The last time I had a look at a Fujitsu tablet — the Stylistic Q550 — it was running an almost standard version of Windows 7 and provided an example of exactly what you don't want in a tablet. It was heavy, large and had the most unresponsive operating system on a mobile device that I'd ever seen.
So when Dave Shaw, a senior manager in Fujitsu's tablet business, promised to bring in the latest and greatest from the company recently, I didn't have high expectations.
The not-very-catchily named Stylistic M532 [shown above] is due to arrive in the UK in June. It isn't designed to be a follow-up to the Q550, which will eventually have its own Windows 8-based successor. Instead, the M532 uses the Ice Cream Software version of the Android platform, which is about as current as any tablet could be and a sure-fire win in appealing to consumers. The same goes for the M532's processor, the quad-core Nvidia Tegra 3, which should have enough oomph to keep customers happy.
Shaw was quick to point out — and did so repeatedly — that the Q550 and the M532 are separate product lines, with different aims. Looking at the two, the Q550 line is more of a traditional enterprise device, while the M532 is seen as "Fujitsu's response to the BYOD trend", with all the support for personal use that implies.
At first glance, Fujitsu's M532 could seem a little vanilla. It has 32GB of internal storage, Wi-Fi and data connectivity, and comes with a virtually unmodified version of Android 4.0. It also has no proprietary Fujitsu user interface, making it ripe for quick upgrades in the future.
Its Corning Gorilla Glass-equipped 10.1-inch screen also seemed bright enough, even if the resolution does max out at 1280 x 800 pixels. There's always the option of connecting to an external display for full 1080p video playback via the dock (sold separately) or via an HDMI-to-microUSB converter cable, just as the HTC One X does. So far, so good. But here's the kicker: it has one thing that so many other tablets haven't managed to achieve — simplicity.
There's just one variant, which makes it easy to choose and buy. Plus, it comes with a price tag of just £476. Apple, which has done extraordinarily well in the pricing of its tablets and exercising command over economies of scale in manufacturing, can offer its 32GB new iPad with Wi-Fi and data for £579. But Fujitsu has managed to bring the M532 to market for more than £100 less.
While many hardware makers talk about simplicity in their products, few deliver it. Fewer still manage to make the device easy to buy. This is where I've some concerns with the M532.
If it is meant to be a BYOD tablet, it needs to be available to buy from online retailers and mobile operators, and not just through business channels. Asked whether Fujitsu will team up with operators to get the M532 into peoples' hands, Shaw said discussions are still taking place.
The tablet is scheduled for release in mid-June. If Fujitsu fails to secure a deal with the networks, there's a good chance that the intended audience won't really ever see the Stylistic M532.
So if you can deal with a slightly unremarkable-looking tablet, this may be the one for you. On the plus side, it's 8.6mm thick, has a claimed battery life of around 8.5 hours of video playback and weighs just 560g. Also, it's likely to get future operating system upgrades quickly and provides good connectivity. By comparison, the equivalent new iPad weighs 662g and is 9.4mm thick.
Here, the M532 is shown next to a Nokia Lumia 900 smartphone, to give an idea of depth.
Of course, given its business inclinations, there are also a host of enterprise-angled features and software, according to Shaw. These include full-disk encryption, remote tracking, pre-installed Norton tablet security software and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) integration for providing access to Citrix and VMware viewers.
Incidentally, the Stylisic Q550 is currently the only mobility product from Fujitsu in the UK, even though it has a strong showing in waterproof smartphones and tablets back in Japan.
When pushed on this, Shaw said the company is still evaluating exactly how and when to re-enter the UK smartphone market. This is probably not an enviable prospect, considering the cut-throat risk of failure and the sheer number of manufacturers vying for attention.
In the UK, it's not just the big names — Samsung, Apple, LG, Nokia, BlackBerry et al — that are fighting for your cash; previously white-label manufacturers such as ZTE and Huawei are now keenly focused on becoming household names. This makes it all the more difficult for new entrants to the UK. But if Fujitsu can deliver a smartphone with the same principles as the M532, it could be on to something.