The boxy, slate-gray Fujitsu LifeBook A6030 didn't exactly catch our eye when it rolled into our offices. But after spending a little time with the machine, we found something in the laptop to please every type of user. The laptop's 15.4-inch display is a delight for movie-watchers (though the reflective screen coating might turn off some users), and its full-size keyboard will please productivity hounds. Tech fiends will be fascinated (or possibly confounded) by the A6030's unique touch pad, while speed demons will appreciate the laptop's competitive benchmark performance. And accounting types will love that the $1,449 LifeBook A6030 costs less than similar systems, such as the HP Pavilion dv6500t and the Sony VAIO FZ180E. The LifeBook A6030 is not without flaws--for example, it lacks a Webcam for video chats and its battery life, while acceptable, could be longer. But these relatively minor quibbles wouldn't keep us from recommending the LifeBook A6030 for home users who want a media-friendly laptop at a competitive price.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$1,449 / $1,299|
|Processor||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300|
|Memory||2GB of 667MHz|
|Hard drive||120GB at 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||Intel GMA X3100 (integrated)|
|Chipset||Mobile Intel 965GM Express|
|Operating system||Windows Vista Home Premium|
|Dimensions (WDH)||14 x 10.5 x 1.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||15.4 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||6.5 / 7.4 pounds|
The LifeBook A6030 feels very solid overall, with sturdy screen hinges and a thick, square case that can be an imposing presence on your desktop. Its 6.5-pound weight places it squarely in the middle of the midsize category, though it's heavier than similar systems with 15.4-inch screens, such as the HP Pavilion dv6500t and the Sony VAIO FZ180E.
We've looked at a lot of 15.4-inch displays lately (see also our reviews of the Enpower ENP660 and the Micro Express IFL90), and most produce decent color saturation and contrast. The "color-enhanced" display on the LifeBook A6030, however, puts those other screens to shame. Its pitch-black blacks and deep, rich colors make movie-watching a pleasure. Though the screen's 1,280x800 native resolution is merely average for its category, it nevertheless produced stunning still and moving images without sacrificing text readability. Of course, there's a small trade-off: the Fujitsu's glossy screen finish, partly responsible for its depth of color, can be distractingly reflective, particularly if you're working with a light source or window behind you. There is no option for a matte screen finish. The only real negative about the LifeBook A6030's display is the lack of a Webcam in the bezel--a feature that's fairly common among midsize laptops.
The Fujitsu LifeBook A6030's broad case has plenty of room to accommodate a full-size keyboard. Typing was comfortable, although we'd prefer just a little more key travel. The board also flexes slightly, which didn't bother us but could prove annoying for particularly heavy-handed typists.
The laptop's touch pad features an innovation that Fujitsu calls "point and write," in which the touch pad becomes an input tablet when you use the (included) Palm-like stylus. Hover the stylus over the pad to move the cursor on screen, touch the stylus to the pad to left-click, or jot quick notes using Vista's built-in tablet input panel. While interesting in concept, we're not sure the feature is all that useful. The touch pad is such a small area that it's difficult to write naturally; you have to overlap letters. Also, the "point-and-write" interface requires you to embrace a new paradigm for navigation. The touch pad becomes essentially an analogue of the screen, so for example placing the stylus in the upper-right corner of the pad will place the cursor in the upper right corner the screen--no dragging required. It sounds simple enough, but attempting to override years of experience using a mouse or touch pad to navigate can be quite disorienting. With those two hurdles, we had a difficult time embracing this new input option when the keyboard was right there and could be so much faster.
Nevertheless, the touchpad functions very well as a traditional touch pad, so the point-and-write feature is just gravy. The laptop's mouse buttons are well-sized; we like that the tiny fingerprint reader is nestled between the mouse buttons and doubles as a scroll key (just drag your finger across it while on a Web page or lengthy document). The final feature of note on the keyboard deck is a row of seven buttons: two control volume, and the remaining five are quick-launch buttons that can easily be mapped to the application of your choice.
|Fujitsu LifeBook A6030||Average for midsize category|
|Video||VGA-out, S-Video||VGA-out, S-Video|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||5 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader||4 USB 2.0, mini-FireWire, multiformat memory card reader|
|Expansion||PC Card and ExpressCard||PC Card|
|Networking||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/g/n Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth||modem, Ethernet, 802.11 a/b/g Wi-Fi, optional Bluetooth|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
In keeping with Intel's Centrino Duo platform, the Fujitsu LifeBook A6030 incorporates an 802.11a/g/n radio, though of course to take advantage of the spec you'll need a Draft N router. As peripheral hounds, we love the extra USB port on the A6030 and appreciate that the five ports are distributed around the case to prevent cord crowding. We also appreciate the support for both PC Cards and ExpressCards, which means you won't have to sacrifice the PC Cards you already own in order to take advantage of the latest expansion card technology. And thank goodness for the headphone jack: the laptop's stereo speakers produce heavily treble sound, and the sound quality is disappointingly tinny even at moderate volumes.
On CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks, the $1,449 Fujitsu LifeBook A6030 performed in line with other 15-inch laptops based on the Centrino Duo platform. Its performance equaled or exceeded that of the $1,999 Sony VAIO FZ180E and only slightly trailed that of the $1,769 HP Pavilion dv6500t, which included a higher-end processor and discrete graphics. Even with heavy media multitasking, the distinctions would likely be imperceptible; performancewise, the LifeBook A6030 delivers good bang for your buck.
The Fujitsu LifeBook A6030 didn't wow us quite as much when it came to battery life, though its 2-hour, 2-minute life on our DVD drain test--exactly the same as the Sony VAIO FZ180--falls within the acceptable range. Laptops with previous-generation components, such as the Dell Inspiron E1505 and even the Fujitsu LifeBook A6025, lasted about 30 minutes longer, though of course you sacrifice some performance. Our DVD battery drain test is especially grueling, so you can expect longer life from casual Web surfing and office use.
Fujitsu covers the system with a one-year warranty. Support is available through a 24-7, toll-free phone line, and technicians can connect to your computer over the Internet to diagnose problems. Standard FAQs and driver downloads also are available. Adding an extra year of service costs $100, and upgrading to next-business-day on-site service is an additional $50 per year. Fujitsu is also unique among laptop vendors in offering a no-questions-asked Screen Damage Protection Plan that costs $150 for one year and $383 for three years.