Posted August 25, 2004 by Lisa Gade, Editor in Chief
Amazingly small and delightfully beautiful: that's
the Sharp Mebius CV50 recently released in Japan. After noting
the small size and elegant white and silver finish, your eyes will
be drawn to the stylized "Muramasa" logo with the red
blade-like slash on the top cover (Muramasa was a legendary samurai
swordsmith). Despite the samurai-inspired name, the notebook makes
claims to European styling, and was designed by
a well-known German designer. The
notebook is the smallest we've seen since the circa 1999 Mitsubishi
Amity, and runs Transmeta's second generation processor, a 1 GHz
Efficeon. The unit offers a wide screen 1280 x 768 resolution display,
has an excellent touch pad and a keyboard
that's pushes the limits of touch typing. Sad that this beast,
like so many other cutting-edge subnotebooks, is only available
in Japan. Don't worry, the Mebius is available in the US and other
countries from Dynamism,
who converts it to English and ships it with Windows XP. The thick
owner's manual is in Japanese, so you'll need to use your general
knowledge of notebooks and the pictorial illustrations for guidance
Design and Ergonomics
This is certainly one of the smallest notebooks I've seen in the
past ten years. It's between the size of a hard and paperback book
and is kind to even the poorest of bad backs at just under two
pounds. While it may not be as small as the long (and we mean long)
overdue OQO, it is one forth the size of standard notebooks.
The design and finish have wowed everyone who've
cast eyes on this diminutive beauty. The top cover and screen bezel
are finished in a high quality gloss white (black is also available)
and the remainder is finished in bright silver. The lines are very
clean and elegant and the overall size and look have folks guessing
the unit is well over $2,500 when in fact it sells for $1,899.
The CV50 comes with a cleaning cloth to remove fingerprints and
other messes. The white model shows fingerprints just a bit but
the black unit likely shows them more. The Mebius has a latchless
lid closure design, and the stiffness of the hinges holds the
unit shut. What first looks like a chromed lid release is actually
just a convenience to make it easier to get your finger under the
lid when opening the unit.
The screen bezel is even whiter in person.
The two button touch pad is finished to match
the silver body and blends in perfectly. It's a Synaptics touch
pad (used on most notebooks) and has a button on each side of the
touch pad. The power button is located on the right side of the
screen bezel and all ports are located on the right and left sides
of the notebook. On the left you'll find two USB 2.0 ports, a port
for the VGA dongle (sold separately) and a CF type II card slot
which you can use with memory cards and CF modem and networking
cards. Most Pocket PC CF networking and modem cards come with Windows
drivers, if needed and you'll need to rely on those rather than
PC cards since the Mebius doesn't have a PCMCIA slot.
The stereo audio out and mic in jacks are located on
the right side as are the SD card slot and power jack. On the front edge
you'll find five LEDs that indicate power, charging status, WiFi on,
hard disk access and docking status.
The CV50 has no doors
for accessing the hard disk or memory. You can however remove five screws
on the bottom should you need to replace the internal battery when it
wears out. The one small sliding door provides access to the external
battery pack, sold separately.
Horsepower and Performance
The Mebius isn't just another pretty face— it
packs enough processing power to handle MS Office work and Internet applications.
While Transmeta's first processor, the Crusoe, wasn't a good performer,
Efficeon is a vast improvement. It may not be a Centrino, but the difference
in everyday use is fairly minimal and the processor is incredibly power-frugal.
While I wouldn't recommend this to gamers and graphics artists (the video
card alone isn't up to the job, let alone the processor), it is perfect
for business travelers and those whose primary goal is to work with
Office documents, email and the web.
The Mebius comes with a 20 Hitachi 1.8" internal hard
drive (those are the ones that look like CF cards) and is ATA5 compliant
with a 4,200 rpm rotational speed. It has an ALi M5229 PCI Bust Master
IDE controller by Acer Labs and a Ricoh controller for the CF slot. Obviously,
there's no way to cram an internal optical drive into the tiny Mebius,
though you can purchase an external USB CDRW/DVD drive (none is included).
The original Sharp factory recovery CDs are included
(supply your own drive to use them). Unless you're fluent in Japanese,
you'll probably never need them unless you need to pull a driver or two
off the CD during the process of a system re-install. A backup copy of
Windows is stored on the hard drive in the i386 folder and the Mebius-specific
drivers are in the Sharp Setup folder, so you could do a system repair
without the CDs.
Though Sharp's (Japanese) manual describes docking
the Mebius CV50 as a USB hard drive on a desktop Windows machine using
the included mini USB- to USB cable, Dynamism tells us that it isn't
supported in the US converted version.
Display and Sound
With many ultra-small notebooks, those without
good eyes need not apply. Since the notebooks themselves are tiny,
the screens are tiny, yet manufacturers go for high resolutions
which push the limits of viewability. The Sharp is no exception
with a 7.2" LCD and a marketed 1280 x 768 resolution. At this
resolution, icons and text are incredibly sharp and crisp— this
is an excellent quality LCD, but everything is undeniably tiny.
For those of us over the age of 30, the Sharp offers several lower
resolutions for the LCD panel, from 800 x 600, to 1024 x 768 (looks
stretched since the display is wide screen), and an eye-pleasing
1024 x 600, which is what the unit first booted into from the factory.
