Fujitsu LifeBook N7010 Review

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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:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 (2.26 GHz, 3MB L2 cache, 1066 MHz FSB)
  • Memory: 4GB DDR3 SDRAM (1066 MHz, 2GB + 2GB)
  • Primary Display: 16” Crystal View WXGA (1366×768)
  • Secondary Display: 4” touch screen LCD (960×544)
  • Storage:  320GB HDD (5400 RPM)
  • Optical Drive: Blu-ray/DVD/CD-R
  • Wireless: Intel Wi-Fi Link T5100 (802.11a/b/g/draft-n)
  • Graphics: ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3470
  • Battery: 8-cell lithium-ion (14.4V, 5200 mAh)
  • Dimensions: 15.2” x 10.9” x 1.9”
  • Weight:  7 pounds, 10 ounces
  • Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium
  • Price As Tested: $1,499.00

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.

Primary Display

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…) 1366×768 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.

Secondary Display

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 960×544. 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.

WINDOW MANAGER

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.

LAUNCHER

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.

Performance and Benchmarks

Like so much else about the N7010, performance is hard to nail down. In some ways, the benchmarks tell one story, while the actual use experience suggests another.

WPrime 32M comparison results

WPrime is a benchmark similar to Super Pi in that it forces the processor to do intense mathematical calculations, but the difference is this application is multi-threaded and represents dual core processors better. Lower numbers indicate better performance.

Notebook Time
Fujitsu LifeBook N7010 (Core 2 Duo P8400 @ 2.26 GHz) 34.228s
Dell Studio XPS 16 (Core 2 Duo P8600 @ 2.4GHz) 31.827s
HP HDX 18t (Core 2 Duo T9600 @ 2.8GHz) 27.416s
Sony VAIO FW (Core 2 Duo T9400 @ 2.53GHz) 30.373s
Dell Studio 17 (2.5GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, Windows Vista SP1) 31.574s
Asus M70S (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, Windows Vista) 31.132s
Toshiba Satellite L355D (2.0GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60, Windows Vista) 39.732s
Gateway P-171XL FX (2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo X7900, Windows Vista) 30.359s
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, Windows Vista) 31.108s
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, Windows Vista) 42.085s
Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (Intel Core 2 Duo CPU T7400@ 2.16GHz, Windows XP) 41.40s
HP dv6000z (AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60 @ 2.00GHz, Windows Vista) 38.913s

PCMark05 comparison results:

PCMark05 represents the overall system performance of a notebook. Higher numbers indicate better performance.

Notebook PCMark05 Score
Fujitsu LifeBook N7010 (2.26GHz Intel P8400, ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3470) 5,121 PCMarks
Dell Studio XPS 16 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3670 512MB) 6,303 PCMarks
HP HDX 18t (2.8GHz Intel T9600, Nvidia 9600M GT 512MB) 6,587 PCMarks
Sony VAIO FW (2.53GHz Intel T9400, ATI Radeon HD 3470)  6,002 PCMarks
Dell Studio 17 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650) 5,982 PCMarks
Asus M70S (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650) 6,135 PCMarks
Toshiba Satellite L355D (2.0GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60, ATI Radeon X1250) 3,305 PCMarks
Gateway P-171XL FX (2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo X7900, NVIDIA Go 8800M GTS) 7,749 PCMarks
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT) 5,865 PCMarks
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT) 5,261 PCMarks
Dell Inspiron 1720 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8600M GT) 5,377 PCMarks

3DMark06 comparison results:

3DMark06 represents the overall graphics performance of a notebook. Higher numbers indicate better performance.

Notebook 3DMark06 Score
Fujitsu LifeBook N7010 (2.26GHz Intel P8400, ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3470) 2,519 3DMarks
Dell Studio XPS 16 (2.4GHz Intel P8600, ATI Mobility RADEON HD 3670 512MB) 4,855 3DMarks
HP HDX 18t (2.8GHz Intel T9600, Nvidia 9600M GT 512MB) 4,127 3DMarks
Sony VAIO FW (2.53GHz Intel T9400, ATI Radeon HD 3470) 
2,598 3DMarks
Dell Studio 17 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650) 2,974 3DMarks
Asus M70S (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3650) 3,799 3DMarks
Toshiba Satellite L355D (2.0GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-60, ATI Radeon X1250) 301 3DMarks
Gateway P-171XL FX (2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo X7900, NVIDIA Go 8800M GTS) 8,801 3DMarks
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.50GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T9300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT) 3,775 3DMarks
Toshiba Qosmio G45 (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7300, NVIDIA Go 8600M GT) 2,934 3DMarks
Dell Inspiron 1720 (2.2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7500, NVIDIA GeForce Go 8600M GT) 2,930 3DMarks


HDTune results:

In terms of physical specs, the N7010 comes appropriately stocked for its price, with a 2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8400 “Penryn” processor and a stout 4GB of memory. Our test system’s ATI Mobility Radeon HD3470 dedicated graphics helped to serve up visual performance to make the N7010 a competent gaming machine as well. Performance from the system’s 320GB, 5400 RPM hard drive could stand some improvement, but this is comparatively cheap and easy to rectify if you’re concerned. So with all of that in the N7010’s corner, what gives?

