Sharp Actius UM30W

Verdict: Sharp's Actius is a simple, stylish -- and super light -- portable. If only it had a docking unit. StaffSeptember 1, 2002
Sharp Actius UM30W

Bang for Buck: 7

Street Price: $1,999
Inside: 866 MHz Pentium III-M, 40GB HD, 256 MB RAM, 48 MB shared-system graphics card
Outside: 12.1 inch XGA display, touchpad pointing device, non-standard keyboard (18 mm pitch), external 8X CD-ROM drive
Ports: 2 USB, Fireware (IEEE 1394), VGA and parallel (on port replicator), PC Card slot (Type II)
Communications: Integrated V.90 56K modem, integrated 10/100 Ethernet, integrated 802.11b wireless networking
Dimensions: 11.3 inches (W) x 9.1 inches (D) x .77 inches (H), 3 lbs.

The Skinny: Sharp portable presented big dilemma. Second lightest machine in roundup, Actius easy on the shoulder. Easy on the eyes, too — stylish, uncluttered design. But diminutive, alloy-encased notebook also has shortcomings. And to be honest, Japan-based Sharp has never been our favorite maker of notebook computers. Swell Actius UM30W may change our thinking on that, however.

Liked so many things about the machine. The obvious one: Sharp portable weighs three pounds. And thanks to retractable keyboard, which pops up when lid is opened, Actius only three-quarters of an inch high. We couldn’t believe we were toting a real computer — almost felt like a PDA. But despite diminutive footprint, Actius houses a powerful processor and spacious disk drive. In addition, 12.1 inch display was bright, crisp, and clear — one of the best we’ve seen.

Open that display and you notice right off: this is one uncluttered portable. Unlike others in roundup, keyboard features keys, on-button, and trackpad — and that’s it. No extra knobs, buttons, scroll dials, or clicker. Compare that to say, mission-control keyboard on IBM ThinkPad X24… Status indicators are unobtrusively slotted on front lip. Simple design. Being simple ourselves, we cotton to that.

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Killed us to give this machine only a 7 rating. Truth is, we loved using the Sharp portable. Certainly, Actius wins swimsuit competition.

The negatives? First off, at $1,999, Actius a bit on pricey side. Moreover, Sharp had to make some tradeoffs to shrink machine. Although action on undersized keyboard was superb — albeit a bit loud — we still had some trouble adjusting to smaller keys and pitch. Users who switch back-and-forth between portable and desktop will have difficulty with this keyboard. If Actius is going to be your only machine, then undersized keyboard not a big an issue… Mouse clickers were too loud… Unlike many portables in roundup (including Gateway, Dell, and IBM), Actius does not come with 50-pin connector on bottom of machine. Hence, no docking unit for this portable. Lack of base unit limits expansion capabilities — and kept our rating down.

Our test unit came with an external USB CD-ROM player. While we liked small size of player, we would have preferred combo DVD/CD-Rom drive. That drive is available, but it will jack up the price of the Actius — and the carrying weight.

Biggest complaint, however, is that portable’s tiny footprint limits the size of battery. And that smaller battery was only able to power the machine for about 145 minutes on one charge. Sharp claims Actius battery runs longer than that — but you couldn’t prove it by us.

Obviously, compact Actius easily passed our Metro North test. It’s a pleasure taking this machine on the road… Sound quality was surprisingly good — did just fine on MD test. Sketches of Spain clear as a bell… Obviously, without DVD player, we couldn’t judge image playback quality… Not as many ports on Actius as on other machines in roundup. That could prove to be problem down the road.

More we used Sharp computer, more we liked it. If you’re looking for a truly portable portable — and stylish one to boot — this is the machine for you. It’s sincere pleasure toting Actius around. Just make sure you get a second battery.

(Editor’s Note: Thin is in for notebook computers, but how about the computer makers themselves — how much cash do they keep on hand? See for yourself with the CFO PeerMetrix interactive scorecards.)