- Durable alloy construction
- integrated WiFi
- very good battery life
- solid performance.
- PC Card rather than integral modem
- smallish keyboard
- no floppy drive.
Sharp isn’t as synonymous with notebooks as Toshiba, IBM, HP Compaq or even Dell, but that hasn’t stopped it throwing down a challenge to the establishment in the form of the Actius MV1214. And not just any old notebook either. In fact the Actius MV1214 is a rather slick-looking system weighing just 1.9kg (plus 250g for the power supply), with a fairly standard footprint of 28.2cm wide by 23.5mm deep.
The Actius MV1214 isn’t very heavy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not well put together. As soon as we picked it up, we noticed the pleasingly solid feel that comes from both the lid surface and the whole underside of the body being made from alloy rather than plastic. This is something of a double benefit, since as well as protecting the screen and the innards of the machine, the metal casing also radiates waste heat away evenly and very efficiently compared to plastic. The design holds no surprises, with a single bay at the right holding a removable optical drive. There’s no internal floppy drive; in fact, Sharp doesn’t even offer an external USB unit as an option -- if you want one, you need to buy it from a third-party manufacturer. The same goes for a port replicator, should you want one. This won’t break the bank by any means, but it’s slightly unusual for the primary manufacturer not to try and cash in with a set of pricey but model-specific extras.
Sharp does have a couple of tricks up its sleeve that might make accessories more or less redundant. There’s a proprietary (but USB 2.0-compliant) port on the notebook which lets you connect it to a host PC’s USB interface and synchronise selected files and folders with the host via a simple software utility. Another utility allows you to access the notebook’s hard drive directly from the host via the cable, even when the notebook is switched off. Since it’s quite usual for people to use a sub-2kg notebook as a satellite system to a desktop PC, this approach makes sense. As far as the rest of the on-board connections are concerned, everything is pretty normal by sub-2kg notebook standards. In other words, you don’t get much in the way of legacy ports (no serial, no parallel, no PS/2), just a pair of USB sockets, D-Sub for an external monitor, FireWire (IEEE 1394), audio I/O and a Type II PC Card slot. There’s also an RJ-45 port for the integrated 10/100 Ethernet module, but for the RJ-11 cut-out for the modem is blanked -- a 56Kbps PC Card modem is included in the package instead. Still, this is a Centrino system, so you won’t need the card slot for wireless as 802.11b Wi-Fi is built in as standard. Sharp hasn’t gone for bust when it comes to the screen, settling instead for the tried and tested combination of a 12.1in (diagonal) size and XGA (1,024 by 768) resolution. The screen is evenly illuminated by its side-lighting, and allows a reasonable range of viewing angles, so no problems there. For navigation, the system has a normal two-button touchpad that worked fine, although we’d have liked a vertical scroll button as well -- they’re a definite improvement on having to keep stroking the pad. The keyboard is almost too small, but just about keeps to the right side of the line. We weren’t keen on the need to hold down the Fn key to enable Home, End, PgUp and PgDn, and would have liked a bigger keypad even if it didn’t look quite so neat and compact. Form should follow function, not the other way around.
Performance & battery life
Like many Pentium-M based Centrino systems, the Actius MV1214 proved to be respectably fast and gratifyingly long-lived when running on battery power. The Business Winstone 2001 rating of 56.7 is creditable enough for a 1.4GHz system (especially a sub-kg one), and certainly means that it will stand up to the demands of everyday business computing. Better yet, if you are working as you travel, the 3,600mAh Li-ion battery kept the machine on the go for just over four hours. If you need even more running time, there will be a secondary battery option that clips onto the base of the notebook, but neither samples nor pricing were available at the time of review.
Service & support
The Actius MV1214 is covered by a normal one-year collect and return warranty, and comes with Windows XP Home and various utilities, but no major applications. With VAT added, you are looking at £1,299, which isn’t outrageous by any means considering what you get. However, if Sharp could get this figure down to around £1,000, the MV1214 would start to look like a very attractive proposition. The Actius MV1214 is available exclusively from PC World. To locate your nearest branch, call 0870 242 0444, or visit the company’s Web site.