Fujitsu LifeBook N7010

Fujitsu LifeBook N7010

One screen wasn't enough for Fujitsu. The company just had to tack on a second, smaller screen and create a sort of odd mashup with its LifeBook N7010 laptop. The main screen is a fairly crisp 16-inch, 16:9 aspect-ratio screen (new for the LifeBook maker). The other panel is a 4-inch touch screen that serves as a shortcut-heavy zone. Interesting, yes--but does that tiny secondary screen make this machine worth the US$1500 asking price (as of 3/10/2009)?

Since the second screen is the biggest deal with this portable, let's look first at what it does--and what it doesn't. Unlike with the Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds, the secondary screen isn't an extra place to drop your desktop images. It is a functional work area. For the most part, it links to various programs hiding on your computer. Whether you want to take a screen shot or launch a browser, the buttons are all right there. Want it to launch a game? Done (but nothing too demanding--I'll get to that later). You can also do goofy stuff with this secondary panel such as making it serve as a photo slide-show screen. Useful? Maybe, maybe not, but it opens up some possibilities. You could also use it as an external monitor, moving the mouse onto the second screen or dragging a window onto the 960-by-544-pixel area. I even starting watching video clips on it--a nice touch. An even nicer touch: I could use it as a mini-drawing tablet. Goofing around, I dragged the MS Paint window into the second screen. It resized and worked great for drawing my stick-figure masterpiece.

The main screen, that 16-inch, 1355-by-768-pixel panel, looks surprisingly colorful and bright. And it has just the right amount of glossy coating. It does bounce back a good deal of light when outdoors. Adjust the screen to compensate, and it's not a major pain. What is a pain is the off-size resolution that prohibits you from getting a full 1080p picture on-screen. For that, you'll need to send video from the HDMI port to a monitor.

Now let's take a look around the rest of this box. In the 7.4-pound, 15.2-by-10.9-by-1.9-inch case lies an amazingly small keyboard. I'm scratching my head on this one. It's not as if Fujitsu needed to make room for a 10-key pad. Imagine a plastic frame almost 2 inches thick on every side surrounding a set of keys you'd expect to find on squished ultraportable. I know that this machine needs to accommodate a keyboard, a touchpad, and an additional screen, but c'mon. I'm using smaller, 13.3-inch notebooks that have larger keyboards. This is just ridiculous. Because of all that wasted real estate I almost overlooked the fact that the keyboard still has a good, tactile feel and is spill resistant. The textured touchpad also feels right when mousing around. And the gesture-based pinching and zooming functionality is only a good thing.

The only downer here is the tiny targets that serve as mouse buttons. I'll blame my outsize adult male hands, but I'm looking for a slightly bigger mouse button in a machine as large as this. I do like the scroll button between the left-and-right mouse-clicks, but it seems a little extraneous considering that the right side of the touch zone is already configured to do the same thing. In short: bigger buttons, please.

While we're making requests, how about a little juice under the hood? The spec list reads much as one would expect for a midrange laptop: an Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 CPU (2.26GHz), ATI Radeon HD 3470 graphics (256MB), and 4GB of RAM. Translation: the N7010 will work well enough with a variety of tasks, but it won't exactly rip through games at a breakneck pace. It earned a score of 86 in our PC WorldBench 6 test suite--a fairly solid figure. But its numbers turn south if you hope to play heavy-duty video-based applications. Due to the off resolution, the highest we could run our game tests at was 1024-by-768-pixel resolution. And the on-board GPU? Well, let's just say you might as well watch a slide show instead of playing games. It runs Enemy Territory: Quake Wars at a meager 15 frames per second. Unreal Tournament III fares a little better, scoring 24 frames per second. One thing that's pretty obvious: The second screen chews up battery life. the N7010 lasted only about 2 hours, 39 minutes on a single charge. (And don't bother trying to figure out how to turn off the second display to eke out extra battery life. It's a major pain and doesn't work that way.)

However, I'm giving a thumbs up to the eSATA port, the 802.11n Wi-Fi, the Bluetooth capability, and the Blu-ray optical drive that also get packed into the case. The bundled software is decent (mostly trialware mixed in with a suite of CyberLink multimedia tools such as PowerDVD and PowerDirector)--but at the end of the day, it all comes back to those two screens. The screens make this laptop unique enough to stand apart from a quickly-growing crowd of 16-inch models--but if you're buying this, sign up for a carpal tunnel specialist, because of the undersized keyboard.

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