Well, as promised after owning this Fujitsu slate tablet for a week now I've wrote a review of my impressions from an artists perspective. Overall I'm very impressed... there are a few issues, some hardware, but mostly software that ought to be resolved in the future, but I would definately recommend this tablet to anyone sitting on the sidelines, not sure if they should take the plunge.
The full article, with pictures and movies and everything can be read here, but I'll post all the text below as well.
The video of me sketching with this tablet in Sketchbook Pro can be seen here
FUJITSU ST5112 TABLET PC - an artist's perspective
I had been looking for an alternative to my digital art workflow for a while. The wacom tablet worked well enough for digital painting and such, but I never could get the hang of sketching or drawing or inking on the thing... and after years and years of trying, it was time for a change. I had considered Wacom's Cintiq monitor, but I considered the price to be not worth the technology you get out of it. And the way they try to justify the huge pricepoint was quite a turnoff. That led me to try building my own home-made "cintiq" with the help of the great guys over at Bongofish. Things were going good until I accidentally fried my electronics board. With that up in smoke, I started looking at tablet PC's. But none of them really were fitting my purposes... they were either too big/bulky, or too much like a laptop. That's when I discovered this great review of the Fujitsu ST5112 by Kevin Toeffel. After watching the review a couple times I decided this may be the closest ting out there right now to what I was looking for. Still... in doing research online I was dismayed to find very little practical information about how these tablets work for digital drawing and painting. I decided to keep my fingers crossed and take the plunge. After receiving the tablet and working with it for a couple weeks, I'm now convinced it was the right decision to make. So let's take a look at this sucker...
Model: Fujitsu ST5112
Processor: Intel Duo Core
Memory: 2 GB Ram
Disk: 40 GB Hard Drive
screen: 12.2" XGA
OS: Win XP Tablet PC Edition
Ports: WiFi/Bluetooth/USB 2.0(x2)/Firewire... blah blah blah
I purchased the tablet from the nice guys at laptopauthority.com, who I highly recommend. Not only were they very nice and helpful and went out of their way to get me the tablet ASAP while simultaneously saving some shipping charges, they also had the cheapest price for this sucker anywhere on the net. I'm not going to go into the normal PC mumbo jumbo here, as it's already covered elsewhere. Manufacturers have yet to release a tablet that is geared specifically toward the artist community, as such, this is definately a business class machine and has all the ports/prereqs you would expect for such a machine. For my needs, and I figure most people, I don't NEED any of these ports actually, and almost wish they weren't there... that isn't really a strike against this machine, as EVERY machine you buy these days will have pretty much the same config along these lines.
The machine itself is relatively handsome (heh!) and streamlined. There are some buttons here, and some lit diodes there... but most of the computer is nothing but screen. It's 3.5lbs, which isn't exactly light, but is pretty manageable in your hands or on your lap. The screen itself is only 1024x768 which I was a little wary of when I bought it, but in use it's actually fine. The surface is nice hard glass and the color is pretty good actually, as are the viewing angles. The PC comes with 2 screen protector's which are decent, however when they are on the screen you lose a bit of it's crispness and contrast. You also gain a bit of reflections... even though the protector sheet is anti-glare, the screen itself is MORE anti-glare so there is a bit of a tradeoff when using the protector. Currently I'm not emotionally prepared to do crosshatch strokes right onto the pretty glass. I'm keeping the protector. There are 3rd party protector's too but I haven't looked into them much yet.
The model I bought was configured with only 512 MB of RAM, and normal computer stuff runs pretty well on this amount. However photoshop and other graphics software was a bit slow, definately a bit dissapointing. I had anticipated this and ordered two 1GB sticks to replace the 512, and once the 2 Gig went in photoshop zooms! It actually runs faster than my desktop machine now for most things. (photoshop filters may take longer, but I haven't done a scientific comparison).
The tablet has a Wacom digitizer stuck inside, so the pen has all the pressure sensitivity you'll need (does it have 512 levels or 1024 levels? dunno actually... but again, it has all the pressure sensitivy you'll need). Out of the box the PC has generic tablet pc drivers installed, which limit the function of the pen and possibly the pressure. However on Wacom's website you can download their tablet PC driver which brings back all the functionality you expect. The driver isn't as robust as Wacom's normal driver, but it does let you assign different functions or keystrokes to any of the pen buttons etc. The pen is shorter and skinnier than a normal Wacom pen. It still has the familiar 2 buttons on the side, plus the tip and eraser, however the eraser feels a bit stiffer than a wacom pen. It fits nicely inside the tablet when not in use.
Using the tablet at first was a bit of an interesting experience, as I've never used a computer like this without a keyboard. But after a few days I really started to enjoy this way of interfacing. the handwriting recognition works surprisingly well... it may require you to neaten up your handwriting, but it recognizes most of my writing very accurately. I sometimes have difficulty going from uppercase to lowercase, or similar letters like o's and zeros, but this may be due to my writing style. The computer worked fine out of the box (with the improvements listed above). The wireless internet started up without any trouble and is just as fast, if not faster than my desktop. Overall I really enjoy using this machine for general computer use. It does have it's limitations, I wouldn't want write code or articles (like this one) on it, but it isn't really made for that. It does come with a bunch of software installed which I'll probably never use. The Windows Notebook app is pretty handy for taking notes... pretty basic and simple which I like (I can't stand the onenote or evernote things). Battery life is very good, especially when dimming the screen down to the lowest setting. At least for me everything is still very useable at this setting, though if I need to do some critical color work I may raise the brightness a bit. The brightness etting actually goes very high, to a point that is almost TOO bright. The screen, despite it's XGA res, is the best selling point of this tablet (and rightfully so!).
