Fujitsu U810 Review

by PocketGoddess on March 18, 2008

Introduction

When I first heard about the U810 from Fujitsu, I was intrigued, to say the least. I knew that the machine would be of high quality, because I’ve been so pleased with my Lifebook P7010. The big question is whether it would be able to bridge that gap between “small laptop that can be carried anywhere” and “too small to be used effectively” that could allow me to be more productive on the go without weighing me down. I’ve always been somewhat jealous of the cool stuff available in the Japanese market, and I finally had the chance to try an ultra-mini laptop myself.

Hardware

The U810 is tiny. It measures 6 5/8″ wide, 5 7/8″ long, and just a hair over 1″ thick. The width is a bit deceiving, since the battery sticks out almost an inch from the back of the machine. The battery provides exceptional life, but I do wish that a smaller battery were available for those occasions when extreme portability trumps running time.

On the top of the U810 you’ll find left and right mouse click buttons on the left, plus a set of scroll keys/function button with a trackpoint-style pointer on the right. The function button brings up a Fujitsu Menu utility that provides quick access to power and brightness options, frequently launched applications, etc.

Power indicators are on the bottom edge, along the keyboard, and the front edge has a stylus slot and a port for the desktop docking station (which I highly recommend). The left side of the machine has a WiFi switch, SD card slot, volume control, microphone jack, and headphone jack. The right side features a CF card slot, power switch, and USB port. The battery release switch is on the bottom of the unit.

U810 Screen/Controls/Keyboard

Open the lid and you’ll see the 5.6″ Crystal View WSVGA touchscreen. The display is every bit as bright and clear and beautiful as I would have hoped. On maximum brightness it’s actually a little too bright, but it looks very good at the middle setting.

There is a substantial bezel around the screen that is quite useful, since you can rest your hand on it when using the U810 as a tablet. Since it is a touchscreen instead of an active digitizer you have to keep your hand off the screen or run the risk of activating the wrong window, etc.

At the bottom of the screen are three function buttons that control screen rotation, bring up the Tablet PC input panel, and turn off the keyboard light. The fingerprint sensor is located on the bottom right edge of the screen; it can also double as a scrolling mechanism that works quite well.

The buttons are all placed in a way that allows them to be used when the U810 has been converted to tablet mode, with the screen turned around and lying flat on the keyboard. The hinge is unidirectional, so the screen can only be turned one way, but the buttons and controls are all within easy reach around the edge of the screen. This was actually my favorite way to use the U810, as it was easy to hold in one hand and tap away with the stylus.

The Keyboard

The million dollar question here is the keyboard–it it good enough to really type on, or are you reduced to a two finger hunt and peck? I found the answer to be somewhere in the middle. I’m used to typing on a smaller-than-normal keyboard on my Lifebook, but the U810 is of course much smaller. There are also certain keys “missing” such as the Tab key, which has been mapped to the spacebar and is activated by pressing Function+Space. Other reviewers have complained heartily about Fujitsu’s choice in that matter, but it didn’t bother me a bit.
My problem was with the number keys–everything is so squished together that when I was typing on the U810 I often hit the number keys in addition to the letters I was trying to hit, especially on my left hand. That’s a big problem when every other word seems to contain the letter E. After some practice I found that if I wold just slow down a bit, I could actually type somewhat normally on the U810. The faster I typed (and I can type well over 85 words a minute), the worse the number interspersal problem became.

The Docking Station

Fujitsu U810 on docking station

The docking station is a must if you ever plan to use the U810 on the desktop, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t without its tradeoffs. The docking station is made mostly of plastic but has a decent amount of heft. To dock the U810, just slide it along the guides at roughly a 45 degree angle, until it is firmly in place and the docking port on the front of the U810 is fully engaged.

It adds four USB ports to the U810 and also has an Ethernet port, a pot that allows you plug in an extra monitor, and a power port. It isn’t strictly necessary unless you want to add multiple USB devices (unless you don’t mind carrying along a multi-port USB hub) or use your office’s Ethernet network (unless you don’t mind carrying the Ethernet dongle that is included with the U810). The external DVD drive I bought to go with the U810 is self-powered but unfortunately requires two USB ports in that configuration, and the U810 only has one port on board. Same problem with the Fujitsu ScanSnap, so the docking station is a nice solution.

It does raise the U810 to a nice desktop viewing angle, but is better suited for tablet use–the U810 keyboard is challenging enough to use without trying to use it on a high angle. Fortunately the U810 is really easy to dock and undock, so if I was planning to type out a long email I just removed it from the docking station and put it flat on the desk.

