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Fujitsu Siemens LifeBook P1610

  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Small and lightweight
  • Integrated fingerprint reader
  • Passive touch-screen

Cons

  • Only two USB ports
  • Cramped keyboard
  • No integrated optical drive
  • Expensive

Towards the end of 2005 Fujitsu Siemens launched its LifeBook P1510, a roughly A5-sized convertible Tablet PC. We came out broadly in favour of this system, but had some reservations about screen resolution, USB port provision and battery life. So has its successor, the LifeBook P1610, successfully addressed these concerns?

Design
Measuring 23.2cm by 16.7cm by 3.45-3.7cm, you almost feel you could slip the LifeBook P1610 into a pocket (you can't quite, actually). Although its dimensions are identical to the P1510, we see them afresh thanks to the intervening arrival of the similar-sized (although somewhat lighter) UltraMobile PC (UMPC) in March 2006. In the 'post-UMPC' era, the fully fledged functionality of the convertible P1610 is appealing when compared to a keyboard-less UMPC.

The LifeBook P1610 weighs a maximum of 1.2kg. Our review sample came with a 6-cell battery that protrudes about 2cm from the front edge, providing an extended wrist rest area. An optional 3-cell battery fits flush, reducing overall system weight to 1kg but delivering shorter battery life.

Whichever battery you choose, the LifeBook P1610 feels comfortable in the hand or the crook of an arm; it's certainly a lot more ergonomic to use in Tablet PC mode than some convertible tablets we've seen.

An additional usability boost comes from the passive touch-screen, which means there's no need to use stylus that active-screen Tablet PCs require for direct screen interaction. With a passive screen, you can simply prod with a fingertip. If you want to use a stylus, or require it for functions such as handwriting recognition, there's a plastic one in a spring-loaded slot on the right-hand side of the system. The display, at 8.9in. across the diagonal, is the same size as the P1510's, but the resolution is boosted to 1,280 by 768 pixels (up from 1,024by 600).

The LifeBook P1610 has a small securing mechanism between the upper and lower sections. This does little more than prevent significant rotation between the two sections when the lid is closed. We’d have preferred a solid clasp.

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The keyboard suffers somewhat because this is such a small device, and people with large hands may find it a challenge to touch-type at speed. Fujitsu Siemens has made the most of the available space, though: there's a two-thirds-size row of function keys atop the number row, the space bar is relatively large, there's a set of inverted-T cursor leys, and a decent-sized Enter key. The small wrist-rest area houses left and right mouse functions, while cursor movement is handled by a pointing stick nestling between the G, H and B keys.

Beneath the screen, accessible when the LifeBook P1610 is in Tablet PC mode, is a power on/off button and a button for switching to Eco mode, which dims the display and minimises battery drain. Further buttons flip the display between landscape and portrait modes, open the Windows XP calculator and Journal application, access the Task Manager and call up a range of settings options. Also lodged in the display surround is a fingerprint reader for controlling access to the system.

Features
Our review sample of the LifeBook P1610 ran Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, although Windows Vista Business is also available. The processor is an Intel Core Solo ULV U1400 processor running at 1.2GHz, with 2MB of Level 2 cache and a 533MHz frontside bus. A modest 512MB of RAM was installed in the single DIMM slot, which is expandable to a maximum of 1GB.

The Intel 945GMS Express chipset also provides the system's integrated graphics. You can choose either a 60GB hard drive, as installed in our review sample, or an 80GB unit. Local and personal area wireless connectivity comes in the form of Intel’s PRO/Wireless 3945ABG adapter and Bluetooth 2.0 respectively, while wired Gigabit Ethernet is also integrated. We like the fact that, as usual, Fujitsu Siemens provides a manual on/off switch for the Wi-Fi radio.

For wide-area wireless connections, there's an optional a 3G/HSDPA module that would boost the system's price to £1,548 (ex. VAT).

One of the issues we had with the LifeBook P1510 was a relative lack of ports and connectors — a consequence of its diminutive dimensions. The LifeBook P1610 is similarly limited: there are two USB 2.0 ports on the right edge alongside an SD card slot plus headphone and microphone jacks. On the left edge is a single Type II PC Card slot. At the back you'll find RJ-11 (modem) and RJ-45 (Ethernet )connectors and, protected by a rubber cover, a VGA-out port.

The LifeBook P1610 also lacks an optical drive, but our main wish is for more USB ports and a FireWire (IEEE1394) connector. The two USB ports that are present are well separated, so it should be possible to use both at the same time — although one of them is rather close to the power connector.

Performance & battery life

We found the LifeBook P1610 reasonably responsive when running mainstream business applications, although we'd advise upgrading the standard 512MB of RAM to the full 1GB — especially if you propose to run Windows Vista. Clearly with its 1.2GHz processor and integrated graphics, this is not a system you should contemplate running compute- or graphics-intensive applications on.

Fujitsu Siemens claims 4.5 hours' life from the 3-cell battery and 9 hours from the 6-cell battery supplied with our review unit.

Conclusion
The LifeBook P1610 shows the compromises that have to be made to produce a small-format notebook. The screen and keyboard are both somewhat cramped, and anyone with poor eyesight and/or large hands may find the system hard to get along with. Also, if you require an optical drive for everyday use, you should probably look elsewhere. Otherwise, this is a tidy and functional ultraportable notebook that, in our opinion, delivers much more than any UMPC of similar size and weight.

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