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GBM Inkshow: Fujitsu LifeBook U820



fujitsu_u820In this Inkshow, I take a look at the Fujitsu Lifebook U820, a tablet UMPC/MID released at the end of 2008 that employs Intel’s Atom Z530 processor. Besides almost making me blind as I to tried to read the tiny 5.6″ screen supporting 1280×800 pixels upon unboxing, the U820 runs Vista Business on only 1.6GHz of a single core processor utilizing 1GB of RAM. If Microsoft was still running the “Vista Capable” sticker campaign, this device wouldn’t get one. Functionality aside, the U820 is an interesting creature. The hardware is in line with Fujitsu’s reputation for top-notch quality. There are gimmicky inclusions, however. For one, the keyboard light is useless and shines light around the keyboard, rather than on the keys. Secondly, having 1280×800 pixels on a 5.6″ screen size is counterproductive, I think. It takes longer for me to make out what is on the screen at this resolution than it does when I increase font size and scroll around, not to mention the excruciating eye strain that comes along with reading itty bitty text.

Check out the video for a more thorough look at this interesting device:

So what are my conclusions? Honestly, I don’t see how the MID and UMPC market can survive with the advent of the netbook, especially considering how much you have to give up in terms of performance just on the basis of having to run Vista versus XP. On the other hand, having a device that is as minimal in size as this one would do wonders on excursions that do not require, or perhaps do not allow for a larger device. Given the constraints of its dimunitive size and the limitations of the now-standard hardware (i.e., Intel Atom processor and 1GB RAM) for devices in this segment, Fujitsu does a fine job of eeking out functionality. Unfortunately, price is perhaps the U820’s biggest Achilles heel. At $1000 to start, the U820 creeps into the price range of full-sized ultraportable tablets like the T2020, also from Fujitsu. If this is the price point that UMPCs and MIDs will be coming to us, I don’t think it’ll bode well for the market.

All GBM InkShows and Podcasts are sponsored by Techsmith Corporation.



  1. Ben

    02/02/2009 at 1:44 am

    Increase your font size or set the DPI to the correct setting. That’s a 269dpi screen you’re looking at.

    Of course, then you might not be able to cram all that UI into the screen, but that’s because the UIs were designed for incorrectly adjusted displays, which is because no one ever thought about dpi.

    I hate that manufacturers are shifting to only offering low dpi screens because of “small text.”

  2. Peter

    02/02/2009 at 3:18 am

    I happened to come across one of these last year in a retail store and I couldn’t believe how incredibly small everything is on screen.. which made it very difficult to navigate XP with a touch pen.

    If you think the Vaio P will make you go blind, think again!

  3. JC

    02/02/2009 at 4:21 am

    Ben, if you watch the video, you’ll see that Truc does increase the DPI setting (albeit to 144 DPI). If you increase the font size, or the DPI setting, what is the advantage of a 1280×800 5.6″ screen over, say, a 1000×600 5.6″ display? At that physical size display, properly adjusted for DPI, will the former look noticeably better than the latter? Both displays are so dense that I suspect it would be hard to find an application where the former has an advantage over the latter. (i.e., either the UI is so small as to be unusable, or properly compensated for DPI, the UI looks like the UI on the lower resolution display.)

    Obviously, this argument doesn’t scale all the way down. I’m not arguing for 640×480 5.6″ displays, for example. But it’s not unreasonable to think that for a given physical screen size, we do eventually hit a point where making the display denser is not the same as making it better.

  4. borax99

    02/02/2009 at 7:06 am

    The OQO has stuck to 800×480 on its 5-inch screen, which sounds like a decent compromise to me…

  5. Bob Katayama

    02/02/2009 at 1:36 pm

    Great review of the Fujutsu LifeBook U820. I agree that Vista Business was a bad choice when you consider the hardware included. The Price of $1000.00 compared to other current mobile products like a netbook, laptop, or a low end tablet PC, it seems expensive but compared to my older HTC/i-Mate Jasjar, that was around $1400.00 USD the U820 seems reasonable.

