- ✓Integrated 3G support
- ✓fingerprint recognition
- ✓15.4in. widescreen display
- ✓very good performance
- ✕not the most portable of notebooks
- ✕moderate battery life -- even with optional second battery fitted
For the last 18 months or so, 3G data cards have been available to plug into notebooks, providing them with wide-area wireless connectivity at theoretical speeds of up to 384Kbps. However, this is essentially a stopgap solution: you need to remember to carry the data card, and then insert it when you need a 3G connection, perhaps swapping out another PC Card peripheral to make room. Issues with driver compatibility, software usability and vendor support are also not uncommon with add-on 3G data cards. Integrating the 3G module and SIM card slot into the notebook, and preloading the drivers and software, should provide a more convenient and stable solution, and notebook manufacturers are now doing just this. Fujitsu Siemens has delivered the first system with integrated 3G to ZDNet for review in the shape of the LifeBook E8210; other manufacturers, including Acer, Dell and Lenovo, have announced similar plans.
The LifeBook E8210 is a close relation of the E8110 that we reviewed in March, although integrated 3G is not an option on that model. The 15.4in. widescreen LifeBook E8210 is a desktop replacement system, albeit a relatively slim one measuring 36cm wide by 26cm deep by 3.5cm high; it weighs 2.58kg, which although not heavy for a desktop replacement system, isn't something you'd want to carry all the time.
The styling is classic Fujitsu Siemens. With the lid closed the livery is matt-black except for the company logo and a narrow strip of shinier black at the front end of the lid. Inside is a mixture of silver (chassis) and creamy off-white (keyboard), with a strip of black along the screen hinge area.
Fujitsu Siemens had space to integrate a separate number pad into the keyboard, but has chosen not to; as a result the keys have an unusually wide left and right margin. The keyboard also sits within a slight depression: this is not unpleasant to look at, but we’d have preferred the number pad. The keyboard itself feels very solid beneath the fingers, and the keys deliver plenty of return when hit.
Above the keyboard, embedded into the aforementioned black strip, lie a pair of speakers, a panel of status LEDs and a bank of five buttons. One of the latter is the power switch, while the remaining four fulfill the same functions we saw on the LifeBook E8110: two are for application launching, one is marked ‘E’ and puts the notebook into ‘Eco’ mode (which involves shutting down features like the optical drive and PC Card slot and changing the screen brightness) and the other is marked ‘R’ and launches a system recovery utility.
As with the LifeBook E8110, Fujitsu Siemens provides both a pointing stick and a touchpad, each with its own set of mouse buttons. A fingerprint sensor nestles between the touchpad's left and right mouse buttons. You can also use smartcard authentication and password protection to protect your system.
The screen, which measures 15.4in. across the diagonal, has a widescreen native resolution of 1,680 by 1,050 pixels. We had no trouble working with two open document windows at the same time.
Our review model had a dual layer DVD rewriter in a bay on the right-hand side. This can be easily removed and replaced with alternative modules, including an optional second battery (£110 ex. VAT). The right edge is also home to an RJ-11 modem port, an S-Video out port and a single USB 2.0 port. There are three more USB 2.0 ports at the back, on the right-hand side. These are arranged vertically and very close together, making it unlikely that you'll be able to use them all at the same time.
Next to this trio of USB connectors is a serial port, and there's an RJ-45 Ethernet connector on the opposite side. Most of the back edge is occupied by the removable Li-ion battery.
The mains power connector is on the left-hand side, at the back, along with VGA out and parallel ports, plus a pair of Type II PC card slots. Beneath these is a smartcard reader that can form part of a security setup. One of the PC card slots supports the newer, smaller, ExpressCard format.
The front of the system is quite busy, hosting audio line in and out jacks (with support for SP/DIF), an IEEE 1394 (FireWire) connector and a card reader for Memory Stick and SD media. There's also an on/off switch for the built-in Wi-Fi module and an infrared port at the front.
As in the E8110 model, Fujitsu Siemens has managed to support legacy parallel and serial ports without skimping on more up-to-date connectors. This should mean that the LifeBook E8210 will sit happily in environments where older peripherals -- and most notably printers with parallel interfaces -- are still in use. It's just a pity about those poorly thought-out USB ports at the back.
