Mice and keyboards can be plugged into the Fujitsu Q550, or connected over Bluetooth, but this is really meant to be a touch-controlled device. Although there’s naturally just the one screen on this tablet, it crams in two quite different touch interfaces.
The first is a capacitive multitouch touchscreen. It’s not hugely responsive at all times due to software lag in Windows 7, but when not stymied by the Atom processor it can reliably track the movements of several fingers at once.
The second touch interface is altogether more interesting. It’s an n-trig digitizer, similar to the kind you’d find on a graphics tablet. This is controlled using a battery-powered pen. Although interaction relies on direct contact with the screen’s surface, the digitizer can sense the pen when it’s around 1cm away from the screen. A big help in interface intuitiveness terms, this means you can see the cursor moving around even as the pen dances around on top of it.
With 256 levels of pressure sensitivity, the n-trig digitizer is a much higher-fidelity interface than a standard capacitive touchscreen. This opens up the Q550 to use as a reasonably advanced graphics tablet. Comparable tablet interfaces from the likes of Wacom (such as the wonderful Intuos 4) offer up to eight times the sensitivity, but they’re more expensive and far less practical for portable use. The front of this tablet is very comfortable to drag the stylus across too, more so than the harder glass front of the Eee Slate EP121.
As a designer’s tool, the Fujitsu Q550 has some serious potential. Unlike the Wacom Cintiq 12WX, which is merely an interface and screen for a computer, no separate hardware is needed. Factor-in the light weight (860g is light enough to use one-handed for short periods), the good battery life and replaceable battery, and the Fujitsu starts looking like one of the most attractive tablet for creative professionals. Some artists rave about the potential of the iPad 2, but for more serious work, the Q550 trumps it entirely.
Only one of the interface types can be used at once, but this is a sensible restriction, letting you rest your palm on the screen when writing or drawing with the stylus – it would be a nightmare to use if this set off the capacitive touchscreen. The performance of the digitizer and stylus combo isn’t perfect though, seemingly missing strokes occasionally when the system’s under pressure. We found performance, and the overall experience, improved significantly once resource-hogging options like Aero were turned off.
The digitizer layer has a slightly mottling effect on the display below – an effect common to resistive touchscreens as well – but the panel below is of excellent quality. The Fujitsu Q550 uses an IPS display, offering superb horizontal and vertical viewing angles and great overall picture quality. As the display’s output has to pass through those extra digitzer layers, images aren’t as vital as you’d find on other, simpler IPS panels like the Eee Pad Transformer’s or iPad 2’s, but the screen is nevertheless excellent.
Outside use is a far more attractive prospect than with almost all other tablets too – which almost universally use glossy finishes. The matt finish here picks-up far less reflections. While it’s not going to be perfect to use on a bright, sunny day, you should at least be able to see what’s on-screen, rather than left looking at a reflection of your own frustrated expression. The front is also extremely comfortable to draw on with a stylus, reinforcing its potential to replace a graphics tablet in some situations.
With these quality components inside, it’s a pity Fujitsu leaves the stylus dangling off the tablet by a piece of string – there’s no place in the body itself to stash it. Thus far, the connector isn’t showing any signs of breaking, but we can’t imagine it lasting more than a few months unless you treat your Q550 with unusual care.