Fujitsu T731 and Q550
Analyzing two different tablet solutions from Fujitsu
by Daniel Rasmus
Let me just start off by saying that these two Fujitsu devices are Windows 7-based PCs with tablet features. And although the Q550 hints at a design influenced by the iPad, it remains a business-oriented PC, not a consumer tablet. I will be reviewing these devices, then, in light of their intended markets not, in comparison to less expensive consumer devices.
Let's get started.
The Fujitsu Lifebook T731
Dense features translate into more mass in a small space, and the 12.1 inch Fujitsu T731 is a dense machine, that starts at a little under 4lbs. This small footprint laptop includes almost every feature one could ask for designed elegantly into its case. It is a touch-and-pen tablet, a multimedia ready PC powered by processors up to the 2.7 Ghz Intel Core i7. My review unit was running the Core i5 and was snappy enough for everything from word processing to video, and, more importantly, it didn't burn a hole in my leg when I used it on my very real lap. Some of the new hardware that is overly thin, like some Hollywood starlets, give up comfort for their selected lifestyle. All versions of the T731 come standard with Intel HD Graphics 3000 integrated graphics, which is perfectly adequate for business graphics and basic video.
Another important business aspect of the T731 is its Military Specification, or MIL-Spec rating: MIL-STD-810G offers a wide set of assurances about the machine's worthiness in everything from low atmospheric pressure to rain. Although those purchasing a PC need to understand their use scenarios and compare them to the machine's capabilities, this Spec acts as a starting point. I raise this issue because this MIL-Spec rating further justifies the machine's overall character. MIL-pec's aren't inexpensive to obtain, so it also demonstrates a real commitment from Fujitsu to deliver quality to their customers.
Conversion from Tablet to PC and back is seamless except for occasional glitches in screen orientation which, I think, come from the combination of Microsoft and Fujitsu approaches addressed in both hardware and software. If you go with the screen orientation button on the front of the display you will override software and quickly place the image in the orientation of your liking.
If weight is your primary laptop selection attribute, the T731 probably isn't for you. There are many thinner and lighter laptops on the market. If you are looking for a fairly rugged, well decked out PC that can match your road warrior ways step-for-step, The T731 may well be the companion you have been looking for.
Fujitsu recognizes that weight is a factor. But their market demands feature/weight/performance trade-offs. Their modular drive bay can hold an additional 6-cell Li-ion 3800mAh 41Wh (which extends battery life up to 11 hours,) a Dual Layer DVD Super Multi writer, Blu-ray Disc Triple Writer, an additional hard disk, or a plastic cover called a "weight saver." The T-731 is clearly designed for people who want options.
In addition to the modular bay, the machine (it is hard to call something is full-featured a "device") sports three USB ports, including one that can be configured to charge external devices when the T731 is off, an IEEE 1394 firewire port, VGA and HDMI support, RJ45 Ethernet and a port replicator interface (just in case you want to tame the T731 and make it a desktop). It also includes an ExpressCard slot, a secure memory slot and a finger print reader. Many desktops don't come with this many ports built-in. Did I mention a front facing camera option?
Standard memory starts at an adequate 2GB, but expands to 8. I would suggest, given the clear performance design bent of this machine, it should ship with a minimum of 4GB, eliminating that upgrade issue for customers. Although Windows 7 works okay with just 2GB, it works better with 4. The Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU does not come with dedicated memory, so it borrows RAM to execute, and that's another reason to consider more RAM before you make a final purchase.
The round chrome swivel hinge that permits the flipping and flopping of the display exudes quality while providing the ultimate flexibility in convertible tablet: flip to cover keyboard, reverse as a presentation display, or lay flat for better shared viewing. And unlike some older tablets, the swivel hinge on the T731 is bi-directional. No faintly decaled instructions that warn users to cautiously move the display in only one direction.
The keyboard that the display swings over is a bit cramped for those accustomed to the increasingly wide desktop keyboards, but a touch typist can easily adjust. And germaphobes should like the keyboard's anti-microbial feature, while those working in cramped aircraft seats will like its spill-resistance. For all the devices other industrial bells and whistles, a keyboard backlight would be a good option for working in dark locations.
Connectivity for the T731 is pretty standard with 802.11a/b/g/n provided via the Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 WLAN (along with the already mentioned standard Rj45 and on-board Ethernet). Integrated Bluetooth 3.0 is also included. Fujitsu offers the Sierra AirPrime( MC8355 via the Gobi 3000 for wireless broadband like AT&T DataConnect and Verizon Wireless Mobile Broadband. This feature also adds GPS.
The Fujitsu Stylistic Q550
The Q550 is both surprisingly good and a bit disappointing. After evaluating several Fujitsu units over the years, I expected another weighty entry. I was quite pleased when I first lifted the evaluation unit from its spongy bed of peanuts and bubble wrap. The unit weighs in at around 1.7 lbs, just slightly heavier than the original iPad. The added ounces are well worth it given ports and other PC standard accoutrements sold only as extras on consumer tablets.
And the Q550 has something that many a consumer tablet owner would like: a swappable battery. That's right, a tablet that helps people stay untethered for longer. The Q550 with all of its solid state components already offers good battery life, but in critical business situations, like construction or law enforcement, the ability to swap a battery will keep the digital technology handy, and the person using the computer on the site or at the scene longer.
And unlike any consumer tablet, this one is loaded for security. Biometrics are delivered through a fingerprint reader and a smartcard slot stands ready to accept credentials.
The Q550 is the best design I have seen in a Windows 7-based slate, with the exception of its skimpy hard drive, which I'll get to below.
