Tablet PCs: Take one and call me in the morning

Tablet PCs may be great for impressing your friends, but how useful are they in a corporate context? We look at five Tablet PCs from major vendors to find out.

Tablet PCs may be great for impressing your friends, but how useful are they in a corporate context? We look at five Tablet PCs from major vendors to find out.

A Tablet PC is a cross between a notebook and PDA that allows you to make notes using a stylus like you would on a PDA. You have the ability to use a stylus as a replacement for a mouse and write on the display. It sounds quite neat but because tablets are a new product, they are quite expensive.

The impetus for Tablet PCs came from Microsoft, which released a version of Windows called Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, and ran a strong promotion campaign. Most major notebook manufacturers have embraced the tablet form factor. We look at five Tablet PCs from different vendors to see how they stack up. We also compare the performance and price of a similar priced notebook.

Why tablet?
Tablets are ideal for workers who take notes while standing. Doctors, nurses, teachers, salespeople, and those who are on the manufacturing floors are among the many that would benefit from using a Tablet PC as part of their everyday routine.

However, there are a few factors that may deter you from a Tablet PC. For example writing on a tablet doesn’t feel the same as writing on a piece of paper. Prolific writers predominantly still prefer their keyboards over writing on a tablet as they can type faster than write. So what are the advantages you may ask? You may laugh about it now, but they do help reduce paper consumption. They also offer alternative methods of input: keyboard, stylus, and voice. Tablet PCs also allow you to work in an ad hoc way and this is what makes them very appealing.

There are two styles of Tablet PCs: convertible and slate. Convertible tablets look like standard notebooks and have standard keyboards but they can turn into a tablet by turning and folding the display back over the keyboard. Slate tablets on the other hand don’t have a keyboard. Convertibles also tend to be larger and heavier but they generally provide a greater sense of familiarity to users.

A major factor in a company’s decision to purchase a Tablet PC is the ergonomics and features they offer. Most Tablet PCs use Intel Pentium III processors, but HP and a few others use Transmeta Crusoe processors. This is a little behind the notebook bleeding edge, with many high-end notebooks using Pentium 4 or the new Centrino processors. Tablets are also quite a bit behind in the graphics department. The tablets we looked at used graphics chips that have been superseded in current-model notebooks. Hard disks are pretty much the same, and the displays of course are kept small—usually 10.4 inches to keep the overall size of the tablet small and the weight down.

What you will find standard in a Tablet PC is 10/100 Ethernet port, a modem, and built-in 802.11b wireless networking. Some feature Bluetooth, but not usually as standard.

As far as ports go they don’t come with parallel or serial connectors. CD-ROM and floppy drives are also left out to keep them nice and light. (You can still connect them up to an external CD-ROM or floppy disk drive.) The slate tablets can be connected to docking stations, which have built in CD-ROM drives. Also common are PC Card slots, CompactFlash Readers, smartcard readers and FireWire connectors.

Most tablets feature simple hardware buttons that allow you to launch functions that you would normally do with a keyboard. Slate tablets have a button which enables you to quickly change the orientation of the display from portrait to landscape. With convertible tablets, you have to go into the software settings in order to change the orientation. Most vendors place their buttons on the Tablet PCs so they are easy for right-handed users to press when they are using the tablet in portrait mode. So right-handers would hold the tablet in their left hands and write with their right-hands; left-handers would be doing the opposite and have a little more trouble reaching the buttons.

Tablet PCs
Introduction
1. Acer C102Ti
2. Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110
3. HP Compaq TC1000
4. Toshiba Portégé 3500
5. Viewsonic V1100
Specifications
Things to look out for...
Benchmark scores
How we tested
Scenario/Editor’s Choice
About RMIT
There are also issues with the placement of speakers. With the ability to rotate the screen between landscape and portrait modes, you will not have the same audio experience. The vendor specifically places the speakers to a preferred orientation (landscape or portrait), but not both. As we found, it’s an even bigger problem with convertible tablets. With the Toshiba, for example, if you turn and fold the display back over the keyboard, you cover up the speaker with the display, which cuts out a lot of the sound.

