The lowdown on Tablet PCs

What is it? A Tablet PC is a combination ultraportable notebook PC and pen-based tablet computer'with or without a keyboard'running Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition and supporting wireless connections.

Why should I buy one? You can turn a lightweight, portable device into a full-fledged PC by adding a keyboard, monitor and optical drives to its basic configuration. Since handwritten data is treated as a digital object, you can quickly integrate it into documents created by Word, Excel, PowerPoint and other Microsoft programs. You can annotate these documents and send them via e-mail. You can also annotate documents with your own voice. The price is comparable to that of many notebook PCs.

Should I buy now or wait? If you simply can't wait, buy one now and add on peripherals as you can afford them. Look for a model that lets you easily upgrade RAM and the hard drive. If you manage an IT department, you might want to wait a few months until prices for present models drop and more leading vendors enter the market.

How quickly can I learn to use one? Experienced notebook PC users can be up and running in minutes by using the software's user guide. Microsoft also offers plenty of useful information, FAQ and helpful tips on its Web site.

Must-know info? Tablet PCs are here to stay and will only get better. Prices will stay around $2,000, but more features will become available as vendors upgrade their products. More vendors will enter the market. Tablet PCs will successfully edge ultralight notebooks out of the market.

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