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Features

Fujitsu Stylistic 1200

Outstanding new pen-slate

fujitsu_stylistic_1200.gif (18060 bytes)

The Fujitsu Stylistic 1200 is the successor of the two most successful pen computers ever made, the Stylistic 500 and 1000. It is also the flagship product of Fujitsu Personal Systems, Inc., the company that has pursued pen computing with skill and professionalism, and also with single-minded determination. As a result, it's like seeing the introduction of a new Ford Taurus or Toyota Camry: expectations are high and a lot rides on the success of this new model. Fujitsu Personal Systems sold somewhere around $75 million worth of pen computers in 1996, and expects the new Stylistic 1200 and its running mate, the equally new Point 510, to help them break the US$100 million barrier this year.

What's new?
At first sight, the 1200 seems virtually unchanged from the 1000. This wouldn?t be much of a surprise since the Stylistic 1000 was an excellently designed and engineered product. One could easily forgive Fujitsu had the company decided not to tamper with a winning formula. But the first impression is wrong. The Stylistic 1200 is actually an entirely new design that shares little with its predecessor. Looking at the two machines side by side quickly reveals that the housing of the 1200 is entirely new and subtly different. At 11.2 x 7.4 x 1.6 inches, the new unit is slightly wider and slightly thicker. At 3.9 pounds in standard configuration it is also slightly heavier. The textured carbon-fiber ABS plastic is all new. Everything is more rounded and somehow more elegant. The creaking that slightly marred the impression of complete quality when you twisted the case of the 1000 is gone. Fujitsu says that's because the case now consists of just two precision-engineered pieces of housing as opposed to the many pieces that made up the housing of the Stylistic 1000. The covers of the various openings and connectors along the sides of the 1200 are much sturdier and use springloaded 'saloon' doors. It's an elegant solution that eliminates the fumbling required to pry open the older unit's latches. Every single change on the 1200 represents a subtle improvement or enhancement over the 1000. It's clear that Fujitsu not only listens to its customers, but also is on a never-ending quest for perfection.

And for the big news...
The biggest news, however, is under the hood of the Stylistic 1200. After years of being mired in the Intel 486 world and increasingly unable to run Windows 95 applications at an acceptable speed, pen technology is finally entering the Pentium era. Though the Stylistic is not the first pen computer using Pentium power -- that honor goes to MicroSlate's Datellite 500P -- the Stylistic is the first general purpose pen tablet to go Pentium.
The 1200 is using a 120 MHz Pentium with an external bus frequency of 60 MHz and 256 KB of Level 2 cache. By commercial notebook standards, even Fujitsu's own Lifebook line, a Pentium 120 now represents pretty much the performance base line, with faster notebooks now using 166 and 200 MHz chips, and Intel already switching production lines to the Pentium II. But more speed means more cost, more heat, and more power consumption, so the 120 represents a good compromise. It is plenty fast enough to run Windows 95 applications quickly and it still provides acceptable battery life.

Screens a la carte
The second big news is the availability of no less than four different LCD screens. All of them measures 8-inches diagonally -- about the minimum required to use Windows 95 -- and have a dot pitch of 0.25mm, but that's where the similarity ends. If you plan on using the Stylistic 1200 outdoors, pick the transflective monochrome screen. If you don't need color and primarily use the unit indoors, your choice should be the backlit transmissive screen. Both of these mono screens can display up to 64 shades of gray and cost significantly less than the color versions.

If you do need color but want to save a few hundred dollars, Fujitsu will gladly equip your 1200 with a backlit dual scan color VGA LCD capable of displaying up to 4,096 colors. If you're one of the increasing number of people who insist on the brightness and speed of active matrix color, your choice is the top-of-the-line VGA TFT color screen that displays over a quarter of a million colors. The TFT screen costs $300 more, a small premium for a vastly superior screen technology.
Fujitsu should be commended for offering all those screen options. They all have different voltage and input requirements, and Fujitsu had to equip the 1200 with circuitry to accommodate them all. Not an easy task in such a small package.