  6. Big D

    02/02/2009 at 10:07 pm

    A little critical aren’t we…? First of all, I own a U820, and it’s by no means a perfect device. However, I do believe that the device fills a purpose for those who like to have full computer compatibility on the go. The Tablet PC functions are practically useless because you have the keyboard and your fingers to interact with the device, and it seems a little thick and uncomfortable when trying to use the PC as a tablet only. However, the device does have a WOW factor every time I take it out in public. Also, the form-factor for the U820 is more like an UMPC than a netbook since you can carry it in your hands and type with your thumbs while you’re on the go. You could never do that with the Sony P series or other netbooks. This device is not for the consumers looking for the most economical option, but I do believe you get your money’s worth because of its practicality and ease of use. Unlike the criticism listed above, the lights DO help view the keys in dark environments and I also love the fact that I have Vista with me on the go, usability of all Windows Office, compatibility with all video and audio formats, as well as a full 1280×800 display for the web. Neat PC and I don’t regret making the investment one bit!

  7. Steven Hughes

    02/03/2009 at 10:01 am


    Great Review!!! You should do a followup review with Windows 7 on it. It runs much better and does a fantastic job as a portable Windows Media Center PC with touch. :)

    I didn’t get to try Origami on it with limited time I had on it, but it seemed that it would handle it pretty well. I may have to pick up one off of ebay…

  8. Truc Bui

    02/03/2009 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks everyone! I’m going to be putting Windows 7 on the U820 to see how it performs given a less demanding OS. Look for a followup in the upcoming weeks.

  9. Ben

    02/03/2009 at 9:30 pm

    JC: Yea, a higher DPI display looks better. That’s the point. DPI isn’t about “font size” or a way to adjust the size of things. It’s a calibration unit so that “1 inch” is really 1 inch. The more pixels you can cram in, the better (up to the point where the human eye can’t tell the difference).

    But 5.6inches is still 5.6 inches. You can’t properly fit a UI designed for 12+ inches into 5.6 inches and expect it to be functional. It’s going to be drawn too small to see (DPI set too low) or too big to fit on the screen (DPI set properly). You could reach a compromise, but that doesn’t excuse the underlying fault with the UI design.

  10. SAM

    02/04/2009 at 10:38 am

    I don’t own a u820, but I have a u810 with the 1024 X 600 screen. I haven’t had a problem reading web pages.

    It make a great eBook reader, especially pdf files, as you can reflow and increase the text size to however large you want.

    Mine came with Windows Vista and a XP disc. Vista ran very slow and sluggish. I installed Windows XP and after cleaning up the “junk” it runs Photoshop, numerous formats of videos and browses the web just fine.

    I do wish it had 780 pixels though, because a couple of my programs need scrolling to see all of the screen.

    The arrows keys needed the funtction key(dumb) so I remapped them to work upon regular pressing. Works much better.

    My unit could easily accomodate a 6.5″, maybe 7″ screen witout increasing the size of the case.

    I don’t need a fingerprint reader, a larger screen would be better in its place. If someone stole it, it wouldn’t take much to defeat that software anyhow. That would help reading the screen, but still having a portable – but useful – computer

    It is a very useful unit for what I use it for. Battery averages 3.5 hours

  11. DP

    02/05/2009 at 10:42 pm

    I used to have the earlier version of this, the U810, running XP, and now have this newer model, the U820, running Vista Business. Believe it or not, I think the faster processor on the U820 makes Vista run faster than XP used to on my old machine. That said, I agree that it ain’t no speed demon.

    Still, mine plays video, at least as long as I don’t scale it to full screen, pretty well. YouTube, Slingbox, and yes, videos all play with very little stuttering. To be sure, I’ve also shut off all Aero and other Vista effects…

    As to the usefulness of the U820, let me say this: if you live in a city like New York, as I do, and require access to files, etc. wherever you go, the difference between this 1.5 pound machine and a 3 pound netbook, makes a huge difference as I walk many blocks at a time, run up and down stairs to catch subways, and scoot in and out of the backseats of taxicabs.

    I have a netbook too, and it runs XP (Samsung NC10). I agree that it’s much faster and more effective as a tool if I actually need to do serious work on the run. But if I know that all I’m going to need to do is look something up; send a file; check a website; or make a small edit to a spreadsheet or a work document, the U820 is worth every cent of its seemingly too high price.

    I look forward to the speed enhancements promised by Windows 7 in the months to come, but I’m glad I have this little pony right NOW.

  12. Pierre

    02/06/2009 at 1:42 am

    The processor isn’t handling any video performance. It’s the GMA500 graphics, which is very capable.. but the drivers aren’t there yet.. It should be able to handle 1080p video once the drivers are optimized.

    And the screen can be set to a lower resolution if you change a setting in the Aspect Ratio section of the Intel driver program.

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