As I said above Photoshop runs smooth as silk on this thing, even with hires multilayered files, when you have a large amount of Ram. I would consider 1GB the base minimum... I have 2GB which is great, and if you have the $$$ to shell out for $600 2GB mem modules, you could put 2 of them in there for a total of 4GB of Ram. That being said, I've become painfully aware how much photoshop was designed to be used in conjunction with a keyboard. I got so used to using the key commands over the years that their absence when using PS with a keyboardless tablet was maddening. And after being accustomed to a dual monitor setup and having all my palettes out of the way, the single 12" screen here can be a bit cluttered. There are ways of getting around the palette issue, and using the menus rather than key commands, but despite the nice speed that photoshop runs at, creating art with it is slower than using my desktop. This was alarming actually, and something I didn't think about until I started using the tablet. I do all of my art in photoshop and was not happy with the prospect of it's useability being diminished. Also I've found that in photoshop doing quick light pen flicks, or dots, didn't always register a mark. This brings me to a program that I consider a must have when creating art on a tablet PC:
I had tried this program a few months ago on my desktop machine, and really I didn't understand what the purpose of it was. It just seemed to be a very very limited version of painter with a novelty interface. I lamented the state of graphics software, thinking this was a real waste of my hard drive space and promptly deleted it. However, when I installed this onto the Slate I felt I had attained enlightenment. Everything made perfect sense now... the "novelty" interface became an ESSENTIAL interface. This thing was MADE for drawing right on the screen with no keyboard. The palettes are easily accessible when you need them and are out of the way the rest of the time. With a little tweaking of my pen driver, assigning a few key commands to the buttons, I was up and running with the most intuitive and easily accessible interface I've ever used. Now this thing is definately no photoshop. It only has the most basic of commands and options, just enough to do what it was designed to do... draw, sketch, and paint. After a few days of practice, I can definately see me using this program in lieu of most of photoshop's now cumbersome options.
It's not perfect though, and has few annoying quirks. One of them being, that when you zoom in past 100% on your image, instead of showing the actual pixel level of your image it anti-aliases the shit out of everything. As far as I could see there are no options to keep it from doing this which is either an amazing oversight or a severely dumb design decision. There should at least be an option of switching it on or off depending on the users preference. Another oversight is that while you can export layered photoshop files, there is no way to reimport those same layered files. this poses problems when working with both programs in an art workflow... lets say you do a bunch of coloring in sketchbook pro and export your nice layered file to photoshop to add some filters or do some color correction, you're now stuck saving your edited PSD file as a flattened tif before you can reopen it in sketchbook pro. Suck. Some other things include no blending modes on the layers, not being able to open multiple documents at once etc. But the big 2 I mentioned above are things that seriously need correction with this program, before I would be completely happy with it. Overall though it does provide a very nice art experience in conjunction with a tablet or slate PC. You can turn off the cursors which gives you a very natural pen on paper feel.
Overall Art experience:
Drawing with the pen directly on the screen is a paradigm shifting experience. It makes your brand new Intuos 3 look like a big plastic piece of paper with no ink in the pen. As mentioned above, I don't know what the pressure sensitivty of this thing is, but I also don't care. It does what I need it to do when I need it to do it. Because of the thickness of the glass, there is sometimes a discrepency between where you put the pen and where you actually draw... at least from a perception point of view. For example, if you're holding the tablet and looking at your drawing point from an angle your pen tip will appear as if it is floating above your cursor. This really only is a problem when looking at the screen from extreme angles, but I have found myself experiencing this a few times. a quick reorientation of either your head or the tablet corrects the perception problem.
A big plus when using this tablet over a monitor like the cintiq is that it's truly portable. I can unplug and go contort myself into the big cushy leather chair in the living room and continue my painting or go outside and paint the birdies without lugging around a paint kit (conversely I can also surf porn while in the bathroom, but that's not the subject of this review). The battery life is such that I can actually get a good amount of work done while unplugged before it runs out of juice.
Overall the art experience with this tablet has been excellent so far, given a little setup time to rearrange photoshop and sketchbook pro with my new keyboardless settings, I can't even imagine going back to a normal wacom now. In fact I tried it just to see and it was pretty awkward which is a testament to the natural useability of being able to draw directly on the screen. As I have yet to complete a big painting project with the tablet, I'll have to update this review with any new findings once I have a little more experience painting on it.
While this computer is very nice as used as an art making machine, it's primary market is business. With that in mind, there are a few things I would change personally if I were to design this specifically for artists. First are the Infrared ports. This thing has 3 of them and at least for my uses they are all unnecessary. The speaker is kinda crappy... probably just ebcause of the small size of it. I consider fingerprint readers to be nothing but gimmicks and have no use for it or the software that runs it. It comes with WiFi so personally I feel no need for the external LAN port or the modem port. (who the hell has a modem anymore anyway?). I find some of the buttons on this thing to be unnecessary, though the dedicated rotate screen button is awesome, and it works lightning fast! I have yet to have a need to install anything off a cd-rom or dvd, but If I did, I'm not sure what I would do as this computer has neither. I suppose I could make an image of the disk on my desktop then transfer and open the images on the tablet. If I were buying this as my only computer I think I would need at some point to get the docking station (yuck!). I would love for the whole computer to be slightly thinner (get rid of some of those unnecessary ports etc.) but it really is thin enough for any type of use, and my last wish would be to have a slightly higher res screen. But as mentioned above the resolution really seems to work well at this size screen.
Conclusions and Recommendations:
I would recommend this tablet to any artist who does a large amount of their drawing or painting work digitally. The build quality is solid, it's very portable and I have yet to find any major faults with it. To those who may have been thinking about tablet pc's for a while and may be sitting on the fence, I say go for it. If you can stand adjusting your photoshop usage a bit, or using sketchbook pro for certain (if not all) operations then you really can't lose in picking this tablet.