Our test unit came with the bright and brilliant TFT color screen that's becoming more and more the norm for notebooks and other portable systems. The display is ultrafast with no cursor ghosting at all. It has a very wide viewing angle and no flickering whatsoever. I should also mention that the 1200 supports simultaneous use of an external monitor with resolutions up to 1024 x 768. Finally, the 1200 is, so far, the only pen tablet that offers "zoomed video" which sends streaming video directly from a PC Card to the 128-bit graphics controller and the frame buffer. This leaves the CPU and the system bus out of the loop and allows the 1200 to run full-motion, 30 frame per second video.

Electronic digitizer
Nothing has changed on the digitizer front. Like the 1000, the 1200 uses a very responsive active, electromagnetic system with a high resolution of 1016 points per inch and a sampling rate of 133 points per second. The 1200 also uses the same heavy-duty black pen which is powered by a single AAAA battery. Yes, that's quadruple A. We lauded that choice over those pesky and expensive hearing aid batteries in an earlier review of the Stylistic 1000, but readers have pointed out that finding AAAAs isn't always easy.

NT on a pen computer?!
The Stylistic 1200 is the first commercially available pen tablet to run the Microsoft Windows NT operating system. Only a couple of years ago this would have been considered a) a pipe dream, and b) gargantuan overkill. But times change and today more and more corporations demand that their 32-bit, mission-critical applications can be used at each and every level of their enterprise. Though it is a rather large operating system, Windows NT, of course, offers superior stability, security, and administration capabilities, so if you need it, Fujitsu has it. What about pen services under Windows NT? Fujitsu says it is working with Microsoft on that and promises that the pen will be fully enabled, including handwriting recognition. If you don't need NT, Windows 95 and MS-DOS 6.22 with Windows for Workgroups 3.11 are also available.

Experienced packaging
Inside its carbon-fiber ABS plastic case, the Stylistic 1200's electronics are expertly laid out and very tightly packed and integrated. It is like looking under the hood of a high performance automobile. 16 MB of 60ns EDO RAM is sitting on a daughterboard that also accommodates the single 144 Pin, standard Fujitsu notebook DIMM that allows memory expansion to 24, 32, or 48 MB. The entire motherboard is designed and optimized for use in a mobile environment.

But what about heat in such a tightly packed system? Anyone who has used a Pentium notebook computer knows that they can get quite hot. Not the Stylistic 1200. Before Fujitsu even began laying out the board, they used a thermal modeling system to compute the heat load and determine optimal placement of the major heat-producing components. An example of Fujitsu's thermal engineering is the way the unit dissipates heat from its Pentium processor. Instead of relying on a single metal heatsink, Fujitsu connected the primary heatsink via a metal conductor pipe to a large secondary heatsink that resides under the battery. As a result of these thermal engineering efforts, the Stylistic 1200 remains remarkably cool under most operating conditions and Fujitsu was able to increase the upper operating temperature limit from 95 degrees Fahrenheit in the 1000 to 104 degrees in the 1200.

2.5 inch drive technology
Unlike the Stylistic 1000, the 1200 no longer uses a PC Card hard drive. The capacity of card drives hasn't kept up with the rapidly increasing storage requirements of Windows 95 systems, and Fujitsu also found that the rigid mounting of card drives resulted in inherent ruggedness problems. Fujitsu therefore decided to use 2.5-inch slimline hard disk technology instead. This allows for much larger disk capacities and more efficient shock mounting. Our test unit came with a 4200 rpm Toshiba 2712 slimline drive offering a capacity of 1.35GB and an average seek time of 13ms. For US$360 extra, customers with larger storage requirements can order any of the 1200 models with a 2.1 GB drive instead of the standard 1.35 GB unit.

Well connected
At the connectivity front, the 1200, like all Fujitsu pen systems, is very well equipped. There are two externally accessible Type II 3.0 PC Card slots. We generally prefer arrangements where at least one of the slots can be occupied by a Type III card and wonder why Fujitsu chose not to allocate the additional space.
At the top of the unit there is an IrDA port for infrared communication speeds up to 4 Mbps.

