Sharp Actius PC-MV14
The $1999 Sharp PC-MV14 is reasonably priced for a 4.1-pound notebook; it also offers the convenience of a built-in optical drive. It gives Dell's ultraportable Latitude X300, which has no internal optical drive, a run for its money. But in the end, it comes down to expansion options: The X300 has them; the MV14 doesn't.
In its favor, the PC-MV14 is one of the lightest notebooks you can buy with a removable DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive. (Sharp throws in a substitute "airbay" to lower weight even more, but knocking off 4.8 ounces is hardly worth the device swap.)
While it may lack the X300's Secure Digital card slot, the MV14 is well equipped, with standard VGA, network, and modem connections, plus two USB ports, a FireWire port, an S-Video-out port, and an S/PDIF-compliant headphones port. A short adapter cable is bundled for attaching a printer. A drop-down door protects the connections nicely.
The MV14 comes with Wi-Fi built in, with antennas embedded in the sides of its 12.1-inch screen and an internal LAN-Express IEEE 802.11b wireless card.
The MV14 lasted 3 hours in our battery tests, an hour longer than the X300. However, it's slightly slower. Equipped with a 1.2-GHz Pentium III-M CPU and 256MB of RAM, our review unit earned a PC WorldBench 4 score of 104, about 10 percent behind the 1.2-GHz Pentium M-equipped X300's score of 116.
Both the MV14 and the X300 have RAM built onto the motherboard and offer one slot for expansion. But the MV14's scheme is more buyer-friendly--it comes with twice the built-in RAM, 256MB. Neither notebook's 40GB hard drive is upgradable.
The MV14 is held back by only a few weaknesses. The keyboard, although slightly larger than the X300's, isn't quite as nice. It felt shallower to us, and the Shift key is cramped. However, once we got used to these problems, the otherwise good layout and large touchpad and mouse buttons made typing fairly easy.
The MV14 suffers from the same sticky battery and optical drive as other Sharp notebooks we've reviewed. We had to force them out with the flat end of a screwdriver while pushing on their releases. Fortunately, you shouldn't have to remove them often.
Despite the MV14's shared video memory, DVD movies looked fine on the 12.1-inch screen (except for the usual letterbox bands). But the monaural speaker isn't up to the task of playing sound tracks loud enough to enjoy farther than a couple of feet away. (Turning the volume wheel, located on the left side of the case, hardly makes a difference).
It's in their handling of typical ultraportable failings, such as weak sound, that the differences between the MV14 and X300 become very clear. While the only add-on option Sharp offers is a high-capacity replacement battery ($199), Dell sells a carload of options for the X300, including its Media Base docking station. The MV14 has no docking option or port replicator.
The PC-MV14 comes with a basic, printed user manual but no electronic references, which is unfortunate in a notebook made for the road.
The PC-MV14 holds its own among lightweight notebooks, with an easy-to-lug 4.1-pound weight, good performance, and reasonable price. But its expansion capabilities are very limited.
Sharp Actius PC-MV14