Obsessed with Tablet PCs

Okay, so I'm obsessed with tablet PCs these days. I've been looking around at laptops since my old one died anyway (and am somehow, magically, hoping to acquire another one) but now that I've started looking at convertible tablets (during study breaks while preparing for my final exams) I find that I am quite obsessed with them. And truly, they are worthy of such an obsession.

Anyway, since I've done some more exploring -- during which I found out a lot more about my three favourite laptops -- I've shortened my wish list a little bit.

The Toshiba: Not Enough Horsepower

Basically, the Toshiba Portege R400 is out of the running. Why? Well, because this laptop is designed for the "mobile professional". That is, in order to gain mobility, what it gains in battery life (5 hours with the additional battery) it sacrifices in power. My biggest problem with it is its 4,800 RMP hard drive speed which, for me, is far too slow. The processor and all are still pretty good -- especially since the system was specifically designed from the ground up to run Windows Vista -- but the slower hard drive messes it all up for me. Why? Because it makes it harder to do the high-end multimedia stuff -- like sound, image, and video editing -- that I would want to do on my laptop. It only other real negative is the fact that it has no built-in modem.

On the other hand, its styling (think Apple), material and coating (think high quality grand piano) and display (probably the best among all laptops) really are quite awesome and its edge display (which is a first for laptops) is really cool too. Oh, and its as-yet-unreleased wireless dock is supposed to be incredibly convenient. That, however, is for an updated version of the R400 due to go on sale end-June.

The Fujitsu: Quite Awesome

Next we have the Fujitsu LifeBook T4215 which is really quite awesome. Everything about it is cool and it has a very good "inking" experience (i.e. when you write text on it using the stylus). The advantages it has over other tablet PCs -- and in my case over the Lenovo -- include (1) the fact that it has a built-in optical drive (i.e. CD/DVD reader/burner) but is actually lighter than the Lenovo, (2) it has a touch pad instead of a track stick, (3) its speakers are better placed (in front instead of underneath), (4) parts its keyboard are nicer (the bottom-left key is the control key and not the function key), (5) the screen can turn both ways when you go into slate mode, and (6) you can replace the optical drive with an extra battery. Two other things may or may not be advantages. First, its stylus clips in to a pen-shaped slot next to the screen. Some people find this irritating but others say its helped them not lose their pens because you can easily tell when you've forgotten to put it back. Second, its fingerprint reader is on the bottom-left side of the screen. That might be irritating to some right-handers when logging on but its coolness lies in the fact that you can use it to scroll within documents.

On the other hand, some say that the Fujitsu's weight distribution when it's in slate mode is not ideal. But that's just nitpicking because the inclusion of the optical drive and the touch pad, and maybe the placement of the control key, are the things that really matter to me. (I can balance the slate regardless of weight distribution, I rarely use the speakers anyway, and, really, I can live with turning the screen in only one direction). So, like I said at the start of the paragraph: this is quite an awesome PC.

The Lenovo: Also Quite Awesome

Finally we have the Lenovo ThinkPad X60. And what a machine that is! I've spent the last couple of days watching the video reviews of these laptops on GottaBeMobile.com and, from what I've seen, the X60 is really fabulous. It has a full-size keyboard (which includes all the extra navigation keys like Home, End, Page Up and Page Down in their horizontal grid configuration; and, even though the placement of the control key is irritating, you can get used to its positioning), excellent hardware (with lots of hardware options), and a great display (also with many different options). It also has a whole range of extras, the coolest of which are its (1) UltraDock: a mobile docking station that lets you adds lots of things to it, including an optical drive, an additional battery, and more ports, (2) its US version has a built-in WiFi (wireless broadband) card, (3) inclusion of the draft 802.11n wireless networking standard, and (3) nifty battery management software.

Other good things about it are the fact that you can upgrade the on-board battery from the standard 4-cell battery to an 8-cell one (the Fujitsu comes with a 6-cell standard) and you can add an extended battery to it too (which is wedge-shaped and clips on to the bottom of the unit) to get up to 10 hours of battery life. It also has a FireWire port that the Fujitsu doesn't have (which makes it easier to connect to multimedia devices like digital cameras) even though it doesn't have the Fujitsu's smart card and memory card readers.

On the other hand, the Fujitsu has two useful features that the Lenovo doesn't have: rubber covers for its external ports (which make it look nicer when closes) and non-slip grips on the back so it's easier to hold in slate mode. Other than that, though, they're about the same (a lot more on that in a bit).