On the right side, you find covered standard size parallel, serial, and VGA connectors. In addition, there is a PS/2 style keyboard connector and jacks for a microphone and headphones.
Behind a spring-loaded door at the bottom of the unit is the connector that links the 1200 with its truly impressive port replicator. Those familiar with the 1000's port replicator will find that the new unit snaps on more securely, is visually better integrated with the computer, and offers even more connectivity than the already impressive 1000 replicator: PS/2 style keyboard and mouse, two serial, parallel, floppy port, audio line in, and audio line out. The replicator also offers a USB (Universal Serial Bus) with two ports.

For those unfamiliar with the term USB, it is a new spec that allows plug-and-play outside the computer, eliminating the need to install cards into slots and reconfigure the system. Up to 127 devices can run simultaneously on a computer, potentially providing undreamed-of expandability. The Stylistic 1200 is, to the best of our knowledge the first pen tablet with USB.

What about wireless?
Will there be a 1200 RF as there was a 500RF and a 1000RF? There really is no need for one because Fujitsu made the 1200 "Radio-Ready," which means that a customer's chosen PC Card radio will not interfere with the operation of the computer and the computer will not interfere with the radio, thus increasing the radio range. A look inside the unit confirms that everything is exceptionally well shielded.

Happy VARs are good VARs
A large part of Fujitsu's sales go through VARs and systems integrators. As a result, Fujitsu has always tried hard to offer their VARs many ways of customizing their computer for a particular client's needs, and the 1200 is no different. There are utilities for creating and loading custom BIOS configurations, C libraries for setting the BIOS, libraries and a DLL for the programmable hot pad, and a variety of other tools to help VARs and integrators.

Warranty
The 1200 has a three-year limited warranty. Fujitsu also offers an optional, no-questions-asked screen warranty that allows up to two screen replacements per year regardless of the cause of failure.

Battery power
With all of these new power features , what is the Stylistic 1200's battery life? After all, just a couple of years ago common wisdom had it that active matrix screens and Pentium processors were pretty much out of the question for portable systems due to their high power consumption. Fortunately, new battery technologies, much better power management, and energy-thrifty components combine to offer battery life that is as good as or better than that seen on earlier, less powerful systems. The Stylistic 1200 uses a very large 3900 mAh lithium-ion battery, power management at the BIOS level as well as the Windows level, and the power management abilities of the included Intel 430TX chipset to run for as long as six hours under light load and offer up to ten days of suspended operation. Actual battery life, of course, varies with the type of screen installed and the way you use your system.

No CD-ROM
Our only criticism of the 1200 is a subjective one. With Windows 95, increasingly larger hard disks, and most software now being distributed on CD-ROMs, we feel that a CD-ROM drive has become almost a necessity. CD-ROM drives are now pretty much standard on notebook computers and we wish Fujitsu had built one into the 1200. Fujitsu, however, feels that mobile applications rarely require the volume of data that could justify the extra expense and size of a CD-ROM and therefore decided against it.

Is the Stylistic 1200 for you?
Who should consider a Stylistic 1200? That depends. Fujitsu provides decision support systems for what they call 'working mobility', generally targets large corporations and government agencies, and specializes in sales automation, utilities, law enforcement, insurance, and healthcare. The Stylistic 1200 is definitely a vertical market computer and should not be seen as a notebook replacement (though due to its expansion capabilities, it can easily serve as a temporary desktop machine). The 1200 doesn't claim to be ultra-rugged though a special ruggedness package with protective edges will become available.

Another winner
With the Stylistic 1200, Fujitsu Personal Systems has designed another winner, and perhaps a milestone in the history of pen computing technology. The unit is substantially improved in almost every respect over its predecessor. It combines thoroughly modern technology into a remarkably compact package. Pricing is reasonable as well, starting at VARto end user volume cost of US$3,895 for a unit with the transmissive screen with the 1.4GB drive to US$5,515 for a TFT color unit with a 2.1GB drive. All of this comes from a company that has earned an enviable reputation for quality and service. No wonder FPSI is the leader in general purpose pen systems.

