- Integrated fingerprint recognition
- Superb keyboard
- Optional 3G connectivity
- Good clasp holding the clamshell sections together
- Screen could be brighter for outdoor work
- Slightly heavy and unwieldy for use in tablet mode
- Active rather than passive touch-screen
Fujitsu Siemens' LifeBook brand comprises several different notebook families. The T series is all about Tablet PCs, and the Core 2 Duo-based T4215 is a convertible Tablet PC with the added benefit of optional 3G data connectivity.
The LifeBook T4215 is a neatly designed notebook. Its black and silver colouring is not unusual, although it's rare to see quite so much silver on the inside of the machine. Along with the white keyboard, this livery does give the LifeBook T4215 a very distinctive look.
Weighing 2.2kg with both the battery and the optical drive in place, you'll certainly notice the LifeBook T4215 in your bag when carrying it around. Its footprint on the desktop is 29.5cm wide by 25cm deep, and it is 3.8cm thick at its maximum point.
The T4215 is a convertible Tablet PC with a twistable hinge between the clamshell's screen and keyboard sections that allows you to lay the display flat, facing outwards for use in tablet mode. However, you're unlikely to want to work with the T4215 for extended periods while standing — the notebook is just too large, heavy and awkward for that. It's fine on the desktop or when you're seated, though.
The touch-screen display measures 12.1in. from corner to corner and has a native resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels (XGA). We can't help wondering how long old-style 4:3 aspect-ratio displays will continue to be used in notebooks: when you've worked with wide-screen displays, you generally don't want to go back. The screen is described by Fujitsu Siemens as 'AnyLight', which means that it should be as viewable outdoors as it is in the office. However, we found it less sharp and bright outdoors as we'd like, the anti-reflective coating performing its task only up to a point.
The LifeBook T4215 has a dual-action clasp that keeps the lid and keyboard sections firmly together when closed in either notebook or tablet mode. We appreciate this feature, which is by no means ubiquitous these days, as will anyone who needs to carry the system in a bag.
Fujitsu Siemens says the keyboard is spill-proof, which should provide some comfort to clumsy users who can't work without a cup of tea or coffee to hand. The keyboard is responsive and satisfying to use. Keys give a good return when pressed as well as a reassuring click, and fast touch typing is perfectly possible. A three-quarter-sized row of function keys sits above the number row. The touchpad is nice and wide, and there's a useful scroll button between the two mouse buttons.
Because this is a convertible Tablet PC, the frame around the screen carries a range of additional buttons. The on/off switch is here, along with a bank of five small buttons that allow you to perform functions such as rotating the display and calling up an on-screen menu giving access to system settings, screen brightness adjustment and even screen captures. The screen surround also carries two user-programmable buttons and a fingerprint sensor.
To interact with the touch-screen you need to use the provided stylus, as this is an active rather than a passive unit (you can use your fingertip with a passive touch-screen). The stylus lives in a housing along one of the short edges of the screen and can be attached via a cord to prevent its loss, although we found that the cord tended to get in the way when the LifeBook T4215 was being carried. generally, we prefer Tablet PCs with passive touch-screens.
Our review sample of the LifeBook T4215 runs Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, although it can also be configured with Windows Vista Business. It's built around Intel's 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo T5600 processor with 2GB of Level 2 cache, and comes with 1GB of RAM, expandable to 4GB. Graphics are handled by the integrated GMA 950 module in Intel's 945GM Express chipset.
Hard drives come in 60GB, 80GB and 120GB sizes, our review sample providing a mid range 80GB unit. The drive spins at 5,400rpm and incorporates a shock sensor for protection against knocks and bumps when you're travelling. A multiformat double-layer DVD rewriter sits in a modular bay on the right-hand side of the notebook. This can be easily removed if it is not required, to reduce weight or to be replaced by a second hard drive or second battery.
Wi-Fi can be provided either by Intel's PRO/Wireless 3945ABG 802.11a/b/g adapter or, as in our review sample, by an Atheros 802.11b/g module. Bluetooth 2.0 is an option which was not included in our review sample, while wired Ethernet comes courtesy of a Marvell Yukon Gigabit module.
Wide area wireless connectivity is another option, and is present on our review sample. This is provided by a Sierra Wireless MC8755 3G/HSDPA adapter that provides throughput up to 1.8Mbps. The SIM card slot is on the back of the notebook, protected by a hinged cover.
Next to this slot is one of the system's three USB 2.0 connectors, along with an infrared port. Because an infrared connection requires line-of-sight access, its use when the notebook is in desktop mode may be a little awkward, although the port will be on the side when the system is in tablet mode.
On the far side of the back edge is a second USB 2.0 connector, along with the Ethernet (RJ-45) port and external monitor connector.
The left edge houses the third USB 2.0 port and a manual switch for the Wi-Fi radio. Towards the front is a single Type II PC Card slot with a SmartCard reader beneath it that can be used for additional security over and above the fingerprint reader.
The front edge carries twin speakers, headphone and microphone sockets, and a flash card reader catering for SD, MMC and Memory Stick media.
Performance & battery life
With a quoted battery life of up to 6 hours (as tested with MobileMark 2002), the LifeBook T4215 may not quite see you through a working day, even if used judiciously. Add a second battery in the modular bay and Fujitsu Siemens says you can get up to 10 hours of productivity.
During testing, one sample working session of three hours, during which the notebook went into standby mode several times for periods of ten minutes or more, saw us drain the battery by a little over a half, suggesting that the 6-hour quote is pretty reasonable. However, we were simply word processing during this time — the 3G or Wi-Fi connectivity and you may run out of juice considerably quicker.
As noted above, this is a large notebook to use as a Tablet PC, and we found it most comfortable in this mode when the notebook was on a desk or in the lap when seated. If you should venture outdoors with it, the screen may not be easily viewable in bright sunshine.
The LifeBook T4215 is a solidly built convertible Tablet PC, whose fingerprint sensor and smartcard slot should appeal to security-conscious business buyers. The inclusion of 3G/HSDPA connectivity is a bonus, too.