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HP Compaq tc4400

Small-format convertible Tablet PCs are, on paper, an ideal combination of form and function: they are light and therefore portable; they can be used as standard notebooks, and, thanks to their twisting screen, can also work in Tablet PC mode (either on the desk, or, if light enough, in the crook of an arm). HP Compaq's new tc4400 shows every sign of fitting the bill nicely, and with its fingerprint recognition and attractive pricing could well catch the eye.
sandra-vogel.jpg
Written by Sandra Vogel on
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6.6

HP Compaq tc4400

Good
Like
  • Built-in fingerprint recognition
  • Dual cursor control system
  • Attractive price
  • Hardware button for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
  • Good battery life
Don't Like
  • No optical drive
  • No FireWire port
  • Active rather than passive touch-screen
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

Small-format convertible Tablet PCs are, on paper, an ideal combination of form and function: they are light and therefore portable; they can be used as standard notebooks, and, thanks to their twisting screen, can also work in Tablet PC mode (either on the desk, or, if light enough, in the crook of an arm). HP Compaq's new tc4400 shows every sign of fitting the bill nicely, and with its fingerprint recognition and attractive pricing could well catch the eye.

Design

This isn't the smallest convertible Tablet PC we've seen, but the tc4400's 28.5cm by 23.5cm footprint doesn't take up too much desk space. At 3cm thick, it doesn't win any prizes for being especially thin, and we'd have preferred a lighter load than 2.1kg. If you're going to use the tc4400 on the hoof in Tablet mode, you may find it a bit heavy after a while.

You can use the HP Compaq tc4400 either as an ordinary clamshell notebook or in Tablet mode, by swivelling its screen around a hinge so that the screen faces outwards and then and laying it flat down on the keyboard. There's a very good hinging mechanism for keeping the two halves of the notebook securely clasped together in both clamshell and Tablet PC modes.

HP has chosen to make the touch-screen active rather than passive. With the latter option, you would have been able to use any implement to tap at the screen, the obvious one being a fingertip. However, the active screen requires the use of a digital stylus. HP only provides one, so you'll need to take care not to lose it. This lives in a housing on the left edge of the screen, so it's easy to access with the tc4400 in either Tablet or notebook mode.

The screen measures 12.1in. from corner to corner, and is designed to be viewable outdoors as well as inside. It has a maximum resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels, which feels a little low — we certainly had trouble working with two document windows opened at the same time.

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The keyboard is responsive, although touch typists may find that the amount of key travel slows them down a little: we find that less return is more conducive to fast typing. A full-height number row is topped by a row of half-size function keys at the left end of which is a small Esc key. The PgUp, PgDn, Home, End, Insert and Delete keys are squeezed into the right end of this row, which took a little getting used to. However, HP has made room for a large Enter key and an inverted-T section in the bottom right corner for cursor control.

The touchpad that sits beneath the keyboard incorporates a vertical scrolling area at its right-hand edge. There's also a pointing stick nestling between the G H and B keys. If you wish to use this for cursor control, an extra pair of mouse buttons sitting directly beneath the space bar may prove more convenient than those beneath the touchpad.

Sitting above the half-size function key row on the right side of the tc4400 is a range of four buttons. Three of these are for volume control (up, down and mute), while the fourth launches a presentations settings window from which you can choose a power scheme, switch displays between internal, extended or dual display, and run your chosen presentation software.

When you're using the tc4400 in Tablet PC mode, these buttons are unavailable. You do have access, though, to several elements ranged around the frame of the display, and of course to the various ports, connectors and switches around the edges of the notebook.

Lodged in the screen surround, at the top in portrait mode, is a fingerprint reader, plus a button for ejecting the stylus on the lower right-hand side. On the upper right edge (in portrait orientation) sits a jog wheel that handles vertical scrolling. We found this quite useful when Web browsing or reading long documents, but still needed the stylus as well, for example to tap at links in Web pages. Next to the jog dial is a button that opens the Windows Task Manager (you'll need the stylus to access its tabbed windows and buttons).

There are three buttons on teh top right of the screen surround that also require the stylus. One rotates the display 90 degrees for each tap; another opens the Input Panel for handwriting recognition or text entry using the Tablet PC's tappable keyboard; and the third opens the 'Q Menu' — a general area where you can configure brightness, volume and other settings.

It's a pity HP has made some of these features so reliant on the stylus, and has not made the jog dial more useful by implementing cursor movement and click-to-select as well as scrolling.

Features

Our review sample of the HP Compaq tc4400 had an Intel Core 2 Duo T7200 running at 2.0GHz at its heart. There is only 512MB of RAM, although the tc4400's pair of DIMM slots will accept up to 4GB of RAM. Our review unit had Windows XP Professional Tablet PC Edition installed.

Graphics accleration is handled by the GMA 950 module integrated in Intel's 945GM Express chipset. Graphics memory, up to 224MB of it, is dynamically sequestered by the GMA 950 from system RAM — another good reason to upgrade the 512MB that ships as standard. Storage is provided by a 60GB Fujitsu hard drive spinning at 5,400rpm. There's an Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Wi-Fi adapter, with Bluetooth handling shorter-range wireless connections; infrared is also present, with a port on the front edge next to a range of status indicator lights. A Broadcom NetXtreme controller takes care of wired 10/100/1000 Ethernet.

There is no optical drive and no FireWire (IEEE 1394) connector, although the specifications sheet at HP's web site states that the latter is present.

The two sides and back of the system are peppered with ports and connectors, with a USB 2.0 connector on each. The left edge also houses the main on/off switch, a small button for turning wireless communications on and off, and an Info Centre button that, when pressed, opens a window offering various utilities such as wireless communications management and instructions on using the fingerprint reader. We'd have preferred separate hardware controls for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

On the right edge, in addition to a USB connector, there are audio in and out jacks, an SD card reader and a single Type II PC Card slot. At the back ther are the RJ-11 (modem) and RJ-45 (Ethernet) connectors, the third USB port, the mains power socket, an external monitor connector and and S-Video out port.

Performance & battery life

The HP Compaq tc4400 is not particularly small or light (it just fails to reach 'ultraportable' status by breaking the 2kg limit). Indeed, it could prove uncomfortable to use in Tablet mode for any length of time. It's also hampered by the lack of a built-in optical drive — there seems to be room for one, so perhaps it would have boosted the weight beyond an accptable level.

We found it frustrating to have to use the stylus to access some of the controls when in Tablet mode: HP could have put a little more thought into user interface design in this respect.

As far as performance and battery life are concerned, ZDNet UK's sister site CNET.com tested a tc4400 with a slightly faster CPU and a larger hard disk, and found that the tc4400 matched a Gateway M285-E and a Fujitsu LifeBook T4215 in the iTunes encoding and office productivity benchmark modules. In the multitasking and Photoshop benchmarks, the tc4400 was hamstrung by its 512MB of RAM; in these tests, it was easily beaten by its two tablet competitors, each of which had double the RAM. On CNET.com's battery-rundown test, the tc4400 lasted 4 hours and 23 minutes, which seems reasonable for a Core 2 Duo-based tablet.

Increasing the tc4400's RAM is a good idea, especially if you intend to upgrade to Windows Vista in the future. Note, though, that the tc4400's integrated graphics will preclude the display of Vista's new Aero interface and may affect other elements of the user experience.


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