- C. H. Blickenstorfer

 

Fujitsu Point 510

Vertical market powerhouse

fujitsu_point_510.gif (21510 bytes)

For those familiar with the history of pen computing, the name "Fujitsu Point" conjures up memories. Four or five years ago, the Fujitsu 325 Point and the radio-equipped 325 Point RF were among the original pen tablets capable of running Windows for Pen Computing. The handsome units were based on 3 volt AM 386SXLV processors running at 25 MHz, had large 9.4 inch transmissive screens with backlighting, and weighed only three pounds. Many of them are still in operation today.

But progress marched on and eventually Fujitsu replaced the 325 Point with the entirely new Stylistic 500 that became the foundation of Fujitsu?s leading position in the pen tablet market. The Stylistic was smaller, lighter, and more powerful than the 325 Point. Its compact, purposeful design better represented Fujitsu's primary objective of providing mobile decision support computers to specific vertical markets than did the 325 Point, the design of which was somewhat reminiscent of the original "Dynabook" vision (i.e. a futuristic pen slate built on handwriting recognition technology). The Stylistic's success in the marketplace proved Fujitsu right. Sales grew in leaps and bounds from modest levels in 1992 to a very serious US$75 million in fiscal 1996, virtually all coming from the Stylistic product line. In 1996, Fujitsu added the more powerful Stylistic 1000, further strengthening its leadership position.

But the state-of-the-art in computing is a moving target. Processors continued to get faster, larger color screens and disk drives became the norm, and Microsoft's resource-intensive Windows 95 replaced Windows 3.1 as the most common operating system environment. Driven by customers' willingness to accept a larger size and somewhat higher weight, these technologies gradually found their way into mobile systems. The healthcare market, in particular, requested high resolution color screens large enough to display all the graphics and patient data that are usually part of medical software. Unfortunately, the healthcare market is also under a lot of pressure to contain costs, and this precludes most potential clients from purchasing high end systems.

Enter the new Fujitsu Point 510, a machine designed to fulfill several requirements. First, the Point 510 is the initial offering in a new, low-cost family of pen computer products from Fujitsu. This strategy is similar to IBM selling the value-conscious 360 line of ThinkPads in addition to the top-of-the-line 760 series. Just like the 36x IBM ThinkPads, members of the Fujitsu Point family will offer proven and thoroughly competent technology, but with an eye on economical and purpose-oriented performance rather than cost-is-no-object use of bleeding edge components.

Second, members of the Point family will be specifically designed to address the requirements of certain vertical markets. The 510, for example, is targeted to be used for the growing number of mobile applications that require an SVGA display for complete desktop compatibility.

The Point 510
How did Fujitsu go about meeting these goals? The first impression you get when you see the Point 510 for the first time is that it is a very handsome, professional looking unit that should be right at home in high-tech medical environments. The front bezel is made of business-like Apple gray plastic; the main body of the case is a darker gray. In an evolutionary way, the design reminds me of the 325 Point's elegant lines. The new Point, however, is a bit larger and heavier than its ancestor in order to accommodate a bright 10.4-inch SVGA 800 x 600 pixel LCD display. Fujitsu chose a passive dual scan (DSTN) screen rather than an active matrix TFT display to keep down costs and extend that ever-precious commodity, battery life. In addition, Fujitsu says that some of its target clientele actually prefers the smaller viewing angle of a DSTN for privacy reasons. In any case, with more and more applications designed for 800 x 600 or higher resolutions, the choice of an SVGA screen provides the Point 510 with a clear advantage over designs limited to 640 x 480 VGA display resolution. You can, of course, run regular applications that do not support SVGA, but they will run in a VGA-sized "window," a somewhat less than optimal situation.