Australian Prices

In my previous posting I quoted US prices according to which the Toshiba was the most expensive of the three systems. In Australia (where I am these days), the T4215 costs about $3,000; the R400 costs about $3,050; and the X60 costs about $3,900. That makes the Lenovo the most expensive. The Fujitsu, on the other hand, is the cheapest in both countries.

By the way, these prices are for the basic, standard-configuration systems. Fortunately, those are quite good. But when you add in some of the extra stuff (like a 7,200 RPM hard drive, 2GB RAM, a good carrying case, an optical drive, etc.) these prices cross the 5k mark pretty quickly (an near 6k for a darned good system).

Pros and Cons Recap

Now here's the problem: with the Toshiba out of the picture, I'd have to choose between the Fujitsu and Lenovo. Unfortunately, for systems that are so different in so many ways (both major and minor), they really are about the same. Actually, let me list the major differences one more time to make things a little clearer before I move on:

Fujitsu: Pros: has a track pad and an optical drive; is slightly more powerful than the Lenovo; costs considerably less. Cons: doesn't have a full keyboard (though I like its control key placement) or a FireWire port (though that's not at all essential since most digital cameras can also use the USB ports).

Lenovo: Pros: has a full keyboard, a FireWire port, lots of accessories, and a higher screen resolution option; it also includes the draft 802.11n wireless networking standard. Cons: is a little less powerful; doesn't have a built-in optical drive or a track pad; is more expensive (especially when you have to spend even more on an optical drive).

So, Fujitsu or Lenovo?

So what does that mean? Which should I choose? Well, it depends on what I want to do with my laptop now and in the near future and also how/when/where I use my laptop. Listing that down will help me figure out which pros and cons are important to me and which aren't. That should help me eliminate one of the two options.
Now I use my laptop as my primary computer. I use it to work, play games, watch movies, listen to music, browse the Internet, make websites, create/edit graphics, and create/edit audio. Basically, I do everything short of video editing...but that is something I want to do (to a limited degree, of course) on this laptop. And how do/where/when do I use it? Well, I like sitting on a chair and working on a table (i.e. not on the floor/bed/sofa or with stuff in my lap; unless I'm reading a book), I almost always use an external mouse, I usually have lots of windows open, and I takes lots of detailed notes in class. I also like to keep my laptop with me all the time.

When you put the pros and cons in the context of how I use my laptop, how I intend to use my laptop, and my current situation (I'm a student living on a budget), here's what happens:

  • The track pad/stick doesn't matter all that much

  • The higher resolution display makes a difference (+2 for Lenovo)

  • The full keyboard makes a difference (+2 for Lenovo)

  • Battery life doesn't really matter all that much (just over 3 hours is all I really need in one sitting) but the Fujitsu's 6-cell battery is cool when compared to Lenovo's 4-cell standard (+1 for Fujitsu)

  • The on-board optical drive is convenient but not essential, though having to buy an extra optical drive costs money and carrying it around may be a pain (-1 Lenovo)

  • Standard configuration cost is an issue and the Lenovo is a little more expensive to start with (-1 for Lenovo) even though I know that is because it has a better screen and keyboard

  • Processing power is not much of an issue if I'm going to customize the system, but it does matter in the standard configuration (+1 for Fujitsu)

And when you put that all together, funnily enough, you break even again. So what now? Well, you factor in two more things: time and money.

Basically, it boils down to this: if I can only afford the standard system and I have to buy it at today's prices, the Fujitsu wins hands down. It's cheaper, it has a built-in optical drive, and its screen and keyboard are good enough (they're comparable to the ones I'm using now). It's also more powerful, and buying this will give me the biggest bang for the buck. On the other hand, if I can afford to customize the system I'm buying, the Lenovo would win hands down. Its keyboard and screen are better (which is good since I expect to use my laptop for 3-4 years and this is important to me), it has FireWire support (which is nice), it includes the draft 802.11n wireless networking standard (making it slightly future proof), and its battery and lack of optical drive don't matter all that much since I will be getting the 8-cell battery and maybe the UltraDock (or, at the very least, an external optical drive).

Of Course...

Of course, at the end of the day, none of this really matters. The whole discussion, comparison, and conclusion are all just talk because I actually can't afford to buy either of these tablet PCs. In fact, I won't be able to buy one till this time next year; i.e. once I've graduated and have found myself a high-paying job. Even then, I'd be leasing the system because I could never afford the lump sum especially since my first priority would be to pay off my loans anyway. Unless, of course, I got a really, really cool job and they gave me a big starting bonus (like big consulting companies do)...but I don't think that's going to happen (mainly because I don't think I'm going to be applying to big consulting companies).

Still, it's good to dream, isn't it? :)