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With the rumors floating around that Steve Jobs is quietly inventing Apple’s next portable device, perhaps a tablet PC, Jobs will have to crank up the creativity to beat what’s already available from other manufacturers. Although Fujitsu is one of the smaller computer manufactures and only has a small piece of the portable PC market, the company has been one of the industry leaders when it comes to tablets.

Fujitsu’s LifeBook T2020 is the latest in a long product line of Tablet PCs and Fujitsu has pulled out all the stops to build what the company considers to be the perfect convertible tablet PC, so much so that Apple may want to take a long hard look at the T2020 before building their own tablet.

Fujitsu chose to go the convertible route with the T2020 to broaden the unit’s market appeal. The T2020 sports a slim keyboard, which can be folded under the screen when in tablet mode. Keeping a keyboard part of the tablet equation adds very little in the way of bulk to the system, in other words, pure tablet users won’t be penalized by any increase in size or weight due to the T2020’s convertible nature. More importantly, because of the integrated keyboard and hinged display, the unit works great as a small notebook.

Weighing as just 3.5 pounds and measuring only 1.3-inches thick, the T2020 proves to be very compact – almost down to netbook size. To lessen weight and reduce thickness, Fujitsu did have to make a few compromises; the unit doesn’t have an integrated optical drive and only offers a few ports. Fujitsu does offer a $319 port replicator which mounts under the unit. That port replicator includes a DVD RW drive, as well as a bunch of ports and can work as a docking station that can be left at the user’s desk. The port replicator can be lugged around with the unit, but does add bulk to the package.

Fujitsu offers several configurations for the T2020, allowing the purchaser (or reseller) to choose different CPUs, memory, storage and connectivity options. Those who spend most of their time out in the field will be interested in the optional AT&T broadband connect, an integrated device that brings 3G WAN to the unit.

Our test unit retails for $1,549 and was configured as follows:
Intel® Core™ 2 Duo Processor Ultra Low Voltage SU9400 (1.40 GHz).
Genuine Windows Vista® Business Service Pack 1.
12.1-inch WXGA enhanced indoor display with wide viewing angles and Active Digitizer
2 GB DDR3 800 SDRAM memory (2GB x 1)
160 GB SATA 150, 5400 rpm hard drive
10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN
Atheros XSPAN (802.11a/b/g/draft-n)
Bluetooth Wireless v2.1
Integrated Fingerprint Sensor with pre-boot authentication functionality, embedded TPM, dedicated SmartCard slot, Fujitsu Security Application Panel
Digital microphone with noise cancellation
Spill-resistant keyboard
Lithium ion (six-cell, 10.8V, 5800 mAh) battery

Several options are available, ranging from an extended battery to a faster CPU to a solid state hard drive. We put the T2020 through its paces with Performance Test 7.0 from PassMark software – the unit offered an overall PassMark score of 506.5, which proves to be more than adequate for a Microsoft Windows Vista powered tablet. The included six-cell battery offered almost six-hours of use, which is quite impressive for such a small system. Users needing more battery life may want to opt for the nine-cell battery, which purportedly offers as much as 11 hours of usable life.

The unit offers decent ergonomics as either a tablet or a notebook. Some may find the keyboard a little cramped in notebook mode, while others will find the lack of a touchpad a major short coming – the unit does offer a “pointing stick” located in the center of the keyboard, like on a Lenovo ThinkPad.

In tablet mode, users will find four dedicated buttons that can be programmed to perform various functions. An integrated fingerprint reader is located on the bezel of the tablet portion of the notebook – it is easy to use when the unit is in tablet mode, but a little unwieldy when in notebook form.

The 12.1-inch WXGA is very bright and is viewable from a wide range of angles. The screen’s digitizer proves to be precise and works well from taking notes with the unit’s stylus, which is garaged in the front of the unit’s palm rest. The T2020 lacks a webcam, which would have been a nice feature – especially in tablet mode, where it could be used to embed still photos into a form.

Other than some minor missing features, the Lifebook T2020 is pretty hard to beat and should work well for both tablet and notebook users. The unit’s affordable price makes it even more attractive, while an abundance of options and accessories should help resellers eek some profit out of selling and supporting the T2020.