By Brian Nadel

The company with the most experience building, selling, and supporting pen-based PCs, Fujitsu, could’ve easily succumbed to the temptation to make a splash with a complicated, expensive tablet PC. Instead, it stuck with what works for the Stylistic ST4000, a simple slate design that does nearly everything right.

Although it comes with a separate mini keyboard, the Stylistic ST4000 really excels at pen-based operations and at hitting performance and battery-life heights. If a compact, simple, and capable slate is what you’re after, look no further than the Stylistic ST4000, the mighty mite of the tablet world. Click here to check the latest prices on the Fujitsu PC Stylistic ST4000 tablet PC.

A plain-Jane tablet, the gray-and-black Stylistic ST4000, shown in Figure A, has neither the sleek, silver finish of the Compaq T1000 Tablet nor the technological good looks of the Toshiba Portégé 3505. Make no mistake; this is a basic slate pad with no hidden features—such as a keyboard that pops out of nowhere. But the Stylistic ST4000 doesn’t need to resort to trickery. Although it is one of the smallest and lightest tablets, it offers excellent performance and long battery life. It’s also the most comfortable to hold because of the ultra suede surface on the back, but the tablet does get warm when used for a while.

Figure A
ZDNet editors rated the Fujitsu Stylistic ST4000 an 8 out of 10.
Pros: Small tablet, good performance and battery life, and convenient dock with keyboard
Cons: Lacks navigation pad, has screen glitches, and back heats up during use

This basic slate design features a 10.4-inch screen. Rather than being recessed, the display is actually slightly higher than the surrounding frame, which makes writing on the screen as close to the paper-and-pen experience as is possible today. The pen-like stylus, shown in Figure B, stows securely at the top of the tablet and does a good job of writing on the screen, although we encountered strange ghost remnants of old writing on at least two occasions.

Figure B
The pen-like stylus

Fujitsu has made a virtue out of smallness with the petite Stylistic ST4000, which measures 11.9 by 8.7 by 0.9 inches. That’s nearly 40 percent smaller than the Portégé 3505, a convertible tablet. At 3.2 pounds, the Stylistic ST4000 is only an ounce heavier than the Compaq, the lightest of the Tablet PCs we’ve tested. The 8-ounce power adapter, which is also used on Fujitsu’s LifeBook S-series notebooks, and the 10-ounce keyboard bring the Stylistic ST4000’s travel weight to 4.2 pounds—a few ounces less than the Portégé 3505 on its own.

Figure C
The buttons on the upper right

Along the right side of the tablet is a row of six buttons, shown in Figure C. The top one is the equivalent of the [Alt] key. Next down is an instant-launch button for Outlook, followed by the screen-rotation key, Escape, Enter, and Function.

The only downside is the unit’s lack of a four-way navigation pad, which seems to be on all PDAs and phones these days. With it, the user could have easily controlled the cursor without resorting to the pen. Near the bottom are right-left control pads, which are oddly oriented up and down, leading to a visual mismatch.

Around its edge is the tablet-standard assortment of ports, including one each for FireWire, modem, LAN, audio, and external display and a pair for USB. There’s a slot for a Type II PC card but not CompactFlash or Secure Digital (Figure D). Except for the external-display port, all connections are open to the elements.

Figure D
The ports on the top edge of the tablet

When you come back to your desk with a Stylistic ST4000 in hand, lock it into the docking station/monitor stand for the equivalent of a desktop PC; see Figures A and E. Whether the tablet is rotated right or left, the screen automatically reorients itself. Hinged at the bottom, the screen can also be tilted to a comfortable viewing angle, but don’t go too far or it’ll fall over flat.

Figure E
The media bay is on the right side of the monitor stand/docking station.

Although we liked the design overall, we had a few minor complaints. First, aside from the VGA port, all other ports are open to the elements, an especially poor choice for a slate-style tablet that is likely to be toted around. Second, without a charge gauge on the battery, there’s no way to see how much power the cells have without starting the system. But the Stylistic ST4000 is hardly alone in this area.

