Small in size, but big for business, Fujitsu Siemens’ Esprimo Mobile U9210 is an ultra-portable (300×229 x36.5mm, 1.95kg) laptop with enough power and connectivity under its hood to let you get your job done at your desk or on the road. Business people who are frequently on the move need the perfect companion on the road, and the Esprimo Mobile U Series could have been just the ticket – if it wasn’t for a few shortcomings.

The Esprimo Mobile U9210 (£785) offers a good combination of weight and battery life to make it a worthwhile productivity tool. It even comes with an optional integrated 1.3-Megapixel Web camera for video conferencing – and catching up with your buddies on instant messaging – and embedded mobile broadband access (3G/UMTS) means can stay in touch with your customers, colleagues and friends. The Web camera is complemented by ArcSoft’s Webcam Companion software, allowing you to use camera for image and video capture, motion detection (with automatic record) and videoconferencing. And once you are back in the office, the optional port replicator instantly transforms the Esprimo Mobile U9210 into a fully-fledged PC – well, almost!

It’s easy to get carried away with the Esprimo Mobile U9210, but before you open the chequebook you should bear in mind that’s it’s nowhere near good enough to beat Lenovo’s sublime – albeit outrageously expensive – ThinkPad X301 (from £1999). For starters, the Esprimo Mobile U9210 is so ugly it’s reminiscent of an early 80’s throwback – just check out the over-chunky chassis and size of the bezel! Secondly, the 12.1-inch WXGA (1280×800) display is so dull and has such poor viewing angles that you’ll hardly notice it’s on. Thankfully, you can upgrade to a WXGA+ (1440×900) display, should you want to cram more data onto the screen at any one given time. Having said that, the higher-resolution screen isn’t any brighter. The secondary display is not backlit either, and you have to lean right over the keyboard before you can decipher any of the small icons.

It’s not all bad though. The machine is powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo T9600 processor, up to 8GB of DDR3 memory (1066MHz), and a 160GB SATA (7200rpm) hard disk drive (no Solid State Drive option). Graphics are catered for by a sub-standard Intel GMA 4500M HD chipset, while sound is delivered by a mediocre Realtek ALC262 audio chipset. Other technical niceties worth mentioning are built-in 802.11 b/g, Bluetooth 2.1 and 3G/UMTS (the SIM slots in beneath the battery). There’s even a V.92 modem, for that complete 80’s feel. Windows Vista Business 32-bit comes as standard, although you can ‘downgrade’ to Windows XP Professional if you prefer.

Connectivity options are reasonable for an ultra-portable machine, though you really shouldn’t expect the Esprimo Mobile U9210 to cater for all your multimedia needs. There are only two USB 2.0 ports, for instance, but there is an eSATA port for hooking up an external storage device and Gigabit Ethernet for super-speedy wired networking. There’s a VGA port for connecting an analogue monitor, along with audio line-in/microphone and audio line-out /headphone jacks. Thankfully the audio jacks are practically positioned at the front of the machine for easy access, along with a dedicated switch to toggle Wi-Fi on or off and a memory card slot that accommodates SD and Memory Stick formats. Fujitsu Siemens has even managed to cram in a DVD burner, but of course there’s no Blu-ray option – that would be totally wasted on the sub-par display. For security-minded businesses there is an integrated smart-card reader. Further hardware features businesses will appreciate is a TPM 1.2 (Trusted Platform Module) and a ShockSensor to protect the hard disk drive from knocks and bumps.

Using the Esprimo Mobile U9210 is as intuitive as any decent laptop, though the spill-proof keyboard has an uncomfortable amount of flex. Other annoyances are that the function keys are half-height and the trackpoint in the middle of the keyboard is so sunken that you’ll have trouble locating it without looking. The large on/off button reassuringly illuminates when powered, and the five shortcut buttons come in handy for quickly bringing up the login screen, locking the system down if you need to move away from the computer, and opening the Windows Mobility Center utility, where you can adjust things like display brightness, power scheme and volume.

You can also open the Fujitsu Siemens Launch Center, which tells you about using the laptop and provides a full online manual, as well as invoke the Eco mode, which allows various functions to be switched off to conserve battery power. Thankfully there is a two-button touchpad (optional fingerprint sensor is also available) below the keyboard, which is a Godsend compared to the awful trackpoint, but sadly there is no vertical or horizontal scrolling built into the touchpad.

The Esprimo Mobile U9210 may be on the bulky side for an ultraportable, but it does include a DVD Super Multi drive in a modular bay and provides a claimed 6 hours’ of battery life from the standard 6-cell, 5200mAh Li-ion battery. This can be raised to 10 hours, says Fujitsu Siemens, if you use the second 6-cell, 3800mAh battery, which fits into the modular bay. Of course, in the real-world you should expect around 3 hours’ battery life, so you should budget for that second battery if you want anywhere near a full day’s work on battery power. And should you not need the optical drive, it can be swapped out with a second battery, a second hard disk, an ExpressCard slot or even a weight saver.

There’s no denying that Fujitsu Siemens has crammed a lot of well-rounded and practical features into the Esprimo Mobile U9210, but it’s just too chunky to be deemed an ultraportable. While it’s more than up to the task of living on the road, it is a tad heavy and the low-resolution screen is so dull it’s annoying. We’d also have liked more USB ports. It’s not bad, but there are much better machines from the likes of Dell, Lenovo and Sony.

Reviewed by Steve Orton