Review: Acer, Compaq and Toshiba Tablet PCs

By the time you read this, Microsoft’s VP of Emerging Technologies, Dick Brass, will have unveiled the Tablet PC to Australians as part of a simultaneous worldwide launch in November.

There are two types of Tablet PCs: the first are convertible models that can also function just like a normal (or ‘clamshell’) notebook, complete with keyboard and cursor control pads/sticks. Alternatively, there are pure tablet devices. Toshiba and Acer represent the first type, while the Compaq is a little different and will be explained later in this piece. Each allows screen rotations between portrait and landscape views.

The new Tablet PCs aren’t to be con­fused with a different Microsoft project, Mira, which is a wireless pen-enabled LCD monitor initiative designed for non-mobile use in the home or office.

Windows XP Tablet PC Edition

These three Tablets all run the Tablet PC edition of XP. Based on Windows XP Professional, this OS has been specially tweaked and a range of software added for use with the Tablets. This includes Sticky Notes — like those sticky squares of paper, here they save both handwritten and voice-recorded notes. Windows Journal is a more formal note-taker with which you can print, convert handwriting to text, insert images, edit notes, highlight and save.

The Tablet PC Input Panel icon brings up the on-screen keyboard and more text and speech recognition options. At a minimum, you’ll need to set up speech recognition (used for voice commands or text conversion) with an initial training run taking about 10 minutes. Further training sessions will sharpen accuracy.

Tutorials from both Microsoft and the vendors themselves abound, and cover (largely in animations or video) everything you should need to know to get started.

Use of the styli was straightforward — double-tap the screen for a double click, tap and hold or press the stylus’s button for a right click. Overall stylus response was a bit finicky. Good points were that the cursor would move about as the stylus hovered over the display and that right-click menus could be tailored to not pop up underneath left-handed users’ wrists.

Acer TravelMate C100

At just 1.4kg, the C100 has a 10.4in LCD screen capable of 1024x768. Using active digitiser technology, you can write with either the bundled EMR stylus or smaller EMR pen. The latter slides nicely into the C100’s chassis. Being convertible, its display can swivel 180º away from the user in addition to folding into Tablet mode.

Internal specifications include an Intel 800MHz PIII-M processor, 256MB of RAM, a 30GB hard disk, 8MB Lynx3DM+ graphics chipset, built-in microphone and a speaker. An external 24x CD-ROM is also included. Ports include two USB 1.1 ports and single FireWire, 56Kbps modem, Ethernet, infrared, VGA-out, line out and mic-in ports. The C100 comes with two Smart Cards for its Smart Card reader slot and supports a single Type II PC Card.

Also implemented are integrated Wireless LAN, quick launch and Tablet controls. The stated battery life is up to six hours, depending on configuration and use. We looked at a preproduction model C100 and we’re told that it will ship with Microsoft Office Small Business Edition for $4999, with a two-year warranty.

Compaq Tablet PC TC1000

Even though it was a preproduction sample, the TC1000 was the Tablet that drew attention when it came out of the box. The wow factor was due to the TC1000’s split personality: it folds into tablet mode with its keyboard, or with the keyboard detached it becomes just a slate-style device. Either way, the TC1000 could then clip into its dock.

The Toshiba and Acer models can be opened and closed just like traditional notebooks in a clamshell-type configuration. However, with the TC1000, you lift the display out of tablet mode and then twist it around to use the keyboard. The TC1000 is a tablet first, a notebook second, whereas the Toshiba and Acer could be either.

The engineering on this device in particular felt robust and well thought-out. Weighing about 1.9kg with keyboard, the TC1000 boasts a 10.4in display (maximum resolution of 1024x768) that uses an electromagnetic digitiser and active pen for handwritten input.

Seeking longer battery life (up to five hours is stated) combined with a small form factor, Compaq has opted to include a 1GHz Transmeta Crusoe TM5800 processor, 256 to 768MB of RAM, a 30GB hard disk, and a 16MB GeForce2 Go graphics controller.

Connectivity includes two USB 2.0 ports and single 56Kbps modem, Ethernet, stereo headset and mono headset connectors. The latter two items work with the supplied silver earpiece/microphone for use with speech recognition.

The TC1000 has a built-in stereo speaker, Wireless LAN, Compact Flash slots, and three programmable buttons. When pressed with the pen tip, a small crevice accesses the XP ++ dialogue box.

Pricing had not been confirmed but we were advised it would be in the $4000-$6000 range, with the dock (used to provide more ports and MultiBay optical drives) an optional extra.

Toshiba Portege 3500

This pre-production sample had the best handwriting response of the three tablets we saw. For instance, if you pressed harder on the stylus, the 3500 would draw darker lines. The stylus’s end could also be used just like a pencil-end eraser. In addition, the Sensiva gesture-command software could be cus­tomised to increase your efficiency.

Made of magnesium alloy casing with a stainless steel reversible display hinge, the 3500 weighs 1.5-1.7kg and has a stated battery life of up to 4.5 hours. The 12.1in polysilicon display was the biggest of the three and uses a Wacom active digitiser. A maximum resolution of 1024x768 was delivered by the 16MB Trident CyberBlade XP graphics controller.

The 3500 used a 1.3GHz Intel PIII-M processor, 256MB of RAM and a 40GB hard disk. External optical drives are optional. Toshiba has indicated that the 3500 will sell for $4840.

Ports include two USB 2.0 and single 56Kbps modem, Ethernet, microphone, headphone, infrared and VGA-out. Additional features include an SD card slot, integrated Bluetooth and support for a single Type II PC Card.

In brief: Acer TravelMate C100
(Preproduction, not rated)
Acer’s vision of a Tablet PC includes SmartCards and a compact and lightweight design.
Price: $4999 with two-year warranty
Phone: 1300 366 567

Compaq Tablet PC TC1000
(Preproduction, not rated)
The attention grabber of these three Tablets, the TC1000 is well-engineered, looks great and has an excellent docking solution available.
Price: $TBA
Phone: 1300 301 234

Toshiba Portege 3500
(Preproduction, not rated)
The highest specified (both display size and processor speed) of the three, it also had better stylus response.
Price: $4840
Phone: 13 3070

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Danny Allen

PC World
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