Tablet PCs: An early test drive

Tablet PCs: The early test drive

Nearly two dozen PC makers have been awaiting today's release of Microsoft Windows XP for Tablet PC Edition to start selling tablet hardware. The GCN Lab will test-drive two vendors' tablets in the Nov. 18 print edition, which also will be online that day. The machines will be the Fujitsu Stylistic ST4000 and the Compaq CT1000. If you can't wait, a capsule preview appears below.

But first, know that tablets come in three formats:

  • Hybrid PC/tablet. It looks like a notebook, but the LCD can rotate 180 degrees and fold down onto the keyboard. It's really a notebook with a fancy screen, and it weighs just as much or more.

  • Hybrid tablet/PC. It's considerably lighter and can work without a keyboard.

  • Pure tablet PC, also known as a slate. This is the lightest format, but some users will object to the lack of a keyboard. A radio-frequency pen moves the cursor around the screen; few models have touch screens.

  • Fujitsu PC Corp.'s Stylistic ST4000 is a pure slate model'no keyboard or mouse. Hewlett-Packard Co.'s 3-pound Compaq TC1000 is a hybrid tablet/PC.

    Battery life for the Compaq was impressive, though slightly less than advertised. Our test TC1000 needed recharging after about three hours, 30 minutes. Using the integrated IEEE 802.11b wireless connection sapped the battery more quickly.

    Compaq ruggedized the unit with magnesium alloy, polycarbonate polymer and shock-resistant glass. Nevertheless, the preproduction unit was more fragile than the average notebook and could not complete our test suite because its CD-ROM drive failed.

    The 3.2-pound Stylistic ST4000 had no keyboard or mouse but had USB ports for them. Windows XP's handwriting recognition engine left a lot up to careful penmanship. The Stylistic, like the Compaq, malfunctioned in about a month of average use. It hung up in a boot cycle from which it could not recover, even after we removed the battery to help force a reboot.

    But these were preproduction prototypes. Had both tablets performed without defects, as we were assured the production units will, the $1,699 Compaq would have scored a B grade based in its price and performance. The Stylistic ST4000 would have gotten a B-. Its price will range from $2,100 to $2,700 depending on hardware options, and it had a slower processor than the Compaq.

    About the Author

    John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.


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