A benchmark in slimline notebook design.
The Sharp PC-UM10 Muramasa is one of the best looking computers we've ever seen. Sharp has managed to make a super-slim notebook using a slew of innovative tricks.
For example, the retractable keyboard saves space by sinking when the notebook is closed and rising when it is opened. The 12.1in TFT screen has a one-piece design and a tight fitting case which compresses it into an improbably tight package.
The Muramasa is also exceptionally light for a notebook - just 1.3kg - due partly to the use of aluminium and magnesium in its chassis. Despite its slim, light build the shell is rigid and strong.
Portability and style have clearly been Sharp's priorities and, if these are your overriding concerns, accept no substitute; this is the best on the market. The downside is that you'll have to pay £1,875 to own one. In some respects, the numbers don't seem to add up.
The machine contains a Pentium III 600MHz processor, 128Mb of memory and a 20Gb hard disk, all of which seems miserly for the outlay. On the other hand, when you consider how small the machine is, it is amazing that it can perform at all.
The Muramasa fared reasonably in our tests and certainly handles office applications smoothly. Its TFT screen is designed to reduce reflection and glare. It isn't startlingly different from a normal TFT screen but we found it friendly enough. The retractable keyboard is also pleasant to use and above par for a notebook.
A further plus is the battery life, which is a respectable two hours and 15 minutes. To extend this, a larger external battery priced at £220 is an option. This can be used in conjunction with the internal battery to give a total of about 12 hours.
Once we stopped gaping in awe at the Muramasa, we were struck by its lack of drives. If you want to use floppy disks or CDs, you will have to buy the appropriate external drives, which are optional extras.
The floppy disk drive costs £71 and the CDRom drive costs £175. Using a DVDRom drive is not an option because the only available connection port (USB) cannot support the data transfer rate required by DVD.
Both the floppy and CDRom drives connect to the notebook via this lone USB port, which means that you can use only one at a time. That is unless you buy the port bar - another extra, which costs £110 - that includes two more USB ports, a parallel port and a serial port and could prove very useful because the Muramasa is a bit short on connectivity.
It has both modem and network ports onboard but lacks FireWire or infrared ports. If you have a device which uses this type of connection, such as an infrared equipped handheld PC or mobile phone, for example, other similarly priced, less pretty notebooks will offer greater flexibility.
In fact, most other notebooks beat the pants off the Muramasa in terms of features. This notebook is limited to using office applications and browsing the internet, which means that Sharp is relying on the Muramasa's design.
It's testament to its quality that Sharp may have a winner on its hands, despite its many shortcomings.
Contact: Sharp 0800 138 8879 www.sharp.co.uk
Also consider: Sony Bluetooth PCG-SR31K
Stylish, cutting-edge but expensive.
£1,802. Worth it. Computeractive Issue 95.
Good points:Light; portable; stunning design.Bad points: Very expensive; basic package includes no drives; lacks wireless connectivity.
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