As I’ve mentioned a few times, I firmly believe that the gadget to have this new year will likely be the Tablet PC. It’s nothing fancy or particularly new, but this year, it’s definitely something new to have.
With that in mind, it was no surprise that I went out and bought a Tablet PC as soon as I could. I had my mind set on one about a month ago. But at that time, there were only two models available, the Acer Travelmate, and the Fujitsu ST4000. I guess I should point out that when I first looked into the Tablet PCs, I found two distinctive types of styling. The primary difference between the two I found was that one kept the keyboard permanently connected, while the other had distinctive docking functions with the screen able to detach away from any docking unit. I am particularly fond of this latter design. The attached keyboard just didn’t make sense.
See, for me, no matter how you slice and dice it, the Tablet PC will probably never, ever replace a desktop PC/laptop. It’s merely an extension of a PC/PDA. As some of you may know, I tend to have at least 2 laptops at any one time, one is a desktop replacement laptop where I do all my heavy computing and work (currently a Dell Inspiron 8200), and the other is my travel laptop, which tend to be much smaller and hence loses some functionality. But that’s what you have to have. I don’t believe you can have both worlds because you always have to sacrifice something.
Thus, enter the world of Tablet PC. For me, the Tablet PC would be an ideal substitute into this latter group of traveling laptops. It would need to be small and compact above all else. Hence, I really like the ability to ditch the keyboard when I want to. To meetings and stuff, carrying a keyboard can be unnecessary and I like the appeal of what the Tablet PC can do. Getting back to my original point, I am a big fan of the detachable Tablet PCs.
There were two distinctive models that had attracted me in this configuration. One, the Fujitsu ST4000 which I already mentioned, and the other the Compaq TC1000. At the end of the day, it came down to one very simply factor, the Compaq TC is half the price of the Fujitsu ST (with the docking station; you can just buy the ST without the docking station but it still costs 25% more than the TC).
This is still a first generation product after all and how quickly will these get replaced by newer models that might have to fix some early flaws? Pretty soon I bet. So I knew not to spend too much all at once. Hence, the decision was made early on… the Compaq TC1000 was the clear choice. I should add that there were other things that weighed in favor of the Compaq model. It had a Compact Flash slot, USB 2.0 slots, it was smaller and lighter, and did I mention it was a hell of a lot cheaper?
Before I get into the review, let me make a side comment about the role of the PDA and why I think the TC may have diminished any of my future PDA purchases. I think PDAs are really fun and overall a pretty cool device. But with all my gadgets, I frequently leave the PDA at home when I travel. I mean, think about all the things I already carry. A mobile phone, digital camera, laptop, add to that all the chargers, connectors, plugs, etc. and you have a pretty heavy load. I didn’t want to have to bring an additional gadget with the PDA plus the charger (even though its just a little cord now). Also, given my last experience having my work bag stolen, sometimes, you just don’t want to bring too much of your stuff.
So the PDA has been relinquished to my office where I store phone numbers, contact info, memos, etc. Hence, it really doesn’t get much use. For music, the CLIE MP3 player is only marginal (in both sound, storage, and ease of use) and I much prefer the MD (I can use the same disc in the house, car, and on the road without having the record/transfer everything a few times). While I know that some of you live with your PDA, I have started to find it obsolete. Do I think it’s even possible to browse the web on a PDA? Probably, but not very well.
All of the necessary PDA functions can today be found on newer mobile handsets anyway, certainly the newer ones I bought. They all have calendar, detailed address book (which you can now back-up to a PC), calculator, memo functions, etc. You almost always carry a mobile phone, but when do you carry your PDA. For me it’s nearly never nowadays. Because many of the phone numbers/notes can now be found on my mobile/Tablet PC, is there a real need for a PDA anymore? So far in using my TC1000, I think I can do away altogether with my PDA.
More than likely, I’ll have the TC1000 ‘on’ in the office, and it’s a cinch to carry around now. Ok, I have rambled on way too long. I think you are starting to get what I mean. I’ll finish off my point later. On to the review:
The Compaq TC1000 is an exquisite example of how I hope future laptops will look like. I really like the simplicity of the design and the shape. The entire laptop is pretty much just comprised of the screen. There are no obtrusive buttons on the top. There are a few lights on the top which indicate little things like the WLAN, power, charging, etc. There are also a few activated switches that are gracefully hidden so much so that I didn’t even seem them at first, for which you can change the orientation of the screen (from portrait to landscape), etc. I really like the way the screen is centered on the tablet, a bit different than the comparable Fujitsu model.
Most of the buttons are smartly placed on the sides of the tablet. The overall shape of the Tablet is a very simple rectangle and I like it much better than the designs of the Fujitsu, which has a very odd shape, or the other Tablet PCs which look too much like a normal laptop screen, just laid down flat. The corners are rounded, the ports are protected by a neat cover, and there is even a little kick stand to prop up the tablet on a table. All in all, I think this is the best looking Tablet PC of the models I have seen.
One fun part about the Tablet PC is that you get to orient the screen in any way you want. I really like looking at web pages in the portrait mode because pages tend to be long. There is a really neat program in the Tablet PC called the Zinio which is just basically a fancy Acrobat-like reader. But the Zinio reads magazines. Pages appear sharp and I like the ability to search, skip, move about different magazines. Although you have to subscribe to magazines, and the types of magazines are limited, the demo copies were very impressive. The e-magazine editions are supposed to be the same as the printed ones and you can archive past issues on your drive. Yeah! The program though does say you can “share” the magazines with others. So I guess I just need to find others who subscribe to these magazines and we can “share” subscriptions. An expensive e-book perhaps, but the Tablet PC works really well for this type of function.