The LifeBook E8210 runs on an Intel Core Duo processor. Our review model ran on the T2600, the fastest of the quartet at 2.16GHz (the others are the T2500 at 2.0GHz, the T2400 at 1.83GHz and the T2300 at 1.66GHz). The CPU has 2MB of Level 2 cache and a 667MHz frontside bus.
There are two variants of this notebook, one using Intel’s integrated GMA 950 graphics module and the other -- as in our review system -- equipped with a discrete ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 chipset. Both versions support up to 4GB of DDR2 system memory, our review unit coming with 1GB. The available hard drives are all fast 5400rpm Serial ATA units, available in 40GB, 60GB, 80GB or 120GB capacities.
Wireless networking is provided via Intel’s PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Wi-Fi module, with Bluetooth an optional extra. Meanwhile, wired networking is taken care of by a Marvell Yukon 88E8055 10/100/1000Mbps Ethernet controller. Fujitsu Siemens' own Odyssey software controls the wireless connection.
The most significant feature of the LifeBook E8210 is its 3G support -- this is the first notebook we've reviewed with this feature. Your SIM fits into a slot that's only accessible if you remove the battery.
The 3G connection is handled by a Sierra Wireless AirCard MC8755v module. This supports GPRS, EDGE, UMTS and HSDPA connections as well as standard GSM voice, and is preconfigured to connect at the fastest speed available.
You manage data and voice connections, dial voice calls, maintain a phone book, manage SMS messaging, set passwords and generally cater for all SIM-based communications using Sierra Wireless's accompanying Watcher software. This incorporates a dial pad for initiating voice calls.
The Watcher software is very flexible, but it takes a little getting used to, and the application window is very small on-screen, making fiddly to use, which doesn’t help. Still, sending and receiving text messages was never this easy from any mobile device -- a proper keyboard helps enormously.
We were able to get a 3G connection using our test SIM -- which was supplied by Vodafone -- and to browse the Web using it. However although it's theoretically possible to make voice calls, we were unable to do so successfully. The Watcher software allows you to initiate voice calls from the keyboard, its own on-screen number pad or its phonebook. We could dial voice calls using these methods, but couldn't speak to or hear the person we called, as connections to the E8210’s speaker and microphone had not been implemented. However, Fujitsu Siemens assures us that this will be fixed.
Fujitsu Siemens' software bundle includes Norton Ghost for system backup and restore purposes, F-Secure Anti-Virus and the Odyssey client for managing wireless network connections.
Performance & battery life
With its top-of-the-range 2.16GHz Core Duo processor, 1GB of RAM, discrete 256MB ATI Mobility Radeon X1400 graphics and fast 5,400rpm hard drive, it should come as no surprise when we report that the LifeBook E8210 is an impressive performer. It scored 259 under MobileMark 2002's Productivity test, which runs nine mainstream applications (Microsoft Word 2002, Excel 2002, PowerPoint 2002, Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator, McAfee VirusScan 5.13, WinZip 8, Macromedia Flash 5 and Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1) in a simulated real-world workload. This isn't the best result we've recorded from a Core Duo notebook; that accolade remains with Acer's TravelMate 8204WLMi, which scored 281. However, the LifeBook E8210 is undoubtedly a very speedy system.
All of these top-end components, along with the 15.4in. widescreen display, take their toll on battery life, however. MobileMark 2002 recorded just 150 minutes (2.5h) with the standard 8-cell, 5,200mAh battery fitted, rising to 235 minutes (3h 55m) when we added the optional 3,800mAh second battery in the media bay. If you need a full working day's worth of battery life (~8 hours), you're going to need to employ pretty stringent power management settings.
The LifeBook 8210 is a very well specified notebook even before its built-in 3G support is taken into account. As far as 3G is concerned, there are two points to note. First, mobile professionals will still need to carry a handset for voice calls, as it's impractical to keep swapping the SIM from notebook to handset, or to use a notebook for all voice calls. Second, 3G connectivity is expensive, especially when used abroad (a likely scenario for mobile professionals), and the convenience of 3G connectivity in a notebook form factor (big screen, comfortable keyboard) makes it more likely to be heavily used, leading to potentially eye-watering data costs.