Review: Fujitsu LifeBook N7010

Fujitsu LifeBook N7010
Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp.
Available: Now

On a 5-star scale:
Total: 11 out of 15

This can’t be right. Fujitsu says its new desktop replacement notebook has a cinematic 16:9-aspect-ratio screen for watching high-definition videos or Blu-ray movies. This LCD divides out to 16:9 all right, but its resolution is too low. And it’s only 4 inches big, for God’s sake, you need to squint to see the actors and —

Oh. Sorry. Our bad. We were looking at the wrong screen. The other one is a good 16 inches diagonally. The Blu-ray player works fine with it.

For $1,499, the Fujitsu LifeBook N7010 is a laptop that gives you two displays. The main screen is a 16-inch, HD-ready CrystalView panel with 1,366 by 768 resolution (though HD snobs will sniff that Fujitsu’s definition of high definition is 720p rather than 1080p).

Fujitsu LifeBook N7010
Fujitsu LifeBook N7010

Between the big display and the keyboard, you’ll find a second screen — a 4-inch-diagonal touch screen that Fujitsu calls a touch zone. This space offers a choice of two default applications: a slide show of your digital photos, which lets you flick a finger left or right to page through pics iPhone-style, or a customizable launcher for starting any of 15 favorite programs with the tap of a finger.

If neither of those options tickles your fancy, you can use Windows’ Display Settings to extend your desktop to the mini screen just as you might when working with a notebook and external monitor.

Easier still, click on a translucent tab at the bottom (or side or top if you like) of the main display, and you’ll see a menu of active applications that can be shrunk to the second screen by mouse-clicking an icon (not by tapping a finger; we occasionally forgot ourselves and followed one or two taps of the little LCD with a useless attempt to tap its non-touch-sensitive sibling).

Except for Mahjong Titans, which caused a violent system crash, we tried a variety of programs on the demi-display and came away with mixed feelings. Keeping something like a webcam chat or Skype open without occupying primary screen space is a nice bonus, as is the handy application launcher. It occurred to us that a mini touch screen could be a nice adjunct to a notebook for occasional handwriting input or capturing signatures UPS-style (a literal security sign-on?), though the Fujitsu’s doesn’t support that.

But for the most part, while we’re very much in favor of the idea of adding a second or third screen for multitasking productivity, the LifeBook’s is too small to be productive. It was fun the first time we shrank a Blu-ray movie to the size of a business card — Windows maps the touch screen’s 480 by 272 pixels to a scaled-down 960 by 544, so you can put Control Panel or an image-editing palette or a whole spreadsheet there — but menus and icons and the cursor become too tiny to see, let alone click on with the touchpad, let alone poke with a fingertip relatively the size of the Statue of Liberty’s.

Fujitsu LifeBook N7010
Fujitsu LifeBook N7010

Well Equipped

Fortunately, the N7010 has other, more practical attractions. For one, it’s a handsome machine, a squared-off slab with a glossy black granite finish. At 7.5 pounds, it’s too heavy for an everyday commute, but for occasional travel its 16-inch widescreen form factor (10.9 by 15.2 by 2.2 inches) lets it squeeze into briefcases that won’t fit a traditional 17-inch lug of a laptop.

The Matshushita optical drive — a combo BD-ROM and DVD±RW, able to burn CDs and DVDs but just to play, not record, Blu-ray discs — occupies the system’s left side. Four USB 2.0 ports, single FireWire and eSATA ports, microphone and headphone jacks, and an ExpressCard slot are at the right.

There’s a Secure Digital/Memory Stick flash card slot up front. At the rear, a VGA port for plugging in an old monitor sits next to an HDMI port for plugging in a new HDTV set or monitor, with a Gigabit Ethernet port alongside.

In this age of $400 laptops, $1,499 is a formidable price, even with Blu-ray and a spare screen. Working diligently to justify the price tag, Fujitsu treats the N7010’s spec sheet like a checklist: HDMI and eSATA ports? Yep. Webcam? Check. Bluetooth? Yes. Draft-N as well as 802.11b/g Wi-Fi? Roger. Four gigabytes of DDR3 memory for Windows Vista Home Premium 64-Bit? Yep.

