Saturday, March 25, 2006

Review: Fujitsu P7120 laptop

At the core of my mission to lose traveling pounds is my new laptop, Fujitsu P7120. I have researched it thoroughly before buying and have now been using it for over a month. I am a very picky person when it comes to laptops - certain things have to be just right, or it just plain won't work for me. Keyboard layout is one of those criteria - Toshiba may have great hardware but until they completely revise their keyboard layout I simply will not be able to use their machines. I need the keyboard layout to be as standard as possible, otherwise I will constantly fight it as I switch between machines (and I'm talking from experience). So on paper my new laptop fit all those criteria and I finally bought it, sight unseen.

Before reading my review to see if you should consider it please take a look at other reviews that helped me make the decision - I'll try to not repeat what these fine people already wrote: Omar's review and NotebookReview.com review; these discuss the laptop from a very practical point of view and gave me enough information to jump in.

What I got

My model cost me about $2450 Canadian before taxes, with high capacity battery, DVD burner and 1 Gb of RAM. I think it's important to upgrade the RAM to 1 Gb to compensate for somewhat slower CPU and hard drive, which I'll mention below.

From the outside

The laptop is incredibly small - it is smaller than a letter-sized sheet of paper. It fits into the smallest laptops bags I have - currently I use it inside an 12" Powerbook Incase bag, fits in nicely width-wise, with a couple of inches to spare on top, which allows me to stuff gadgets in the top pockets without exploding the bag.

The laptop screen has no locking latches to worry about - just pry it open! This design works very well for a laptop of this size, I've had no problems with it so far.

The keyboard is great for a laptop this size - I can actually touch-type at full speed, and I'm a quick typist. Thankfully, Fujitsu did not mess about with key locations: Ctrl key is at the far left (where Fn key should never be!); I also appreciate having the second Ctrl key on the right side and wide Shift and Backspace keys; Del key is on top row, while the Windows key is nestled between Fn and Alt keys - all good as far as I'm concerned. There are a few minor drawbacks: function keys have no separation between F4 and F5 and F8 and F9, while Del key should really be the right-most key on the top row, not Pause/Break, that's really all I can complain about.

Most of the ports are on the left side of the unit, with a few present on the right and headphone and microphone plugs on the front - the backside is reserved for the battery and the two speakers. WiFi toggle is a physical On/Off switch, I prefer these as there are instances where Windows goes out of sync with button-style WiFi toggles. The same switch controls the Bluetooth as well. It's worth noting that the WiFi switch and Power button are accessible both when the screen is closed and when it's open.

Operation

One of the many outstanding features packed into this box is actually something that's not included inside - there are no fans to speak of! I don't know about you, but long time ago (we're talking 10 years ago) my laptops rarely made any noise, but as years went by laptop fans became bigger and louder and what's worse, widely accepted. But when you turn this laptop on you simply won't hear anything, even the trackpad buttons are extremely quiet. I appreciate the effort Fujitsu must have had to make to eliminate any active cooling, it's definitely worth it.

Laptop boots up very quickly, and integrated fingerprint reader works great to log you into Windows without typing passwords (you can still type passwords if you should lose one or more fingers you enrolled for authentication). Trackpad is quite small but works very well. One annoying aspect of the placement/size of the trackpad is that resting your middle finger just below the space bar can register as a touch on the trackpad and your mouse pointer will do some crazy acrobatics across the screen so I learnt to keep that finger elsewhere!

Screen is very good - it's sharp (1280 by 768), and very bright utilizing the new LED backlight technology that also extends your battery life. The nice thing is that it can be adjusted from very bright to almost completely dark. I did find the resolution a little too dense for my liking so I switched to using Large Fonts in Windows, which consumes a little more screen real-estate than Small Fonts do - I changed a few settings in Windows to compensate for this, and installed some new software and have to say that I'm actually happier with my setup now than I was on my previous 15" laptop. I will blog about that at some later time!

The laptop can run fairly warm (although nothing like my previous barn-burner), but usually it's relatively cool. To increase the comfort level when used on your lap, Fujitsu has padded the bottom of the laptop with a suede-like material that protects your legs from any hotspots. Works really well I may add!

Battery usage is great - I easily get 5 hours out of the battery, with WiFi on and screen brightness at about 80%. If you disable wireless you can get even more. I have the laptop configured to do nothing when the lid is closed and to hibernate when I press the Power button. This works really well for me. It also means that I rarely restart the laptop - it generally hibernates a few times a day and I restart maybe once every couple of weeks to give Windows a break. The system hibernates its 1 Gb of RAM relatively quickly, which was a nice surprise as I was concerned about the speed of the internal 1.8" hard drive.

Performance

I do a fair bit of programming and this was one of my main concerns before I finally decided to buy this laptop: it's powered by a Ultra-Low Voltage 1.2 GHz Pentium M. For someone doing fairly intense builds on a regular basis this sounded mighty scary. Omar's review took some of those fears away and I'm glad to say that I really had nothing to worry about. My old laptop was powered by an AMD 1800+ CPU and this machine to my eye is faster in every way so far. This is despite a slower hard drive as well. Of course having clean Windows install without pre-installed crapware certainly helps. My builds using both Borland Delphi Pro 6 and MS Visual Studio 2003 (yes, yes, I should upgrade) are all quicker on my new machine!

I also loaded some videos for consumption while travelling (documentaries and a few of Bob Cringely's NerdTV) and they play amazingly smooth, and look superb when viewed full screen on this bright unit. And with unit's great battery life I'm not afraid to play them as long as I want.

If you're a gamer than I really have nothing to offer yet - I haven't tried any 3D games or software on this machine, I doubt it can keep up with today's games with the integrated Intel MA900. This is something that you have to consider very carefully: from my research on ultraportables there is really no laptop that will have a good graphics engine coupled with things like great battery life and silent operation. This may change with time, but I'm sure the gaming industry will do its best to ensure that only $300 desktop cards can come close to rendering their latest titles. That type of horse power doesn't lend itself to easy integration into ultralight notebooks.

Conclusion

I might have given up a few niceties when I switched to this laptop (like the larger screen), but what I gained back was certainly more! My new screen may be smaller, but it's brighter and sharper. I shed almost 4 pounds from my traveling weight which allows me to take my new laptop with me more frequently. Some of you may not care, but for me the unexpected bonus is that I can now also wear nicer clothes as my new laptop bag is feather-light. That certainly sealed the deal for me!