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Fujitsu LifeBook MH380 Review

by The Review CrewMay 30, 2010

The last time we reviewed a Fujitsu Lifebook Netbook–the M2010–we didn’t completely buy the company’s educational market pitch, as it seemed to merely offer a package that didn’t add up to more than any other Netbook at a price that was significantly higher.

Time has passed, and we were curious as to whether the Lifebook MH380 was a new direction for Fujitsu. To some extent, it is. Fujitsu’s smartest move with its next-generation Atom Netbook is admitting that its design has always been more about professional and not about education. With its interesting curves and a funky touch pad, the Lifebook MH380 is a racier-looking Netbook, but its bulky battery and tendency overdesign may be a turnoff for those looking for a slimmer, discrete minilaptop.

At $449, the MH380 costs the same as its predecessor did when we reviewed it. While $449 now buys a larger hard drive, a higher-resolution screen and an Atom N450 processor, you can get better deals for less in the Netbook universe. In the end, Fujitsu’s Lifebook MH380 doesn’t stand out in a sea of me-too Netbook competitors.
Price as reviewed/starting price $449
Processor 1.6 GHz Intel Atom N450
Memory 1GB, 800 MHz DDR2
Hard drive 250GB 5,400rpm
Chipset NM10
Graphics Intel GMA 3150
Operating System Windows 7 Starter (32-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 11.1 inches x 8.2 inches
Height 1.2 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 11.6 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.3 / 4.0 pounds
Category Netbook

Somehow, the more time we spend with this Lifebook, the less we like its design. What starts out as an eye-catching, slick, and a bit futuristic look devolves as you use the MH380 into a clunky, cramped, and bulky experience. The Netbook’s outer glossy red finish and metallic racecar-like sheen is complemented with curved chrome edges and quirky figure-eight logo on the outer lid’s corner give the Lifebook MH380 a slightly retro-futuristic look. Underneath, Fujitsu gave this Netbook a standard matte black plastic base. However, inside the company continues the glossy, gleaming red color around the keyboard and touch pad, but leaves the upper lid surrounded in black.

The Netbook’s upper lid opens up farther than normal, which is useful when typing on small machines such as this one. Oddly, Fujitsu centered the Lifebook’s round screen hinge far back from the keyboard, in line with the bulky battery that juts from its bottom like a long kickstand. It gives the Lifebook a unique appearance, but offers no real value. Fujitsu includes an array of four LED indicators at the top and bottom of the keyboard; however, they mostly served as a distraction their variety of colored and sometimes blinking lights. The Netbook’s small chrome power button, which is above the Num lock key, is the only discrete button other than the keyboard’s keys.

As far as that keyboard goes, it’s a throwback and an annoyance: this Fujitsu has one of the few tapered keyboards left in the Netbook world. While the keys have good travel and feel, they’re a little too small, especially on the right side of the board where the comma, period, and shift keys lie. Fujitsu squeezed directional-arrow keys in on the keyboard and changed the relative position of all those keys, shifting the shift key to the left and making other keys hard to find, much less press. The Netbook’s palm rest space is adequate, but it is not exceptional.

Fujitsu’s keyboard changes at least acceptable, at least compared with what it to the Netbook’s touch pad. According to Fujitsu, customers requested the design that it implemented on the MH380, which carves off a good third of the touch pad’s real estate and gives it to a circular concave dimple of plastic that acts as a scroll wheel. It took us a while to figure out how to use it, but the wheel lets you dial your finger clockwise or counterclockwise to scroll Web pages or documents. Most touch pads just use the far right strip to accomplish this. The remaining postage-stamp-size square of touch pad is barely enough to work with, and the tiny buttons beneath it are just as bad. If you’re going to be bold enough to introduce a feature like this to grab attention, it had at least better be an improvement on what it’s replacing in the first place.

The Netbook’s touch pad has a somewhat annoying momentum-scrolling option automatically activated, which makes the pointer slide around the screen as if it’s on ice. You can deactivate the setting in the touch pad control panel, but the software buries it in a number of submenus.

For those seeking higher-resolution in a 10-inch Netbook, add the Lifebook MH380 to your list. The 10.1-inch glossy screen has a 1,366×768-pixel native resolution, as opposed to the standard 1,024×600-pixel resolution. The extra pixels allow Web browsers and other windows to open truer to the way they’d work on 13- or 14-inch displays, and helps the vertical screen space not be taken over with toolbars. We’ve seen a handful of 10.1-inch Netbook displays with higher resolutions, and it’s one of the few features that help justify the premium price.

The MH380’s stereo speakers, located on the front bottom of the system, are loud–louder than the M2010’s speakers are. They’re more than loud enough for casual listening. The built-in Webcam and microphone offer standard-for-Netbooks video conferencing capability.

The MH380’s includes a standard set of ports: three USB and a VGA. However, Fujitsu did include Bluetooth, but we’d expect it on a system with a price north of $400.

At $449, the Lifebook MH380 includes 1GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive, and an Atom N450 processor. There is nothing special about its specs, and Fujitsu’s Lifebook is more expensive than similarly configured competitors are. According to Fujitsu, the MH380 is a sturdier Netbook, but we couldn’t notice anything in our casual use that suggested that it has a better build than most other systems.

Intel’s Atom N450 processor runs nearly all 2010 Netbooks, including the MH380. The CPU performs as you would expect for a low-power system: it’s fair at single-tasking, bad at multitasking, and it can’t handle full-screen video streaming. However, browsing the Web and other tasks seemed to perform well. We’d consider this Lifebook MH380 about as good as any other Netbook at accomplishing those needs.

The Lifebook MH380 ran for 5 hours and 18 minutes with its included six-cell battery in our video-playback battery drain test. Your mileage may vary depending on what power-management settings you use and how you’re using programs like Web browsers or office apps; however, it has an above-average battery life for a portable. Its battery life a huge leap forward over the Fujitsu Mini M2010 we reviewed last year, which only offered 2 hours. Fujitsu includes a standard one-year limited warranty with the Lifebook MH380. The warranty includes 24-7 technical support by phone and chat. Technical support is available 24-7 via a toll-free number on Fujitsu’s Web site. While we had a hard time finding the support page on fujitsu.com, all the drivers and user guides were there once we located it.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.

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