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PaceBlade PaceBook

Notebook PCs aren't particularly convenient for computing on the move: they're awkward to hold and use while walking, and unergonomic on a desk because the screen and keyboard are fixed together. PaceBlade's PaceBook aims to be the perfect portable, with a 12.1in. XGA-resolution touch-screen you can use in landscape or portrait view, a slim wireless keyboard you can locate to suit your typing position and a case that turns the two parts into a clamshell-style notebook or doubles as a stand for the screen. Turn the keyboard off and you can navigate with the stylus -- which extends for people with large hands -- or the scroll wheel and button on the side of the screen. Unlike other pen-driven devices, the PaceBook runs Windows, although it's unusual to see XP Home Edition on a system aimed at business travellers.
Written by Mary Branscombe, Contributor on
pacebook-thumb.jpg
6.8/10

PaceBlade PaceBook

Good
Pros
  • Light and flexible, with rotating screen format
  • external optical drive uses IEEE 1394 interface.
Cons
  • No IrDA port
  • single PC Card slot
  • proprietary second USB port
  • no built-in 802.11b wireless networking.

Notebook PCs aren't particularly convenient for computing on the move: they're awkward to hold and use while walking, and unergonomic on a desk because the screen and keyboard are fixed together. PaceBlade's PaceBook aims to be the perfect portable, with a 12.1in. XGA-resolution touch-screen you can use in landscape or portrait view, a slim wireless keyboard you can locate to suit your typing position and a case that turns the two parts into a clamshell-style notebook or doubles as a stand for the screen. Turn the keyboard off and you can navigate with the stylus -- which extends for people with large hands -- or the scroll wheel and button on the side of the screen. Unlike other pen-driven devices, the PaceBook runs Windows, although it's unusual to see XP Home Edition on a system aimed at business travellers.

The 1.85kg PaceBook is the closest device to Microsoft's Tablet PC on the market, and manufacturer PaceBlade claims that it will be fully compatible when Windows XP Tablet Edition becomes available later this year. The company is also working on a handwriting recognition utility. In the meantime, you'll need Office XP for handwriting and speech recognition (this is not included, as typical customers are expected to have a copy already). The PaceBook comes with an excellent noise-cancelling headset as well as a built-in microphone, and although voice and handwriting recognition are surprisingly usable, they're still not good enough to make the keyboard redundant.

The keyboard has large, responsive keys that are arranged in a standard notebook layout. Function keys are clearly labelled and there are seven programmable shortcut buttons as well as duplicates of the power, on-screen menu and screen rotation controls on the system unit. Switching from portrait to landscape view takes only a second or two, and the display is clear and bright with good viewing angles. The portrait view is particularly good for word processing documents and Web pages.

The more portable a notebook, the fewer connections it tends to include. However, the PaceBook has almost a full set, including IEEE 1394, 56Kbit/s modem and wired 10/100Mbit/s Ethernet, and they're protected behind firmly attached rubber covers. However, one of the two USB ports is proprietary, designed to take a camera due later in the year (there's an adapter for standard devices); the external VGA connector has its own proprietary cable too. The infrared port is Consumer IR for the keyboard (which works well at a range of angles and from several feet away), but there's no IrDA port for other peripherals. And although there's a Bluetooth antenna in the screen, the Bluetooth upgrade isn't available yet. Internal storage is provided by a 20GB Fujitsu hard disk, and there's an external IEEE 1394-interfaced DVD-ROM drive.

The basic PaceBook model comes with 128MB of RAM, 16MB of which is used by the 600MHz Transmeta Crusoe 5600 processor for its Code Morphing software. Performance is good for everyday work and Windows XP doesn't feel sluggish, but the system does benefit from extra memory. We tested the PaceBook with 256MB of RAM, an upgrade that boosts the price from the base £1,480 (ex. VAT) to £1,512 (ex. VAT). The Silicon Motion SMI 721 Lynx graphics controller has been chosen for its ultra-low power consumption rather than its 3D performance, but it handles mainstream applications well enough. Using the external optical drive and an 802.11b wireless networking card in the single Type II P Card slot reduced the battery life from the claimed five hours down to 2 hours 15 minutes -- without them, we found that the battery lasted for over four hours.

It's by no means the most powerful portable available, but when combined with a wireless Ethernet card, the PaceBook is an extremely flexible and elegant system that lets you work productively and comfortably almost anywhere.

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