A more than adequately powerful processor? OK — Intel’s Core 2 Duo P8400, a 2.26GHz dual-core with 3MB of Level 2 cache and a 1066MHz front-side bus. A colossal hard drive? Not quite — the Fujitsu drive is no pipsqueak, but, just as we might dream of one of the handful of CPUs above the P8400 on Intel’s ladder, we might hope for something bigger than 320GB or faster than 5,400 rpm or both.

(We also noted that the hard drive was partitioned into a roughly 50GB drive C: and 250GB drive D: — a smart move to segregate the operating system from user-installed applications, if the user is smart enough to pay attention and specify the partition instead of overflowing drive C: when installing software as we did.)

Similarly, crazed gamers will wish for a more outrageous graphics controller than AMD’s ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3470, contemporary and DirectX 10-compatible GPU though it is.

Fitted with 256MB of dedicated GDDR3 memory plus up to 1.75GB borrowed from system RAM, the HD 3470 helped the LifeBook manage a playable 35 frames per second and less playable 23 fps in our Unreal Tournament 3 and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars flybys, respectively. Both games were set to a bare-bones 1,024 by 768 resolution with no antialiasing or other glitzy effects.

In other benchmark tests, the N7010 rendered Cinebench R10’s sample scene in a respectable 2 minutes and 49 seconds and posted a 3DMark06 score of 2,431 at its native 1,366 by 768 resolution.

Windows Vista gave it an Experience Index score of 4.5 on the built-in benchmark’s 5.9-point scale, with PCMark Vantage and CrystalMark awarding values of 3,957 and 90,142, respectively. Its overall score in SysMark 2007 Preview was 121. Overall, the LifeBook flexed solid notebook-rather-than-netbook muscle, but landed only in the middle rather than top of the wide spectrum known as desktop PC performance.

Fujitsu LifeBook N7010
Fujitsu LifeBook N7010

In our favorite real-world benchmark, the LifeBook averaged about an hour and 40 minutes of battery life including DVD and CD playback. One low-stress word processing session stretched to two hours and five minutes, but the system dived from an indicated 30 percent to just 10 percent of battery life remaining — and an automatic switch to hibernation mode — within the last five minutes of that span.

Type Hard

While it doesn’t have a desktop-style numeric keypad like some large laptops’ keyboards, the Fujitsu has dedicated instead of double-teamed Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn as well as cursor arrow keys. The spill-resistant keyboard has a fairly good typing feel, but the keys take a relatively firm press or forceful tap to register — a too-light touch cost us skipped letters, especially g’s, during our first few days with the notebook.

We also grumble because the Delete key is not in the top right corner where it belongs: That position’s been given to the useless Pause/Break key, with Delete one place over on its left.

The N7010’s touchpad offers two ways to scroll — a tilt switch between the two mouse buttons below it, plus the option of putting a fingertip on its right edge, then circling counter- or clockwise to scroll up or down. In another nod to the iPhone’s gesture control, the pad also lets you place two fingers on its surface, and then pinch them together or spread them apart to zoom in and out of documents and images.

No grumbling is occasioned by the 16-inch display — as long as you stick to the top two of its eight brightness settings, the screen combines rich colors with fine detail. The passive-digitizer touch screen above the keyboard is predictably grayer or duller but perfectly fine for its program-launching or utility-hosting duties.

Overall, the LifeBook N7010 strikes us as a solid if slightly pricey alternative to a desktop, especially — thanks to the Blu-ray player and HDMI port — if there’s home entertainment as well as office work on the agenda. The touch zone is too small to boost productivity in the way that, say, the retractable, 10.6-inch second screen of Lenovo’s ThinkPad W700ds is, but it’s more fun than the usual strip of two or three multimedia keys or customizable buttons.

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