byJoanna Stern||February 18th 2010 at 2:54pmFebruary 18th 2010 2:54 pm
You know what can't be easy? Making a netbook stand out amongst the hordes of them out there, and yet despite run-of-the-mill specs Fujitsu's done just that with the MH380. Maybe it is the rounded red lid or the small crater in its palmrest that doubles as a scroll pad, but the $449 netbook has struck us as more than just another Pine Trail netbook ever since its appearance at CES. We'd like to take that at face value, but given the fact that Fujitsu doesn't have the best netbook track record, we wanted to spend some quality time with it to find out if the 10-inch mini-laptop has the battery life, performance and ergonomics we expect for its higher-than-average price. You can be sure we found out, so hit the break for our full review.
Great looking design
Bright HD display
Lasts for six hours on a charge
Extremely small touchpad
Finicky scroll pad
More expensive than competition
Look and feel
It's hard not to like the MH380's glossy red cover and chrome trim; you can see Tony Stark buying it to match his Iron Man suit. But superhero or not, it's easy to appreciate the unique squircle shape of the lid, the teardrop shaped hinges and the silver inner edge. Though the system is primarily made of plastic, we have to say the manufacturing quality does feel better than most, and overall it feels quite sturdy.
The real bummer for us is that the head-turning design isn't matched by the best portability specs. The MH380 measures 1.4-inches thick, and its protruding six-cell battery adds even more girth in the back. And then there's the fact that the system weighs 3.1 pounds, and feels heavier in hand than most netbooks. Don't get us wrong, it's still a netbook, and small enough to fit in a shoulder bag or carry around the house with one hand, but it's just not the trimmest of the bunch.
Keyboard, touchpad and screen
Those that like a good flush keyboard will have no qualms about the MH380, and while we've become fonder of chiclet style keyboards on netbooks, we were typing at a decent clip in no time. The MH380's keyboard may get ergonomics points, but we can't say the same of the touchpad below it. The 1.8 by 1.6-inch pad -- yes, we pulled out the ruler -- is no bigger than a small sized Post-It or a Wheat Thin, and the result is a very frustrating navigation experience that requires a ton of backtracking and finger cramping. To compensate Fujitsu has sped up the tracking speed which shoots the pointer across the screen at the slightest provocation -- yes, we disabled this function. The reason for this shrunken experience? To make room for the smooth circular divot to the right of the trackpad. In theory the scroll pad's touch sensitive surface is supposed to allow for easy vertical scrolling, but that's not how it worked in practice. We were able to get the the pad to scroll down the length of Engadget at a smooth pace only after we made a number of tweaks to the sensitivity in the Synaptics menu, and though you can set the pad to function as a button to open a program or go back in the browser, it mistakenly launched programs when we just wanted to scroll. Though the whole setup provides a different look, we couldn't hook up a external mouse quickly enough to make the pain go away.
The higher-resolution 1366 x 768, 10.1-inch display is crisper and brighter than most, and those extra horizontal pixels do make a noticeable difference when surfing the web. While we couldn't watch a YouTube HD video because of the MH380's weak GMA 3150 graphics, a 720p WMV video of the Caribbean Ocean looked very crisp. We found vertical viewing angles to be decent when we tilted the screen to different angles, but horizontal ones weren't worthy of the same praise – though better than most, colors still washed out when we tried to view the screen from the side.
Performance and battery life
We've got no complaints about the MH380's Intel Atom N450 processor and 1GB of RAM. Windows 7 Starter edition ran like a champ and handled our normal netbook activities, including writing this review in MS Word 2007, streaming music in Firefox and tweeting from Tweetdeck, with no issue. As usual watching a Hulu.com video at full screen caused some stuttering. The MH380 is equipped with a 250GB of hard drive that's oddly partitioned into two equal sized drives.
ASUS Eee PC 1008P
ASUS Eee PC 1005PE
Toshiba Mini NB305
Thankfully the larger 63Wh six-cell battery that protrudes out the back results in some good endurance. On our video rundown test -- where we loop the same standard definition video at 65 brightness -- the MH380 lasted 6 hours and 37 minutes. That's not as long as the ASUS Eee PC 1005PE's eight hours, but it will allow you to avoid the outlet scavenger hunt at an airport or coffee shop.
We have two quite cliche words for Fujitsu's designers: size matters. Putting aside the $449 price point for a second, the larger size and resulting weight of the netbook along with the contrasting diminutive size of its touchpad hold the MH380 from competing with the rest. While we'd probably be able to justify paying a $50 premium for the MH380's design and HD screen, those issues -- the touchpad in particular -- make it out of the question for us. If you are hung up about your netbook's looks the Eee PC 1008p is one attractive netbook that doesn't have usability issues, and the Toshiba NB305 continues to provide the best of the design and performance worlds.