As I said, the Q550 is surprisingly light. That's the first impression. The second impression, this being a slate, has to be the excellent 10.1 inch wide format 1280 x 800 pixel display that, unlike consumer tablets, comes standard with an anti-glare, anti-finger print surface, reducing the need for costly screen protectors that are really more about fingerprints than scratches.
My biggest disappointment with the Q550 is its rather diminutive hard drive. With two terabyte drives going for less than $80, it seems strange to ship a device with only a 30GB drive, even if that drive is an solid state drive (SSD). 64GB seems like the low end, and 256GB will soon be standard. Granted, SSDs remain more pricey per gigabyte than competing magnetic drives, but 30GB is pretty low overhead. Given what I said about Fujitsu and their business acumen, their response to this criticism was that these devices are primarily used for forms, and forms don't take up much space. That is true. As a strategic planner, however, I would suggest that the slim entry level devices constrains more creative clients from considering these devices.
My other nit pick with the Q550 is its pen. I actually like the active pen and like using it on the device, which is much more accurate at making menu selections and closing dialog boxes than fingers. What I don't like is that the pen has no home on the device except via tether. The latest Lenovo tablets have a convenient slot to place their styli, which means there is probably room in the case to do something, and Fujitsu clearly knows that without a home, people will lose their pens. In many circumstances the tether is probably a good backup, but just having the pen dangling also seem a bit of a safety hazard. If I were keep the unit, I would be placing a few bits of Velcro in strategic locations. I would also suggest a clip and perhaps a pen case come standard to help people keep their stylus handy.
Power is a real differentiator for the Q550. Unlike most consumer tablets, this tablet's battery can be removed. Fujitsu claims over 10 hours of battery life, but your mileage may vary depending on use profiles.
In terms of performance, the Q550 is not going to blow you away, but again, for the intended market of text-based data entry in forms and basic browsing, the 800Mhz Atom Z670 does a serviceable job. The standard 2GB of RAM also helps with performance.
Standard ports include Noise cancelling dual microphones, a bootable USB 2.0 port, HDMI (type A connector) port, SD/SDHC slot, audio-out, finger print reader, smart card slot and docking cradle connector. The Q550 also sports Integrated WiFi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth v3.0.
Unlike consumer tablets that fit the same form factor, the Q550 is made to work with standard PC peripherals, security models and displays. No dongles or extra bits to loose (except the stylus).
I'm going to treat software as a combined category given that both devices run Windows 7 Professional along with a smattering of Fujitsu and third party tablet/security bits.
Windows 7 comes standard on both units, which is the root of the tablet experience issues. Most annoyingly, Windows 7 presents small targets that must be hit, especially as resolution increases and pixel size decreases. I sometimes feel like I need to be a skilled archer to get the pen to tap the right box with precision. Fujitsu provides a software features that literally "blows up" buttons and navigation bars, but then the entire UI looks like it is suffering from an allergic reaction. A Band-Aid won't hide a swollen nose, nor the deficiencies of a repurposed OS. If however, you acquire apps designed for a touch/pen platform, the combination of inputs can prove ideal. I have really enjoyed playing with Ambient Design's ArtRage on the T731 which offers a much more meaningful and integrated creative experience than USB-tablet input on a desktop that always seems too removed from the actual creative process.
Of course, the other point of view is that these two machines run Windows 7 which means they can run any Windows app. And that is the real selling point for Fujitsu. As much as some would like to believe that the latest hardware and software are widely deployed based on their rudimentary survey of business people using iPads in the airports, the reality is military, financial, government and manufacturing firms still use, in some cases, decades old mainframe systems while lagging behind on their clients as well. E-mail to a device is one thing, delivering secure data from a proprietary app is another. Both of these machines offer high-end security features that should make any IT security manager as happy as you can make an IT security manager. Think Trust Platform Module (TPM), Computrace enabled BIOS, smart cards and full disk encryption.
The Q550 and the T731 both come with Microsoft Office Starter 2010, 60-days of Norton anti-virus protection, Softex OmniPass Control Center and the Fujitsu battery swap utility. The T731, which uses standard drives and offers an optional optical drive, also comes with anit-shock software for the HD and various Cyberlink and Roxio tools for playing and recording CDs and DVDs.
My favorite piece of proprietary-ware is the Fujitsu Driver Update utility that, like Windows Update, keeps the drivers on the device up-to-date. Less experienced users rarely do a good job of keeping drivers up-to-date, and experienced users hate the time suck of searching for updated drivers. This little utility eliminates issues on both fronts.
Wrap-up and Recommendations
If your applications or security models require Windows 7, then Fujitsu has created two fine machines/devices to run the OS. Even more, they have shown the wide range of options available for the Windows platform--from a light-weight slate to a robust laptop that puts almost all current technology options into a 12.1 form factor.
The Q550 offers a sleek profile that hosts a good selection of PC options from HDMI to USB, along with superior security features. Organizations looking for a secure tablet platform for applications with modest computing requirements should give the Q550 a close look.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Lifebook T731 offers a compact, if a bit bulky package, that includes high end processing, and ports/slots for every imaginable hardware configuration. The industrial design and weight aren't going to make you swoon, but the high end features and performance packed into the 12.1 inch package will make even those lugging a 17 inch laptop jealous.
Fujitsu knows its market and it has created PCs that follow good evolutionary practice. They certainly have not created machines that will take over the world, but they have created machines that fit niches very well, and because of that, they will serve their markets with distinction.
See Fujitsu Lifebook T731 and Stylistic Q550 at Fujitsu
Daniel W. Rasmus is an independent analyst and strategy consultant. He is a former Vice President at the Giga Information Group and Forrester Research. Dan is the author of five books, including Management by Design (Wiley, 2010) and Listening to the Future (Wiley 2008). He blogs regularly at http://danielwrasmus.wordpress.com. Additional information can be found at http://danielwrasmus.com.