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Five top tablets of all time
The Tablet PC introduced by Microsoft over a decade ago was the result of a pet project by then company CEO Bill Gates. The thought of a portable digital slate that was used with a pen was advanced, but as history has demonstrated given the unsuccessful run of the Tablet PC that’s not always enough.
Even with the less than successful run of those Tablet PCs, they were the perfect solution for some. I fit in that small group as I used them in my consulting work for a long time. I took dozens of pages of handwritten notes every day for years, as it offered one major benefit over paper. I could search my handwritten notes and find the particular nugget of information I had recorded. That beat paper notes hands down.
My work back then consisted of attending five to six meetings daily, often at multiple venues all over town. I would take copious notes on the tablet, and at the end of the day would use the tablet’s keyboard to write official reports. I did all of this while also writing about mobile tech as a hobby. My days were full of words, handwritten and typed, and tablets were the vehicle for recording them.
Having used a number of tablets since the birth of the Tablet PC and into the present age, it’s worth noting the best of the lot. Most of them were amazing feats of engineering for their time.
The five tablets listed here were/are all used by me in my work and play. Together they recorded tens of thousands of handwritten pages of notes, and hundreds of thousands of written words. They are the five best tablets ever made, in this writer’s opinion.
They are presented in chronological order, based on the year each was released for sale. Each was chosen for this top five list based on some particular design that set it ahead of the pack, or for the total package that pushed it ahead of the competition.
If you have a favorite tablet, any type, that doesn't appear on this list, share it in the comments below. It’s fun to take trips down memory lane and important to not forget where we’ve been.
HP Compaq tc1000/1100 — 2003
The Tablet PC was a growing gleam in the eye of Bill Gates when HP introduced a revolutionary tablet. The HP Compaq (HP bought Compaq in 2001) tc1000 crammed an entire Windows PC into a thin slate with a 10-inch screen sporting an active digitizer. It wasn't perfect, as the hardware of the time was anemic, and the tc1000 was very underpowered as a result.
The tc1000 was much thinner and lighter than anything else of that time, and was a full Windows Tablet PC. It was probably the greatest design and engineering achievement HP ever brought to market (even though design credit likely goes to Compaq).
The portable design of the HP tc1000 was only part of the reason it makes this “best tablet” list. HP realized that the keyboard couldn’t be dropped entirely from the Tablet PC, so it designed an outstanding mobile version for the tc1000.
The tablet could be easily snapped onto the keyboard for use as a laptop. The special hinge supported the heavy slate for comfortable use. The tc1000 could also be rotated 360 degrees for tablet use without detaching it from the keyboard. The remarkable hinge mechanism supported using the tc1000 and keyboard in every possible configuration, giving complete choice to the user.
While a remarkable product, the tc1000 was too underpowered to make it a great solution for most users. HP soon refreshed it to have a more powerful processor, and I quickly upgraded to the tc1100. HP made sure that all accessories purchased for the tc1000, keyboard and batteries included, were compatible with the tc1100.
This model was so advanced for its time that I used it for years in my work. It was fast enough compared to laptops of that time, and it provided the perfect solution for my note-taking and report writing.
Battery life of mobile devices was poor back then, so HP/Compaq went with an ingenious removable battery design. The battery was a relatively thin, flat shape that popped into a receptacle on the back of the tc1000/1100, leaving it flush with the slate. The ability to swap a spent battery with a fresh one made it possible to get all day mobile use of the tc1000/1100 at a time when most laptops could only get three or four hours using batteries much larger than that of the tc1000.
HP only sold the tc1000/1100 for a short while, but they were used by owners and businesses for years due to the lack of anything similar on the market. I used the tc1100 for years in my business, as it was solidly built and stood up to the rigors of mobile use.