Fujitsu LifeBook S6231 Review (pics, specs)

by Reads (66,214)

By Andrew Baxter, New York USA

The Fujitsu LifeBook S6231 is a 13.3-inch screen notebook that weighs just a shade over 4lbs.  Excellent mobility, good build and a gorgeously bright screen combine to make for a very enticing notebook option.  There’s no such thing as a perfect notebook of course, and one size doesn’t fit all in selecting a notebook computer, but those that are looking for a notebook with very good battery life, portability and performance that can easily handle every-day office and entertainment software applications should definitely give the Fujitsu S6231 a look.

Fujitsu LifeBook S6231 (view larger image)

Fujitsu S6231 Review Unit Specs

  • Intel Centrino 1.6ghz Mobile Processor (2MB L2 cache, 400MHZ FSB, Dothan core)
  • 13.3″ XGA TFT Crystal View Display capable of a max. 1024×768 resolution
  • Windows XP Professional Edition
  • 512 MB DDR333 so-DIMM, 200 pin SDRAM (512MB x 1)
  • Intel 855GME Integrated Graphics
  • 60GB hard drive (4200 rpm)
  • Modular Super-Multi DVD drive (4x DVD-R, 2x DVD-RW, 24x DVD+R, 2.4x
  • DVD+RW, 2x DVD-RAM, 8x DVD read, 16x CD-R, 4x CD-RW)
  • Integrated Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG (802.11b/g)
  • 11.5″(w) x 9.3″(d) x 1.28″(h) (max)
  • Weight: 4.07lbs with DVD/CD-RW drive, 3.63 lbs with weight saver

I reviewed the Fujitsu LifeBook S6120 back in January of 2004, it was actually my first review posted here on NotebookReview.com, but my everyday laptop is actually an IBM ThinkPad T40 (soon to be upgraded to a ThinkPad T43).  I have to admit a bias for both IBM and Fujitsu, I’m a big fan of these two manufacturers and have had generally good experiences with notebooks from each brand.  This S6231 was loaned to us by Fujitsu, the price based on the configuration of the notebook provided would be about $1500 though.  The tough thing when buying Fujitsu notebooks is that it’s hard to find them in any retail stores to get that touch and feel experience.  You’ll more than likely be doing price comparison on the web and relying on reviews such as this to determine whether a Fujitsu model will suit you or not.  I’d be remissed not to plug Portable One as a wonderful retailer for buying a Fujitsu notebooks (or anything else they sell) from, the staff and customer experience Portable One provides is absolutely second to none.

Design and Build

The Fujitsu S6231 is very stylish and professional looking.  Don’t misinterpret “professional” as meaning boring, which the IBM ThinkPad can certainly be accused of.  Rather, the Fujitsu S6231 magnesium alloy casing has a very pleasing silver metallic finish on the lid and dark grey and black sides.  The LifeBook logo on top is even suttle and stylish.  One thing all Fujitsu notebooks have on the bottom is a felt pad to prevent notebook sliding when on hard surfaces.  I like the felt pad approach because then using this notebook on your lap is more comfortable because there are no rubber feet sticking out (which other manufacturers often use to prevent notebook slide).

Fujitsu S6231 bottom, notice the felt pad for anti-slide (view larger image)

Fujitsu S6231 top view (view larger image)

The hinges on the S6231 are not metallic as some people crave, but the hinges for the screen are very sturdy.  There is absolutely zero wobble with the screen, the hinge design is very tight and secure feeling and absolutely no worries of cracked hinges occuring as some have seen with eMachines notebooks.  The latch for holding the notebook lid down requires a push of the button to unlock and then a subsequent lift to get the screen hoisted, it is also well designed.

The weight of the Fujitsu S6231 is only 4lbs, and if you crave a lighter weight than that then you can easily pop out the DVD/CD drive and place a weight saver in there.  A weight of 4lbs is fantastic in and of itself though, every time I pick this notebook up I smile because it’s just a breeze to carry around my home when I want to move from one location to another.  When I put it in a bag to take to another location I often wonder if the bag is empty or not — 4lbs is barely noticeable when the weight is carried on your back or over your shoulder.  First time buyers often assume weight won’t be much of an issue and that the difference between 4lbs and 6lbs is negligible.  It isn’t, second time notebook buyers almost always put weight on their list as a more important feature and you’d be amazed at the difference in portability between a 4lb and 6lb machine.

The thinness of this notebook is also desirable.  At it’s thickest point the S6231 is 1.28″, so it’s very easy to just grasp this notebook with a single hand and carry around (but be careful not to drop or bump it!).  Slipping the notebook into a small case, or even putting it in a slip cover and then inside a small briefcase, is totally doable.  The smallish form factor is also great for taking on planes, the notebook fits easily on an airplane tray and there’s room for the screen to be upright or even tilted back a little.

Ports and Buttons

On the front side of the notebook next to the latch is a SecureDigital / MemoryStick Pro flash card media slot.  This is very handy for those with digital cameras or MP3 players that want to quickly and easily drag files onto a memory card and then use it in their respective accessory.

