Fujitsu Lifebook T580

Carrying around and using the Fujitsu Lifebook T580 illustrates everything that’s right, and wrong, with the Windows Tablet PC model.

First, the upside: the combination of a multitouch screen with gesture recognition and a more traditional, stylus-based interface mesh well together. Given my weird combination of cursive and printing, handwriting recognition works surprisingly well using the stylus. The included Microsoft Touch Pack showcases the Windows 7 multitouch interface quite well. Having a sort of portable notepad seems like a useful thing.

On the other hand, the Tablet PC stylus interface seems dated and arcane next to the multitouch, finger-oriented interface. Microsoft really needs to reconcile the two very different UIs. Sure, using a pen is a somewhat different experience than using your fingers, but the user interface doesn’t need to be so different. The Lifebook T580 seems light at just 3 pounds, 2 ounces without the power brick, but lugging it around on your arm as a tablet gets pretty tiring after a bit. Compared to a newer tablet, like Apple‘s (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPad, the Fujitsu seems overly bulky. But then, it’s also a full PC.

You can swivel the display and tuck it on top of the keyboard to use it exclusively as a tablet device. The pen interface, though finicky, works well with apps like Microsoft OneNote. Swivel it back, and you can use the keyboard. Although the T580 is roughly netbook size, its keyboard is substantially better in feel than those of most netbooks, offering good tactile feedback. The keys are more crowded than on a full-size notebook, however, so touch typists may make more errors than normal. The trackpad isn’t overly sensitive, and the buttons are easy to press. Even so, I found myself using either my fingers or the stylus instead of the trackpad.

The display is one of those tiny 10.1-inch affairs, but offers an impressive 1366-by-768-pixel resolution. Text is crisp and the colors seem properly saturated and reasonably accurate. Video looks fairly good viewed from the sweet spot. Audio is another matter. The sound quality is actually pretty good–neutral and balanced–but even at maximum volume in moderately quiet environments, music and video content is hard to hear. When the T580 is set up in full tablet mode, the volume becomes very dim, since the speakers are muffled by the display. The unit cries out for good headphones.

The T580 won’t win any awards for raw performance, scoring a fairly low 65 on PC WorldBench 6. Certainly the 1.3GHz, Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) Core i3 380UM ultralow-voltage CPU is a factor. Battery life is reasonably robust at nearly 5 hours. Still, you don’t get a tiny system like this to run high-performance applications.

While our test unit lacked 3G connectivity, it is available as an option. Our unit did have a gigabit Ethernet port and Atheros 802.11n/g/e Wi-Fi capability. Bluetooth is also available. Because of the T580’s compact size, it offers only two USB ports, but it does include VGA-out, an HDMI port, an Ethernet jack, and an SD card slot for flash memory cards.

Our test unit had only a 160GB, 5400-rpm Seagate drive–perfectly adequate, but you might consider the 128GB SSD upgrade, since the unit will likely be carried around on your arm more regularly than in a padded case.

Fujitsu’s software bundle includes Microsoft Office Starter, Roxio Creator LJ, and the aforementioned Windows Surface Touch Pack. The main manual is in a PDF file on the system, but it’s excellent, including detailed descriptions of how to use the tablet and touch interfaces.

The biggest downside, though, is the price. The base configuration, which includes 32-bit Windows 7, a fairly slow CPU, just 2GB of RAM, and the 160GB hard drive, is nearly $1000. That’s a really steep price for adding a touch interface. In the end, this is a pretty intriguing system, but it needs to be slimmed down–both in bulk and in cost–to compete in a world of netbooks and iPads.

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