Fujitsu T-580 User Review
29 April 2011
Bottom Line First: Fujitsu's T580 convertible tablet looks to be a good choice for those who want a light, mobile device but aren't willing to settle for the performance compromises of netbooks and their lightweight processors. Equipped with an Intel i5-560UM processor, 2 GB or more of DDR3 RAM with a front-side bus speed of 800MHz, an N-trig DuoSense pen and touch digitizer (and with options for an SSD), the T580 as configured is a very capable tablet. Note, however, that price is likely to be a consideration for a richly configured T580; with typical performance options selected, it's easy to get close to the $2000 range! Please read on for my comments about my short test-drive of Fujitsu's latest convertible tablet design.
Before diving into the details, I'd like to recognize John Hill and Allegiance Technology Partners, who allowed me to demo the T580 as part of their Tablet Demo Program. Although I was only able to keep the tablet for a few days, it was enough time to familiarize myself with the T580 and test many of its performance characteristics. The Allegiance Demo Program features several current tablet models, and if you can't find a tablet at your local computer store, the Demo Program is a great way to get your feet wet with the tablet of your choice!
What's In The Box: The T580 comes well packed with the tablet suspended within cushioning foam caps. An accessories box contains the AC adapter and 2-conductor power cord, the N-trig Digital Pencil, battery and tether, a recovery disc and the "Getting Started" and warranty booklets. As best I could tell, the T580 was equipped with the following features:
<> i5-560UM processor running at 2.13 GHz
<> 4 GB of DDR3 800MHz RAM
<> 160 GB SATA 5400 rpm conventional hard drive
<> 10.1" WXGA LED LCD display
<> N-trig pen and touch digitizer
<> Intel Centrino Advanced N6200 (a/b/g/n) WiFi
<> BlueTooth Version 2.1
<> 1.3 MP front-facing camera (only)
<> TPM, Fingerprint sensor, SmartCard Slot, CompuTrace BIOS Mod
<> 64-bit Windows 7 Professional
<> 3-cell 31 Whr battery (good for about 2 hours of operating life)
<> 10.63" x 7.09" x 1.56" (including foot) inches; ~2.95 lbs
One's first impression of the T580 is that it is light and compact. When closed, the tablet has a shallow wedge shape that naturally invites you to hold it by the wide end, much like a small ring binder / planner. The case is nicely rounded all around with no sharp edges. The AC adapter is smaller than I expected; it has a square cross section and is about 5" long. The AC cord plugs into one end, and the DC cord and connector are permanently attached to the other end. With a shorter AC cord, the combo would be very easy to store and transport.
Turning the T580 over reveals that the back features three access panels, in addition to the removable battery (which is located along the top edge of the back). Removing the battery involves sliding one latch to unlock a second latch; you then press and hold the second latch while rotating the battery up and off. From left to right, the three panels allow access to the wireless card, the expansion RAM and the cooling fan. Apparently, Fujitsu's servicing experience has led them to make access to this latter component as easy as possible! (Fujitsu's last Stylistic slate, the ST6012, also featured such an access panel.) All of the panels are reasonable easy to open, but you must have the correct size of Phillips-head screwdriver as the screws fit very tightly.
Starting Up: To my surprise, the demo unit proved to be brand new, so it was necessary to perform the complete start-up and initialization sequence, which proved to be unusually lengthy. This T580 was supplied with 64-bit Windows 7 Professional with Internet Explorer 8. In addition to the normal Windows start-up, there was a lengthy Fujitsu driver load that took a fair amount of time to accomplish. Near the very end of the Windows initialization, there was another lengthy Fujitsu procedure that apparently loaded more software and established special tablet settings. After all the smoke cleared, I found that the T580 came preloaded with the usual variety of "bloatware," some of which actually does enhance your user experience, but most of which just gets in your way and needs to be uninstalled:
<> Adobe Reader 9 (Version X now available)
<> Norton Internet Security, 60-day trial
<> CyberLink YouCam
<> Roxio Creator (CD / DVD writer)
<> OmniPass Fingerprint Application
<> Fujitsu Driver Update Application
<> Google Tool Bar
<> Microsoft Office Starter 2010 32-bit (limited Word and Excel)
<> Windows Live Essentials
<> McAfee Security Application
One disconcerting consequence of having two security apps co-resident on the tablet at the same time was that the McAfee application appeared to take over right from the start and then after that the Norton application would post a window every time I booted up, nagging me to activate it. Why an OEM would do something like this is really beyond me! If this were my T580, I would delete both applications and install Microsoft Security Essentials, which is a very lightweight and capable app, and it's free!
For my demo testing, I loaded a few applications: Starter Office (it has to be explicitly installed), Demo ArtRage, Internet Explorer 9, Adobe Reader X and Demo MathJournal. With numerous pauses to attend to household chores, the whole start-up process from power-on to completion took several hours. Once completed, of course, the T580 started up and shut down about as promptly as would be expected for a tablet with a conventional HD. Sleep also behaved as usual (several seconds to go down or come back up). I did not test hibernation.
User Impressions: As I hope most readers would understand, many of the operating characteristics of the T580 are largely the same as any comparable tablet running Windows 7. For this reason, I'd like to focus on just a few characteristics that I think potential buyers might be curious about.
Using the T580 in either laptop mode or slate mode did not reveal any problems with its size or shape. Before actually using the unit, I had originally had doubts about its thickness (>1.5"), but in use, the thickness was not a problem at all! The T580's smooth contours and shallow wedge shape actually made it easy and natural to hold in slate mode and the tablet buttons were nicely placed (if you are right-handed as I am). In laptop mode, I didn't notice any issues with the thickness of the base. I guess we sometimes need to be reminded not to judge a book by its cover!
