Two displays. That's right. The Fujitsu LifeBook N7010 has not one, but two displays. If you've heard anything about this model, it's probably just that - that Fujitsu has incorporated a second small touch screen into the N7010. If you're like me, this news got the wheels of workflow customization turning.
Of course, there's more to the N7010 than its dual-screen nature, and on the surface at least, most of it is impressive. Basic specs for this desktop replacement model include a quick Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of RAM, an optical drive that's Blu-ray compatible, and ports aplenty. Almost sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?
Unfortunately, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is ...
Fujitsu LifeBook N7010 Specifications:
Build and Design
On the surface, the Fujitsu LifeBook N7010 looks like a lot of other desktop replacement notebooks: it's a big, fairly thick black box, with a high-gloss finish but few other styling details. Sharp-eyed observers and specs-sheet readers may have already noticed that, unlike many computers in this class, this one uses a 16-inch display. Otherwise, though, the size and basic shape are what you'd expect from any 17-inch multimedia machine.
Opening up the nondescript LifeBook, the biggest surprise may be the additional display. There's a small, secondary touch screen built right into the deck of the notebook. This one surprising addition - which we'll deal with at length momentarily - aside, there's not much out of the ordinary, in terms of fundamental design at least, going on with the N7010.
Though others will undoubtedly disagree, the N7010's overall styling is a bit of a mish mash to my eye. Fujitsu has tastefully incorporated some lightly textured, gloss finished plastics into this machine's keyboard and deck area, and the Fujitsu logo that illuminates when the computer is powered on works well with these high-end styling cues. But in the same device you'll find overly flexible, cheap feeling matte plastic on all four sides of the notebook, and, the coup de grace, chromed plastic beveling around the keyboard. In short, it has all the visual charm and cohesiveness of a VCR from 1987.
Whether the N7010's styling is retro-chic or retro-clunk is debatable. Sadly, this computer's panel flex concerns are more clear cut: the N7010's large, thin, and very plastic lid writes a new definition for "panel flex," with screen distending disconcertingly during routine use. Like opening it. Or closing it. Or moving it. At all.
Even when we weren't touching the screen, our N7010 test unit's plastic top hinges were prone to some ominous creaking noises. Shift the computer ever so slightly while working with it on your lap and it squeaks and groans like a worn bed spring at the meeting point between lid and hinge. Clearly, some plastic isn't fitting up correctly somewhere - at least in our particular test model. These sorts of general build and fit/finish issues would disappoint us from any manufacturer, but given Fujitsu's reputation for building solid business notebooks, it's especially unexpected here.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The N7010's keyboard is a mixed bag. On the one hand, flex is nearly absent - which is remarkable insofar as that can't really be said for any other surface on this device. On the other hand, though, the keys feel cheap and cheaply anchored, and heavy handed typists found the short key throw and abrupt "bottoming out" sensation a bit less inviting than the best notebook keyboards. Plus, we had a couple of keys on our review unit - a new-in-box sample - that hung up intermittently from day one, as if something was jammed beneath the key.
Quirks aside, though, the N7010's keyboard is very livable for routine computing tasks: email, web browsing, and even light gaming or word processing. If you don't routine use an external keyboard with your desktop replacement or you're looking for a machine on which to write a novel, however, the N7010 probably isn't the best choice.
The N7010 also provides a moderately sized, lightly textured touchpad, located in the conventional space just south of the space bar. The Synaptics pad is responsive and easy on the fingers, and a logical three-button arrangement (with a rocker switch for scrolling in the middle position) proves to be solid hardware in use. While they're a little clicky for my taste, the touchpad buttons feel solid and aren't as tiring during all-day use as many buttons that throw up a lot of click resistance.
The N7010's primary display is a - pun acknowledged - bright spot in the N7010's sea of dark plastic mediocrity. Like other larger Fujitsu LifeBooks that have come our way in the past, the N7010 packs a pretty decent panel - a slightly oddball (for a laptop, anyway...) 1366x768 WXGA format display that works well for multimedia playback. This strange resolution gives the screen a 16-inch nominal diagonal measurement, making the N7010's footprint ever so slightly smaller than most more familiar 17-inch desktop replacement machines.
As suggested above, screen performance is punchy and vibrant - once you do a bit of tweaking, anyway. Colors are a bit washed by default, but calibration/profiling (or even just eyeballing the settings) quickly brings the display back to life. Once it's dialed in appropriately, blacks are deep and shadow areas show subtle transitions well.
Even here, though, there's certainly room for improvement. The display's glossy top layer nearly crosses the line into too glossy if you work in an office with strong overhead lighting, though in fairness, I had no such problems at home where ambient light was more subdued. The display also shows a little bit of backlight bleed on the left-hand side, and some occasionally distracting brightness fall-off at the opposite edge. Finally, weak lid reinforcement means the screen's top edge actually bounces around noticeably from the vibrations of normal-strength typing - not a productivity-ruining flaw for sure, but not pleasant either.
The N7010 is unique in that it comes with not one, but two full-function displays built in. The second, touch-responsive display sits on the machine's top deck above the keyboard, in the spot where you'd normally find system multimedia controls or other custom buttons. A true second display, the tiny screen can be used as nothing more than an extension of your display area. But given its small size and touch capabilities, the second display proves to have more practical value as Fujitsu intended it: as a place to hold quick-access icons for programs and system functions, served up by the supplied Launcher application. But more on that momentarily.
Though you wouldn't necessarily suspect it at first glance, the N7010's tiny touch display (it measures about 4 inches diagonally, or roughly the size of a playing card) is rendering graphics at 960x544. The small screen's high resolution makes for crisp icons in the launcher application, and color handling on the tiny screen isn't bad either. But this seemingly excessive resolution can actually be a mixed blessing for some other uses.
For instance, I was immediately attracted to the second display's potential as a place to dock commonly used tools when working in Photoshop or Illustrator. But while the theory is sound, the screen's high resolution makes Adobe's tiny tool icons - already too small for my questionable eyesight on more densely pixel-populated standard size monitors - basically unusable on the second display. You certainly wouldn't, as I had hoped, be able to touch-select different tools using the second display without using a stylus, pen, or carefully sharpened fingernail, further negating some of the potential usability benefits.
The second screen manager application does have some slightly more useful functions. Call up the window manager on the primary display, for example, and you can send program windows back and forth between the main and secondary screens with a single click.
Obviously, you're not going to be able to read the microscopic text on those web pages you drop onto the secondary display, but it does make a great, easily accessed place for stowing program windows and minimizing clutter when you're working across several files or applications.
By default, the N7010 loads Fujitsu's Launcher application onto the second display on start-up. While it isn't the cleanest little application I've used, the Launcher works just fine for providing quick access to commonly used programs: simply reach up from the keyboard and touch the appropriate icon to launch any program in the list (you can also mouse over to the second display and click on icons in the Launcher directly, but for that outlay of effort, why not just use the start menu?). Of course, you can customize which shortcuts appear in the list of 15 to suit your needs, and the "location" of the second display in relation to the first can also be set as desired.
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