- docking station provides desktop-like facilities.
- Relatively poor performance
- problems with using dual monitors.
Fujitsu-Siemens' contribution to the Tablet PC market is slim, well-proportioned and business-like. Performance is uninspiring, but the battery life is the better of the two tablets we've seen. Couple this unit with its docking station and you're getting Tablet PC functionality without sacrificing too much of what you'd expect from a desktop or notebook.
First, we should point out that Fujitsu Siemens is launching another pen-based PC at the same time as the ST4110, called the ST4110P, but this doesn't run Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Although it has a near-identical specification, the ST4110P uses a passive, touch-sensitive screen and so isn't suitable for writing on. Don't buy the wrong model if you're after the Tablet PC.
The ST4110 is slimmer, narrower and slightly lighter than ViewSonic's V1100 slate-style tablet, but is longer by over a centimetre. The size of the ST4110 is only slightly larger -- Fujitsu-Siemens claims by design -- than a sheet of A4 paper. It's a shame that the actual screen area is only A5-sized, but at least the proportions are correct.
The active screen measures 10.8in. across the diagonal, the same as the V1100, but appears smaller due to a black border around it. The electromagnetic digitiser is a Wacom unit, which we assume is the same one as used in the ViewSonic tablet. The controls on the front panel are basic, consisting of two cursor rockers, enter and escape, aspect change, Tablet function, security and email buttons. A power button is also there. You need to hold the security button down for three seconds to trigger it.
The ST4110's stylus has a dual-action button, allowing you to access more functions without needing to use a keyboard or gestures. In Windows Journal, for instance, the second action activates the eraser tool while the button is pressed -- the stylus doesn't support using the top as an eraser. There's a tether hole on top of the stylus and a matching attachment point on the tablet next to the stylus slot. The slot is at the top right-hand side of the tablet in portrait mode, allowing easy access for right-handers in either portrait or landscape modes. Left-handers may find it a bit more awkward, although using secondary landscape instead of primary landscape will put the stylus in a better position without compromising other functions.
There are infrared ports on the front and top of unit, the former being designed for use in conjunction with the supplied infrared keyboard. We were sent a compact keyboard, but Fujitsu-Siemens informs us that a full-sized unit will be supplied with the ST4110, so we can't comment on the quality of the one you'll get. However, the fact that you get a wireless keyboard makes this tablet useful for more than just form-filling.
The built-in 802.11b wireless network adapter is on a mini-PCI card. This could conceivably be changed for one supporting another networking standard, such as 802.11a, in the future. There's an on/off switch for the adapter, which doesn't disable the card in Windows, but does prevent the transmission and reception of signals. If you don't have a wireless network available, there are more conventional wired Ethernet and modem connections built in.
We were supplied with the docking station for the ST4110, which adds a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo drive, a VGA port, three more USB ports, another IEEE 1394 port and an Ethernet port. The power supply can be plugged into the docking station, powering the tablet and recharging its battery when docked. The tablet itself is held in a cradle that locks the tablet into place with the flick of a lever. There's a safety button you press to undock the tablet -- this prevents you accidentally undocking, for example when rotating the cradle. The cradle rotates through 90 degrees, allowing you to use the tablet in portrait or landscape mode while docked. In common with most rotating LCD monitors, there's no automatic aspect change -- you'll have to hit the button yourself. You can adjust the angle of the cradle by moving the support to one of five positions, ranging from just off-vertical to around 30 degrees tilting backwards.
The VGA port on the docking station allows you to add an external monitor to the ST4110, as you'd expect. The Intel 830 graphics chipset supports dual monitors, so that you can have a larger desktop than the tablet provides. However, we found that the only reliable configuration for dual monitors was to have both in landscape mode. Mixing the orientations of the two screens caused problems with the cursor, varying from it appearing in the wrong orientation to not appearing at all. This kind of problem isn't insurmountable, but in this first release at least, we'd recommend always changing the tablet to landscape mode before docking.
The performance of the ST4110 is below that of ViewSonic's V1100, but not by much, mostly due to the two having near-identical disk and graphics subsystems. They also use the same processor type -- Intel's Mobile Pentium III-M, the ST4110 having a slightly slower 800MHz chip than the ViewSonic V1100's 866MHz model. The ST4110's Business Winstone score of 25.8 is slower than we'd expect for the processor speed and is the lowest score we've seen on a mobile PC for some time. Considering how the docking station makes it easy to use the ST4110 as your main PC, it would have been nice to see higher performance.
The ST4110's battery life is just over three hours. Although this only represents half a days' work at most, the recharge time is shorter than the discharge time. This means that if you spend a fair proportion of the day with the tablet docked, you may get through without needing a spare battery. Note that you can power the docking station and the accessories it contains from the battery, although there are lighter and less bulky ways of carrying an optical media drive around. Using the docking station reduces the battery life to 2 hours and 40 minutes though, so it's not advised as general practise.
The Stylistic ST4110 is generally better put together than ViewSonic's V1100, although the navigation and function keys are more useful and better labelled on the latter. The docking station is excellent, and if you didn't mind the lack of performance, you'd be able to replace your desktop system with the tablet, dock and an external monitor. Even with the longer battery life, the ST4110 isn't suitable for spending all day away from your desk, but you'll be fine if you use it for a few meetings or the odd trip down the corridor.