A recent report from industry analysts Canalys suggested that sales of Tablet PCs are a mere one per cent of all notebook sales, with just 100,000 units shipping in Europe between the launch of Tablet device in November 2002 and August 2003. That really is a drop in the ocean, but not a small enough drop to stop some significant hardware manufacturers from adding to their ranges. Fujistu Siemens is one of the hardware companies committed to the format, and it has just announced the LifeBook T 3010 Tablet PC.
The key characteristic which makes Tablet PCs different to standard notebooks is that you can write directly to the screen. Your writing can remain in freehand style, or can be converted into editable text, while your drawings can be saved as images for sharing and storing. Some Tablet devices lack a keyboard, offering only the screen, and are known as ?slate? style devices. Others, like our review model, have a keyboard and can be used like normal notebooks, but incorporate a swivel mechanism which allows the screen to be twisted and laid flat, screen uppermost, for use in ?slate? mode. Writing to the screen requires the use of a digitizer pen since the screens are not touch sensitive.
On the software front, Microsoft produces a version of Windows XP specifically for the Tablet format. Among its features is an application called Journal, designed to cope with text and graphics input direct to the screen.
So much for Tablet PC in general, how does this particular Tablet device fare?
The LifeBook T 3010 Tablet PC is a similar machine to the LifeBook S series - the slim line hardware is very reminiscent of that series in terms of colouring, size and design, all of which are appealing. This is a very portable machine, though note that it does approach 2kg in weight and you can find some ultra-portables which are lighter.
The keyboard is superb. I like the feel of the keys, and typing at speed was not a problem for me. The touchpad is large enough and nicely responsive, and the two buttons which emulate the left right buttons of a mouse are large and bevelled which makes finding them easy. Between them sits a rocker button which allows for up and down scrolling. This is a bit on the small side, but functions well enough.
The screen is just 12.1 inches measured corner to corner ? but then this is meant to be a small machine so you can?t expect more. The TFT is bright and clear, the viewing angle is good, but when I sat this machine beside another notebook the screen on this one was notably more reflective. This makes it harder to work in situations with overhead lighting, or light that shines through a window or from other sources directly to the screen. This effect is caused by the digitizing layer required by Tablet PC, and is a feature of the genre. I have to say that I found it consistently irritating.
The special digitizing pen required for use with Tablet PCs lives in a slot to the left side of the screen. (This and the other positional descriptions assume you have the machine open in notebook rather than Tablet mode) You can?t use a standard pen with a Tablet, or prod at the screen with a finger. The pen is part of the digitizing technology, and without it you are lost. So, er, don?t lose it. Or at least, be prepared to obtain spares if you do.
The LifeBook T 3010 Tablet PC is powered by a Pentium M processor running at 1.4GHz ? quite fast enough to handle the kinds of tasks you are likely to ask of it. As is usually the case, the Pentium M CPU is part of an Intel Centrino solution. Along with the Centrino branding comes Intel?s 802.11b capability, and you also get Ethernet built in. There?s no Bluetooth, though. The 60GB hard disk is generous, and there is 512MB of RAM to work with that processor.