Tablet PCs: The story so far

Tablet PCs have yet to achieve serious market penetration, but now could be a good time to buy one. Why not check out our recent coverage in this developing area?

Bill Gates demonstrated the first prototype Tablet PC at his COMDEX keynote back in November 2000, and the first wave of real products finally hit the market a couple of years later. Two generic types of Tablet PC emerged: the chunky 'convertible' that can switch from regular clamshell-style operation to tablet mode by twisting and folding down the screen; and the slimline, keyboard-less 'slate' unit that's designed for maximum portability.

Basically, the convertible is regular notebook with added tablet functionality, while the slate is a more specialised device aimed principally at vertical markets such as hospitals, warehouses and the like. All Tablet PCs are relatively expensive compared to their mainstream counterparts – mainly because a tablet's active touchscreen costs more than a regular LCD. Since 2002, the various product lines from companies such as Acer, Fujitsu Siemens, HP/Compaq, NEC and Toshiba have been refreshed, notably with Intel's successful Centrino technology (which is ideal for this style of computing), but commercial success has yet to materialise. As Rupert Goodwins points out in his column, most people who try a Tablet PC love the experience, while many are unwilling or unable to use a keyboard. If you're sufficiently interested to consider buying a Tablet PC, check out the reviews listed below. If you're not concerned about getting the maximum performance, now could be a good time to buy, as prices of existing products could well drop prior to a new generation of Dothan Pentium M-based tablets being launched later this year. The Tablet PC Edition of Windows XP will also shortly receive an update (codenamed Lonestar); this will be delivered as part of the forthcoming Service Pack 2. The upgrade will introduce an automatically resizing in-place Tablet Input Panel (TIP) that follows the stylus around the Tablet PC's screen. You will also be able to convert handwriting to text on the fly, and will get better integration with Office 2003 and OneNote.