- ✓Daylight-visible, wide-screen, LED-backlit touch-screen
- ✓Good performance and battery life
- ✓Plenty of options available
- ✕No front-facing camera
- ✕No flash card reader
- ✕Weight could be an issue
- ✕Option-heavy spec can get pricey
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.
Our review sample of the J3400 used the ultra-low voltage 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400, which has 3MB of Level 2 cache and a 800MHz frontside bus. It's also available with the slightly less sprightly 1.2GHz SU9300. All variants use the Mobile Intel GS45 Express chipset and its GMA4500MHD integrated graphics. The operating system is Windows Vista Business, and our system came with the maximum 4GB of DDR3 RAM to drive it along at a decent clip.
Another speed-boosting component is the 64GB Samsung solid-state drive, which also makes sense for a rugged system that's likely to take a few knocks. If you need more storage, conventional hard disks with 80GB or 120GB of capacity can be fitted instead; these 1.8in., 5,400rpm drives are shock-protected and come with an accelerometer (DataGuard) that senses an impending impact and parks the drive heads safely.
Wireless connectivity is excellent, as you'd expect from an outdoor-bound tablet PC. Intel's WiFi Link 5300AGN provides the (802.11a/b/g, Draft-N) wireless networking, while short-range connections are handled by Bluetooth 2.1. Our review sample also had the mobile broadband option, a Qualcomm Gobi unit that supports both HSDPA and GPS — the SIM card slot is under one of the battery compartments at the back. Wired connectivity is provided in the shape of Gigabit Ethernet, but there's no modem.
There are two battery compartments at the back, for the pair of supplied hot-swappable 30Wh Li-ion battery packs. Both have indicator LEDs to show the amount of charge remaining. If you opt for the docking station, you can charge a third battery in the slot provided for a maximum of 90Wh of mains-free power.
Performance & battery life
Our review sample of the Motion Computing J3400 had a couple of things going for it as far as performance is concerned — 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 64GB solid-state drive. Both are reflected in good component scores (4.9 and 5.9 out of 5.9 respectively) in Windows Vista's Windows Experience Index (WEI). The overall WEI corresponds to the lowest component score, which was for Graphics (3.2), with Gaming Graphics (3.3) close behind. The Processor score (4.6) was more than respectable, and overall we found the J3400 reasonably quick to boot (for a Vista machine) and responsive once up and running. The system's integrated graphics are unlikely to cause any performance bottlenecks for most tablet usage modes.
Motion Computing claims battery life of 3.5 hours with one 30Wh pack fitted, and 7.4h with two. We measured the system's power consumption using a Voltcraft VC940 digital multimeter with the system in Performance and Power Save modes, under a variety of conditions, and got results ranging from 10.4W (Power Save/idling) to 22W (Performance/fully loaded with Wi-Fi active). This translates to battery life (from two battery packs totalling 60Wh) of between 2.7 and 5.8 hours. This suggests that if you want to be absolutely certain of a full 8-hour day's worth of battery-powered operation, you may need to invest in a third battery pack.
If you need a rugged tablet PC that can do a full day's work in the field, Motion Computing's wide-screen J3400 will do the job very satisfactorily. It's not the lightest tablet we've seen, and the specification reviewed here will cost you £2,339. To that you may need to add £99.79 for the Mobile Keyboard, £199.58 for the FlexDock and £89.91 for the Work Anywhere Kit (shoulder strap, tablet pouch and battery sleeve), plus the price of a third battery. The standard warranty is for one year, and you'll pay £198.92 for three years' cover, plus another £99.13 for a one-year display protection plan. Clearly, you can rack up a big price tag if you pile on the options.