REVIEW: Fujitsu LifeBook N7010 laptop

Once you start getting into the 16-plus-inch widescreen laptop range, manufacturers are posed an interesting challenge: What to do with all the space on the plinth of the unit? Some use it for an additional numeric keyboard, usually sacrificed on laptops. Others might enlarge the trackpad for convenience. Lenovo’s W series actually incorporates a palmrest digitizer and pen.

Fujitsu Ltd. decided to fill the space with a second screen on its LifeBook N7010. The 16-inch widescreen LCD is accompanied by a four-inch touch-screen display in the bezel of the keyboard.

The Touch Zone display can be used as a launcher, with up to 15 application and document shortcuts on the screen available at a touch.

Applications can also be dragged into the four-inch display to keep them handy rather than minimizing them, having two live applications running at once.

One funky use of the two-at-once program functionality is to work on a document or browse a network on the main screen while carrying on a Webcam chat in the Touch Zone display. It’s certainly workable, and handy for collaboratively browsing the Internet, for example. However, the ArcSoft Webcam Companion application window won’t drag all the way into the TouchZone, leaving the top edge of the window almost entirely obscured by the Windows taskbar. When you try to drag the window back up into the main screen, you elongate the window rather than pulling it out.

Microsoft Windows Vista’s Media Centre runs well in the Touch Zone, too. It’s big enough in the window that the control icons are usable, and the screen is surprisingly sharp for movie clips.

There’s also a gesture-enabled trackpad, which allows multiple-finger motions for scrolling and zooming (though thus far, I’ve only mastered the pinch-and-spread zoom familiar to iPhone users). Between the left and right trackpad buttons, a biometric fingerprint reader doubles as a scroll wheel — very cool implementation.

Other highlights are an onboard Blu-ray read-only drive, HDMI port for connection to high-definiton television displays, memory stick/SD card reader, E-SATA port and Fujitsu’s high-contrast display that has always impressed me on Fujitsu’s smaller models.

Which leads us to the downside. I’ve always liked Fujitsu’s LifeBook line because the company consistently made lighter, sleeker (though also comparatively expensive) notebooks than the competition. The 16-inch N7010 is hefty, weighing in at almost eight pounds. “It isn’t exactly luggable,” Fujitsu Canada marcom manager Irving Frydman warned me before he sent it for review. “It’s a desktop replacement.”

And aesthetically, it isn’t the sleek, sexy, silver LifeBook I’ve always fancied. With its keyboard awkwardly centred in the huge bezel, and bezel panels in three different black finishes, it ain’t exactly Keira Knightley to look at.

There’s also the lack of an burnable optical drive to contend with, and battery life of only a little over two hours.

But the long and short of it is, as a desktop replacement, it’s an intriguing machine. The second display sounds like a pointless gimmick, but the way it’s integrated in the N7010, we’ve only scratched the surface of its utility.

The N7010 is now available in Canada for $1,859.

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