- Thin and light
- dual-standard 802.11a/b wireless networking built in.
- Moderate performance and battery life
- flimsy stand.
Following its launch late last year, we’re still waiting for the Tablet PC to come of age. True, the first crop of releases contained some promising examples, such as Toshiba’s convertible Portégé 3500 and the slate-style Stylistic ST4110 from Fujitsu Siemens. But in the main, the devices were too big and heavy, and lacking in both performance and battery life.Although we've yet to review a Pentium M/Centrino-based tablet, later arrivals to the Tablet PC market, such as NEC with its Versa T400, have had more time to fine-tune their designs. The results are evident at first glance -- this slate-style device is thinner and lighter than any other Tablet PC we've examined. It's not perfect by any means, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.
The Versa T400 makes an immediate impression as soon as you pick it up, as it's particularly thin and light. The footprint is almost exactly A4 (22.4cm wide by 29.7 cm deep), while the depth is a svelte 1.5cm. It's not exactly heavy either, our review sample weighing in at just 1.03kg (1.38kg with the AC adapter). All this means that the Versa T400 feels much more like a device you'd be comfortable carrying around and using for a decent length of time -- all other things (primarily battery life and performance) being equal. There are nine buttons arranged around the silver-effect bezel that surrounds the 10.4in. TFT screen. With the device in its natural portrait orientation, six of these are at the top: wireless on/off; screen orientation; Escape; Function and Security. On the right-hand side, at the top, are the three remaining buttons -- up arrow, down arrow and Enter. You can assign various functions to combinations of these buttons via Windows XP's Tablet and Pen Settings dialogue box. The Versa T400 comes with a collapsible stand that's a bit too flimsy and collapsible for our liking. It works as a place to park the device when you're not using it, but if you like to use the touchscreen while the device is on the stand, you'll find that it wobbles disconcertingly. Also, make sure you lock the elements of the stand together correctly, or the whole thing will fall down, along with your precious tablet. We know; it happened to us.
The Versa T400 is the most powerful of the slate-style tablets we've seen so far, being based around a 933MHz Mobile Pentium III-M processor. This is an ultra-low-voltage CPU, so there's the promise of a good compromise between performance and battery life. The system's ALI chipset includes an integrated CyberAladdin-T graphics module that commandeers 16MB of the 256MB of SDRAM -- there's a single SODIMM slot that can accept a maximum of 512MB of RAM. The display is a 10.4in. XGA-resolution active TFT touchscreen, driven by a small, almost PDA-sized, stylus. Fixed storage is provided by a 20GB Toshiba hard drive, while our review sample came with an external 24X USB CD-ROM drive. You can opt for a 24X write/10X rewrite CD-RW drive, but NEC makes no mention of DVD options. The left-hand side of the portrait-orientated Versa T400 carries an adjustable antenna for the 802.11a/b wireless Mini-PCI card at the top. Below that you'll find a Kensington lock, a VGA port under a slightly stiff cover and an RJ-45 port for the system's 10/100Mbps wired Ethernet connection. On the right-hand side, there's a Type II CompactFlash slot (with an easily-lost blank filling the empty slot), a four-pin socket for supplying power to an external optical drive, a trio of USB slots and the audio ports (microphone and headphone). The Versa T400's Li-ion battery pack (a 4-cell, 1,800mAh, 11.1V unit) slots into the bottom of the device, giving it a low centre of gravity when held in portrait orientation.
Performance and battery life have been an Achilles heel for Tablet PCs to date, and the Versa T400, while acquitting itself creditably, doesn't really break new ground. We couldn't get our usual Business and Content Creation Winstone benchmarks to complete on the Versa T400, but fortunately BAPCo's MobileMark 2002 came up with the goods. MobileMark measures both performance and battery life by running a workload consisting of nine mainstream Windows applications (Word 2002, Excel 2002, PowerPoint 2002, Outlook 2002, Netscape Communicator 6.0, McAfee VirusScan 5.13,Adobe Photoshop 6.0.1, Macromedia Flash 5 and WinZip 8.0). The Versa T400's MobileMark 2002 productivity score of 77 is a long way behind today's leading performers such as Acer's 1.6GHz Pentium M-based TravelMate 800, which scored 184. Of course, no-one should expect a Tablet PC to match a fully-fledged desktop replacement system, but it's clear that performance isn't one of this system's strong points. What about battery life? MobileMark 2002 reported just under 2.5 hours (149 minutes), which is not really sufficient for a system that's designed to be used on the move for most of the working day. Compared to the first crop of Pentium M/Centrino systems that we've tested, which deliver between three and five hours' battery life and far superior performance, it's clear that we'll have to wait for the second generation of (Pentium M-based) Tablet PCs to see real progress.
Service & support
NEC's standard warranty for the Versa T400 is one year collect and return, but you can extend this to three years, adding on-site coverage if required. NEC also offers theft and damage cover, and three levels of installation service (basic, standard and comprehensive).