Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 Review: Sweet Shell, Bitter Core

A candy shell with sweet filling and a bitter core, that’s how I’d sum up the Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 slate Tablet PC if it was a confectionery treat. Nearly everything about this tablet is first-rate, except the slow processor. There are understandable reasons for that, but ultimately, while the Q550 can do the work, it does so at a sluggish pace.

Before I get into it, I want to emphasize Fujitsu’s enduring commitment to the tablet form factor. Their designs are excellent, as is their build quality. The Q550 lives up to their standards in that respect. Fujitsu has been good for the community and great to me in particular. Believe me, there’s nothing I would enjoy more than to give this tablet a glowing review. Unfortunately, I have to be honest and say I am very disappointed by the poor performance of the Q550. This is especially painful since the rest of the machine is excellent in so many ways.

Candy Shell

Holding the slate, it’s easy to feel the quality of the Q550. There’s a subtle texture around the whole body that offers the right amount of resistance to grip the tablet and provide enough drag on the screen so that the pen glides over it like paper, not glass. The edges are rounded so it’s not digging into your palm either. And even with the 4-cell battery, it’s under 2lbs. It’s very comfortable in hand and easy to hold, more than the lighter iPad or HTC Flyer in my opinion.

The matte finish of the display with 160 degree viewing angle and 400 nit backlight provides great visibility in most lighting situations, including outdoors. Resolution is very good at 1280×800. And there’s no worries about scratching the screen either; the slate is certified to MIL-STD-810G for toughness.

Sweet Filling

Under the shell, it packs a 62GB SSD and 4-cell battery that can provide up to 8 hours of runtime ($849 configuration, also includes Trusted Platform Module (TPM) v1.2; $729 configuration offers 30GB, 2-cell battery, and no TPM). Sleep and resume happens in a second, followed near instantly by reconnection to Wi-Fi (802.11abgn). Bluetooth 3.0 is also included.

The battery is cold-swappable, meaning the tablet must be powered off to swap the battery, but it can go to and from hibernation so quickly that it should take no longer than the time required to physically retrieve a replacement and put the used one away. An included utility allows quick access to hibernation. The Q550 offers incredible endurance.

The dual digitizer provides multi-touch and active pen input. As I found with the HTC Flyer, the pen detection range of the N-Trig digitizer is a hair shorter than that of Wacom. It also requires a firmer press to trigger clicks. Otherwise, the quality of the two digitizers are quite comparable. In fact, I would give N-Trig a slight edge in touch accuracy. The Q550 pen is battery-powered. There is no silo in the tablet to hold the pen, but it comes with a tether.

Advertisement

Bitter Core

Unfortunately, all those great features are shackled by its pathetic 1.5GHz Intel Atom Z670 processor, a.k.a. “Oak Trail”. I have handled Windows tablets with Intel Atom processors and SSDs, such as the TEGA v2 and ARMOR X7, and still I was surprised and disappointed by the sluggishness of the Q550. I thought perhaps it was a matter of perception due to working with the HTC Flyer and Fujitsu’s speedy Lifebook T900, but after firing up the TEGA for a re-check, I feel the Q550 definitely does not stack up. At least under its default settings.

By default, the power settings in power saving mode allow the processor state to drop as low as 5%. If you’re running an Intel Core processor, that might not be too bad. Intel Atom, however, does not have much performance to spare. To make the Q550 usable, I’ve had to bump up the minimum performance to 80%.

The key word there is “usable”. Without changing this setting, the slate was so slow that even switching between applications and surfing the web proved frustrating. Forget HD video. Even short Flash clips can only play at embedded sizes, not full screen. Working with single, simple applications that are more static in nature, like Windows Journal, was about as much as it could handle comfortably. Frankly, I found it difficult to evaluate in this condition. Let me further emphasize that bumping to 80% made it passable, but still no speed demon.

