Prevention and BIOS passwording. AuthenTec fingerprint scanner and OmniPass software for Windows. BIOS support for Computrace/LoJack.