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You don't immediately associate Sharp Electronics with laptops, more normally with Viewcams or those silly little electronic organisers that your little sister always gets for Christmas and uses for a few days before she drops it or it loses its novelty. Well, the revelation is that Sharp have been making good quality laptops for a few years now and those who have the privilege of owning one will know that they are a member of an exclusive clientele that appreciate the eye-catching design, powerful performance and value for money that are the hallmarks of most Sharp products. So, will the latest Sharp offering to the competitive world of mobile computing make the grade? Read on to find out... The Sharp PC-AX20 is very easy on the eye, with its silver finish, purple tinted keyboard and deep-blue scratch resistant cover it rivals the Sony Vaio series in the looks department. Its shape and design also causes heads to turn with a 12.1" screen that nicely takes up all the room of the top panel and a keyboard and mouse layout that looks perfectly in place. The screen itself is very clear and utilises special 'Black TFT' technology, which ensures a sharper and more easily viewable (in low light conditions) image. The knowledge and expertise that Sharp has put into this screen comes from the experience they have of actually making the displays for many other big laptop makers. However, the 'black TFT' is something they've kept just for themselves. When closed up the laptop is under 3cm thick and weighs roughly 1.5 kilos. It is thus very portable and is the kind of laptop that you don't mind being seen using as it draws distracted glances from curious passers-by (great feeling!). Under this deceptively fragile exterior is a meaty PIII 600 processor, 64MB of RAM and a 12 Gig hard drive, which is more than enough for the average laptop user. It also contains a 56Kb modem, which provides better than average internet connection speed capability. The connectability of the laptop is also impressive as it has two USB ports and two mini USB ports, which prove very useful, a PC card slot and a monitor out slot. However, impressive as all the above does seem the PC-AX20 does have its faults. The first of which is the ridiculously short battery life. This is using the standard Lithium-Ion battery that the laptop is supplied with and it barely stretches past the hour mark. Obviously, the length the battery will last for does depend on how many applications you're running etc. but even so, when Sony are managing to create a Vaio laptop with the same performance specifications with a 6 hour battery life, it is clear the AX20 falls a long way short. There really is no point in having an incredibly portable laptop if it runs out of batteries before you leave the house! However, this is not an irredeemable fault as there is an option of buying another (bigger) battery with extended life at roughly £170. But this is hardly a viable option after forking out £1600 for a new laptop. Another problem comes about through the external floppy drive and CD-ROM that come with the laptop. Both are, of course, essential for anyone using a laptop and thus are likely to be in use a fair amount of the time so the fact they are connected through dangly bits of wire (in the case of the CD-ROM a very short and stubby impractical wire) does not make for efficient portability. It is clear that the reason these drives are left out is to ensure that the dimensions of the main unit are kept as small as possible, but when you consider the new Apple laptop that manages to fit in a DVD drive and still retain a thickness of under an inch, it makes you wonder. The video card too represents another problem as, with 4 MB VRAM, it is simply not good enough to run the latest 3D games smoothly or graphically impressively. Finally, another small point concerns the lack of a serial port, which, although the need for one wi ll probably become redundant v soon with USB, is still needed at the moment in a laptop. Overall, I feel I have been too harsh on the Sharp in the final paragraph of the review as it is a good laptop with a lot to offer for its size and price. However, its faults do make me stop short from calling it great.