Fujitsu-Siemens Stylistic ST5010

15 Mar 2004

Product: Tablet PC
Price: €2,360

Cursed by a ringing endorsement from Bill Gates no less, the first year in the life of tablet PCs was not a happy one. Stories of slashed prices in the UK and a market share of just 1pc suggests that Gates will have some time to wait before his vision of the tablet stealing the thunder of laptops becomes a reality.

Still, as the second wave of tablets starts to appear there are signs that it would be unwise to write off a computing format that is undeniably sexy, wonderfully portable and irrefutably exclusive. What differentiates it from laptops at one end and personal digital assistants at the other is its double life as an electronic A4 notepad. An electromagnetic pen lets you write directly on to the screen, creating notes that can be stored as they were written or converted to type via handwriting recognition software.

The Stylistic ST5010 refines the tablet’s core attributes but also benefits from a technology that simply wasn’t available first-time around. At the heart of the new machine is Intel’s Centrino processor, a chipset configured for mobility with integrated W-Fi and a longer-lasting battery life. The ST5010 can run for up to eight hours, according to its maker.

Just 2.4cm thick and weighing in at 1.5kg, it’s easy to carry around while being robust enough to take some knocks. We weren’t feeling brave enough to put it through the ‘drop test’ but we’ll take the manufacturer’s word for it that the hard disk is mounted on shock absorbers and surrounded by gel cushions enabling it to survive a certain amount of rough treatment.

Familiarising yourself with dedicated tablet applications takes a little time. The reason Gates pushed the product so hard is because Microsoft has a software set specifically designed for the tablet. Key features in the XP Tablet Edition are the Windows Journal and the tablet Input Panel.

When you get to the nitty-gritty of onscreen writing in the Journal, user-friendly icons, including a rubber and coloured markers, give you great scope for emulating ‘ye olde’ pen and paper, bolstered with more high-tech attributes such as cut and paste. So friendly is the software that in my house the Stylistic was hi-jacked by my seven-year-old daughter who treated it as the world’s most expensive Etcha-Sketch.

Anyone who’s ever played with any form of handwriting recognition knows it takes time to master and will have decided if it’s worth the effort. That said the Microsoft tablet version is as good as it gets. You can write quickly and if you write clearly you’ll see it magically transformed into type.

Whether the time is right for tablets is open to debate. Perhaps there aren’t enough people or organisations prepared to change their working ways to make them fly out of the shops just yet, but its attributes are so strong that you feel it’s only a matter of time before they find themselves a market. And when that happens, judging by this model, Fujitsu-Siemens will be well-positioned to grab some market share.

By Ian Campbell