Holding these devices can be a little awkward at times. They can get a little too warm and they aren’t very hard to drop on the ground either. They don’t come with a carry handle and they don’t seem very rugged.

Also don’t expect to have perfect accuracy while writing—instead, be patient. You will have to go back and correct errors. Finally, none of these tablets will replace a desktop for most users, as they’re slower and a lot more expensive than your standard notebook. We can see them replacing ultra-portable notebooks, which already use similar hardware.

Software
All Tablet PCs use Windows XP Tablet PC. They also have additional software installed for handwriting recognition. Below are screen shots of hand recognition software applications that come as standard with Windows XP Tablet PC.

  • Journal: Windows Journal was developed especially for the Tablet PC. It allows you to enter notes, images, and sketches with a stylus.
  • Sticky Notes: Sticky Notes is the digital version of Post-It notes. You would use this if you had to write down a name and telephone number, for example.
  • Tablet PC Input Panel (TIP): TIP enables users to enter text with a stylus, which then gets converted into typed text. The TIP also features an onscreen keyboard.
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Acer C102Ti

Acer C102Ti
Just as we received the Acer tablet we found out that Acer is releasing a new Centrino-based tablet, the C110, which should be out by the time you read this. The new C110 will be a convertible Tablet PC featuring an Intel Centrino 900MHz processor, 256MB of RAM, a 40GB hard disk, wired and 802.11b wireless networking, and a 12.1in screen all in a 1.4kg package. It will be priced from $4,499.

The Acer C102 we received is a convertible Tablet PC that features a 12.1in screen that twists and folds back over the keypad in a similar way to the Toshiba. The swivel mechanism however doesn’t feel as smooth or as durable as the Toshiba’s.

The Acer is a lot smaller than the Toshiba and in fact it weighs the same as the slate tablets however you also get a built-in keyboard. Inside is an Intel Pentium III 800MHz processor and 256MB of RAM, which is the maximum you can install.

We should also mention that the C102 is being replaced by the C104, which will come with a 900MHz Pentium III processor. The price will also remain the same. A unique feature of this Acer is the smart-card reader, which you can also find this technology in many of Acer’s notebooks. Like the Toshiba the Acer doesn’t need a docking station. It comes standard with an external CD-ROM drive.

In our testing, the Acer was the slowest of all the Tablet PCs. In the battery test the Acer didn’t perform all that well, only managing to stay running for a little over two and a half hours.

Tablet PCs
Introduction
1. Acer C102Ti
2. Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110
3. HP Compaq TC1000
4. Toshiba Portégé 3500
5. Viewsonic V1100
Specifications
Things to look out for...
Benchmark scores
How we tested
Scenario/Editor’s Choice
About RMIT
Product: Acer C102Ti
Price: AU$3,799
Vendor: Acer
Phone: 1300 366 567
Web: www.acer.com.au

Interoperability:

Features FireWire and VGA connectors.

Futureproofing:

Max RAM 256MB.

ROI:
½
Slow, but has a very small footprint.

Service:
½
1-year 2-hour commitment warranty.

Rating:




Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110

Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110
The Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110 is a slate-style Tablet PC. It’s very thin and light weighing in at only 1.5 kilograms and it’s a touch larger than an A4 sheet of paper. It also has a narrow bezel, which makes it look stylish.

The Fujitsu ships with a great carry bag, which can be used to not only carry the Tablet PC around but to act as an upright support so you can sit the Tablet PC up on a desk. The bag also has mesh where the back of the tablet sits, to let heat dissipate. The Fujitsu also has a suede base which gives you a better grip on the tablet.

The Fujitsu is equipped with an Intel Pentium III 800MHz processor, 256MB of RAM, and a 40GB hard disk drive. Even though it uses a less powerful processor than the Viewsonic, it still managed to achieve higher performance scores. It ran our battery test for over three hours, which was quite a good effort. We consider anything over three hours very good and over four hours as excellent.

An optional tablet dock can be purchased, which includes a DVD/CD-RW drive and turns the tablet from landscape to portrait mode. A small curved-base USB keyboard comes standard with the tablet.

