Average user rating
- Good range of function buttons
- soft, curvy feel.
- Poor battery life
- awkward stylus slot placement.
ViewSonic is better known as a monitor manufacturer, but has been making tablet-style PCs for some time. The Tablet PC V1100 is a new model designed to run Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. It has a standard feature set and performance in line with its specification, but weight and battery life prevent it from being a truly mobile solution.
ViewSonic, like Fujitsu-Siemens with its Stylistic ST4000, has chosen to produce a slate-style tablet, without a keyboard. The V1100 is the larger and slightly heavier of the two products, measuring 25.3cm by 28.8cm by 2.9cm and weighing 1.55kg. It has a rounded styling to the case with no 'sharp edge' feel to any part of the tablet. Everything about the design -- buttons, labels, insignia -- suggests using the V1100 in portrait mode.
The layout of the controls in portrait mode favours a right-handed person, although the stylus slot is somewhat bafflingly on the left-hand side of the unit. The majority of ZDNet staff, when handed the tablet and asked to remove the stylus, had to either use their left hand and pass the stylus across to their right, or flip the whole unit over. In landscape mode, the stylus position is more sensible for a right-hander, but completely wrong for a left-hander.
The stylus itself has a single action button, so you have to use the right-click gesture (press and hold) to access context menus. The stylus doesn't support erasing (where the top of the stylus is used to rub ink out), but neither does that of the Fujitsu-Siemens tablet. The stylus also lacks a tether hole, so you can't secure it to the tablet.
There are plenty of buttons on the V1100, giving you quick access to some functions you may need regularly. On the right-hand side, in addition to the power button, there's a screen orientation button, an escape button, a tablet function button (a meta key for the other buttons), and a cursor pad and enter button. The left-hand side hosts the security button, a Windows key button, a journal button and an input panel button.
On our review model, the security button called up the Windows Task Manager, rather than bringing up the Windows security dialogue box or locking the tablet directly. Even worse is the cursor pad, which doesn't follow the screen orientation -- it's stuck in 'primary landscape' mode, making down left and right down when in primary portrait mode. This error needs fixing quickly, since the tablet is highly likely to be used in portrait mode.
The inclusion of the input panel button means you don't have to use the input gesture (waggling the pen up and down or side to side) to do so. This would be particularly useful if you wanted to reassign that gesture to another function.
On the bottom edge -- assuming you're using the tablet in portrait mode -- of the V1100 is a dock connector. This is a simple set of contacts, implying that the cradle doesn't lock into place, and you can simply drop the V1100 into it and take it out again. ViewSonic wasn't able to supply us with a dock for this review, so we can't comment on the features this will add to the tablet. There is a small fold-out leg on the back of the V1100, which tilts the tablet towards you slightly when it's placed
There are PC Card and CompactFlash slots on top of the tablet, allowing you to add further functions to the V1100, such as a smart card reader. There's built-in Ethernet, modem and wireless networking, so the only conceivable connectivity you might need to add is a Bluetooth card. There's no infrared port on the tablet, but you do get a pair of USB (1.1) ports.
The V1100's performance is fairly average. There's no reason why a tablet PC should perform any worse than a regular notebook with a similar specification, but both the ViewSonic and Fujitsu-Siemens tablets are relativley low-spec models. Few tablet-related tasks are likely to require large amounts of computing power, however -- the only demanding process is likely to be the Digital Ink and handwriting recognition functions. The V1100's Business Winstone score of 27.4 is slightly below what we'd expect from an 866MHz Mobile Pentium III system, but not enough to consider this an overly slow machine. Looking at the component-level benchmarks, it appears that a combination of the disk and graphics subsystems is preventing the whole system from reaching its full potential.
The battery life of the standard V1100 isn't great either. BatteryMark 4.0.1 reported an autonomy time of only 2 hours and 21 minutes, which doesn't provide much freedom from a mains power source. The recharge rate is similar to the discharge rate, so you'd need to spend nearly as much time docked and charging as working on battery power to make it through the day. The V1100 has a dimmable backlight that, in theory, allows you to extend your battery life at the cost of screen brightness. We re-ran BatteryMark with the backlight turned off -- admittedly rendering the tablet unusable -- and got 3 hours of battery life, so even this isn't going to allow you to get through the day without a recharge.
Extra batteries are available, but adding more weight to an already heavy system isn't going to help matters. In fact, given the V1100's weight, the battery life could be considered a moot point: you're never going to be able to hold this tablet for two hours anyway.
Because we were given an early version of the V1100, ViewSonic couldn't supply us with any accessories, but you could use any USB peripherals -- such as a keyboard and mouse -- with the tablet. However, without the specially designed cradle the tablet won't sit at a right angle for use as a desktop monitor. We hope to bring you more details of the V1100 working with a docking station once it's available.
Although there are some things we like about the V1100 (and a few hints that other tablet manufacturers could take), the overall unit is less than ideal. Fujitsu-Siemens has shown that its possible to get better battery life in this form factor without increasing the weight, and ViewSonic would do well to follow suit. As it stands, the V1100 is only going to be useful to people who don't spend most of their working day away from a power source.