A Road-Worthy Notebook

China’s Lenovo, the proud new owner of the IBM ThinkPad swears it won’t lessen the notebook’s reputation for first-class quality and engineering. Still, many business travelers can’t help wondering whether Big Blue’s sellout means they should look for a new laptop brand &#151 ideally, one with a slightly lower price and slightly more office-productivity than the home-video-editing focus of Sony’s Vaio notebooks.

That sound you hear is Fujitsu Computer Systems over in the corner clearing its throat.

The LifeBook P7000D is one of Fujitsu’s ultra-light models &#151 we used to say
“sub-notebook,” but except for a slightly cramped keyboard there’s nothing sub about it, including a modular DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive (or optional DVD1RW burner) and widescreen LCD with contrast-boosting Crystal View (jet-black background akin to Sony’s XBrite) technology. At 3.4 pounds, it won’t stretch your briefcase arm; indeed, it’s practically purse-sized at 7.8 by 10.5 by 1.4 inches. The compact AC adapter adds another 12 ounces.

Speaking of purses, while the LifeBook’s no entry-level bargain, it’s quite a fair deal at $2,049. That includes Intel’s Ultra Low Voltage Pentium M 733 (1.1GHz) processor with 2MB of cache; 512MB of DDR333 memory; a 60GB hard disk; the combo drive; Windows XP Professional Service Pack 2 with Microsoft Works; and 802.11a/b/g wireless networking.

By the way, it’s that last item &#151 Atheros’ dual-mode Wi-Fi adapter &#151 that distinguishes the LifeBook P7000D from the plain P7000: Losing the D means using Intel’s Pro/Wireless 802.11b/g adapter as well as its Pentium M chip and 855GME chipset, making the P7000 eligible for a full-fledged Intel Centrino sticker. To make things more confusing, Fujitsu refers to most P7000D models as P7010D.

Digital Security
Anyway, our test unit’s $2,049 price is a buck below that of Sony’s Vaio T140, which has nearly identical specs but weighs a few ounces less, with a few millimeters tighter keyboard spacing, and a smaller, 40GB hard disk.

Fujitsu's LifeBook P7000D

Added Security &#151 The LifeBook P7000D features a fingerprint scanner that can help you keep your business data safe &#151 a handy feature in case your notebook should get stolen on the road.

As for gadgets, the Vaio tempts smart-phone owners with Bluetooth as well as Wi-Fi wireless connectivity. The Fujitsu woos security-minded shoppers with a built-in biometric sensor &#151 a fingerprint reader instead of a scroll wheel between the touchpad’s left and right mouse buttons. Supplied software guides you through the process of swiping a finger to log onto Windows, automate password login for Web sites, or encrypt important data files. (If you’d rather have the scroll wheel, subtract $50 from the system price.)

The keyboard, as mentioned, is slightly scaled down, but with a bit of care and practice you’ll be able to enjoy its firm feel. Fujitsu made one common compromise for size &#151 doubling the Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys with the cursor arrows &#151 but avoids the common error of giving the Fn or special shift key the bottom-left-corner spot that properly belongs to a Ctrl key (although the Delete key is one spot left of its proper place in the top right corner).

Flash Cards and Fine Resolution
A slot on the P7000D’s front edge, next to the Wi-Fi on/off switch, accepts
Secure Digital and Memory Stick/Pro flash-memory cards; another on the left edge takes CompactFlash media. The left side also holds a Type II PC Card slot,
56Kbps modem jack, and the swappable optical drive (a Matsushita 8X DVD and 24/16/24X CD-RW combo). Configuring the LifeBook with a DVD1RW instead of
DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive costs $100 extra; a second battery that fits in the modular bay is $116.

The right side offers headphone and microphone jacks, two USB 2.0 ports, and VGA, S-Video out, 10/100Mbps Ethernet, and 1394 ports &#151 the last four, like the modem, hidden behind rubber-hinged doors that feel flimsy enough to break off. Vents at the rear conceal a cooling fan that gets moderately noisy when the computer’s working hard, but rarely kicks in during simple word processing or Web-surfing sessions.

Like the Sony Vaio T, the P7000D’s display packs plenty of pixels &#151 1,280 by 768 resolution &#151 into only 10.6 diagonal inches. Colors and contrast are sharp, and we found the top three or maybe even four brightness settings to be ample for everyday viewing (usually we’re only happy with the top one or two).

But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s a small screen; while everyday work is headache-free, you’ll need more than our middle-aged peepers to make out the smallest fonts or image details. (Also like Sony, Fujitsu will politely steer you to a slightly larger slimline &#151 the 13.3-inch-screened LifeBook or S6000 series &#151 if you want something easier on the eyes yet still under five pounds.)

Average Performance, Above-Average Longevity
While display quality impresses, Intel’s 855GME integrated chipset delivers the same all-work-and-no-play graphics performance we’ve seen in many other
Centrino notebooks.

That said, the Pentium M 733 processor, 512MB of DDR333 memory (an upgrade to 1GB is $300), and 60GB Hitachi 4,200-rpm hard disk (an upgrade to 80GB is $50) make the LifeBook a perfectly capable choice for mobile productivity and communications. For catching up with work on the plane or at the Marriott, that’s all the performance you need.

After you wrap up that spreadsheet or e-mail, you’ll be able to watch a
DVD: Depending on how much disk spinning and audio-playing we did, the notebook repeatedly provided between three-and-a-half-to-four hours per charge from the lithium-ion battery pack. That’s not a record, but it’s practically a marathon compared to the 90- to 120-minute sprints we usually see in real-world laptop tests, and using the modular battery or simply carrying a spare pack could only improve it.

Along with Win XP Professional SP2 and Works, Fujitsu’s software bundle includes WinDVD, RecordNow 7, Quicken 2005, and the trial version of Norton
AntiVirus 2004. Microsoft Office Small Business Edition is a $250 option.

After testing the LifeBook P7000D in the office, at home and even in a hotel room overlooking the Las Vegas Strip, we’re giving it four stars as an easy-to-carry traveling companion &#151 it makes the screen- and keyboard-size compromises you’d expect from a 3.4-pound PC, but keeps the optical drive and delivers good battery life. Our biggest gripe is that both the glossy black LCD and matte black case seem downright magnetic to fingerprints and smudges;
Fujitsu should bundle a cleaning cloth as well as recovery CDs.

Pros: Small, light, and full-featured &#151 including DVD-ROM/CD-RW and 802.11a/b/g &#151 with a bright screen and buoyant battery life
Cons: Screen and keyboard are just a bit cramped for full comfort

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

Must Read

Get the Free Newsletter!

Subscribe to Daily Tech Insider for top news, trends, and analysis.