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Living with Sharp's M4000 WideNote ultraportable

Total portability, no squinting required
— 12:00 AM on April 24, 2006

Manufacturer Sharp
Model M4000 WideNote
Price (Street)
Availability Now

ABOUT FOUR MONTHS have passed since my search for the ultimate ultraportable laptop PC concluded in the purchase of a Sharp M4000 WideNote. I had resolved to write up my impressions of this system after using it for a while, and I suppose now is about the right time. Our usual practice here at TR when reviewing a product is to test its performance twelve ways from Sunday against an array of direct competitors, but I'm not going to do that with the Sharp. This product is appealing for a host of interrelated reasons, and performance isn't near the top of the list, to be quite honest.

Size: just right
I ordered my M4000 WideNote after reading quite a few reviews and studying the specs, but I had never seen one up close. What attracted me, even in theory, was the combination of size, utility, and capability that the M4000 offered. The WideNote's size, for one, is a little bit unusual—larger than most "ultraportables" like Sony's shrinky-dink T-series but smaller than your traditional laptop with a 14" screen. The M4000's 13.3" wide-aspect display matches up perfectly with the width of a full-sized keyboard. Many ultraportables have a keyboard that's 90% of full size or less, but the M4000's wide-body design doesn't require that compromise. Quite a few ultraportables come with 12" screens that feature 1024x768 resolution, as well, but not the M4000. Sharp has packed a 1280x800 grid into its wider LCD panel.

So the WideNote is big where it needs to be, but retains its claim to the ultraportable label by being small everywhere else. The system's shape mirrors the aspect ratio of the display, so that the chassis is much wider than it is deep, with dimensions of 12.3" by 9". The base of the chassis is tapered slightly—1.4" thick at its rear but only 1.1" thick at the front. When resting on a flat surface, the keyboard inclines slightly downward toward the user. All told, the system is literally smaller than your average three-ring binder, and at 3.7 pounds, it's not much heavier, either.

Squeezing a laptop into this space can't be the easiest of missions, and honestly, I would have settled for a lower spec computer with few complaints, given the WideNote's other virtues. Sharp, however, gave this thing a reasonably rich complement of parts, including a Pentium M 740 (the 90nm Dothan variety), an Intel 915GM chipset with GMA 900 integrated graphics, 512MB of DDR2 533 memory expandable to 1.5GB, an 80GB (alas, 4200 RPM) hard drive, and a CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo drive.

Despite its svelte profile and solid specs, Sharp rates the M4000's battery life as "in excess of 6 hours." This was just the combination of elements I was looking for in a laptop, and I had to give the M4000 a try.