Part of the reason for going with this slow processor was, I’m sure, extended battery life. However, an equally important consideration was heat generation. Unlike every other Windows slate I’ve used, the Q550 has no obvious means of heat dissipation, passive or active. My old Electrovaya Scribbler relied on passive air flow and dissipation through the battery that took up the whole bottom. ARMOR rugged tablets use a thick back-plate grill to conduct heat away from the center. The TEGA v2 is fan cooled. Heat leaks through side ports and the back of the Q550, which should be adequate for the low-heat processor it uses, but I doubt it would suffice for something more powerful and hotter. The Q550 is designed around the promise that the Oak Trail platform could run fanless, which it does at the cost of adequate performance.

Hard Chewy Bits

Self-shot from front camera in portrait mode, black borders on sides

The lackluster performance is by far the biggest flaw of the Q550, but it is not alone. The front and rear cameras are a disappointment, especially compared to the quality of so-called lesser tablets. It’s not simply a matter of resolution (VGA front, 1.3 MP rear – I doubt the processor could handle more), but quality of images. Actually, they are no worse than what is standard for built-in PC webcams, but that standard is being put out to pasture by the new generation tablets.

One thing I found peculiar is the front camera is on the left side in landscape mode, so it seems designed for portrait use, but then the photos in portrait using the included app get framed by black bars inside the landscape photo dimensions. The onboard speaker and dual-microphone, however, are quite adequate.

Photo taken from rear camera, braced and balanced on table.

Some of the software choices are a bit odd. Fujitsu included a launcher application to make up for the poor touch accommodation in Windows 7. It’s easy enough to launch from the taskbar, but offers little functionality over what could be added to the taskbar and desktop. Also, contrary to my earlier report, Fujitsu’s Infinity App Store (a rebranded Intel AppUp) was not included though it can be downloaded. Finally, the Q550 includes an owner’s manual as PDF, but does not include a PDF reader.

Tasty Chunks

Offsetting those oddities are some good choices on hardware. It includes one SD card slot and one USB port, which I feel should be minimum requirements on Windows tablets. For enterprise users, there’s a Smart Card slot and fingerprint reader, while a headphone jack and HDMI port are provided for entertainment (and work). The docking port and AC port are both located at the bottom (landscape).

The buttons are all located on the right side (landscape), as is the spot to attach the pen tether. They include a power toggle; buttons for on-screen keyboard, screen rotation, and secure action sequence (Ctrl-Alt-Del); and a switch for wireless (airplane mode). These are all well-recessed and stiff so as to avoid accidental triggering. Placement of ports and buttons seemed to work quite well in both orientations.

Screen rotation can be set on a fixed sequence using the button or can be changed automatically using the accelerometer, which is turned off by default but easily activated using the included application. Applications are responsive instantly after rotating.

Last Bite

Despite what is a deal-breaking lack of performance for me, the Q550 is the first rugged, sealed and lightweight Windows tablet I’ve used. Others have hit two of those points but not all three. This, along with the excellent battery life, gives the Q550 a small but solid niche to serve. If you need a tough Windows 7 tablet that weighs under 2 lbs. and provides enterprise-level amenities, the Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 delivers. It just delivers by ground mail instead of next day air.

On a final note, while I’m not letting Fujitsu off the hook for shipping the Q550 with this meek processor, it’s only fair to point out that both Intel and Microsoft made grand claims about Oak Trail. This was the platform that was supposed to make Windows 7 tablets “happen” in 2011. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer claimed Oak Trail would change things. Companies, such as Fujitsu, were banking on this new platform to deliver on that promise. Well, it’s here and I think it’s ruined what should have been a great tablet. Or should I blame Microsoft for their delusion that their fat OS could run properly on such a slim processor? Oh, but I’m sure things will be much better with “Cloverview” (or Windows for ARM or whatever comes after that…).

InkShow

Below is a video overview of the Fujitsu Stylistic Q550. The performance shown is after the minimum processor state is bumped up to 80%. I show the system returning from sleep, as well as apps launching, all of which are zippy thanks to the SSD. The performance problem doesn’t become really noticeable until I hit the web with both Flash-enabled IE9 and Flash-blocked FF4.

Available for download in iOS-friendly MP4 format in both SD and 720 HD.