Performance/Usability

Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005/Applications

The U810 has an Intel A110 processor that runs at 800MHz. It’s supposed to run slower than my Lifebook, which has a 1.10GHz procesor, but since it has twice the memory (1GB as opposed to 512MB) I found performance to be much snappier than its larger cousin. I ordered the version that came with Vista Business, but really didn’t like much of anything I saw there; after a few days I decided to downgrade to Windows XP Tablet PC edition 2005, which was included on a recovery disk that came with the system. All of my software and performance notes are based on Windows XP.

Startup and shutdown are remarkably fast, all of the applications I installed were responsive and a pleasure to use. II loaded up all of my normal programs and data and still had almost 18GB free on the internal 40GB hard drive. I had no problems at all with Office 2007 or Opera, and ActiveSync plus all of my mobile applications work like a dream. I was also very pleasantly surprised by the accuracy and ease of the various Tablet PC text entry options.

The first option is very similar to Palm OS Graffiti, in that it attempts to recognize whatever you print. I was amazed at how perfectly it worked, almost always correctly guessing what word I was entering. It occasionally had problems with proper names, which is certainly understandable; tapping the wrong word with the stylus brought up a menu of additional options that usually included the right word. You can also tap things out on an onscreen keyboard which works, but is far too slow to use all the time.

The only negative experience I had was with Quicken 2004; the program runs fine but is almost impossible to use on such a small screen. The old version of Quicken I use has very little in the way of a customizable interface, and several non-removable frames and menu bars ate up so much space that I was only able to see a couple of lines in the register for each account. It was usable, but just barely, and not something I would want to try and use on a regular basis.

Everything else worked very well, including online video on YouTube, QVC, and the various broadcoast networks. I was able to watch full streaming episodes of TV shows with great picture and sound; the speakers weren’t full stereo quality of course, but I have no complaints. Web browsing, chat, word processing, and light photo editing all worked nicely.

Battery Life

Battery life simply rocks on the U810, but I knew in advance that it would due to my experience with the Lifebook P7010. I’ve always been able to eke out more usage time than the battery meter said I would be able to, especially since I’m careful to set up a battery power profile that includes low screen brightness, short timeouts for screen blanking and hard drive spindown, etc.

I had no problem at all getting more than 5.5 hours out of the battery while using WiFi, and was able to manage just over six hours several times. I also left the U810 on standby for almost a week when I was on vacation and the battery didn’t run out of juice, even though I had forgotten to plug it in or turn it off before I left. The battery is relatively small as well, and it wouldn’t be difficult to carry along an extra charged battery to swap out as necessary on a long trip.

Portablity

The U810 wins on all counts here–this little guy will fit practically anywhere and doesn’t take up much space at all. I’ve already mentioned the somewhat awkward bump on the back due to the battery, but it does make a decent “handle” for carrying the U810.

Carrying options are a bit limited, because there aren’t any cases specifically designed for the U810 aside from the two rather expensive options listed on the Fujitsu web site. Later in the week I’ll be reviewing two case solutions that may solve the problem, though the U810 is sturdy enough that it may not need a separate case, assuming you don’t leave keys and loose change in your gear bag.

I typically carry the unit in my not-very-large purse; it slips easily into the main compartment and isn’t too heavy or unwieldy even with all of the other stuff in my bag. Even though there are some tradeoffs associated with using such a small computer, it’s nice to know that I have the “full package” of Windows with me when I’m on the go, instead of the somewhat stripped down computing experience offered by my Dell Axim or iPod Touch.<.p>

Conclusion

Is the $999 Fujitsu U810 a winner? That’s a tough question to answer, and will depend on your individual needs. I think it’s a success on just about every level, though I also wish that it were just a bit bigger (mainly because of the keyboard) and had a different battery design that didn’t stick out so far at the back of the unit.

Though I used it as my primary computer for three weeks, I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone for that purpose. If you need to do heavy word processing, it probably won’t work for you. But if you plan to do a lot of web surfing, light photo editing, etc. and use it mainly as a tablet, it might very well be a viable option for you.

As a writer (and Quicken user) the U810 won’t replace my 10″ Lifebook anytime soon, though it came close. If the keyboard were just a bit bigger, or if I didn’t have such heavy word processing needs, the U810 would be a dream come true. As it is I’m glad I was able to spend a few weeks with it, and am now anxiously awaiting the next big (little) thing in the mobile computing category.

Feel free to ask questions in the Comments section below this article; I tried to hit all of the highlights in this article but may have missed something of interested to you.

3.5 out of 5

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