Sharp Actius MM20 Review

Because of its unique cradle and syncing design, the MM20 separates itself from domestic and foreign notebook systems.
Because of its unique cradle and syncing design, the MM20 separates itself from domestic and foreign notebook systems.
Because of its unique cradle and syncing design, the MM20 separates itself from domestic and foreign notebook systems.

Highs

  • Brilliant bright display; easy to sync with your desktop computer; good battery life

Lows

  • No built in scroll wheel; lots of dongles; not a very powerful system

DT Editors' Rating

Summary

The Sharp Actius MM20 is probably one of the most misunderstood products in the marketplace today. If you read other reviews on this system you will hear a lot of complaints relating to the products size or its lack of performance. The MM20 is a specialty system that really appeals to a niche market. Our guess is that the average user will find the MM20 very lacking in features. It is not a very good desktop replacement and probably would not make a very good primary system. It does not have an internal optical drive and comes with only 20GB of storage space limiting what it will be used for.

If you do a lot of traveling to and from the office, or go on a lot of business trips, this is where the MM20 really shines. With its syncing capability, coupled with its light weight and small size, you can take data from your desktop computer on the road with you. Users who make size and weight a priority will find the MM20 to be a very compelling system. Because of its unique cradle and syncing capabilities, the MM20 separates itself from domestic and foreign notebook systems.

Introduction

The ultraportable notebook market is growing here in the states and there are many manufacturers that are jumping on board. It use to be that you would have to go through an importer to get the specialty systems that only the Japanese market provided; however that is changing.

Sharp’s Actius MM20 system is not only one of the smallest laptops we have seen, but it’s also the first we have seen to use the Transmeta Efficeon TM8600 processor. In theory this should mean that the MM20 is not only thin and small, but should also be able to give you plenty of battery life – perfect for those that travel. Another feature unique to the MM20 is a cradle which lets you dock the system and synchronize files from your desktop over to the MM20. Sound expensive? Surprisingly the MM20 only costs around $1499, about 40% less than similar systems from Sony and JVC.

Features and Design

When our Sharp Actius MM20 test system came for review, you could tell from the packaging that Sharp is trying to target people that appreciate uniqueness. The font on the outside of the red box is very similar to what is on Apple’s packaging; instead of being white, the box is red though. Sharp includes a docking station, manual and restore CD’s with the MM20.

Physically the MM20 is one of the thinnest systems we have seen, almost as thin as Sony’s X505 system, measuring .62 inches thick in the front and .78 at the back of the unit. The MM20 also weighs a mere 2 pounds, about the same as carrying a couple magazines. It has to make you wonder how they are able to make systems this small. But the small size comes at the cost of some features.  You will have to purchase an external CD/DVD drive if you wish to use one since the MM20 does not come with one. Secondly, the MM20 makes use of a lot of external dongles if you want to use an external display or to use a PC card based modem. Those familiar with laptops of this size should find this as no surprise, but people new to this market will find all of the external peripherals and dongles a major nuisance.

Sharp Actius MM20
The Sharp Actius MM20 next to Gateway’s 200XL laptop

The MM20 uses a Transmeta Efficeon TM8600 processor running at 1GHz and comes with 512MB of RAM (not expandable) – not bad for a system this small. Hard drive space is limited to only 20GB, although we would expect larger drive capacity in future models. There are USB ports located on both sides of the system with the Ethernet and PC card ports located on the right hand side. The MM20 does not come with any FireWire ports unfortunately. Powering the systems graphics is a 16MB ATI Mobility graphics adapter and a beautiful 10.4-inch screen with a native resolution of 1024×768.  It also comes with integrated 802.11b/g wireless.

Setting the MM20 apart from the rest of the contenders in this notebook space would be the docking cradle which comes with the system. Once the MM20 is docked, you can synchronize files and folder you choose from your desktop over to the MM20. This is a very cool feature and something we would like to see other manufacturers adopt in the ultraportable notebook market.