Update: Here are photos showing the screen in daylight. The first is with maximum brightness. The second with minimum brightness. And yes, that is the glare of the sun in the lower left corner behind my reflection. This was as direct sunlight as possible without blinding myself. It’s clear at maximum brightness and barely visible at minimum but I could see the screen well enough to bump the brightness setting back up.

  

Comments

  1. Dale Strauss says

    Sumo – What’s the real battery life like after the bump to 80% on the processor? If it pulls it back to 3-4 hours, we are stuck in the rut again. Assuming Microsoft stays (or ever really gets into) the tablet game, it will be YEARS before we see an iPad size/weight/battery life Windows device…sad…

    • Sumocat says

      Hard to give a precise measure but it definitely is not taking that big a hit. After an hour-long meeting of on and off note-taking and screen down to minimum, I saw a battery drop of only 8%. Surfing the web one evening for about two hours, medium brightness, it fell about 25% (and as you can guess from the video, it was not the most productive couple of hours). It depends on your activity, but I think the 8-hour claim is still pretty accurate. Keep in mind, even the upper range of this processor is quite low, so the wireless activity and screen brightness wind up playing a bigger role.

    • Sumocat says

      Hard to give a precise measure but it definitely is not taking that big a hit. After an hour-long meeting of on and off note-taking and screen down to minimum, I saw a battery drop of only 8%. Surfing the web one evening for about two hours, medium brightness, it fell about 25% (and as you can guess from the video, it was not the most productive couple of hours). It depends on your activity, but I think the 8-hour claim is still pretty accurate. Keep in mind, even the upper range of this processor is quite low, so the wireless activity and screen brightness wind up playing a bigger role.

      • Sumocat says

        Let me amend this. With processor minimum at 80% and display set to never turn off or sleep, the Windows estimate at minimum screen brightness is just over 8 hours. At medium brightness it’s about six hours. At max brightness, the estimate is 4.5 hours.

        Max screen brightness is hurt-your-eyes bright. That’s full glaring sunlight setting. Medium is comfortable for me outside and under fluorescent lights. Minimum is still visible under fluorescent and I find is actually a tad too bright in a darkened room. I prefer this for note-taking since it is least distracting for others.

        Other factors still apply, but it is reasonable to expect 6-8 hours of battery life with normal use.

      • Sumocat says

        Okay, I’ll let you judge this: I let it run on med brightness with both web browsers open and Wi-Fi connected since I posted that reply five hours ago. No dimming or sleep. First four hours min processor state was 80%. Bumped it to 100% after that to test a theory. Additional activity includes random launching of pages, apps, and videos by me. Battery is now down to 10%.

  2. Scottygu3 says

    Fujitsu knows bow to build slates, but someone, somewhere in that company decided that we didn’t want a powerful slate. I’d be the first in line to buy an update to the stylistic 50xx/60xx if it had i5/i7 power and a battery pack that lasted as long as my dual-battery T730, which lasts all day (unless I play Civ5).

    • AM says

      I don’t think it’s possible to build something that thin and light with the Core i processors as they would need to incorporate the fan, ventilation etc. Also, battery technology is not exactly keeping up with the rest of the IT world. In that form factor and weight, we’ll probably only see 2hrs battery life on Core i processors?

      I suppose it’s a case of give and take thou how much is subjected to discussion

      • Scottygu3 says

        Thin and light would not be the reason to buy one; I would be more than willing to trade mass for power. Under 3 pounds would be good enough for me (1 kg) would be great.

        My t730 lasts a good 6 hours with a regular workload with the additional bay battery: about the same that I got with the extended battery on me st5022.

        I agree that current technology is not up to the task of thin/light and power …but I can hope!

        • Anonymous says

          If you don’t mind mass the t580 has an i5 and can be had for 3lbs with the smaller battery 3.2lbs with the bigger one.  Of course being a convertible that is some mass you get!

  3. Peterk. says

    I had a similar experience as yours until after muddling through it for a few days,Windows update installled 43 updates. As soon as I disabled automatic update, it seemed to perk up, more than a little.

