Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fujitsu LifeBook N6470

Historically, Fujitsu has made some of the nicest, most well-constructed portable business notebooks around. The company's more consumer-oriented laptops are more of a mixed bag, however, offering features sets that clearly target home users but lacking the strong styling cues of some of its competitors.

In a specs sheet comparison, our 17-inch Fujitsu LifeBook N6470 review unit seems competitive enough. Of more concern is the fact that the N6470, while a solid performer in most respects, may not do enough - in terms of styling or build quality - to justify its slightly high price and entice buyers.

Full specs for the specific N6470 configuration used for this review are as follows:

* Screen: 17-inch WXGA+ (1440x900)
* Processor: 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T8300 (800 MHz FSB, 3MB L2 cache)
* Hard Drive: 250GB, 4200 RPM SATA x 2 (500GB total capacity)
* Memory: 3GB DDR2 667 MHz SDRAM (2GB + 1GB)
* Optical Drive: Dual-Layer Multi-Format DVD-R
* Ports and Slots: Five USB 2.0, IEEE 1394, multi-format (SD/SDHC/MMC/MS/xD) card reader, HDMI, VGA, S-Video, 10/100 Ethernet, modem, PC Card, ExpressCard, microphone in, headphone out
* Wireless: Wi-Fi (802.11 a/b/g/n)
* Graphics: ATI Mobility Radeon HD 2600 (256MB shared and 256MB dedicated memory)
* Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium
* Dimensions: 15.8 x 11.5 x 2.0 inches (WxDxH)
* Weight: 10.2 pounds
* MSRP: $1,799 as configured

Styling and Design
There's not a lot to say here, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your perspective. For a comparatively expensive, high-spec notebook, this LifeBook doesn't do a lot to assert itself visually. The gray plastic (yes, it's all plastic) top vies for the most boring and empty piece of 17-inch real estate we've seen come through the office in awhile.

Opening the lid, things don't get a lot better: a glossy black plastic insert complete with wireless hard switch, volume control, and a four-way controller that can be configured to either provide multimedia controls (play, stop, etc.) or serve as a set of user-defined program "quick access" buttons suggests the N6470 as a multimedia-focused desktop replacement. The rest of the LifeBook's control surface, however, doesn't really follow through on this idea, with a bland keyboard and touchpad design.

Overall, acres and acres of monotonous gray plastic don't commit any styling atrocities, but don't do a lot to distinguish the LifeBook either.

These days, most desktop replacement notebooks include a multimedia remote - often with some sort of innovative in-body storage solution to make sure you can always find the remote when you need it. Fujitsu chose to move in another direction: make the remote so outrageously large that it becomes impossible to lose site of it.

The button layout is fine, and the remote is solid enough: it's just the size that makes it seem ridiculous, even for a notebook that's barely portable itself.

Build Quality and Physical Specs
While there's nothing inherently wrong with plastic as a notebook shell material, the N6470 serves as a reminder of everything that can make plastic unappealing for large, heavy notebooks: the lid flexes, the palm rest flexes, the keyboard flexes, the bottom flexes. Picking up the LifeBook one-handed (if you can), it feels like the entire computer is bending precariously under its own weight.

Thin plastics also find their way to the lid latch and button, which are especially unpleasing and look to be in imminent danger of snapping off if forced. Likewise for the retaining tabs on the LifeBook's tiny battery.

So long as it rarely leaves the open position on your desk, you might not find the N6470's lack of solidity concerning, but how well the LifeBook would hold up to even light travel given its apparent lack of ruggedness is worth asking.

At 10.2 pounds and nearly 2 inches thick, portability is obviously secondary with the N6470. Even with all that plastic and a battery designed to save weight more than optimize performance, the LifeBook is still alarmingly heavy, however. While it might work in a limited sense as a portable gaming or graphics device (it is appreciably easier to carry around than, say, my desktop and display), I shudder at the thought of schlepping the LifeBook through an airport. In fairness, this clearly isn't the kind of use that Fujitsu's designers had in mind, but with significantly more portable 17-inch models on the market, the Fujitsu's weight and bulkiness shouldn't be overlooked either.

The N6470's screen is truly a bright spot on an otherwise average notebook. The 17-inch display is gorgeous, glossy, and extremely vibrant. Gloss is well controlled without too much glare, and calibrated colors are dead-on accurate as well. Brightness is adjustable in 8 steps.

While horizontal viewing angles are very good (ideal for a multimedia machine), vertical angles aren't the best. This would probably only matter greatly, however, if you ever intended to put the N6470 on your lap (and you don't: trust us).

Keyboard and Touchpad
Again, the word of the day here is "flex." Our LifeBook test unit's keys offered up almost no resistance, making typing a tiring experience. Similarly, the keyboard exhibits some flex before "bottoming out" on an extremely rigid subsurface. On the plus side, keys are well spaced and a full number pad is included as well - expected amenities with a notebook of this size.

The touchpad feels nice enough under your finger, with a little bit of texture, but also shows some odd flex on one side, as though it's not completely anchored in place. Buttons offer about the right amount of resistance, however, and aren't excessively noisy when clicked.

Ports and Drives
Ports on the LifeBook are as expected for a notebook of this physical size, with five USBs, FireWire, S-Video, VGA, HDMI, and PC Card and ExpressCard slots providing a fairly comprehensive range of connection options. Likewise, the N6470 sports a dual-layer, multi-format DVD writer.

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