Sharp's Heavy Duty, Lightweight Notebook

By Eric Grevstad

December 09, 2005

The WideNote M4000 weighs in at just 3.7 pounds, with battery life that equals, a screen and keyboard that surpasses and a price that undercuts most sub-notebooks.

You've seen desktop-replacement notebooks with bright, wide screens and roomy, comfortable keyboards — but most of them are eight- or nine-pound bruisers that defy portability and have a battery life that's so anemic you can't stray far from an electrical outlet.

Sharp's WideNote M4000 notebook is a different story altogether and a welcome addition to any small business. As its name implies, the WideNote boasts a wide-aspect-ratio screen — a 13.3-inch-diagonal display with better-than-average brightness and contrast.

That, in turn, dictates a case wide enough to accommodate a desktop-sized keyboard. Next, Sharp adds a handsome brushed-aluminum case, which combines with the silver-finish keyboard to make an attractive laptop that resists fingerprints and smudges.

Finally, the M4000 strikes just the right balance of weight and size: With both an 80GB hard disk and a built-in DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive (no external drives or docking station necessary), the Sharp comes in at a trim 3.7 pounds, with its AC adapter adding 11 ounces. When you consider how many portables pare down to the four-pound level by specifying a shrunken keyboard and 10- or 12-inch screen, the Sharp is well worth a look.

We're not entirely satisfied because we think it's becoming a must to have a DVD±RW recorder instead of just a CD-RW, but maybe Sharp made that choice to keep the WideNote's price a reasonable $1,800.

Energy Star
Inside its magnesium frame, the M4000 features Intel's Pentium M 740 processor, 512MB of memory, Intel's integrated-graphics chipset and a Pro/Wireless 2915ABG Wi-Fi adapter.

Sharp says it went more than an extra mile to make the WideNote cool, quiet and long lasting. For instance, the underside of the notebook doesn't warm your lap as much as many portables do, and we can attest that the cooling fan only kicks in occasionally and unobtrusively.

Sharp is even prouder of a button above the keyboard that cycles the notebook through three sets of power-consumption settings, dubbed Max Power, Mobile and Max Mobile. These serve the same function as Win XP's Power Options control panel, but go beyond familiar things like powering down the hard disk and LCD backlight — you can tweak 11 different settings, from four levels of CPU performance to dropping the display's refresh rate or removing your Windows wallpaper. (According to Sharp, replacing your desktop art with a plain white background brings a one-percent boost in battery life.)

We tried the WideNote with both Sharp's power schemes and our usual preferences in Windows' Portable/Laptop properties. With the latter, a mix of leisurely word processing and disk-intensive software installation and CD listening yielded three hours and 40 minutes of battery life. Using Sharp's Max Mobile defaults with a few stretches of Mobile, we managed an even more impressive four hours and 35 minutes.

To be sure, that had its discomforts: Though it didn't give us the headache we anticipated, we kept losing sight of the mouse pointer in the dimmed display And Max Mobile's just-short-of-shutdown idle meant painfully slow — we're talking 30 seconds — delays when we did something like activating our word processor's not-yet-loaded-from-disk spell checker. Still, the customizable setting combinations are a nice idea, and the M4000's battery life would earn a thumbs-up even without them.

It's a shame to dim the WideNote's 13.3-inch-diagonal display, because it's one of the best laptop screens we've seen with its 1,280 by 800 resolution, CRT-class brightness, as well as the glossy black finish and high-contrast colors that are all the rage now.

The Right Type
You'll find a Secure Digital memory-card slot on the WideNote's front edge and a modem port at the rear. The left side has a VGA port, headphone and microphone jacks and one PC Card slot. On the right, along with the skinny DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive, are two USB 2.0 ports and a 10/100Mbps Ethernet port. We feel that two USB ports and no FireWire port is a bit on the skimpy side, but we admit the lightweight laptop isn't likely to be used for heavy-duty, FireWire-linked video editing.

Our only other nit-picks may have been due to our test system's status as a practically pre-production unit. The battery latches were slightly loose; we heard and felt the battery shift a few millimeters whenever we put the Sharp onto or off of our lap, and once we grabbed the PC off a desk and the battery stayed behind. The system's audio was quite loud, noisy enough to irritate seatmates with Windows' startup song even when set to just one notch above silence. And it occasionally took an interminable two minutes to boot when powered on.

Along with the starter edition of Norton AntiVirus 2005, Sharp pre-installs a CD mastering program and InterVideo's WinDVD, supplementing the last with a proprietary automatic contrast enhancer — well, maybe slight enhancer — that it calls SharpFX. The operating system is Windows XP Professional SP2.

The WideNote deserves wide attention: We may have waffled a bit because of the CD instead of DVD burner, but this lightweight, long-lasting performer deserves our rare five-star review stamp.

Pros:

  • Under 4 pounds, but with a good-sized, gorgeous widescreen display and desktop-caliber keyboard
  • Very good battery life, even without relying on its pushbutton power-settings-switcher

Cons:

  • DVD-ROM/CD-RW instead of DVD±RW drive
  • Display is dim at all but its brightest backlight settings

Adapted from hardwarecentral.com.

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