Language Selection

English French German Italian Portuguese Spanish

Cheaper laptops full of features

Filed under
Hardware
Reviews

When you're buying something as pricey as a new laptop, it takes courage to stray from the comfort of established names like Dell, IBM and Sony. And it's the sort of courage that can easily lead to "penny-wise, pound-foolish" regrets after the purchase.

But there are cheaper laptop alternatives that don't involve a multi-thousand dollar bet on Brand X.

Though the names might not ring a bell when it comes to computers, most Americans surely recognize Sharp Electronics Corp. and Fujitsu Ltd. as quality brands in consumer electronics.

Both of these Japanese manufacturers, its turns out, produce laptops with all the latest options - and even a few that are scarce among rival products - yet at prices several hundred dollars below comparable machines from the "name" brands.

I decided to try out Sharp's Actius MP30 and the Fujitsu's LifeBook P7010, and I see little reason why either of these sleek machines would leave you with a case of laptop envy.

I chose these models because they're both lightweight and full-featured, the trickiest combination for any laptop maker to pull off. Anyone can make an 8-pound paperweight with all the trappings of a full-blown desktop computer, and anyone can make a 2-pound notebook by gutting the features.

The Sharp Actius was the more impressive of the two, weighing in at just 3.5 pounds including the power cord (I don't know many people who travel without a power cord but nearly all laptop makers advertise the weight of their machines without it).

For $1,699, you get top-line numbers on all the basic laptop specs, including a 1.6-gigahertz Transmeta chip, 512 megabytes of dynamic memory and a 40-gigabyte hard drive as well as built-in Wi-Fi.

But this machine also boasts an internal optical drive to burn CDs and play DVDs. And it features Sharp's unique DirectHD port, which can turn the laptop into an external hard drive for another PC.

The Actius also is one of the first laptops with an "instant play" button that enables the user to listen to CDs or watch DVDs almost immediately without booting up the full computer.

In addition to eliminating the long wait for Windows to load, this Linux-based media player prolongs battery life by keeping the power-hungry computer processor off when all you're looking for is entertainment.

One complaint here: Since the Actius is clearly designed to double as a mobile entertainment device, it's too bad there's no video output to plug it into a TV, in a hotel room for example, as a portable DVD player.

Battery life was strong, though I found myself running out of juice a full hour before the advertised time of 4.6 hours. There was little improvement when I switched into "mobile" mode, which cuts both the chip speed and screen brightness in half to save power. While the drop in chip speed was imperceptible, the screen was too dark for squint-free viewing, so I increased the brightness.

All of these features are tucked into a tiny package - about an inch thick, 10 inches wide and 8 inches deep - that wipes away just about any hesitation to slip this laptop into a knapsack.

Some might consider a 10.4-inch screen too small but I think a bigger display becomes a drag if you plan to use a laptop as a truly portable device. Add an inch or two, and a couple of pounds, and suddenly I'm back debating whether it's worth the trouble to carry my "mobile" computer around.

If there is a drawback with size, it involves the Sharp's keyboard, which is 10 percent smaller than on most notebooks. This is not the laptop for writing that novel. My fingers are small, so I'll have to imagine that someone with larger digits will find typing more of a challenge. Surprisingly - you never know what you'll miss until it's gone - I also was mildly irked to find no indicator light for "Caps Lock."

In terms of sturdiness, despite the dearth of metal in a laptop this light, the Actius is solid all around with one exception: the optical drive feels too much like plastic. Along the same lines, though dial-up Internet access is only an occasional need, the side jack for a regular phone line feels a bit fragile.

For $1999 after rebate, the Fujitsu LifeBook P7010 comes with a 1.2 Ghz Pentium processor, 512 MB of memory, 80 GB of storage and an internal optical drive that can burn DVDs. Lesser configurations run as low as $1599 after rebate.

Standout features include a widescreen display, a fingerprint reader for user identity verification and a slot for mini-storage cards in the SD, Compact Flash and Memory Stick formats. There's also a switch to turn off the Wi-Fi radio to preserve battery power.

