Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fujitsu LifeBook S6520

Road warriors have settled largely on notebooks with 13.3-inch LCDs, which tend to deliver the best balance of portability and screen size. But if you could get a 14.1-inch display in a notebook with the same dimensions and weight as a 13.3-inch model, would you jump at it? That’s what Fujitsu delivers in its LifeBook S6520. It’s one of the most portable 14.1-inch laptops we’ve seen, and it delivers most of the features a business user would need.


If you like your laptop to wear basic black, the S6520 will suit you just fine. The matte-finish chassis has touches of glossy black and silver-gray trim, but the design goal here was certainly to blend in, not stand out. While the system’s looks aren’t thrilling, its form factor is. Weighing 4.0 pounds—and just 3.7 pounds if you swap out the optical drive for a weight saver—the S6520 is among the lightest 14.1-inch notebooks available. By comparison, the classic Lenovo ThinkPad T series weighs 5.2 pounds when equipped with the same size screen. The S6520’s dimensions are also impressively small for the class; at 12.4 x 9.2 inches, its footprint is smaller than the ThinkPad T’s (13.2 x 9.3) and similar to that of many 13.3-inch notebooks.

Flip the lid to see why: Fujitsu engineers have shaved as much width as possible from the sides of the screen’s bezel, so the LED-backlit widescreen LCD comes within millimeters of the edges. But there’s still room in the trimmed-down chassis for a full-size keyboard, done in an attractive winter white and set in a silver surround. The pebbled surface of the touchpad has little friction while providing good tactile feedback, though we wish it were a touch larger. The mouse buttons are properly sized, however, even with a fingerprint reader nestled between.

Fujitsu has included four programmable quick-launch buttons above the Function-key row, but no dedicated multimedia control keys. That omission is still typical (unfortunately) of most business-class notebooks, though Fujitsu didn’t even include discrete volume/mute controls, which are now common. And the Function-key combination for mute is a few keys to the left of the combos for volume; grouping them together would have made more sense.

In hands-on use, the LifeBook S6520 is a pleasure. The notebook feels solid in the hands and remains exceedingly quiet, even during the multitasking chores that pushed CPU usage to 80 percent. The keyboard is comfortable, though we did note some flex. Small-business buyers will be happy to see that Fujitsu includes all the discs you’ll need in the box, rather than pointing you to a partition on the hard drive should you need an item from the original factory image.
Display and Audio

The 1280 x 800 glossy screen delivered crisp text and wide viewing angles, along with plenty of brightness and excellent color reproduction. It also handled video well, exhibiting very little motion blur and good reproduction of dark scenes in our Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl DVD. Volume from the built-in speakers was weak, however, which could be a problem for presenters. On the plus side, Fujitsu includes its Display Manager utility for quickly switching video output to the VGA port and setting other presentation-oriented parameters.
Mediocre Webcam

The image quality from the 1.3-megapixel webcam is usable but not great; in both bright and low-light situations, there was an annoying amount of motion blur, even with the resolution set to 640 x 480. The face-tracking feature was also subpar, with the camera doing a poor job of following a subject moving within the frame. The monitor feature is clever, though, letting you set the included software to automatically start recording video when the camera detects motion.

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