  4. tev says

    Sumo did you view the screen outside in direct sunlight?  And if so how visible or readable was the screen?  Any direct sunlight pictures?

    • Sumocat says

      I’ll add some fresh photos tomorrow, but yes, we’ve been outside and the screen is great. Don’t know how well it will translate in a photo but I’ll get one at minimum brightness too.

  5. Absnbd says

    Hi,

    Do you think the 10.1″ screen size is large enough for taking note of a lot of mathematical formulas? And, is it too slow to run google earth?

    Thanks.

    • Sumocat says

      For math, it depends on your handwriting and the horizontal length of the types of formulas. The width in landscape is about 8.5″, same as a standard notebook, and in applications like OneNote, you can scroll downward forever.

      For Google Earth, no, I just loaded it and it’s working fine. The graphics are vectored and load in pieces, so a lot of the work is data transfer, for which the SSD is a big help. Also note, the system requirements for GE are actually very low. Even my first Tablet PC would meet the minimum req and the recommended req are nearly as old.
      http://earth.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=20701

  6. NolaDoc says

    Thanks Sumocat for your in-depth review.  I plan on using this as part of my Electronic Health Record system for patient interaction.  I would really only be using Firefox browser as my EHR is web-hosted.  Some pen/handwriting input.  Does the processor really lag this bad on a single browser?  Battery life seems to make this one a winner, but I don’t want a lot of awkward pauses when I’m trying to get through a patient appointment!

  7. NolaDoc says

    Thanks Sumocat for your in-depth review.  I plan on using this as part of my Electronic Health Record system for patient interaction.  I would really only be using Firefox browser as my EHR is web-hosted.  Some pen/handwriting input.  Does the processor really lag this bad on a single browser?  Battery life seems to make this one a winner, but I don’t want a lot of awkward pauses when I’m trying to get through a patient appointment!

    • Sumocat says

      If there’s no Flash on the page, it’s not bad. Upping the minimum processor state to 90% seems to be cutting the lag further. Really depends on if your system is really script heavy or requires a lot of page loading.

    • MEpsych says

      I’m thinking about this for psych progress notes using PracticeFusion.  The battery, Windows benefits seem to make it better than others for this EHR.  Would you suggest other comparators?

    • MEpsych says

      I’m thinking about this for psych progress notes using PracticeFusion.  The battery, Windows benefits seem to make it better than others for this EHR.  Would you suggest other comparators?

  8. Philip Pickett says

    I was disappointed too at first – in comparison with my HP Slate 500, which  flies, the Q550 seemed sluggish and unresponsive. But then I spent a couple of days playing around… recalibrated touch/pen, re-installed some of the utilities, disabled Aero, tweaked the buttons and scrollbars for touch, increased the text size, disabled Indexing, installed MS Security Essentials and disabled file monitering – just the most obvious things. Got rid of a few pointless programmes and installed the ones I really need [for example Office, Outlook and Evernote] plus a few things I like to have … and the experience improved dramatically. Today I got a Vikuiti screen protector – and the touch response improved as well! The Q550 is now on a performance par with the Slate 500, and I have to say that I’m more than happy with both. Of course neither are as fast as my desktop. They’re mobile devices! And after the tweaks [even when set on high performance with radios on] they give me 4 hrs plus [Slate] and 6 hours plus [Q550]. The inking is great on both, and the combination of touch and pen makes the UI so so easy. Oh, I forgot – the new Opera mobile browser works great too. I sometimes wonder about all the criticism … if I wanted to watch hi-def videos all day I’d get a different device!

    • Anonymous says

      Inking is great on both?
      Wow! That certainly wasn’t my experience with the Slate 500.
      It was a great little device, but the constant Vectoring made it pretty much unusable for inking.  Whether you were drawing or writing, you would constantly get random vector lines that shoot out from your pen, while you tried to ink.
      (and It made no difference what Mode you had the pen in).

      The Q550, on the other hand, handles inking very nicely. Granted, it’s not as seamless as Wacom, but it’s still pretty darn good, nonetheless.

