Friday, October 12, 2012

Review:  Fujitsu's LifeBook
by Diane Young

April 13, 1999
Review: Fujitsu's LifeBook -- Welcome in This Bag of Law Books
The B112 mini-notebook is smart-looking, performs well, and weighs a lot less than this student's legal texts.

There was muttering in the office cube across from mine a few days ago -- muttering so persistent that it was distracting. Curious, I went to look. Huddled over a midget gadget were three reporters. The object of attention was so small that I assumed it was some sort of electronic planner or palm-size electronic calendar. But no, this was better.

My colleagues had been mesmerized by a small, silver, mini-notebook from Fujitsu, the B112 LifeBook. I have to admit I've never cared about laptops, notebooks, or any other electronic gear that has to be hauled around. I really, really like my desktop computers at home and at work, and so far my paper calendar is doing just fine as my personal, portable organizer.

I was immediately taken with this compact-size notebook, however. It just looked so cool. If I had to compare the LifeBook to anything else, it would be to a puppy or a Tamagochi: Once I had it at my desk, visitors came by to look, touch it, play with it, and take it home (no house training necessary). But how did it perform?
Initially, I planned to take the LifeBook with me to a Saturday class, but the class was seven hours long and the lithium battery on the LifeBook lasts four hours. Additional, $199 lithium-ion batteries are offered as optional accessories, and at 0.70 pounds aren't a huge burden to tote. (The catch is that you also have to buy the external battery charger, which runs $249.) I'm used to carrying around a satchel of law books, so it was a pleasure to throw something so small and light into my bag. The LifeBook measures 9 inches by 6.7 inches, is only 1.2-in. thick, and weighs in at a mere 2.65 lbs. Most of my books weigh closer to 10 lbs., so if I wanted a laptop for school this one would be a contender. It also comes with the usual external floppy drive, port replicator, 32 megabytes of RAM (expandable to 96 MB), Windows 98, and a built-in 56-kilobit-per-second modem. The Intel 233-MHz Pentium with MMX was just as zippy as my computer at work. The extra memory ($299 for 64 MB) and $269 external CD-ROM drive are optional.

Fujitsu lists what seems to be a reasonable price for the LifeBook: $1,599. But that's before you add the CD-ROM drive and maybe an extra battery or two. Do that, and the B112 enters the $2,100 territory for the average laptop fairly quickly. And while most $2,100 laptops come with a speedier processor -- typically, a 266-MHz Pentium II or equivalent -- not many can match the B112's bantam weight and other extras.

My favorite thing about the LifeBook is its touch screen and stylus. I loved pointing and clicking directly on the 8.4-in. screen, in addition to using the B112's mouse nub located just below its keyboard. I even got lazy and just used my finger on the screen to move the mouse and close programs, which worked equally well -- though I'm not sure it would if you had big fingers. Another place where thick fingers might encounter problems is the keyboard. The keys are about the size of Chicklets, and close together -- though I soon got used to that.

Another problem -- for anyone planning to use the LifeBook on the road -- is that its standard modem may not work with phone lines outside the U.S. and Canada. There goes my friend's plans to use the LifeBook to keep in touch while on sabbatical in Africa. Fujitsu does offer a Xircom Global Modem as an accessory, for $259. Marie Labrie of Fujitsu also says that the company is considering a built-in global modem option in its next generation of notebooks. 

Overall, the LifeBook performed well for me. I had no problems using AOL or various word processing programs (or Solitaire). So, if you've been looking for a way to avoid bulky laptops during your commute -- or just need a fashion accessory to pop in and out of your bag in crowded rooms -- the B112 LifeBook fits the bill.

By Diane Young, Associate Webmaster, Business Week Online

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