Tablet PCs
Introduction
1. Acer C102Ti
2. Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110
3. HP Compaq TC1000
4. Toshiba Portégé 3500
5. Viewsonic V1100
Specifications
Things to look out for...
Benchmark scores
How we tested
Scenario/Editor’s Choice
About RMIT
Product: Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110
Price: AU$4,999
Vendor: Fujitsu
Phone: 02 9776 4555
Web: www.fujitsu.com.au

Interoperability:

Features FireWire and VGA connectors.

Futureproofing:

Max RAM 768MB.

ROI:

Fast and very comfortable to use, but expensive as well.

Service:

1-year limited warranty.

Rating:
½



HP Compaq Tablet PC TC1000

HP Compaq Tablet PC TC1000
The HP Compaq Tablet PC TC1000 looks very futuristic, like something out of Star Trek. But looks can be deceiving. The TC1000 is a convertible tablet. The 10.4in display swivels around and tilts back down over the removable keyboard to transform into a tablet. Unlike the other convertible tablets, all the hardware is located on the back of the display rather than under the keyboard.

In the normal landscape mode, if you tilt the display back far enough the keypad will actually raise itself off the table as the weight shifts to the back of the tablet. While in notebook mode, the TC1000 uses a track ball rather than a glidepad and doesn’t have a palm rest. The display is set quite forward, and in fact the base of the display sits way too close to the keypad, which is annoying since it makes it hard to access the function keys.

The TC1000 uses a glass screen while the other tablets use a plastic screen. The thick glass didn’t make writing any more difficult, in fact it felt a little more natural. The stylus uses batteries, unlike the other stylus pens we tested. It has a good tip and actually feels like a real pen.

The TC1000 uses a Crusoe processor, which wasn’t quite up to the task in our performance tests. However in the battery test it managed to outlast all the other Tablet PCs.

Unlike the other convertibles, you can buy a docking station for the TC1000. The docking station can either have a DVD-ROM player or combo DVD/CD-RW drive.

Tablet PCs
Introduction
1. Acer C102Ti
2. Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110
3. HP Compaq TC1000
4. Toshiba Portégé 3500
5. Viewsonic V1100
Specifications
Things to look out for...
Benchmark scores
How we tested
Scenario/Editor’s Choice
About RMIT
Product: HP Compaq Tablet PC TC1000
Price: AU$3,795
Vendor: Hewlett-Packard
Phone: 1300 305 018
Web: www.hp.com.au

Interoperability:

3 USB ports and PC Card slot.

Futureproofing:

Max RAM 768MB.

ROI:
½
Very slow but offers good battery life. Heaviest of the lot.

Service:

1-year limited warranty.

Rating:




Editor's Choice
Toshiba Portégé 3500

Toshiba Portégé 3500
The Toshiba Portégé 3500 looks like your everyday notebook. It’s quite thin and light for a notebook only weighing 1.8kg, however for a Tablet PC it feels a little too heavy.

The Toshiba has a reasonably fast processor even for a standard notebook. The Pentium III 1.333GHz processor comes with 256MB of RAM that can be expanded to 1024MB. The slate-style Tablet PCs we looked at only supported up to 768MB of RAM. The Toshiba also comes with a 40GB hard disk drive that spins at 5400 RPM.

The Toshiba also has a large 12.1in screen that can be rotated and folded back over the keyboard to form a very powerful Tablet PC. The Toshiba doesn’t use a docking station, but like the other tablets in order to keep its weight down it doesn’t integrate a CD-ROM drive. You can however attach an external one to one of its USB ports (the external drive is an optional extra).

In terms of performance, the Toshiba was the fastest of the lot. This was hardly surprising since it featured the fastest processor. Battery life was also quite good. Despite it having a large screen and a faster processor than the other Tablet PCs, it still managed to do well in this area.

Tablet PCs
Introduction
1. Acer C102Ti
2. Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110
3. HP Compaq TC1000
4. Toshiba Portégé 3500
5. Viewsonic V1100
Specifications
Things to look out for...
Benchmark scores
How we tested
Scenario/Editor’s Choice
About RMIT
Product: Toshiba Portégé 3500
Price: AU$4,840
Vendor: Toshiba
Phone: 13 30 70
Web: www.toshiba.com.au

Interoperability:
½
Features CF and SD media slots and VGA port.