Fujitsu S6231 left-side (view larger image)

On the left hand side of the notebook we have the PCMCIA card slot that has a swinging door to protect from dust, other notebooks sometimes use a plastic plug as a cheaper way of protecting dust from getting into an empty slot, so this is once again an example of extra quality built into the S6231.  Also on the left-side are the vents for exhausting heat and the headphone and microphone jacks.

Fujitsu S6231 back-side (view larger image)

At the back of the notebook we have two USB 2.0 ports located on the far right side and one towards the left, providing three in all.  I actually don’t like this USB port location very much, it’s convenient for say a printer, but it’s a pain to reach back there and plug in a USB memory stick or mouse.  It’s just easier having a USB port on the side, or at least one there and the rest on the back.  Maybe Fujitsu will consider this in any redesign.  Next to the USB ports on the right side is located located the Ethernet/LAN port and a FireWire port.  In the middle back is a jack for video out to TV, an included adapter cable can be used to mate with an S-Video cord to achieve S-Video out.  Further along is a Wi-Fi on/off switch, use this to turn off wireless and conserve power.  Next to the wireless button is the AC jack for provision of power to the notebook.  A VGA out port with a cover to keep a clean look to the back of the notebook is located next to the AC jack.  Finally, we have a modem port on the far left back.

Fujitsu S6231 right-side (view larger image)

On the right hand side is the DVD/CD optical drive slot.  This slot is a modular bay, meaning that you can easily slide in or out a optical drive.  Furthermore, the optical drive can be replaced with an extra backup battery for extra juice, or if you crave lighter weight and don’t need an optical drive you can place a plastic weight saver in here and cut the weight of the notebook down to 3.5lbs or so.

Performance

The Fujitsu S6231 is not designed to be a gaming machine, the smallish screen and integrated graphics card let you know that right from the start.  I don’t do much gaming, so this is not a problem for me.  Those looking to play games should certainly look elsewhere, you’re not the right audience for this notebook.

However, with a Pentium M 1.6GHz Dothan processor and when working with your run-of-the-mill applications such as MS Office, an Internet browser such as IE or FireFox, e-mail applications, photo editing or basic multimedia applications you’ll easily be able to switch between several applications being open and not have any lag.  The boot up is fast and shut down equally so.

Below are some numbers on how long it took the Fujitsu S6231 to calculate Pi to 2 Million digits of precision, in the NotebookReview.com forums we have a thread in which everyone is invited to download the program “Super Pi” that enables you to run this calculation and benchmark how well your processor performs relative to others.

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Fujitsu S6231 (1.6GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 6s
Dell Inspiron 700m (1.6GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 10s
IBM ThinkPad T41 (1.6GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 23s
Compaq R3000T (Celeron 2.8GHz) 3m 3s
Dell Inspiron 600m (1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M) 2m 10s
Dell Inspiron 8600 (1.7GHz Banias Pentium M) 2m 28s

Keyboard, Touchpad and Input

Fujitsu S6231 keyboard view (view larger image)

One complaint I had with the first Fujitsu S6000 series notebook I used, the S6120, was that the keyboard was somewhat flimsy and keys were not as responsive and firm as they needed to be.  Fujitsu addressed this issue with the introduction of the S6231.  I can say that the keyboard is certainly firmer and more pleasing to use now.  There is a slight amount of flex on the far sides of the keyboard (flex means you can push in on a key and see other keys around depress slightly, if there is too much flex the keyboard will feel mushy and its a sign of poor build).  However, overall the keyboard is very good.  My major complaint with the keyboard is inherent to the fact Fujitsu had to remove some keys due to the fact this notebook is smaller than average.  The “Home” and “End” actions have to performed via holding in the “Fn” key and pushing what is the “PgUp” or “PgDn” button respectively.  I actually use the Home and End functions a lot as a programmer, so this annoys me.  And I have to add, the keyboard doesn’t match the standard setting IBM ThinkPad keyboard, but IBM is simply at the top of the game and virtually untouchable when it comes to providing a great keyboard experience on a laptop.

The touchpad on the S6231 is okay.  I’d much rather have a pointing stick for on screen cursor navigation, touchpads are tough to use in general but it’s a cheaper input method for manufacturers to provide and so therefore much more common.  I found the cursor was rather jumpy when using the touchpad to navigate it and the touchpad is more sensitive than my likes.  But what can I say, I’ve never found a touchpad I even come close to saying I like, and always end up using a mouse…which is just fine in my book.  Get a mini wireless mouse to keep things light while on the road and to keep wires to a minimum and you’ll be set.

One nice touch regarding the touchpad navigation is that Fujitsu provides a small scroll bar/rocker button right below the touchpad, this is good for scrolling through web pages or long documents.

