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PenLab: Fujitsu Stylistic 3500 Tablet PC

Fujitsu's flagship tablet PC gets an update and a reflective color display for outdoor use (July 2001 issue)

What a difference a year makes. When we ran a detailed report on the then just released Fujitsu Stylistic 3400 in our June 2000 issue, we liked the design but weren't quite sure where Fujitsu was headed with the product. The former Fujitsu Personal Systems (FPSI) group had been merged into the Fujitsu PC Corporation and we had some concerns that the vertical market tablets might get second class treatment behind Fujitsu's sexy line of Lifebook notebook computers. As it turned out, those fears were totally unfounded. The "new" Fujitsu PC Corporation has done a terrific job with the tablets and the pen products division actually had its best year ever. In addition to the new Stylistic 3400, Fujitsu PC also released a new version of its Stylistic LT, the Stylistic LT 500, and a much improved version of its CE-based PenCentra handheld tablet PC. And in a move that was unthinkable just a couple of years ago, Fujitsu is now targeting the Stylistic to corporate horizontal markets and openly discuss getting into the consumer markets.

The first "Tablet PC"?
If you're a regular reader of Pen Computing Magazine, you know that while we're thrilled with Microsoft's newfound interest in pen technology, we take issue with Redmond's portrayal of the "Tablet PC" as something new and revolutionary. Pen slates and tablets have been around for many years, and perhaps no one has more experience with their design and marketing than Fujitsu. Unconfirmed rumor has it that Microsoft's earliest Tablet PC prototypes were cobbled together from a number of Fujitsu Stylistic 3400s. That would come as no surprise as the Stylistic 3400 already closely matches Microsoft's Tablet PC prototype specs (see page 39). Fujitsu, in fact, sees the Tablet PC initiative as a tremendous opportunity for the company. Of the five initial OEMs, Fujitsu easily has the most experience in pen tablets. Using current Tablet PC projections, Fujitsu figures it could triple its business if it were to grab just 10% of the market. At this point, of course, no one knows how large a market there will be for Tablet PCs, which will be targeted at corporate knowledge workers, but Fujitsu will definitely both have a head start (because of their current technology) and also a fallback position (their well established vertical markets).
The Stylistic 3500
Our June 2000 review of the Stylistic 3400 was overwhelmingly positive, but we did have a few gripes. For example, whereas its predecessor, the Stylistic 2300, had a massive 4,500mAH battery, the one in the slender 3400 model packed a measly 2,600mAH. When you're out in the field with your mobile computer, the last thing you need is a dead battery, so we felt the move to a smaller power cell was a step backward. We also had mixed feelings about the move from an active Mutoh-style digitizer to a passive design. Finally, while we appreciated the 3400's larger 10.4-inch display (compared to the 2300's diminutive 8.4-incher), outdoor readability remained marginal despite a the addition of an anti-reflective linear polarizer. I am happy to report that the 3500 addresses most of this issues and then some. So let's take a look at what is new:

When you first see the 3500, you won't know it's a new model because the overall look and design remain unchanged compared to the 3400. About the only external change (with the exception of the screen, and I'll get to that later) is that the VGA port has been replaced with a serial port. Fujitsu found that its customers preferred it that way. Bigger changes are under the hood. The Intel 400MHz Pentium III of the 3400 has been replaced with an ultra low voltage 500MHz Intel Celeron. The new 1.1 Volt chip alone probably would have added a good 30 minutes of battery life, but Fujitsu didn't stop there. The 3500 has a new 3,500mAH Li-Ion power pack-up almost 50% compared to the 3400's battery. Other changes under the hood include a 15GB hard disk (compared to 6GB in the 3400) and a new ATI Rage Mobility-M video controller. The digitizer is still a passive design, which means there is no cursor tracking. If you want the cursor to go to a certain point, you need to tap the screen.

Reflective screen option
The biggest news is that Fujitsu offers the 3500 with no less than three screen options. You can choose between an indoor-only XGA display, a indoor/outdoor SVGA display with anti-reflective coating, and a brandnew SVGA reflective display for outdoor use.

The reflective display offers infinitely better outdoor readability than any transmissive technology ever could. The brighter the sun, the more vibrant the display gets. The screen is also razor-sharp with very little iridescence and the liquid-filled digitizer cuts down on glare. Anyone intending to use the Stylistic almost exclusively outdoors should pick this display. I say "almost exclusively" because the reflective screen does not have a sidelight for indoor use like the Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC has. That's because sidelights don't work well with larger screens and Fujitsu (as well as NEC with their new DayBrite notebook) decided to do without one and offer a number of different screens instead. They all cost the same, but do make sure to pick the one that corresponds best with your intended use.

On the software side, the 3500 comes with Windows 98, NT 4.0, or Windows 2000 Professional. There's also CIC's new 2.02 version of PenX and CIC's Handwriter recognition system.

Bottomline: a faster processor, bigger battery and disk, and a reflective screen option make the Stylistic better than ever. - CONTACT: