capsule review

Sharp Actius MM20

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Sharp Actius MM20 Notebook

Sharp Actius MM20
Artwork: Rick Rizner, John Goddard

Under 3 pounds and only 1 inch thick, the ultrathin and light Sharp Actius MM20 is a terrific notebook for day trips. The standard battery lasted just 2.4 hours in our tests, but an optional extended-life battery provided 7.5 hours, plenty long enough to liberate you from electrical outlets all day. (Figure in an extra 9 ounces of weight and another $200 for the optional battery.) Back at your desk the Actius pops left end first into a USB 2.0 docking cradle that connects to your primary PC. In the host's Explorer window, the Actius appears as another drive letter, just as an external hard drive would. Dragging files and folders between the two machines manually is a breeze, or you can use the bundled SharpSync software to keep your data consistent. The included power adapter works either directly with the Actius or with the cradle to charge the notebook.

Except for its internal 802.11g Wi-Fi circuitry, the cutting-edge choice for wireless communications, the Actius is a simple notebook. Case connections include two USB 2.0 ports, a network jack, and a headphone port. For connecting an external monitor, Sharp bundles a short VGA adapter cable. Dial-up connections are handled by a PC Card modem, which fills the notebook's single PC Card slot. There is no integrated optical drive, and the 512MB of RAM and the 20GB hard drive cannot be upgraded.

But the Actius MM20 is a much improved machine over its sibling, the Actius MM10, which we reviewed this time last year. The MM20 is faster, more powerful, and has a better screen and keyboard. For instance, the MM10 could manage only choppy DVD-movie audio and video. With twice the graphics RAM, the MM20 plays movies smoothly. Sharp is currently offering a sweet deal on an external USB 2.0 DVD/CD-RW combination drive--just $99 until December 31, 2004. You'll still need headphones; the MM20's external speakers are monaural like the MM10's.

A black border marred the MM10's 10.4-inch screen by shrinking the picture and making elements too small. The MM20 loses the border, and the native resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels fills the screen as it should. As a result, icons and type are much easier to read. Like the MM10, the MM20 can be used for informal presentations thanks to a neat trick: Laying the screen flat and typing Ctrl-Shift-F4 flips the display so someone sitting opposite you can read it. We even quickly got the hang of sliding our fingers across the touchpad in the opposite direction.

But the biggest improvement is the redesigned keyboard. Unlike its predecessor, the MM20 is easy to navigate and most of its keys are full-size, allowing touch-typists to get real work done. The only problem we had was pressing the right Shift key, but practice quickly made perfect.

A new feature, the mobile mode button, saves battery life by dimming the screen and almost halving the CPU speed, to 533 MHz. However, that may not be an option you'll want to use often. Although about 34 percent faster than the MM10, thanks to its 1-GHz Transmeta Efficeon TM8600 processor, the MM20 is already poky enough compared with a full-size notebook. In our tests it earned a WorldBench 5 score of 35, the lowest result of any notebook we've tested on our new benchmark and 53 percent lower than the average figure of 1.6-GHz/600-MHz Pentium M-equipped notebooks we've tested. It's also 33 percent slower than the average ultraportable we've tested. The MM20 would not be the best candidate for processor-heavy work such as spreadsheet calculations or database operations; however, it should be fine for word processing, e-mail, and other basic work during your busy day on the run.

Another small but notable change: The MM20 discards a lid latch in favor of an embedded magnet that acts as a sensor to tell the notebook when the screen is closed. If you still use floppies, keep them away from the MM20's right screen frame.

The perfect backpack notebook, the Sharp Actius MM20 has what it takes to get basic work done. However, to get the most out of it, you'll need the long-life battery. For doing e-mail, word processing, and other basic tasks on the run, the Actius can't be beat.

Carla Thornton

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At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Sharp Actius MM20 Notebook

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