Passive digitizer
Unlike the Stylistic series which uses a very high resolution Kurta electromagnetic digitizer, the Point 510 has a resistive screen with a per-inch resolution roughly half that of the Stylistic -- perfectly acceptable for the task. The relative strengths of active versus passive digitizers are well known to regular readers of this publication: Active systems offer greater resolution and pen proximity sensing (i.e. the cursor follows the pen even if you're not touching the screen), but the often battery-driven pens are expensive and the tablet is useless without the pen. Passive systems have lower resolution and you have to tap the screen to get the cursor to a given point, but the pens are cheap and you can even operate the system with a finger. The 510 comes with a slender white full-size stylus that felt just perfect in this reviewer's hand. As with the Stylistic series, the pen can be stored in a logically placed (for right handers anyway) slot on the upper right side of the unit.

Intel (486/100) Inside
On the processor front, Fujitsu determined that an Intel 486 DX4/100 processor would deliver the best trade-off between cost, performance, and power consumption. Even though the Cyrix 5x86 has recently become sort of a standard in the pen slate market, the designers at Fujitsu Personal Systems followed a modern adaptation of that old saying about buying IBM, and concluded, 'no one has ever been fired for choosing Intel.' Complemented by 8MB of EDO RAM (upgradeable in 8MB increments to a maximum of 64MB) and 16MB of on-chip cache, the Point 510 easily handles Windows 95 and never felt sluggish or unable to keep up.

Spacious interior
The large footprint means that there is plenty of real estate inside the Point 510. Nothing is cramped. The layout is logical and everything is properly mounted and secured, as we would expect from an experienced manufacturer such as Fujitsu. There are also some interesting innovations in this product.

Access to the PC Card slot and other connectors, for example contain spring-loaded "saloon" doors. A very neat and convenient solution that guarantees that latches are never left open accidentally.

If you want to add additional RAM you don't have to take the unit apart. The two RAM expansion connectors are sitting under a plastic cover at the bottom of the unit. Take out one single screw, pop in the RAM, replace the cover, and you're done.

Replacing the hard disk is just as easy. Simply remove three screws from the bottom of the unit, remove the access panel, and slide out the hard drive which is sitting in its own shockmounted tray. Fujitsu is currently using its own M2723 model, a rugged low-profile (0.5-inch height) 2.5-inch model designed to handle shocks up to 300G when not in operation and 100G when operating. The 4,000 RPM drive was designed for mobile applications and has its own onboard power management. It uses just over 2 watts when reading or writing, less than a watt when idle, and 0.25 watts when in sleep mode. Formatted capacity is 1.2GB. Fujitsu also offers the M2724 drive whose additional head results in a formatted capacity of 1.6GB.

Pop-in radio and 'Radio-Ready'ness
Adding the optional frequency-hopping Proxim RangeLan2 radio is also a piece of cake (albeit, due to FCC regulations, one that must be done by Fujitsu itself). Remove a door and slide it in. The radio operates at 2.4000 to 2.4835 Ghz, has a maximum data transfer rate of 1.6Mbps and a range from 200 to 500 feet indoors. Since there is plenty of space, Fujitsu chose to offer the radio as an integrated internal module rather than a PC Card, which also results in higher reliability and a lower price. The antenna is a shortish (less than two inches) flexible rubber affair poking out from the upper right side of the unit.
Fujitsu went to great lengths to make the 510 'Radio-Ready.' The unit is designed so that a customer's chosen radio will not interfere with the computer in any way, and that the computer will not interfere with the radio. Anyone who's experienced disappointing range, static, or LCD noise after installing a radio will appreciate this.

Gentle docks
Another interesting innovation is the high-usage docking capability specifically designed for environments where a computer is frequently inserted and removed from its docking station during the course of a day. The Point 510 has industrial strength contacts with a design life of 50,000 insertions. The idea is that workers can carry the unit around, then insert it in one of many strategically placed docks for charging, access to a keyboard and a mouse, or other peripherals.