Futureproofing:
½
Large display, large HDD, max RAM 1GB.

ROI:
½
Fast, good features, but heavy.

Service:

3-year warranty.

Rating:




Viewsonic Tablet PC V1100

Viewsonic Tablet PC V1100
The Viewsonic Tablet PC uses a slate design, which means it does not have an integrated keyboard. One of the drawbacks of this design is that you have to cart around an external keyboard if you’re not a big fan of using an on-screen keyboard.

Inside the tablet you will find an Intel Pentium III 866MHz processor with 256MB of RAM and a 20GB hard disk drive. The display is only 10.4in, which is standard for most Tablet PCs. Only the Toshiba has a larger screen, however its native screen resolution was the same.

The Viewsonic didn’t offer much in the way of performance; in fact it was quite slow. Its battery life of 1 hour and 58 minutes was also the shortest we tested. You can purchase a docking station, which will allow you to stand the tablet in a portrait mode. The docking station includes a CD-ROM as well as USB, VGA, and Ethernet ports; you can also buy a matching keyboard and mouse.

Tablet PCs
Introduction
1. Acer C102Ti
2. Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110
3. HP Compaq TC1000
4. Toshiba Portégé 3500
5. Viewsonic V1100
Specifications
Things to look out for...
Benchmark scores
How we tested
Scenario/Editor’s Choice
About RMIT
Product: Viewsonic Tablet PC V1100
Price: AU$3,999
Vendor: Viewsonic
Phone: 1800 880 818
Web: www.viewsonic.com.au

Interoperability:

Includes CF slot and FireWire and VGA ports.

Futureproofing:

Small HDD, max RAM 768MB.

ROI:
½
Quite slow, poor battery performance.

Service:

1-year pick up and drop off warranty.

Rating:




Specifications

Tablet PC Acer C102Ti Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110 HP Compaq Tablet PC TC1000
Vendor Acer Fujitsu Hewlett-Packard
RRP inc. GST AU$3,799 $4,999 $3,795
Phone 1300 366 567 02 9776 4555 1300 305 018
Web www.acer.com.au www.fujitsu.com.au www.hp.com.au
Warranty 1-year, 2-hour commitment warranty 1-year limited 1-year limited
Tablet type Convertible Slate Convertible
Processor installed Intel Pentium III-M 800Mhz Intel Pentium III-M 800Mhz Transmeta Crusoe TM5800 1GHz
RAM installed/max (MB) 256/256 256/768 256/768
System weight (kg) 1.5 1.5 1.9
Battery type and rating Li-Ion 14.8v, 1800mAh Li-Ion 10.8v, 4000mAh Li-Ion 11.1v, 3600mAh
Display size in inches 10.4 10.4 10.4
Native resolution (landscape) 1024x768 1024x768 1024x768
Digitiser Wacom Wacom FinePoint
Graphics processor/memory (MB) SMI Lynx 3DM +/8 Intel 830MG/48 nVidia Geforce 2 Go/6
Hard drive capacity & speed 30GB 4200RPM 40GB 4200RPM 30GB 4200RPM
Optical drive Yes Optional Optional
Integrated modem 56K Yes Yes Yes
Integrated 10/100 Ethernet Yes Yes Yes
Integrated wireless 802.11b Yes Yes Yes
Integrated Bluetooth No No No
PC Card/SD media/CF card slots Yes/No/No Yes/No/No Yes/No/No
USB/Infrared ports 2/No 2/Yes 2/No
FireWire/S-Video/VGA Yes/No/Yes Yes/No/Yes No/No/No
Microphone/headphone ports Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Yes/Yes
Operating System Windows XP Tablet PC Edition Windows XP Tablet PC Edition Windows XP Tablet PC Edition



