Power User: Big screen makes Tablet PC an on-the-go asset

John McCormick

I enthused about the early personal digital assistants, even boasting about writing a couple of GCN articles on my Handspring Visor.

But after I installed Microsoft Windows XP Professional on my PCs, I ran into problems trying to synchronize the Visor, and Handspring Inc. was no help at all.

Now a surge of new security work has been keeping me outside the office a lot, so I looked around and tried Gateway Inc.'s new Tablet PC.

Two features of the tablet appealed to me. First, Gateway's screen was large enough to simulate a sheet of typing paper'important because I daily download and read large numbers of security white papers and other documents.

Weight was the other big factor. A notebook with the same screen size and nearly the same weight would cost about twice as much as the Gateway tablet.

I had doubts about tablet handwriting-recognition software, but I've always found it more reliable than speech-recognition software, so I was ready to give it a try.

I came away from a three-month test impressed with both the Tablet PC as a serious business tool and with the Gateway product in particular. I had no complaints about its form factor, weight, battery life and performance, which is unusual for me, as regular readers know.

I can almost always find something to complain about. The tablet, however, was ideal for the way I work. Unlike a notebook PC that needs a lap to rest on, the Gateway could be carried like a clipboard for note-taking or looking things up even while I was riding in a vehicle.

I took it along to cover some news events, loading it with reference pages so I could get work done on the go.

Although GCN readers won't have the same tasks for a tablet, I'll explain that on my ranch we raise four-horn, black-and-white Jacob sheep, each officially identified by a photograph of its markings.

That's fine in the office, but not out in a pasture or barn where I might need to quickly identify a sheep to record pertinent events, such as an illness or a lambing.

The Tablet PC made it simple to manage nearly 60 ranch animals this spring. Similar inventory tasks, note-taking and lookups, for example, would be a good fit for a Tablet PC.

In addition to the large screen, the Gateway had a combination CD-recordable/DVD player, docking station and Universal Serial Bus keyboard, as well as a 56-Kbps modem and built-in wireless support.

It didn't use a touch screen, which can scratch or wear out. Instead, its special pen worked without actually having to touch the glass surface. And I could rest my hand on the screen to write, which seems a more natural way to work than using a PDA.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com.

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