  9. Syrup1971 says

    The Z670 includes a full HD accelerator, that is capable of playing back multiple HD streams simultaneously. A typical H.264 bluray rip should play back with <10% CPU useage.

    If Adobe have not included accelerated flash support for the Z670 yet, then that would explain the poor video performance, as it will be running on the CPU, not the dedicated video hardware.

  10. Rgeorge says

    I own the q550 for 2 weeks now and i really like the device, i had an ipad before but was not able to be productive at all. i agree 100% with the review and all its findings. i would add that this tablet is fine for light computing work such as office 2010, quickbooks and it also seem to run smoothly even with SQL2005 express. i would not use it for video editing or any graphic intence software. i’m also able to run and host meetings with gotomeeting, use RDP for remote connections and VPN to my network. playing music while working with other applications does not work very well as you will experiance lags and choppy play back.

  11. Mustafasaad2000 says

    I have exactly the same experience as in Sumo’s review. In fairness, since I am a physician who had to have the hospital related software installed for encryption etc, I havent tried it on the software it came with. They also changed it in Windows Enterprise (not sure if that would make a difference) but I will first try the original software again and then return it

  12. Fatindra says

    HI  Sumocats    if i donot want ms office 2010  Can I install ms office 2007   

  13. John B says

    Hi Sumocat — I really appreciate your review. I use a Stylistic ST5010D and also have an ST4011 and an old ST 3400. All still working!!!

    I am interested in the Q550 and feel it should knock the socks of what I currently have, but have you compare it to the Stylistic st6012? Should I expect it to be better than the ST6012?

    I’m thinking I might be better off going for a 2nd hand ST6012 rather than the Q550.

    Your advice would be gratefully appreciated.

  14. moviedoc says

    Bluetooth stops working on my q550 after hours or days, eventually may start again. Both MS mouse and kbd stop working at the same time. Tech support useless, even replaced my first unit with no luck. The battery-less stylus I used with my two previous Motion tablets was much better. The only good thing is the battery life. Lots of other quirks. The touch is not even close to that on my HTC Evo, but that’s probably the fault of W7.

  15. CH says

    Hello, I’m curious with the process of bumping up processing to the 80%. Can you please give the procedures on how to do this?

  16. Kirkaiya says

    Hi Sumocat – very nice (and thorough) review of the Stylistic Q550.
    You’ve probably been asked this already, but have you tried installing the Windows Developer Preview (eg, Windows 8) on your Q550?  I’ve seen a few short videos on YouTube from someone else who did, and it seemed (from the low-rez video) to run the new metro interface pretty smoothly.

    If you do install Windows 8, and whatever drivers (Windows 7 drivers seem to work, at least when I installed the Nvidia graphics driver and fingerprint reader driver for my ThinkPad) Fujitsu offers, any chance you’ll give an update?  Thanks!

    Kirk

  17. guest says

    i have been working oh this tablet for about a month for work now and i can tell all of you guys the performance problems reside in the SSD used in this.
    please have a look at the below link and find out why it is so slow

    “http://www.harddrivebenchmark.net/hdd.php?hdd=TOSHIBA
    THNSFB062GMSJ”
    also this ssd only had and ATA interface,

    it is a big flaw from fujitsu.
    it also have massive problems with McAfee antivirus, if this is the one you are using.

    we were supposed to get about 40 of these for my work, but after all the bad experiences i had i advised them not to buy them.

    my advice is to wait for another tablet to come out.

  18. Chan Heng Huat says

    I have many problems with Q550.

    Problem 1 : Sometimes the mouse would move all over the places. I had to restore the factory version to solve the problem.

    Problem 2 : It cannot work well with PDF annotator. The inking takes a few seconds to appear on the pdf file.

    Problem 3 : Slow processor as indicated by many.

    Performance is much better with Windows 8 (Trial version for 90 days). However, slow processor leads to slow response when one plays games like fruit ninja.

    There are many times I feel like throwing Q550 away.

  19. Chan Heng Huat says

    Found a solution for jumping cursors. Go to device manager. Under HID, there is one that we should disable. After disabling, touch and pen still works but the jumping cursor would be gone.

Leave a Reply