The LifeBook is heavier than the Actius, weighing 4.1 pounds with the power cord, but still light enough that I was apt to bring it along. Size-wise, it's somewhat bigger at 1.4 inches wide thick, 10.5 inches wide, and 7.8 inches deep.

The display is slightly bigger, measuring 10.6 inches diagonally. But happily, this machine comes with digital video output in case you'd like to play a DVD and watch it on TV. There's also an audio output to play music on a stereo system.

The keyboard was less cramped, though still not novel-worthy.

One annoyance was that the holes to plug in the power adapter and the Ethernet cable are placed on opposite sides of the machine, making it impossible to run the two lines neatly side-by-side. With a cord poking out on either side, it was hard to place paper, books or anything else right next to the machine.

And if your power outlet and broadband modem happen to be behind you, you'll find yourself encircled by cords.

The fingerprint sensor can be used for security or mere convenience. The accompanying software can store user names and passwords for automatic entry on Web sites. The sensor was occasionally fickle in recognizing my finger swipe but worked consistently enough that I enjoyed not having to plug in my login information.

Both the Sharp and the Fujitsu machines drew more than a few envious comments from total strangers. But more importantly, both performed consistently over time, making either a worthy laptop alternative.

BRUCE MEYERSON
AP Business Writer

More in Tux Machines

Schedule a visit with the Emacs psychiatrist

Welcome to another day of the 24-day-long Linux command-line toys advent calendar. If this is your first visit to the series, you might be asking yourself what a command-line toy even is. We’re figuring that out as we go, but generally, it could be a game, or any simple diversion that helps you have fun at the terminal. Some of you will have seen various selections from our calendar before, but we hope there’s at least one new thing for everyone. Today's selection is a hidden gem inside of Emacs: Eliza, the Rogerian psychotherapist, a terminal toy ready to listen to everything you have to say. Read more

Download User Guide Books of All Ubuntu Flavors

This is a compilation of download information of user guide books of Ubuntu and the 5 Official Flavors (Kubuntu, Xubuntu, Lubuntu, Ubuntu MATE, and Ubuntu Studio). You can find either complete user guides (even for server edition), installation guide, or tutorials compilation; either in PDF or HTML format; plus where to purchase two official ebooks of Ubuntu MATE. On the end of this tutorial, I included how to download the HTML-only documentation so you can read it completely offline. I hope you will find all of books useful and you can print them out yourself. Get the books, print them, share with your friends, read and learn Ubuntu All Flavors. Read more

Games: Desert Child, KKnD, Twice Circled

  • Desert Child Now Available on Linux, PC, and Mac OS
    Akupara Games is here with an all-new game that blends a mix of hoverbikes with shooting and racing alongside high-resolution pixel art. It's odd to see a game try so many different genres, but Desert Child does that and more. Adventure games are also covered, as you have to go from place to place and explore the world. Your overall goal is to leave Earth before it blows up, and winning the Grand Prix allows you to go to Mars and escape the planet.
  • The KKnD remake using the OpenRA engine has a first release out
    KKnD, the classic strategy game is being revived and the new open source project has the first release out. I was going to write this up last night, but it seems I jumped the gun a bit before they had all the bits in place. Nice to see such quick and polite communication from their team though. Unlike Red Alert and the other titles served by OpenRA, KKnD and KKnD 2 were not made freeware. You will still need the games for the full experience. However, this remake will download the demo files for you to get you going.
  • The lovely aquarium building game Megaquarium just had a big update
    Twice Circled are adding in plenty of new features to Megaquarium as promised, with a major update now available.

Debian Installer Buster Alpha 4 release

The Debian Installer team[1] is pleased to announce the fourth alpha release of the installer for Debian 10 "Buster". Foreword ======== I'd like to start by thanking Christian Perrier, who spent many years working on Debian Installer, especially on internationalization (i18n) and localization (l10n) topics. One might remember graphs and blog posts on Planet Debian with statistics; keeping track of those numbers could look like a pure mathematical topic, but having uptodate translations is a key part of having a Debian Installer that is accessible for most users. Thank you so much, Christian! Read more Also: Debian Installer Buster Alpha 4 Released