So is it a laptop or isn’t it? Well, as I’ve outlined the two types of laptops above, for me, the TC1000 is a very capable sub-notebook. I have been using it for over a week now and I can tell you that it would be a great traveling laptop. It has all the basic functions that I want and need. The key missing ingredient is a DVD/CDRW drive, but I think I can live without it.
So what is it like using the pen and the touch screen? That’s the newest thing about Tablet PCs and I have to admit, I’m still trying to get used to it. First of all, if you use the handwriting software, suddenly, you’re handwriting will improve. It has too! My chicken scribbles can sometimes be unrecognizable, so I have started to write a bit more neatly. Of course, I type much faster than I can write so it’s not nearly as fast nor as responsive as a keyboard. An onscreen keyboard is also there. For those of us used to Palm/Pocket PC, there is also an option to use that type of input method.
The Windows Journal program that comes with the Tablet PC is a Word like program that gives you the option of writing on the screen and then converting what you wrote into text. You can add charts, bar graphs, doodles, whatever you want to the page and then save it as you would a normal word document. Alternatively, if you like to just write in Word, you can open up that program and then use the pen input mode to enter sentences into word. You select the pen input area at the bottom of the screen.
The pen is an “active” pen, which means that it needs a battery (one AAA which is supposed to last for 3 months) and more importantly, if you lose it, you are out of luck. It costs some US$40 to replace it. Hopefully other 3rd party providers will create other pen options.
Overall I found the pen input system extremely responsive and relatively easy to use. It worked well for the most part. The downside of course is that you will sacrifice speed (not only in writing but also that it takes a few seconds for the computer to convert what you are typing). So a quick query on Yahoo or Google can take a few seconds longer as you input the parameters of your search. I have to admit that I am still getting used to it but it appears to be pretty good and very useful. Again, you do get a keyboard that you can always fall back on, but that defeats some of the purpose of having a Tablet PC.
Let me briefly talk about the screen for a moment. In the bright daylight, underneath even normal day lighting, the screen does not appear all that bright. Part of the reason is because there seems to be a pretty good protective plastic covering on top of the screen, which both protects the screen and probably is part of the input design/function.
Still, because of this layer, it does not look as bright as the Fujitsu model, for example. Side-by-side, the Fujitsu model is much brighter. I’m not sure how they do it, but they just seem a lot more brilliant. Understandably so, they are probably better at building pen input models as they’ve been doing it for a long time. But, in a darker environment, say in a dimmed room, or in a less lighted area, like an airport/hotel lobby or something, the TC1000 shines. It’s actually a very bright screen. I was using it last night in bed with only the TV on and it was extremely bright. I think it’s more than adequate, although I’m sure some users/reviewers might claim that it was a bit too dim. I should also note that the battery life is probably much better off without the screen being “extra bright”.
For those of you that like to dictate, the Tablet PC is also touting its voice recognition software/function. You can hook up a microphone and turn the Tablet PC into a dictation computer. I have yet to try this function out but the demonstration looks good. Still, it’s not a function I will have much use for.
As I mentioned before, there are buttons on the side of the PC that help you navigate some of the menus and settings. Are buttons for e-mail, the escape key, and a jog dial, to name but a few – all of which do help make pen navigation a bit easier.
The other thing I really like is the built in WLAN. Although the TC1000 does not come with a drive, by using the WLAN, I managed to link my TC1000 with my Inspiron 8200 such that I can use its drive, if and when necessary. Hence, whether installing programs/drivers or downloading data, I can accomplish much of this without having to buy another drive. To save on battery life, you can turn off the WLAN connection as well.
The TC1000 uses the new Tablet PC XP Pro operating system which is very similar to Windows XP Pro. It also means it comes with a good deal of drivers already built-in and it recognized my ZIP drive and my USB ZIP CD drive without having to search for drivers. Tablet PC XP is a very good operating system. It was actually flying (in terms of speed) until I installed my McAfee VirusScan, which tends to slow down load up times significantly.
Being a laptop, one of the big considerations is battery life. Rated at 5 hours, I was impressed with what Compaq was saying, but I knew better than to trust a manufacturer’s figures. I ran my own usage test and I got just about 3 good hours of usage using the maximum brightness, with the WLAN on, sometimes playing music, sometimes using the net, etc. I’d say if you turn down the screen and turn off the WLAN, you might get about 3.5 hours of good use, 4 hours max. That’s good enough for me and much better than my old Fujitsu model but it had a DVD/CDRW driver.
When all is said and done, the Tablet PC is more than I thought it would be. I mean, how much fun is just another laptop that uses a pen-input system? Well, the Compaq TC1000 proved me completely wrong. It is amazing and extra cool. The ability to detach the keyboard, and then just rely on the screen for computing is absolutely fantastic. (Again, I don’t think my review would have been as positive if I had bought one of the swivel Tablet PCs like the Toshiba or the Acer models.)
I really like this way of computing. You have to appreciate a Tablet PC for all that is, and recognize what it is not. I don’t have an issue with the smaller screen, lack of DVD/CDRW drive, etc. I didn’t think I would have this much fun with a Tablet PC and it has actually caught me by surprise at how much I ended up liking it. All the function of a PDA and all the power of a PC in a good small package – just what I wanted.
It’s so easy to have that I carry it back and forth to the office everyday now instead of my PDA. Having said that, back to my earlier point, am I going to ever have a need for a PDA again? Maybe not. That’s just me though and I’m sure others could never part with their PDAs. I’m sad to say that I may not get a new PDA for sometime now – I’ve been spoilt by the Tablet PC. Anyway, there are always other gadgets to get. For now, the best gadget to have is a Tablet PC and among the choices, the Compaq TC1000 is the ESSENTIAL choice.