Tablet PC Toshiba Portégé PC TC1000 Viewsonic Tablet PC V1100
RRP inc. GST AU$4,840 $3,999
Phone 13 30 70 1800 880 818
Web www.toshiba.com.au www.viewsonic.com.au
Warranty 3-year 1-year pick up and drop off
Tablet type Convertible Slate
Processor installed Intel Pentium III-M 1333 Mhz Intel Pentium III-M 866Mhz
RAM installed/max (MB) 256/1024 256/768
System weight (kg) 1.8 1.6
Battery type and rating Li-Ion 10.8v, 3600mAh Li-Ion 7.4v, 3900mAh
Display size in inches 12.1 10.4 Native resolution (landscape) 1024x768 1024x768 Digitiser Wacom Wacom Graphics processor/memory (MB) Trident CyberBlade XP/16 Intel 830MG/48 Hard drive capacity & speed 40GB 5200RPM 20GB 4200RPM Optical drive Optional Optional Integrated modem 56K Yes Yes Integrated 10/100 Ethernet Yes Yes Integrated wireless 802.11b Yes Yes Integrated Bluetooth Optional No PC Card/SD media/CF card slots Yes/Yes/Yes Yes/No/Yes USB/Infrared ports 2/Yes 2/No FireWire/S-Video/VGA No/No/Yes Yes/No/Yes Microphone/headphone ports Yes/Yes Yes/Yes Operating System Windows XP Tablet PC Edition Windows XP Tablet PC Edition

Tablet PCs
Introduction
1. Acer C102Ti
2. Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110
3. HP Compaq TC1000
4. Toshiba Portégé 3500
5. Viewsonic V1100
Specifications
Things to look out for...
Benchmark scores
How we tested
Scenario/Editor’s Choice
About RMIT
Things to look our for...


Benchmark scores

Benchmark results

Tablet PCs
Introduction
1. Acer C102Ti
2. Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110
3. HP Compaq TC1000
4. Toshiba Portégé 3500
5. Viewsonic V1100
Specifications
Things to look out for...
Benchmark scores
How we tested
Scenario/Editor’s Choice
About RMIT
How we tested

We tested and evaluated each of the Tablet PCs based on the following criteria.

We also rated each of the Tablet PCs in the areas of interoperability, futureproofing, return on investment, and service.

Interoperability: We looked at the number and range of connectors and expansion slots available.

Futureproofing: We looked at the maximum RAM capacity, the size of the HDD, and whether the Tablet PC had provisions for a second battery.

Return on Investment: We looked at the overall cost and performance of the Tablet PC.

Service: We looked at the duration of the warranty and how many years parts were covered for.

Scenario/Editor’s Choice

Company: OPE Guano
This company wants to evaluate Tablet PCs as an alternative to notebooks for mobile workers including sales, technical and maintenance staff.

Approximate budget: $5000 per Tablet PC.

Requires: The company is looking at rolling out 100 Tablet PCs over the next year. Tablets must have wireless and wired LAN capabilities, and an external keyboard must be supplied if not built in.

Concerns: As well as general usability and performance, the company will evaluate the tablet’s handwriting recognition and form handling capabilities.

Best Solution: Toshiba Portégé 3500.
The Toshiba Portégé 3500 is the best solution here for being the fastest and most flexible Tablet PC. It has both wired and wireless LAN capabilities as well as the large display. Its only downfall is its weight.

If you were just after a slate-style Tablet PC, we would recommend the Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110. It’s light, it comes with a myriad of features it offers very good battery life, and comes with a great carry bag.

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Tablet PCs
Introduction
1. Acer C102Ti
2. Fujitsu Stylistic ST4110
3. HP Compaq TC1000
4. Toshiba Portégé 3500
5. Viewsonic V1100
Specifications
Things to look out for...
Benchmark scores
How we tested
Scenario/Editor’s Choice
About RMIT

About RMIT Test Labs

RMIT Test Labs
RMIT IT Test Labs is an independent testing institution based in Melbourne, Victoria, performing IT product testing for clients such as IBM, Coles-Myer, and a wide variety of government bodies. In the Labs’ testing for Technology & Business, they are in direct contact with the clients supplying products. Their findings are their own—only the specifications of the products to be tested are provided by the magazine. For more information on RMIT, please contact the Lab Manager, Steven Turvey.

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