Tablet PCs have not become the mainstream products that Microsoft hoped when Bill Gates introduced Redmond's version of the concept at COMDEX back in 2001. Nevertheless, a number of leading vendors — including Dell, HP, Fujitsu Siemens and Toshiba — offer tablet PCs. And there's definitely life in the tablet PC ecosystem because it also supports several specialists, selling mostly into vertical markets like healthcare, construction, education and the military. Perhaps the best known of these vendors is Motion Computing.
The company's latest tablet is the rugged 12.1in. slate-style J3400.
Motion Computing's previous 12.1in. tablet — which it will continue to offer — is the XGA-resolution L1700. The new J3400 bows to modern tastes by providing a wide-screen display with a native WXGA resolution of 1,280 by 800 pixels. The LED-backlit 'View Anywhere' touch-screen in our review sample combines relatively low power consumption with very good viewing angles and outdoor readability — essential for this tablet's target market of users who need to 'walk and compute', often outdoors.
The wide-format screen makes the J3400 a little less square than the L1700 — 32.3cm wide (in landscape mode) by 23.1cm high by 2.3cm deep, compared to 29.6cm by 24.5cm by 2.2cm. The J3400 accommodates two 30Wh batteries, weighing 1.63kg with one fitted and 1.81kg with both in place. It's not exactly lightweight, especially with both batteries, but it feels reasonably comfortable when held in the crook of an arm, and there are attachment points for a shoulder strap — which is likely to prove necessary for anyone using the J3400 extensively on the hoof.
The Motion Computing J3400 has a 12.1in., 1,280-by-800-pixel LED-backlit touch-screen display.
As mentioned above, the J3400 is a ruggedised tablet designed to cope with outdoor use in challenging environments. Specifically, it satisfies the MIL-STD 810F drop-test standard (survives a 36in. drop on to a plywood-over-concrete surface) and reaches IP-52 specifications for dust and moisture ingress (a '52' IP code signifies some — but not complete — protection from dust and 'no harmful effect' from dripping water). It certainly feels solid, with its magnesium alloy chassis and rubberised cladding on the rear.
With the system in landscape mode, the screen-side controls are on the right-side, sitting in the 3cm-wide bezel. From the top, they are: microphone and ambient light sensor, camera button, Motion QuickNav button, Motion Dashboard button, Escape button and a four-way directional pad. Motion QuickNav is a large stylus-friendly on-screen keyboard/application launcher, while Motion Dashboard is a convenient utility for tweaking display, audio, pen & tablet, wireless, power and security settings.
Connectors on the left-hand side (above, top) are protected by hinged rubber flaps, while the cover on the right-hand side for the ExpressCard/34 and SmartCard slots is removable.
On the left-hand side, behind protective hinged rubber flaps, are audio and Ethernet (RJ-45) ports, a pair of (quite closely spaced) USB connectors and a VGA port. The power input is also on this side. At the top of the right-hand side is a slot for the chunky digitiser stylus; this is quite fiercely spring-loaded, and if you're not careful you can launch said stylus quite some distance. Next there's a removable cover protecting an ExpressCard/34 slot and a SmartCard slot, followed by the power button, a fingerprint reader and finally a Ctrl-Alt-Del button and a battery status LED.
The rear of the J3400 carries a camera and two battery bays, one of which houses the SIM card slot for the integrated mobile broadband/GPS module. The connector for the optional docking station is also here.
At the back is a 2-megapixel camera, a connector for the optional docking station and a pair of battery bays, beneath one of which is a SIM card slot for the integrated mobile broadband/GPS module. The docking connector has a rubberised flap that matches the back of the system, but this isn't hinged or tethered in any way, and could easily be lost. We were also a little disappointed by the lack of a front-facing camera to complement the rear-mounted unit; videoconferencing is something that mobile tablet users are likely to require, and front-facing cameras are routinely offered at relatively little extra expense by many smartphone vendors.
The optional J3400 Mobile Keyboard unfolds to provide a stand for the slate-style system unit. It also includes a two-button touchpad.
We received a couple of peripheral options with our review kit. The £99.79 J3400 Mobile Keyboard, which opens up to provide a stand into which the slate-style system unit slots, turns it into a more of a conventional notebook. To this end, the Mobile Keyboard includes a two-button touchpad. If you need to take the keyboard with you, it fits neatly onto the back of the system unit, held in place by magnetic areas in each corner. We wondered why it didn't attach to the front, to protect the screen in transit, but Motion Computing expressed confidence in the display's durability as it stands.
The J3400 FlexDock provides a desktop's-worth of connections, but will cost you an extra £200.
The second peripheral is the £199.58 J3400 FlexDock, a tilt-adjustable docking station that provides four USB ports, a DisplayPort connector, an Ethernet (RJ-45) port, a DVI connector and a pair of audio jacks. With a USB keyboard and mouse plugged in, and a network connection, this makes the J3400 a perfectly acceptable office-bound system should the need arise, although you can only dock the J3400 in landscape orientation. There's also a bay at the top of FlexDock where you can recharge a third battery pack.