Sharp's Actius line of ultra-light and ultra-slim
notebook computers have been strong sellers for several years now.
They are both incredibly attractive and amazingly light and thin.
The latest in the Actius ultra-slim line, the UM Series, represents
the next evolutionary step in the lineup.
The Actius, has always been a sleek 3 lb. notebook
that's incredibly slim (about the size and thickness of a magazine)
encased in a magnesium-aluminum alloy case with an attractive and
modern silver finish. Since Sharp has been in the quality LCD screen
business for years, you can count on the UM to have a crisp and
bright 1024 x 768 display. Rather than make fundamental changes
to an already attractive and popular product, Sharp focuses on
increasing processor speeds, hard drive and RAM size, and adding
new ports such as IE1394 (FireWire).
We reviewed the UM30W, which is near the top
of the line of Actius UM models. Models range from the entry-level
UM10 (PIII 600 MHz, 20 gig) to the new UM32W which has a 1 GHz
Mobile PIII processor and a 40 gig drive. The UM30W and UM32W come
with an external USB 6x CDROM drive. If you buy a UM10 or UM20,
you'll need your own external CD or DVD drive.
Sharp Actius UM30W with included
external CDROM drive
You can see how slim the Sharp
Actius UM series is! This is the right side and there are two USB
ports, modem and Ethernet (behind a rubber door) and audio in and
out ports as well as a heat vent (center).
Ultra-light subnotebooks are not speed demons compared
to their full-sized notebook brethren. High speed, state of the art processors
don't jibe well with "miniaturization" because of heat dissapation
issues. The cost of high-end processors is also a concern, since you're
already paying extra for that small size. That said, the Intel Mobile
Pentium III processor with SpeedStep running at 866 MHz is plenty fast
for even demanding applications. The unit comes with 256 megs of RAM
and a roomy 40 gig hard drive. Windows XP Pro is demanding on hardware,
but even so, we found all OS operations smooth. MS Office 2000 ran well,
as did Macromedia Dreamweaver MX, and Photoshop 7 which I used for web
graphics production rather than more challenging print image production
work. While our unit suffered no slow-downs, I would suggest upgrading
the unit to its maximum 512 megs if you want maximum performance.The
hard drive is quiet and the fan rarely goes on under medium-duty use.
Screen, Sound and Battery Life
Since Sharp makes excellent quality monitor and notebook
LCDs, and the Actius is no exception. The screen is very sharp, bright
and color-saturated. I found it a pleasure to work with the unit for
periods of several hours, and I am VERY picky about displays! The display
runs at XGA (1024 x 768) resolution with millions of colors. It can also
drive an external display via the included VGA adapter. I would suggest
placing a cloth between the screen and keyboard/trackpad when the unit
is closed, because, like many ultra-thin notebooks, the tolerance (space
between the top and bottom of the clamshell) is very tight, and you may
notice marks on the screen from the keys and trackpad surround. These
marks can be cleaned, but it's easier to use a protective cloth!
Stereo sound out via the headphone/speaker jack is
very good. The built-in speakers are not very loud, probably because
the speaker opening is on the bottom of the unit.
Battery life with the standard battery is about 2.5
hours with WiFi turned on. That's just what Sharp claims, and is average
for a notebook of this size.
Ports, WiFi and Expandability
The UM series comes with a generous helping of
ports. I'm thrilled to see an included Firewire (IE1394) port for
connections to high speed external hard drives, CD burners and
digital camcorders. The port is the standard small 4 pin non-powered
found on most notebooks (only the Apple PowerBook and Dell notebooks
come to mind when I try to think of notebooks that come with the
larger 6 pin powered Firewire port). The UM also has 2 USB v.1.1
ports, a high density connector port that connects to the included
parallel/VGA adapter (which allows you to connect to a monitor
or parallel printer), modem and Ethernet 10/100 RJ45 jack. The
UM30W and UM32W have integrated WiFi (802.11b) that does everything
a WiFi PC card does: encryption (64 and 128 bit), ad hoc and infrastructure
mode and etc.. The range is very good, giving us about 65 feet
with an Apple Airport base station (not the highest powered of
base stations). The UM also has both a PCMCIA slot and a CF type
II slot, the latter being handy if your digital camera or PDA uses
CF cards since you can copy files and images between them and your
notebook without an adapter.
UM30W is one of my favorite ultra-slim subnotebooks. It is simply
beautiful to behold, shockingly light and slim, yet it doesn't
skimp on screen and keyboard size. Its speed is competitive with
other subnotebooks, the screen is excellent, and built-in WiFi
and Firewire add the finishing touches to a very compelling package.
I found little to dislike-- my only complaints are the Synaptics
touch pad is too sensitive and I had to fiddle with the settings
to get a manageable cursor, and I wish the notebook could be expanded
to 1gig of RAM rather than just 512 megs (a 1gig SODIMM might work,
but Sharp states the max is 512 megs).
UM20: (Pentium III 750 MHz, 20 gig, no CDROM drive): $1,599
UM10M (Pentium III 600 MHz, no CDROM drive): $1,099
Size: 11.3" x
9.13" x 0.77" H, weights 3.07 pounds. Magnesium
+ aluminum alloy case.
Display: 12.1" XGA
TFT LCD display (1024 x 768). Video controller integrated
in 830MG chipset (Intel 82830GM graphics controller).
Can drive an external monitor. Max video RAM is 48
megs (shared with system memory, not dedicated video
AC97 compatible, 16 bit sampling and playback.
MHz Intel® Mobile Pentium® III, 512K secondary
RAM: 256 megs, expandable to 512 MB
GB hard drive. External USB 6x speed CDROM drive
PCMCIA slot (supports type I & II as well as
CardBus), 1 CF type II, 1 FireWire (IE1394) 4 pin
non-powered, 2 USB, RJ45 Ethernet, VGA, parallel,
audio in and out