Sound-ready
As stated, the Point 510 was designed with the needs of certain vertical markets -- and specifically those of healthcare -- in mind. Fujitsu's research showed that physicians, in particular, view voice recording as a valuable and almost mandatory feature in a portable unit. As a result, the Point 510 includes Sound Blaster compatible audio circuitry, a built-in microphone and speaker, a mono microphone jack, and stereo audio out ports.

Interface philosophy
Apart from a single serial connector, a keyboard port, and an IrDA 1.0 window, you won't find any other standard connectors on the Fujitsu Point 510. Fujitsu reasoned that healthcare personnel would not take connected peripheral equipment on their rounds and therefore did not need a full complement of connectors on the unit. Instead, the Point 510 has a single System Interface Connector that serves as a port replicator. It replicates all of the built-in connectors, and also offers ports for a PS/2 mouse, a monitor, a floppy drive, a second serial interface, and a standard parallel port. We consider this a reasonable solution.

Cradles
Fujitsu offers no less than three desktop cradles (Charge-Only, High-Usage, and High-Connectivity). In addition, there is a Portable Port Expander which provides the ports that were omitted from the core unit, and the above-mentioned Port Replicator which provides the missing ports and replicates all the core unit ports except audio. Some of Fujitsu's VARs are also developing peripherals specifically for the Point 510.

Keeping costs down
While designing the 510, Fujitsu was constantly faced with having to make hard decisions that would result in low cost, yet still provide features and performance. Here are some of the areas where Fujitsu saved: The Point 510 only has a single Type II/III PC Card slot, somewhat of an anomaly these days. However, the single slot controller helped save a few dollars, and since hard drive, radio, and memory don't use up card slots, we don't view this as a liability. Another area where Fujitsu saved some bucks is the status display. Instead of the Stylistic's fancy LCD display panel, the Point has four simple LEDs to indicate disk activity, power status, and battery charge. No problem here. Some people may actually prefer the LEDs. Additional controls are silk-screened at the bottom of the LCD display. Contrast can be finely tuned but brightness is limited to high or low. Speaker volume can be set to one of three settings. And since the Point 510, like all pen tablets with passive digitizers, doesn't have a right mouse button on its stylus, Fujitsu provided one at the bottom of the screen. All in all, Fujitsu's bean counters and engineers did an admirable job and probably completed the project still on speaking terms.

Operating system offerings
On the operating system front, customers can order their Point 510 with either Windows 95, Windows for Workgroups 3.11 with Pen Extensions 1.0, or MS-DOS 6.2. Our evaluation unit came with Windows 95. It also included CIC's Handwriter for Windows handwriting recognition system.

Options
Fujitsu offers a slew of options for the Point 510. Apart from common items such as memory expansion, keyboard, external floppy drive, carrying case, etc., there is also a cradle, a harsh environment case, a desk stand, a bar code wand, and, of course, the port replicator. Missing is a CD-ROM drive, an item Fujitsu chose to omit since software for mobile systems isn't usually distributed on CD-ROMs. This may be so, but we feel that any system running Windows 95 should at least have access to a CD-ROM drive. The Point's footprint is actually large enough for an internal CD-ROM drive, and we hope future members of the Point product line will offer CD-ROM at least as an option.

Bottomline: the new Point
So what's our assessment of Fujitsu's move into multiple product lines? From a marketing point of view, it makes a lot of sense. With the introduction of the Point, buyers now have a choice between the high powered and highly configurable Stylistic line and the lower cost Point systems designed for specific applications and markets.
Our overall first impression of the new Fujitsu Point 510 is also very good. Though Fujitsu freely admits that price considerations drove the design of this unit, the company succeeded admirably in its effort to arrive at an optimal balance between reasonable price (US$2,865 without, and US$3,650 with wireless LAN) and good performance.
The biggest challenge for Fujitsu's marketing group will be to clearly describe the different roles and purposes of the Stylistic and the Point line. Otherwise people might wonder why the handsome Point with its big color screen actually costs LESS than the Stylistic.

- C. H. Blickenstorfer


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