The UMPC has had 18 months to stake its claim in the world of miniaturised computing, and has it done that? Not really. Beginning life as Microsoft's Origami project the UMPC was supposed to bridge the gap between a PDA and a notebook. One of the problems the product has experienced is that battery life has continued to hover at a disappointing two or three hours. Meanwhile, "multimedia computers" like the Nokia N95 and the Apple iPhone more than double that.
Will the Fujitsu U1010 be the device to push UMPC into the mainstream?
If Darth Vader and a -- presumably lady -- Stormtrooper ever had a lovechild, it would look a little like the U1010. But apart from its white and black colour scheme, the most notable thing about the Fujitsu is its convertible nature. We've seen tablets and slider-phone-like models but not convertible tablets.
The Fujitsu weighs 600 grams, and at the size of a paperback book it fits easily into your bag. It's also quite comfortable to hold in your hands for long periods.
Like most tablets it only swings one way, but the hinge seems fairly solid and should hold up for the usable life of the device. The 5.6-inch swivelling screen itself is bright and text is perfectly legible.
As with most Fujitsus we've seen there is an attention to detail which includes the suede covers on the bottom of the device, though the U1010 doesn't have the heat output of its brethren.
When the U1010 is sitting on the desk you can control it with your fingertips, and while holding it you can use it like a portable games console and use your thumbs. The only problem with this is that you block one of the only air vents with your fingers -- which can't be good for long term use
Let's get the specs part out of the way first: it's got a 40GB HDD, which should be sufficient to house most MP3 collections; 1GB RAM, which is a little small considering the unit ships with the resource-hungry Windows Vista Premium; and to power it all an 800MHz Intel processor.
On the left hand side of the U1010 you'll find a wireless radio switch, an SD card reader, and for the device's small concession to multimedia there is a volume dial alongside a microphone and headphone port.
On the right hand side is a CompactFlash reader (which could be mistaken for an ExpressCard slot), a single USB slot and the on/off switch.
Apart from the practically compulsory fingerprint sensor, Webcam
and Bluetooth 2.0 support, one feature that surprised us was the keyboard light -- lit from above like an Itty Bitty Booklight. Can't see the button in the dark though.
There are a lot of buttons on this device, including up/down keys and a dedicated button to change the screen orientation -- though the unit automatically senses when you swivel it from laptop to tablet mode.
All of the buttons are useful in some way, but one thing it lacks is a set of playback buttons. This is especially mystifying as the unit ships with Windows Media Center (by way of Vista Premium).
One of the buttons did perplex us a little, though -- the U1010 comes with a dedicated Ctrl-Alt-Del button. This seems a strange choice. Are Fujitsu anticipating the device will hang a lot?
In use, the U1010 emerges as quite a "fun" device and probably closer to the original Origami blueprint of a leisure device. As a multimedia device it's fine -- the speakers sound good for a device of this size and the screen can replay movies on the go with some finesse. Of course, the necessary lack of an optical drive limits its usefulness, here.
UMPCs have until now found little call in consumer environments and are mainly used by couriers and travellers due to their high portability. But it's here that the U1010 disappoints for while it's fun to use, it's not very conducive to productivity -- especially when used in "laptop" mode. This is partly because the keyboard is so hard to use. It's not that it's uncomfortable to type on -- there's plenty of tactile feedback -- but the buttons are irregular, and in some cases WAY too small. Even hunt-and-peckers like us find it difficult to type without accidentally hitting the number keys as well.
This situation is exacerbated by some unusual design decisions -- the space key is tiny, for example, and it's easy to accidentally hit the dedicated tilda key -- and who uses a tilda ever? And while we're on the topic there isn't a dedicated tab key -- you need to press Fn space -- this is quite inconvenient as we use alt-tab more than we do tilda, for example.
Apart from the keyboard, the pointer can also be a little tough to use. It's a thumbpad type and it's similarly "free-minded" to the one used in the Microsoft Remote Keyboard for Media Center. A little pressure can be too much and the cursor shoots across the screen -- but thankfully the unit has another input method which is much preferred ...
Using the stylus while the UMPC is in tablet mode is easy and intuitive. As an added bonus, you don't even need to learn any complicated "gestures" to activate the right-mouse button -- a faint mouse icon appears every time you touch the screen. It does get in the way sometimes if you're wanting to do several touches in a small space but mostly it keeps out of your hair. And of course, the left and right mouse buttons and the thumbpad are still usable while the unit is in tablet mode -- which adds to its flexibility.
While this mode will be most attractive to business users, one thing that could limit the U1010's attractiveness is its low battery life. Fujitsu claims the onboard battery will last up to four hours, but our results with the relatively untaxing BatteryEater Pro reader test show the unit can only pull out two hours and 20 minutes. There is a second battery available for an extra AU$299 which should push a single charge up to five hours (eight is claimed).
We were unable to run other benchmarks due to the screen's low maximum resolution of 1,024x600 (PCMark requires at least a 768 vertical resolution) and the inability to increase this with even the trusty PowerStrip. But in general use we didn't notice too many slowdowns -- even with the meagre 1GB of memory installed.
Are the days of "one-device-to-rule-them-all" over? Microsoft may have thought they were onto a winner when they developed the Origami concept, but the market is even more fragmented now than it was then. Even the Apple iPhone isn't attracting as many suitors as was expected.
The Fujitsu U1010 is a fun gadget to play with, but like holding a newborn baby it's great to be able to give it back to the parents when it's not fun anymore. The Fujitsu will doubtless find itself some fans but as it's most useful in tablet mode the keyboard functionality is mostly superfluous for serious business tasks.