We found that resolution offered the best combination of readability
and a high enough resolution to see documents and web pages without
horizontal scrolling. On-screen items are still small, but most
folks with average eyes will be able to work with it for two hours
before feeling some eyestrain. If you have young, sharp eyes, give
the higher resolution a try, and if your eyes are older or not
that good, you can use 800 x 600. All look sharp since the panel
handles multiple resolutions well (many panels are designed to
work best at only one resolution).
The screen itself is gorgeous: it's got very
good color saturation, good color accuracy for a notebook LCD and
it has a glassy finish that enhances sharpness and color depth
while adding only a bit of glare. The graphics card, an ATI Mobility
Radeon, is a good basic performer that has 16 megs of video memory
(shared with main memory). While that video processor and 16 megs
of RAM can keep Windows, office and Internet apps running happily,
don't expect to do serious work with Photoshop or current action,
FPS or RPG games. It will be fine for puzzle games, solitaire and
The Mebius has a single bottom-firing internal
speaker, a mic in and 3.5mm stereo out jack. It uses a Realtek
AC97 sound card and comes with an AV remote that attaches to the
stereo out jack. You then plug your headphones into the AV Remote
and use it to stop, play, fast forward, rewind and more. On our
unit, the remote didn't actually control anything in Windows Media
Player, though it worked for simple pass-through audio.
WiFi and Connecting on the Go
The CV50 has a Lan-Express internal WiFi card
(identified under Windows as a USB device). This 802.11b adapter
afforded excellent range and reliability when connecting to a variety
of access points. It worked well when resuming from suspend and
hibernation as well (a weak point for some notebooks).
If you travel frequently on business, you'll
probably want wired Ethernet for the hotel room connection or a
56k dial up modem. The Socket Low Power Ethernet CF card has Windows
drivers and works (that's the card with a dongle that's 10, not
10/100 speed). Most any CF 56k modem should work using Windows'
own drivers. We tested the Ambicom EZ Jack CF modem card and it
worked fine with the Mebius.
This is a very small notebook. This is the front edge with LEDs
and chromed latch showing.
Keyboard and Touch Pad
Japanese notebooks have keyboards with the full
English alphabet and punctuation, in the standard QWERTY layout,
have no fear. The English letters are the largest, dominant characters
masked on the keys, and much smaller Japanese characters cohabitate.
Though the keyboard is tiny, Sharp has managed to include a full
row of function keys and arrow/page up and down keys. The keyboard
is much smaller than a standard notebook's, and you will have to
adjust to it. Normally a 70wpm typist, I made tons of mistakes
the first day I used the Mebius. In a few days, I'd adjusted and
managed about 35 wpm. Though I have slim fingers, the keys are
too close together to hit the same typing speeds one can on a standard
sized notebook keyboard. If you have large or chubby fingers, you
may find it easier to resort to two finger typing.
Software and Operating System
Dynamism ships the Mebius CV50 with Windows XP
Home Edition. For an additional charge, you can upgrade to XP Professional.
The unit is 100% translated into English and the OS is the US English
version of Windows. Dynamism takes care of installing all Mebius
drivers for you, so the notebook is ready to go. The OS install
files and drivers are stored in separate folders on the hard drive
should you need them.
The Mebius has a permanent internal Lithium Ion
battery of undisclosed capacity. Sharp doesn't provide this info,
nor do they disclose the capacity of the optional external battery
which they state doubles runtimes. Though the internal battery
doesn't pop out as it does with most notebooks, you can unscrew
the notebook's bottom cover should the battery require replacement
(the instruction manual tells you how to do this). The optional
external battery connects to a connector found underneath a very
small door on the underside of the notebook. The CV50 runs for
about 2.5 hours using the internal battery with WiFi
gorgeous and unique. If the smallest, lightest notebook is your
thing, the Mebius wins: you won't even know you're carrying it.
It is the most petit notebook available in the US, and provides
adequate processing power and expansion so you won't be pining
for a full-sized beast. Reasonably good expansion with two USB
ports, CF and SD slots and audio ports. The display is small,
but lovely with great sharpness, color saturation and a nice glassy
look. Con: You need good eyes
for the small display and patience when typing on the miniaturized
keyboard. No FireWire port and no PCMCIA slot. If you need wired
RJ45 Ethernet or a 56k dial up modem, you'll need to get one of
the CF Ethernet cards designed for Pocket PCs. CDROM drive not included.
Price $1,899 from Dynamism. Configurations with
more memory and Windows XP Pro available at an additional charge.
x 6.2"(L) x 1.2"(H).
Weight: 1.94 pounds (880 grams).
color LCD, 64K colors, Screen Size Diag: 7.2 ",
Resolution: 1280 x 768. ATI
Mobility Radeon graphics processor with
16 megs of RAM and a 350MHz Internal DAC.
GHz Transmeta Efficeon TM8600 processor with 1 meg
level 2 cache. 256 megs RAM standard, 512 meg configuration
Drive(s):20 gig hard drive. External USB floppy and
CDRW/DVD drives sold separately.
Lithium Ion rechargeable battery (permanently installed).
Capacity unknown. Extended battery available for
purchase (Sharp doesn't state capacity).
in speaker, 3.5mm standard mic and
stereo headphone jacks. AV remote included.
USB 2.0, 1 stereo audio out and mic in, 1 docking
cable port (for docking Mebius as a hard drive on
another Windows XP machine), proprietary VGA connector
(requires VGA dongle sold separately).
English version of Windows
XP Home Edition (Pro also available).
SD (Secure Digital) slot, 1 CF type II slot.