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The Story So Far

I'm once again on a quest for a light travel notebook. I've read the reviews over at Laptop Mag and Notebook Review or wherever else Google takes me when reading up on what the "pros" think of my purchase candidates. But they have their criteria and opinions and I have mine.

So I thought that I'd write up my impressions of the various notebooks that I am trying out. These are by no means meant to be exhaustive reviews. Just one picky person's impressions of products that, at least so far, don't seem to live up to expectations.

I don't travel that much, but when I go to the occasional trade show, I need to keep my notebook with me. This means that small and light are very important, with "light" being in the 2 - 3 pound range. In the past, this weight category has meant big $. It seems that only jet-setters and C-level execs bought this notebook class, or at least that's the way they are priced.

The last time, I ended up with a Fujitsu P7120 Lifebook (NotebookReview review) that has been my travel companion for the past two years. I ordered it direct from Fujitsu and so paid top price ($1600). That was the most that I have spent on a computer in a long time (I normally buy refurb systems). But I didn't want to wait for it to hit the refurb shop, so paid what I had to pay.

The P7120 has been a good notebook, but it's fortunate that I don't spend that much time out of the office. My initial reaction was that the 10.6" wide XGA display (1280x768) was too high a resolution for that size of screen and made default text size just a tad too small for comfortable reading.

I have never tweaked Windows' default font sizes and didn't want to go down that path. And changing the display mode away from the LCD panel's true resolution didn't produce any screen that I was happier looking at.

My other first impression was that the keyboard was also borderline, even though it had good-sized shift keys on both sides and period, comma and slash keys the same size as the bottom-row alpha keys. Although I could accurately touch-type after a short acclimation period, the closer spacing made for more errors than I usually make.

Fujitsu P7120 keyboard
Click to enlarge image

Figure 1: Fujitsu P7120 keyboard

A lesson learned from using the Fujitsu over the past two years is that these initial impressions were correct. I have really never gotten used to the uncomfortable screen and keyboard sizes, although I have appreciated the lighter load in my travel bag.

Last year, I thought I had found the Fujitsu's successor when I spied a deal on a refurb Sony VAIO VGN-TX850. But within seconds of opening the box, I realized it was essentially the same machine as the P7120, so back it went, along with a 15% restock fee.

I even participated in the first OLPC Give-One-Get-One promotion, to see if that little machine (which started the whole netbook ball rolling) offered any promise. But while it certain is an interesting machine, with many unique qualities, it is totally unsuitable as a work computer.

When ASUS debuted its Eee PC last year, I thought that some serious attention was finally being paid to producing affordable, lightweight notebooks. But one quick glance at the original Eee at CES in January put those thoughts on hold.

The 7 inch screen and tiny, cramped keyboard were only suitable for light web surfing and email, or someone really determined to make such a small notebook work for them (and who had good eyesight and small hands).

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