The design and feel of the MM20 is well done and gives an overall impression of a quality built system. The keys on the keyboard feel nice and sturdy without any sponginess, and the touch pad and mouse buttons work very well. The MM20 has a very minimalist design feel about it.

Setup and Use

Before you start using the MM20, we recommend that you install the docking cradle and read the manual so you can get familiar with how it works. The cradle serves two basic functions; it allows you to synchronize files on your desktop computer with the MM20. You choose which files or folders you want it to synchronize and it will do the rest. The second function of the cradle is to recharge the MM20’s battery while it’s docked.

We did not need to install any drivers on our Windows XP based desktop in order for our system to see the docked MM20, it was instantly recognized as an external hard drive. You will need to install the SharpSync software which comes with the system if you plan on syncing the MM20 with your desktop computer. The idea of syncing a laptop with your desktop is brilliant. There are many people out there that choose to use their ultraportable laptop as an accessory rather than a primary system. The synchronization feature and the docking cradle is the MM20’s main selling point.

Sharp Actius MM20Synchronizing your desktop with the MM20 is very basic and we would love to see Sharp build on this idea by providing a way to synchronize specific programs rather than just files and folders. However if you feel comfortable with experimenting, you can get the MM20 to synchronize specific applications. Here is an example: We wanted our MM20 test system to synchronize our Microsoft Outlook mail from our desktop computer over to the MM20. We had to install Outlook on the MM20 system and setup our e-mail and account information. Then you go into the Sharpsync software and tell it to sync the .PST file located on your desktop system with the correct folder on your MM20 system. Make sure that you are able to view hidden files if you want to do this correctly. You will have to tweak things in order to get programs to sync just right, but we thing it’s worth the time.

Other than not being able to sync specific programs, we also do not like the fact that you have to flip the switch on the cradle to the off position before you remove the MM20 from it. The Sharp manual says that if you remove the system without turning the switch off, you can damage or lose data. We are sure that people are going to mess this up. You should be able to just grab the MM20 out of it’s cradle and go without having to worry about turning it off first. While it’s probably like this for a reason, nobody is perfect and Sharp needs to put a fool-proof synchronizing system in place. Microsoft has been able to do this with their Smartphone ActiveSync program, so we hope Sharp figures out a way to do it too.

Performance

Performance-wise the MM20 really struggles when competing with Centrino based ultraportable systems like the JVC MiniNote series, Sony TR1 series and Sony X505. The Transmeta 1GHz Efficeon TM8600 processor is more suited to saving battery life rather than doing number crunching. But that’s ok because its performance is not necessarily bad for what people will use the system for. And because the MM20 comes with 512MB of memory it actually feels faster than its 1 GHz CPU rating would indicate. In fact while multitasking with several applications open simultaneously the MM20 performed just as well as any other ultraportable system we have seen. Just do not expect record setting speeds with Adobe Photoshop if you know what we mean.

We were able to get close to 3 hours of battery life from the system’s small 1800mAh battery pack. This is not bad at all considering the size of the system. There is a switch located on the top of the keyboard that once flipped puts the system into “mobile mode”. This mode dims the screen brightness and lowers the processor speed to help conserve battery life. If you do a lot of traveling, then the optional high performance battery is a must. Sharp claims the optional battery will give the MM20 up to 9 hours of battery life although we have not been able to verify this ourselves.

Conclusion:

The Sharp MM20 is probably one of the most misunderstood products in the marketplace today. If you read other reviews on this system you will hear a lot of complaints relating to the products size, or its lack of performance. The MM20 is a specialty system that really appeals to a niche market. Our guess is that the average user will find the MM20 very lacking in features. It is not a very good desktop replacement and probably would not make a very good primary system. It does not have an internal optical drive and comes with only 20GB of storage space limiting what it will be used for.

If you do a lot of traveling to and from the office, or go on a lot of business trips, this is where the MM20 really shines. With its syncing capability, coupled with its light weight and small size, you can take data from your desktop computer on the road with you. Users who make size and weight a priority will find the MM20 to be a very compelling system. Because of its unique cradle and syncing capabilities, the MM20 separates itself from domestic and foreign notebook systems.

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