In spite of solid hardware and good numbers, there’s an obvious disconnect between the N7010 in theory and the N7010 in use. Whatever its competencies for gaming or advanced graphics work, the N7010 often lagged terribly in routine tasks: word processing, web page loads, and light Photoshop use. Part of the perceived performance problem, of course, may derive from the fact that there’s so much bloatware bundled with Fujitsu’s default disk image. On first boot-up, we saw nearly 100 processes running, so who knows exactly what all may be going behind the scenes to bog things down. Certainly, the second display’s launcher app seems to use up its share of system resources as well: killing that process alone seemed to smooth out some basic functionality with the N7010.

Overall, synthetic benchmarks and the N7010’s specs sheet tell us that the raw performance is there, but a little bit of work may be required to get things cleaned up and running up to their potential. Dump most of the N7010’s background nonsense, maybe throw in a faster hard drive, and you’d certainly be getting your money’s worth from a performance perspective out of this Lifebook.

Speakers and Audio

The N7010 features a thoughtfully positioned speaker array, located just beneath the display panel in the computer’s lid. This design pushes sound from the small but acceptably distortion-free speakers back toward the listener/viewer. Overall, there’s (predictably) not much bass response in the N7010’s sound, but the speakers put out dynamic, wide-range audio that makes listening to music or, even more so, watching DVDs on the N7010 a pleasurable experience. And given that the importance of these kinds of multimedia tasks in a desktop replacement device, I’d say Fujitsu has done reasonably well here.

Ports and Features

A wide range of ports in base dress make the N7010 well prepared from a connectivity standpoint for whatever kind of tasks you might throw at it. Both Firewire and eSATA options make quick work of external storage connections, there’s an HDMI out for feeding other displays, and four USB connections should be enough for most users as well – though you may yet need a hub if you run lots of peripherals. The N7010’s connections and controls were arrayed as follows:


Front: Multi-card reader, Wi-Fi switch


Rear: LAN, VGA, HDMI


Right: AC power, USB x 2, eSATA, IEEE 1394, USB x 2, audio jacks, ExpressCard


Left: Blu-ray/DVD/CD-R combo drive

Heat and Noise

Heat is well controlled, with the N7010 running nice and cool in most spots. The majority of the machine’s heat is effectively ducted out the back right-hand side where the fan exhaust sits, and while that spot runs hot to the touch, Fujitsu has provided one of its signature felt pads in that area for keeping the heat off your lap (if you happen to ever use a machine this size as an actual laptop). The temperatures listed below are shown in degrees Fahrenheit.

Noise is a little more troublesome: the N7010’s fan turns constantly, and while it’s not terribly obtrusive at slow speed, it definitely cuts through your typical office white noise even at this lowest setting. Load down the system and the N7010’s cooling system steps it up, with appreciably more noise at middle fan speeds. Under serious load, fan speed (and thus, volume) increases yet again, making the N7010 sound like a Dust Buster that’s gone on a rampage on your desk. Not pleasant.

Battery Life

We’re not sure why you would, but if you should decide to take the N7010 on the road, it actually holds up fairly well off the plug given its size. With the screen at half brightness and Wi-Fi enabled, I was able to pull just under 2 hours, 40 minutes out of the N7010 with web browsing, word processing, and even a little photo editing/cropping thrown in. You might not be able to watch a long movie using the N7010’s Blu-ray player, but your standard two-hour feature film should be easily do-able on a full charge. Kill the wireless connection, dim the screen, and nurse the battery, and you’re looking at more than three hours away from AC. All in all, mobile professionals may scoff at those numbers, but compared to some other truly abysmal performances we’ve seen in this class, the N7010 looks pretty alright.

Conclusion

Looking back over my test notes for the N7010 and comparing them to the final write-up, I realize that dissecting the N7010 system by system makes it seem worse than it feels when you consider it as the sum of its parts. Put differently, for general use, things maybe aren’t quite as bad as they seem for the N7010. I’ve managed to use the computer successfully for weeks in everything from writing and editing to graphics production, and while I’m not sure that I’d put down the kind of money Fujitsu is asking for one of these things considering what else is out there, it may not be an “avoid at all costs” option either. Certainly the level of specification is relatively high considering its price, but I just keep coming back to the build quality as the primary stumbling block.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the LifeBook line generally, in fact, may be their lack of clear focus. Is it a multimedia center? A moderately priced mobile gaming setup? An alternative for graphics pros? Per Fujitsu’s own marketing copy, it tries to be all of these things, and with a few tweaks, the N7010 could probably hold its own in any of these arenas. As it stands, though, the machine is too anonymous – in spite of a buzz-worthy second display – to recommend itself strongly to any of them. And – I can’t say this enough, given the N7010’s cheap plastic and frightening panel flex – even though it packs in a decent amount of hardware, at this price, weak build quality may prove intolerable for many potential buyers.

In truth, the N7010 has a lot going for it: a decently strong battery, a fine keyboard, a good screen and cool if questionably useful second display, and a solid processor/graphics combo. What it lacks, though, is the polish – the carefully considered fit and finish details – that define our favorite notebooks in this class of often large and unwieldy desktop replacement machines. And with a few unsorted bits and “rough edges” showing up in nearly every category, it’s hard to give the N7010 a resounding recommendation.

Pros:

  • Generally excellent performance
  • Second screen can be nifty for launching apps
  • Audio/multimedia performance is solid
  • Bright, sharp looking display

Cons:

  • Flimsy build quality all around
  • Noisy, intrusive fan
  • Keyboard feels odd
  • Second screen not great without Launcher application


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