There’s a button at the top of the notebook keyboard that has “Player” underneath and “Application” above it.  Push this button to toggle the light between the Player/Application functionality.  When in Player mode the hardware buttons to the left give easy multimedia controls for stopping, ejecting, playing and skipping forward or back through CD tracks or DVD scenes.  When you toggle to Application mode, these hardware buttons to the left can be used to launch an internet browser, e-mail application, and then user configurable programs are launched by the “A” and “B” buttons.  Hardware shortcut buttons are a blessing, they can save so much time and are definitely appreciated on the S6231 as often times it’s only larger style desktop replacement notebooks that get this treatement.

Keyboard hardware buttons and LED display (view larger image)

Notice that there’s an LED display for notebook status feedback next to the hardware buttons.  This is nice to have but without a backlight it’s so hard to read as to be somewhat useless.  Oh well.

Screen

Fujitsu S6231 Crystal View Screen — vivid and bright (view larger image)

The S6231 comes with a 13.3″ XGA screen that has what Fujitsu calls CrystalView technology.  In English this Crystal View means the screen is extremely bright and clear, colors are vivid and contrast is excellent.  I love the screen, it’s gorgeous, my digital camera shots took on new life when viewing them on this screen as compared to the ThinkPad T40 screen that I’m used to.  The viewing angle is large, you can tilt the screen up, down and rotate the notebook to the left and right a good distance and still see the screen very clearly.  Reading text is easy and a joy, viewing a DVD movie equally so.  The one drawback of the screen is that it does have a glossy finish and therefore tends to reflect bright light sources.  The reflectivity doesn’t both me personally, but it might drive some people buggy to see lights reflecting off of your screen.  The best experience with the screen is actually in a dark room with no light so reflection just isn’t an issue and the screen brightness appears even more brilliant.

The one thing I do wish was offered with the S6231 is a higher SXGA resolution screen.  You can only see so much on a screen that is 13.3″ diagonally and has a max resolution of 1024×768 (XGA).  When reading long documents, viewing long web pages or doing programming and multimedia work the more you can see on a screen the more productive you can be.  Some do prefer the fact XGA resolution provides easy to read text, so rather than complain any more about the lack of an SXGA option I’ll say you should just keep in mind your choice of configuring screen resolution is non-existent with this laptop.

Sound and Speakers

Two speakers are located at the back of the keyboard on this notebook.  With a portable notebook I never expect good speakers and sound, and generally those expectations are fulfilled.  The S6231 speakers are not good, they are very tinny sounding and just not pleasing to the ear.  I always use headphones for listening to music while working, so just invest in a pair of headphones and you’ll get much better sound.

Wireless

As part of the Centrino package, Fujitsu has incorporated an Integrated Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG (802.11b/g) card into the notebook. As soon as I booted up the first time, it immediately recognized my wireless network and logged me on. The range for this notebook is excellent, it actually appears to match that of my IBM ThinkPad that has an antenna embedded in the screen for extra range — I don’t believe Fujitsu runs an antenna wire into the screen but it’s still good nonetheless.  There’s no infrared or Bluetooth provided, this is sort of a shame.

Battery

One of the most important things about a thin and light portable notebook is of course the battery life.  The Fujitsu S6231 is amazing for this feature.  I consistenly get 3.5 to 4 hours of battery with wireless on and constant use of the notebook.  That’s just really good, compare it to the Dell Inspiron 700m that calls itself a portable notebook but that only has 2 hours of battery per charge (if you’re lucky) and you can see a distinct advantage of the S6231 over the 700m.

If 4 hours still isn’t enough for your needs you could get an optional “Bay” battery in which you would swap out the optical drive for an extra battery and when the main battery gets low the notebook would just intelligently switch to the secondary battery to provide 8 hours of life.

Heat and Noise

The S6231 is whisper quiet, it makes noise on boot up when the fans are run for a few seconds and the hard drive and optical drive kick-in, but then after that it’s whisper quiet.  The fan rarely ever comes on during use.

Even though the fan rarely comes on, the heat build up is minimal and it is comfortable to use this notebook in your lap.  The number of vents probably goes a long way in helping to keep things cool, and the Pentium M processor is designed to run cool.

Conclusion

Using the Fujitsu S6231 has been a joy.  I really appreciate the light-weight, long battery life, good looks and overall excellent build.  Fujitsu consistently makes quality products and continually improve their line of notebooks based on customer feedback.  I don’t have any problem recommending this notebook to anyone that tells me they want something that’s easy to carry around, good on battery life and provides a good screen.  This notebook is not for gamers and since it’s closer to $2,000 than $1,000 when configured with good specs, it’s not right for those on a budget either.  But if you feel this notebook fits your needs and you can find a price that’s right, then absolutely make this a top consideration as a purchase.

Pros

  • Excellent build and nice looking design
  • Light weight at 4lbs, very easy to carry
  • 4 hour battery life is excellent
  • Beautifully bright 13.3″ CrystalView screen with great color and contrast
  • Nice array of hardware buttons for multimedia control, plus built-in memory card reader are nice extra features

Cons

  • Only option is for XGA screen, might not be high-enough resolution for some
  • No backlight for provided LED display at the top of the keyboard
  • Touchpad is hard to use
  • No USB port located on the side, all are at the back

Pricing and Availability


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