By TAN KIT HOONGintech@thestar.com.my
Tablet PCs are all the rage now but is there a place for a convertible Tablet notebook like the Fujitsu Lifebook T580?
THERE is a real surge in Tablets these days thanks to the phenomenal success of Apple's iPad, but the idea of a slate-like touchscreen computer isn't new.
For example, way back in 1987, Apple had the Newton which was one of the first Tablets on the market.
However, Windows-based Tablets as we know it only really started in 2001, when Microsoft tried to popularise the idea of a convertible touchscreen device running on Windows.
Many of those Tablet devices still exist today in some form or another, but they've met with limited success over the years.
The whole point of this walk down memory lane is that Fujitsu was one of the first companies to launch a Tablet PC when Microsoft introduced the operating system in 2001, so there's quite a lineage behind their latest convertible Tablet - the Lifebook T580.
A lot has changed in the PC world since then and the question is - is there still a place in the world for a convertible Tablet running on Windows?
Finger, pen, keyboard
In terms of specifications, the T580 is actually quite well-configured for a low-power notebook - the model we tested ran on an Intel Core i3 U380 1.33GHz CPU with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard disk drive.
While this runs on an ULV (ultra-low voltage) processor, the T580 is certainly a more capable machine than an Intel Atom-based netbook - at least it'll be able to play high-definition videos that Atom-based netbooks cannot.
Even the screen, although about the same size as a 10in netbook, is much higher in resolution at 1366x768-pixels.
As for the design, it's certainly not thin - at its thickest point, the T580 is about 1.3in thick, which is seriously thick when you consider that this is essentially the same size as many 10in netbooks which already come in much thinner form factors than the T580.
The keyboard has rather smallish, netbook-type keys, which could be a problem if you have big hands, though with my tiny fingers, I didn't really have much of a problem.
Of course, the highlight of the T580 is that you can rotate the screen around and close it over the keyboard, turning it into a touchscreen-only Tablet.
Unlike most flip-around screens, which can rotate in one direction (usually clockwise) the T580 can rotate its screen either anti-clockwise or clockwise, which is actually pretty nifty. This means that you needn't worry about someone accidentally rotating the screen in the wrong direction and breaking the hinge.
The touchscreen is actually capacitive, and works with up to four fingers with a variety of multi-touch gestures - other than a single tap to select, you can double-tap to get a right-click, or use two fingers to scroll.
However, Fujitsu has also included a stylus, which can be used not only for navigating the menus but also to write with, as Windows 7 comes with handwriting recognition software.
First off, if you use the T580 as a notebook, it pretty much functions like one - you get the keyboard and a touchpad so in terms of functionality in this mode, there are no surprises.
However, it's when you start using it as a touchscreen Tablet that the whole experience stumbles somewhat.
Let's start off with the screen - Fujitsu uses a TN (twisted nematic) panel which has a relatively narrow viewing angle.
This is fine if you're using the device in its landscape notebook configuration since you tend to be sitting down with the T580 on a table in relatively the same position most of the time.
However, flip the screen around and try to use the T580 as a handheld PC in portrait mode and you're going run into some problems - the screen tends to darken quite significantly when the screen is tilted even slightly to the left or right.
The other problem is that while the capacitive screen is very responsive to touch, Windows 7 itself isn't really built properly for finger navigation - at the resolution that the T580 has, a lot of the icons are too small to reliably tap on with your finger, often necessitating the use of the included stylus.
For example, if you want to increase the system volume by tapping on the speaker icon at the bottom right hand corner of the screen - you'll soon find out that this is a lot harder than it seems, since the icon itself is pretty small, and once you tap on it to bring up the volume slider bar, actually tapping and grabbing hold of the volume slider is easier said than done.
Perhaps because of this, Fujitsu has included physical buttons to adjust volume, but volume adjustment is just an example of the many tiny problems with finger-based navigation in Windows 7.
In fact, it's actually better to navigate Windows 7 using the stylus, where you get better accuracy and the ability to use natural handwriting throughout the entire operating system.
Where the T580 shines, of course, is that it runs on a full-blown Windows 7 64-bit Home Premium edition, which means you can run any Windows compatible application out there.
Battery life is about four to five hours of actual use (watching videos, surfing the Web, etc) which is not too bad but nowhere near as good as the battery life on the iPad.
In the end, the T580 is kind of a jack of all trades but a master of none - as a low-power notebook, it performs reasonably well but it is a little too unweildy to be considered truly portable.
As a Tablet, the screen is not quite up to snuff, and Windows 7 itself is not quite there yet in terms of being truly finger-friendly.
However the major problem is the price - at RM3,988, the T580 is not only more expensive than Tablets with proprietary operating systems, but it's even expensive for a notebook computer of its class.
So my advice is that unless you're looking for a Tablet PC for a specific use - say, if you're a company that requires the workforce to input a lot of information on the go - you're better off looking around elsewhere.
Pros: A full operating system; built-in keyboard; decent performance; responsive multi-touch screen; included stylus.
Cons: Windows 7 still needs work for finger-based navigation; screen could be better; expensive.
Convertible Tablet PC
PROCESSOR: Intel Core i3-380UM (1.33GHz)
MEMORY: 2GB DDR3 800MHz RAM
DISPLAY: 10.1in (1366x768-pixels), LED back-lit
GRAPHICS: Intel HD Graphics
CONNECTIVITY: WiFi 802.11b/g/n, Ethernet port, Bluetooth 2.1
OPTICAL DRIVE: None
PORTS/SLOTS: Two USB ports, SD card, Firewire 800, HDMI out, VGA headphone/microphone jack
BATTERY: Six-cell lithium-ion
OPERATING SYSTEM: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
OTHER FEATURES: 1.3-megapixel webcam, rotating screen
DIMENSIONS (W x D x H): 27 x 18.9 x 3.2cm
Review unit courtesy of Fujitsu PC Asia Ltd (Malaysia), (03) 7728-4868