Despite being saddled with the slowest processor of this initial group of tablets, an 800-MHz Pentium III-M, the Stylistic ST4000 is an efficient worker and never flagged on a task or kept us waiting. The tablet’s other specs include 256 MB of memory (expandable to 768 MB), a 20-GB hard drive (upgradeable to 40 GB), and a 10.4-inch display.

The slate design comes with a separate, mini keyboard that features 19mm keys and a finger-friendly 2.6mm of travel. A snap to get accustomed to, the keyboard lacks a pointing stick or a touch pad, so you have to use the stylus to move the cursor around. In addition to standard infrared communications, the Stylistic ST4000 has a second IR window that works with only the company’s $100 wireless keyboard.

Fujitsu found room on the Stylistic ST4000 for many of the standard ports (e.g., USB, FireWire, modem, LAN, audio, and external display connectors), and as we mentioned, a slot for a Type II PC card but not CompactFlash or Secure Digital.

The optional docking station ($250), which is also a monitor stand, includes a CD-ROM drive. (You can opt for the combo CD-RW/DVD drive for $299.) Lock it in place to get the equivalent of a desktop PC, complete with FireWire, Ethernet, and external monitor ports. On the side of the dock is a trio of USB plugs, one of which can be used with the USB mini keyboard.

The Stylistic ST4000 ships with Windows XP Tablet Edition and a limited version of PowerQuest Drive Image for backing up your entire hard drive. If you order the dock with the DVD/CD-RW combo option, Fujitsu adds the excellent Drag’n Drop and WinDVD.

Don’t be fooled by its modest specs; the Fujitsu Stylistic ST4000 does a lot with a little, delivering solid performance and long battery life on ZDNet Labs’ tests. The Stylistic ST4000 scored a 94 percent on our speech recognition test, and its Wi-Fi radio had a range of 86 feet.

Mobile application performance
The Fujitsu Stylistic ST4000 performed well for a system with only an 800-MHz Pentium III-M. It edged out the similarly configured Motion M1200 and the ViewSonic V1100, both of which have faster processors (866-MHz PIII-M). That said, the narrow difference in performance shouldn’t translate into any noticeable differences in the real world. In all, the Stylistic ST4000 can be favorably compared to its peers (see Table A).

Table A – BAPCo MobileMark 2002 Performance Rating
Higher scores are better.

Thanks to its 10.8V, 4,000mAh cell, the Fujitsu offers very good battery life, just hitting the three-hour mark (see Table B). While it trounces the ViewSonic Tablet PC V1100 and its 7.4V, 3,900mAh battery, it is a bit out of its league compared to the Motion M1200’s 11.1V, 3,600mAh unit.

Table B – BAPCo MobileMark 2002 Battery Life Rating
Time is measured in minutes; higher scores are better.

Service and support
Fujitsu was selling pen-based PCs long before Microsoft got into the game, so the company presumably knows a little about providing global service and support for these devices.

The standard plan includes a 24/7 telephone-help desk. The Web site has it all: downloads, FAQs, product-specific instructions, manuals, and an online-help chat window that brings a technician to your screen (that is, if it’s working). But it’s too bad the one-year standard warranty is so short for an untested device; upping the coverage to three years costs $200.

Complete specs
Click here to check the latest prices on the Fujitsu PC Stylistic ST4000 tablet PC. Table C shows the complete product specifications.
Table C

Processor manufacturer and model
Intel Pentium III-M

Processor clock speed
800 MHz

Display diagonal size
10.4 in.

System memory installed
256 MB

Rated hard disk capacity
20 GB

System weight
3.2 lbs.

Dimensions (HWD in inches)
11.9 x 8.7 x 0.9 inches

Model first available
November 7, 2002

Warranty on parts/labor

Graphics memory and chipset
Intel Extreme Graphics 830 MG