Early convertible tablets often were saddled with out-of-date components. But newer models--such as the $2,429 Fujitsu LifeBook T4215--don't require you to sacrifice power for functionality, because they offer the latest technology, including Intel Core 2 Duo processors. While not as elegant as either the Lenovo ThinkPad X60 or the Gateway M285-E, the LifeBook T4215 is highly configurable and features a specially coated screen for outdoor use, making it a good fit for a range of uses and budgets. It also boasts a useful feature not found on other tablets: The rotating screen swivels both ways. With a middling keyboard but useful tablet features, the Fujitsu LifeBook T4215 is well worth a look if you plan on keeping the system in tablet mode a good deal of the time.
Quite simply: We love the double swivel. The importance of this seemingly common-sense approach is only obvious once you've twisted the screen of a different convertible tablet in the wrong direction, nearly snapping it off in your hand. For that reason alone, the LifeBook T4215 is a good choice for the accident-prone. The stylus also is thoughtfully housed in a cutout built right into the lid, on the left side of the screen (right next to the fingerprint reader). It's an ugly-looking solution compared to other tablets, which store the stylus in a small slot in the system's base, but at least this way, you're likely to notice when it's missing. Overall, we still prefer to see the stylus discretely tucked away in the main chassis, if only for aesthetic reasons.
Measuring 11.2 inches wide by 9.3 inches deep by 1.4 inches thick, the Fujitsu LifeBook T4215 sits in the thin-and-light category of laptops: It's small enough to carry around without much hassle, and big enough to work on comfortably for reasonable stretches of time. The system weighs 4.7 pounds (5.5 pounds with the A/C adaptor) and is light enough to carry around cradled in your arm--a typical position for tablets--without causing too much fatigue.
The 12.1-inch LCD display offers a useful native resolution of 1024x768 pixels, which is lower than most standard laptop displays this size, but common in tablets, where you'll want larger type and icons on the screen. The indoor/outdoor display provides excellent off-angle viewing and is readable in a variety of different lighting conditions, but the antiglare coating itself is slightly distracting--the screen has a subtle gauzy softness to it. You also can opt for a standard indoor display, with a higher resolution of 1400x1050 pixels, and save $100.
Rotating the display and folding it down made the screen automatically rotate 90 degrees into portrait mode, although the system does not sense which way you're holding it or adjust accordingly (unlike the direction-sensing ThinkPad X60). If you're left holding an upside-down image, a Rotate button on the screen bezel will go through all four possible orientations.
Tapping the screen with the stylus translates as a left mouse click. Holding down a button on the stylus while tapping is the equivalent of a right click. The stylus generally is responsive and accurate but requires separate calibration for the horizontal and vertical modes. When not using the system in tablet mode, the compact keyboard and touch pad work acceptably well, although the keyboard feels cheap, and the keys are somewhat loud. The emphasis with this model clearly is on the tablet side of the equation, as opposed to models like the Lenovo X60, which are equally at home as everyday laptops.
The system has a standard set of connections, including three USB 2.0 jacks (but no FireWire jack), a PC Card slot, headphone and mic jacks, a media card reader, and a VGA output for hooking up an external monitor. An ExpressCard slot would have been nice, especially if you want to add mobile broadband later on. Networking connections include modem and Ethernet jacks, and integrated 802.11a/b/g wireless and Bluetooth.
The LifeBook T4215 features a strong set of components, including a 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 processor, 1GB of DDR2 RAM, Intel 945GM graphics, a 100GB 5,400rpm hard drive, and a DVD burner. You can configure the system on Fujitsu's Web site, taking the CPU down to a T5500 (saving $150) or up to a T7400 (for an additional $190). Likewise, RAM can be upgraded to 2GB ($180) and the hard drive to 120GB ($80). We were pretty happy with the default specs, but adding that second GB of RAM certainly won't hurt once Windows Vista is released.
Compared to other similarly-configured laptops, the Fujitsu LifeBook T4215 performed well on the CNET Labs Multitasking test, beating the Lenovo Thinkpad T60, but falling behind the Gateway M285-E. While all three of these systems have identical 2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 CPUs, the faster Gateway uses a speedier 7200rpm hard drive, and the slower Lenovo has half the RAM. On our Apple iTunes encoding test, all three of these systems had essentially identical scores, which is to be expected since this test almost exclusively exercises a laptop's CPU capabilities. The Core 2 Duo CPU means that this system will be responsive enough for any daily computer task this side of heavy-duty gaming.
The LifeBook T4215 ran for 3 hours and 54 minutes on our MobileMark battery life test with the included six-cell battery. That's better than other recent tablets such the Lenovo Thinkpad X60 and the Gateway M285-E. Nearly four hours of battery life is impressive from any laptop, but is especially important for tablets, which primarily are designed for use away from the plugged-in desktop environment.
Fujitsu covers the system with a one-year warranty. Support is available through a 24/7 toll-free phone line, and technicians can connect to your computer over the Internet to diagnose problems. Standard Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and driver downloads also are available. Adding an extra year of service costs $99, and upgrading to next-business-day on-site service is an additional $50 per year.