Sharp M4000 Review

This Centrino-based notebook performs right up there with the best of them, and the screen is a pleasure to behold.
This Centrino-based notebook performs right up there with the best of them, and the screen is a pleasure to behold.
This Centrino-based notebook performs right up there with the best of them, and the screen is a pleasure to behold.

Highs

  • Brushed aluminum case; bright screen; minimalistic design

Lows

  • No port covers; no high capacity battery option; no customization options

DT Editors' Rating

Summary

The Sharp M4000 WideNote is a worthy contender in the widescreen, lightweight notebook market, marred by the lack of an intended buyer. This Centrino-based notebook performs right up there with the best of them, and the screen is a pleasure to behold. The sleek, brushed aluminum exterior takes a page from the Apple Powerbook, but the faux chrome buttons come off as more tacky than classy. Overall, the M4000 WideNote should be a good example of how a company can take a highly standardized design and still make it stick out in a crowd, but the lack of customization and basic features sends this notebook to the bottom of the class.

Features and Design

It’s no secret that the laptop world has become somewhat stagnant recently. While Intel’s Centrino technology has done wonders for eliminating the confusion involved in picking the right laptop and has created a more stable platform for manufacturers, creativity and originality have gone the way of the dodo. Each company adds its own touch, but in the end, laptop users have shown that they hunger for something unique.

The Sharp M4000 WideNote follows the standard Centrino map for a successful, stable and functional system. Based on the Intel 915GM chipset, the M4000 has everything you would expect. The Intel Pentium M 740 processor runs at 1.73 GHz, and the system ships with an 80GB hard drive and 512MB of DDR2 RAM, of which 128MB are shared with the VPU. The VPU itself is of the standard Intel variety, so no frills there. The integrated DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive maxes out at 24x. There is one PC card slot and SD card slot, as well as headphone/microphone, LAN, modem, VGA, and two USB 2.0 ports. Of course, true to Centrino form, the M4000 supports 802.11b/g. The 13.3-in. 1280x800widescreen display is the centerpiece of the unit.

Unfortunately, that’s all. There are no customization options through Sharp, and there are even some standard features missing. For instance, there are no IEEE 1394 (Firewire) ports, there is no DVD writer, no extended use battery, no Bluetooth, or upgrading of any of the main specifications. That means no upgrading the hard drive, RAM, CPU, or graphics card. Want 802.11a support? Too bad. If by some narrow chance the M4000 is exactly what you want in a notebook, you’re set. Otherwise, it is hard to recommend a system lacking in customization when the competition is so tight. Overall, this was our biggest gripe by far, especially when it was being tested side by side with a VAIO S series system.

Port layout is standard, with VGA, AC, audio, and PC Card ports along the left side for easy headphone hookups. The front is connection barren, save the SD card slot and status LEDs that are mounted in such a way as to make them completely unseen during regular operation. The right side sports the two USB ports, LAN, and Combo drive. The back of the unit is occupied mainly by the battery, with the modem port awkwardly placed within the curvature of the battery docking section.

Aesthetically, the M4000 is a beauty. The brushed aluminum motif is used on all surfaces of the case, and gives users a glimpse of what an Apple Intel Powerbook might look like. Mouse, power and wireless buttons have a faux chrome coating, which historically has not stood up to the test of time/usage. The shiny coating also looks slightly gaudy rather than the ostensibly intended classy. The full-size keyboard feels nice and snappy and continues with the metallic theme using a gray, reflective coating or plastic. The screen is covered by a highly reflective coating, similar to that of other manufacturers. This helps increase the contrast ration and make the screen more readable in daylight (as long as the angle of the screen isn’t in a glare prone orientation). What we did notice, and it took away from the beauty of the M4000, was a lack of port coverings. More specifically, all ports are black and left open to the damaging elements. At 3.8 pounds, the unit is incredibly light, and will fit comfortably in any laptop bag.

Setup and Use

The overall package is somewhat underwhelming, but not far off from the industry standard. The box contains the laptop, power cord, and the standard array for manuals and recovery CDs. Preinstalled software includes a network setup utility, Norton AntiVirus 2005, WinDVD 5, Acrobat Reader, and Drag’n Drop CD writing application. Drag’n Drop is intuitive, but does little more than the Windows XP built in ability. This would be more useful if the M4000 came with a DVD writer. WinDVD 5 takes advantage of a Sharp specific DVD image enhancement chip integrated into the laptop. We found it to boost contrast levels and smooth the image in an anti-aliasing type effect.

Using the M4000 is a comfortable experience, with no major setbacks that we could find. The full sized keyboard feels spacious, and keystrokes are neither soft nor ‘clicky’. The touchpad includes scrolling functionality that can be set in the control panel. For instance, if a gesture begins with the top right corner of the screen and drags straight down, the page will scroll. The Mobile button, which quickly steps between three energy profiles, seems redundant and unnecessary, since Windows will automatically change the profile if the M4000 is unplugged. As mentioned earlier, the status indicator LEDs (battery, hard drive access, etc.) are nearly impossible to see while in use.

Performance

Performance benchmarks were right in line with other Centrino laptops sporting the same Intel 740 processor. For comparison’s sake, the following are the Sharp M4000 benchmarks, followed by scores for a similarly equipped Sony VAIO S480 we recently reviewed.

 

Sharp M4000

Sony VAIO S480

Dhrystone

7403

7559

Whetstone

2371/3059

2769/3067

Integer operations

2965

2845

Floating point operations

2941

2855

3DMark03

1005

2384

3DMark05

244

809

On the core computational side, there is some give and take, which is to be expected. But without the GeForce Go 6200 graphics chip, the 3D marks for the M4000 are abysmal. 3DMark05 would run, but all demos had a hard time reaching 1 fps. In fact, we never saw anything above 1 fps. For the first time, we actually witnessed a zero fps.

On the portability side, the battery life is excellent, clocking in at around five hours of moderate use. The chrome “Mobile” button allows the user to switch quickly between three energy profiles corresponding to maximum battery/minimum performance, maximum performance/minimum battery, and a middle of the road. For people that fly often, there is no hardware wireless on/off switch, so you will have to dig into the network connections every time you fly. The Sharp M4000 will run you $1799.99. When put side by side with a comparably equipped Sony VAIO S580 for almost $300 less, we have to wonder who this laptop is intended for.

Conclusion

Sure, the press releases make the M4000 sound like there was some planning behind it, but it doesn’t fit with any major market. Business types will be annoyed by the lack of Bluetooth and turned off by the gaudy shiny buttons, students won’t be able to customize it to their university’s specifications, and gamers wouldn’t touch it with a 50-foot pole. While the battery life and general performance are both good, there is little to compel a potential buyer that this is the laptop for them.

So why would you consider the M4000 then? Buy it for its minimalistic design and good looks. There is a reason why the M4000 is all the rage in Japan, and it is sure to appeal to a small audience here in the US as well.

Pros:

    • Brushed aluminum case
    • Bright screen
    • Full-sized keyboard
  • Good performer

Cons:

    • No port covers,
    • No high capacity battery option
  • No customization options