Windows netbooks, laptops and tablets almost always have to strike out a compromise between performance and battery life. The Fujitsu Q550 opts for battery life.
Fresh out of the box, the limited power of the Atom processor and 2GB of RAM is a little too evident. The sluggish operation of Windows 7 is only reinforced by the expectations other tablets (running "non-full" operating systems) have introduced.
However, after a tweak or two, the Q550's performance becomes far more acceptable. With Windows 7's bells and whistles, such as Aero, enabled, the tablet is not a joy to use. The intrinsic split-second load times of Windows 7 are dragged-out, making touchscreen navigation feel clumsier and clunkier than it actually is. We found the effect was particularly bad when painting in ArtRage, presumably due to the processing needed to keep its brushes seeming natural.
Switched over to a basic Windows 7 theme though, performance was much improved. It's naturally not as slick as iOS or Android Honeycomb, but the Q550 at once regained its position as an attractive alternative to more frivolous tablets. As long as you don't intend to take on too many intensive tasks.
Compared with a Sandy Bridge i3 or i5 chip device though, it's thoroughly underpowered. In our PCMark Productivity test, it scraped-together a measly 1308 points overall - just a fraction of what a similarly-priced laptop might expect to achieve. The Sony Vaio C-series gained 5800 points, for example.
The hardware features of the Q550 make using Windows 7 with a touch interface reasonably palatable, a problem we encountered with the Acer W500. There are buttons on the left edge of the tablet to bring up the virtual keyboard, rotate the screen and secure the computer (effectively give the "CTRL ALT DEL" command), and the stylus makes using the built-in OCR worthwhile. It's surprisingly accurate once you get used to its quirks.
Fujitsu also offers the Infinity Lounge, an app designed to give your Windows 7 tablet more of a traditional tablet feel. It offers a trio of Android-style home screens you can drop email, RSS reader, Calendar and Calculator widgets onto. It's a bit of a gimmick, and in no way something that bridges the gap between the Q550 and iPads or Android tablets, but does no harm.
With no fan to cool the tablet in use, the Q550 does tend to get warm after a short while, but it's also silent. The plastic body ensures the tablet doesn't get ridiculously hot, although this is also kept in check by the relatively low-powered processor inside. Using the 4-cell battery, the tablet lasts for around 5 hours when playing video, and should stretch further when dealing with low-power tasks at lower brightness. Take a spare battery with you and this tablet will last all day.
The Fujitsu Q550 is a genuinely interesting tablet, and one that will appeal to buyers other than the business crowd Fujitsu's gunning for. As a graphics tablet to use out in the field, it's an excellent device thanks to its matt screen and digitizer. However, it's also not particularly powerful given its price. It demands some patience, but for arty types it arguably has more to offer than an iPad 2.