Issue #63

Last Update April 30, 2009

Business and Technology Mini Laptops by Sten Grynir August 14, 2008 For the last two years or so, there has been a laptop category called Umpcs (Ultra Mobile PC’s), which were small, light, and surprisingly powerful. This category never really caught on with the purchasing public. Most had screens as small as 5 inches, although others were as large as seven inches. Some had tiny keyboards of varying usefulness, others had on-screen keyboards. Some had touch screens for navigation and data entry, others relied on buttons and keys. The smallest devices had the advantage of being pocketable; the largest were, at least, light weight and fit easily into a small shoulder bag. Memory, storage capacity, speed, ease of typing and ease of reading were all issues that discouraged sales. Then came the ASUS eee family of laptops. Small, lightweight and extremely inexpensive, these mini laptops sold in numbers none of their equivalent competition had been able to match. To see why the ASUS eee line has been so successful, it is instructive to compare it to another mini, the Fujitsu U810.

The initial ASUS eee offerings had 7" diagonal screens, weighed under two pounds, had 512 MB of RAM and an Intel YYMhz CPU, three USB ports, wifi, Ethernet and either a 2 GB or 4 GB solid state drive. The operating system provided was Linux, allowing a useful suite of software ( word processing, spreadsheet, presentation builder and database; Firefox browser and others) to be provided as part of the purchase price. Positioned as a web-surfing and email machine for those who wanted to travel light, and costing $299 for the 2 GB version and $399 for the 4 GB version, these sold well, alarming other laptop manufacturers with nothing that small in that price range (and incidentally alarming Microsoft, who saw Linux making further inroads on the desktop). Since the initial offerings, ASUS has kept pace with customer demands, releasing a 9" (and then a 10") version, and supplying Windows XP for those uncomfortable with Linux. The top of the line ASUS eee machine is in the $500 range.

The Fujitsu U810 was released over a year ago, and is the US version of a previously released Japanese model, the U8210. Weighing about the same as the ASUS 7" models, the U810 has a 5 1/4" screen, overall dimensions that are about three quarters the size of the ASUS, a 40 GB hard drive, one USB port, wifi, Ethernet and bluetooth. It comes with a choice of Windows XP Pro or Vista. It has a 1 GB, 800 Mhz CPU.

Comparing the two machines is an interesting study in tradeoffs. The Fujitsu is much smaller, and thus fits into pockets of shoulder bags or briefcases too small for the ASUS. It is far more powerful than the ASUS; in fact, with a docking station and an external monitor and keyboard it would make an acceptable substitute for a light-use desktop machine. It has both a Secure Digital (SD) card slot and a Compact Flash (CF) card slot for additional storage, where the ASUS only has an SD card slot, although the ASUS slot will accept SDHC cards with more than 2 GB capacity, while the Fujitsu is limited to standard 2 GB SD cards.

On the other hand, the 5.6 inch Fujitsu screen, while a marvel of clarity, requires really good eyesight or really strong glasses if used at its normal resolution. The larger ASUS screen is much easier to work with. The keyboard on the Fujitsu is difficult to use. The keys are very small, and what's worse, have a very light spring, making inadvertent double-key presses almost impossible to avoid. The size of the Fujitsu keyboard also means that many keys do double and triple duty. For example, the arrow keys and the delete key also require the Function key to be depressed, which is awkward and annoying. The ASUS keyboard, though smaller than standard, is significantly larger than the Fujitsu keyboard, better laid out, and much easier to work with. The single USB port on the Fujitsu is also a disadvantage; plugging in a USB mouse or other device forestalls the use of a USB broadband stick, or a USB flash drive, at the same time. The three USB ports on the ASUS provide much more flexibility. (In defense of the Fujitsu, the bluetooth feature allows the use of a bluetooth mouse, and the SD and CF card slots are there to pinch-hit for a USB flash memory device. The much larger hard drive means that these slots can be used for interchangeable, replaceable storage, rather than for supplementing the meager solid state drive of the ASUS.) Both machines have a built in camera and microphone, making them both available for such things as Skype video conferencing. The Fujitsu is much slower to boot than the ASUS (a small, solid state drive has some advantages after all), but has a much better battery life. Despite its greater power, the Fujitsu will go for at least an hour longer than the ASUS without having to be plugged in. A high capacity ASUS battery is available, though, which should even the playing field. The Fujitsu built-in wifi stopped operating correctly after a few days, while the ASUS built-in wifi has exhibited no problems so far.

All in all, these are both fine machines that will do a good job; the question is, what job do you want it to do. If you want an extremely light and compact powerhouse that will handle almost any business-oriented task, the Fujitsu should be your choice, despite the screen ad keyboard annoyances. If you want an easy to carry internet-email-wordprocessing machine that is inexpensive and pleasant to use, go for the ASUS.

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