Speaking about books, the T580's "Getting Started" guide and its electronic users guide (look for its icon on the desktop) both contain useful information about the T580s features. I strongly recommend that new buyers take the time to read both. In particular, at least scan the Getting Started guide before applying power for the first time as the Fujitsu's initializing process is a bit different than other brands of tabletPCs.
Note the reflection of the keyboard in the screen!
The T580s screen follows the current fashion by being very shiny but also quite bright and clear. I didn't try to investigate overall screen viewing angle, but I can say that the screen color and visibility was perfectly adequate when used in the usual convertible and slate orientations. Of course, the shiny surface finish on the screen meant that reflections could be troublesome, but they were no worse than other comparable tablet or laptop screens. The LED backlighting had a wide enough dynamic range of adjustment to overcome most ambient light situations. One thing that did bother me about the screen was the fact that the plastic frame and back felt like they might be fragile in daily use. In addition, the screen hinge also felt fragile, and frankly a bit cheap; whereas most rotating screens have light detents so you can feel when the screen is straight, this screen had none. The hinge allows you to rotate the screen in either direction for slate mode, but the Users Guide cautions that the user must take care to return the screen to laptop mode by rotating back in the reverse of the initial direction. I wonder how many of us would be that disciplined in daily use?
I briefly tried the unit's 1.3 MP camera; it is certainly good enough for video chat services like Skype, but that's about all.
Using the standard balanced power management setting, I managed to get about two hours of operating life from the small 31 Whr 3-cell battery. Obviously, I recommend that buyers consider the larger 6-cell battery which should provide about twice the operating time. Note, however, that rechargeable batteries usually require a few cycles over a break-in period before they begin to deliver peak performance. With a brand-new unit and only a couple of days of use, my guess is that the battery pack hadn't yet reached that performance point. Recharging times were perfectly routine, neither overly slow nor fast.
For my own reasons, I did not activate the WiFi or BlueTooth, nor did I try any of the biometric or security features of the T580, but I have no reason to believe that they wouldn't work as advertised. When necessary, I used hardwire connections for the Internet, etc.
Finally, I would guess that one of the T580's most controversial features is its N-trig DuoSense pen and touch digitizer. What did I think of that? Before I comment, a very short bit of history. I have used N-trig digitizers since they first appeared on the Dell Latitude XT and I have followed their development through the Latitude XT2, the HP tx2, the HP Slate 500 and now the T580. In parallel, I have used Wacom-equipped tablets such as the TC1100, the Motion LE1700 and most recently the Asus EP121. So I think I have developed a good understanding of the state of pen digitizing and the relative merits of both Wacom and N-trig. One thing that I sincerely believe is that, 1) Wacom's current tablet digitizers aren't quite as good as some would have us think, and, 2) N-trig's digitizers are not as bad. In particular, my experience with N-trig's current software is that their touch experience is very good and that Wacom's touch experience (EP121) is no better. (In fact, I would argue that N-trig's 4-finger touch, soon to be 5-finger, is more ambitious than Wacom's current 2-finger capability.) And I give N-trig credit for fielding their N-act expanded gesture application. It may be a little balky, but it's a useful addition to the touch repertoire. Hopefully, N-trig will continue to perfect it.
Fujitsu pen at top; Kno pen at center; HP pen at bottom
Turning to the pen, The T580 uses the same model of Digital Pencil that the HP Slate 500 uses; the only apparent differences are that the Fujitsu pen is black, rather than silver, and the nose of the pen is shaped just a bit more smoothly. Based on my experience to date, does N-trig's current Digital Pencil hardware need to be improved? You bet! But I expect that they will improve it, if perhaps not as fast as we would all like. I base this optimism on what was done with the Dell XT2. Over the course of time, N-trig did a very creditable job of improving the software and hence the touch and inking behavior of that generation of hardware.
In terms of development, it is my understanding that the XT, XT2, tx2 and Slate 500 all share a common vintage of N-trig hardware. In the case of the Slate, the software was modified to work with the Digital Pencil (rather than the earlier battery-less pens of the XT, XT2 and tx2). The T580 N-trig hardware has been incrementally updated with a few improved parts. Based on my limited trial, the pen inking experience on the T580 is better than the Slate 500, but not dramatically so. My impression was that the palm rejection function worked better and more solidly, and I think I experienced fewer problems with inadvertent touch inputs when pausing and raising the pen to think.
However, I still had problems with skipping (when pressure on the pen nib was relaxed too much) and with controlling line density or "heaviness" (pen pressure sensitivity). In the process of testing the T580, I think I also noticed that some applications provide better inking results than others. Journal and Outlook seemed to be a bit less sensitive to pen pressure and therefore delivered smoother lines of ink. By contrast, OutLook (tested on my XT2) seemed to overly dramatize the effects of pen pressure, leading to lines of ink that looked sloppy and uncontrolled. Application effects aside, most of the adverse effects that I have observed appear to be issues with the Digital Pencil and that is why I advocate reworking its design. To me, the good news in this is that once a better Digital Pencil is made available, all of us will be able to benefit from it because it will work with all the current generation N-trig equipped tablets!
So my conclusion is that the T580's touch experience is very good and that the inking experience is adequate but warrants improvement. Artists, in particular, should approach the T580 with caution.
As stated at the beginning of this review, the Fujitsu T580 is a capable tabletPC with a compact and mobile form factor. Battery life with the larger 6-cell battery should provide enough operating time for many, but maybe not all, work or study situations. The N-trig digitizer shows some improvements over previous tabletPCs. Finally, given the price, one would have hoped that a little less plastic would have been used, at least around the screen and hinge.
In sum, the T580 is definitely worth considering if its characteristics match your needs.