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March 2003

Solution Set

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A Profusion of Tablet PCs

In the second of our two-part feature, we look at five more contenders in a suddenly crowded Tablet PC race.

By Lee Sherman

Since the launch of Microsoft’s Windows XP Tablet PC Edition in November, this new form factor has been picking up steam. Some industry watchers have called the introduction of this new operating system and the devices it powers the most ambitious high-tech product launch since the PDA—or even the notebook.

In our previous “Mobile Professional” section in January, we looked at five new Tablet PCs from Acer, Compaq, Fujitsu, Motion Computing and NEC. This month we highlight five other devices, including two ruggedized Tablet PCs. While the Tablet PC continues to garner the attention of developers and members of the media, one big question remains:

Will the enterprise invest in a new, unproven Windows portable that runs $2,000 and up? In a wholly unscientific poll conducted on our Web site, www.destinationFFA.com, in January, exactly half of the respondents told us they would indeed consider buying Tablet PCs for their company. One-third said they would not.

Whatever the future holds, this form factor deserves a closer look.

Electrovaya Scribbler

The Scribbler ($2,299 to $2,799), the first Tablet PC from Electrovaya, a company best known for its notebook batteries, claims to get an astonishing eight to 16 hours of battery life. That’s more than three times longer than most other Tablet PCs and more than enough to get you through even the longest workday, even while using the Scribbler’s wireless connection. The Scribbler’s battery life comes courtesy of the company’s patented lithium ion SuperPolymer battery, which the company claims has the highest energy density of any commercial rechargeable battery.

It’s truly impressive, but unfortunately there are some tradeoffs that keep the Scribbler from besting its competition overall. It’s notice
ably thicker, heavier and boxier than other Tablet PCs, with a weight of 3.9 pounds. And it has just 128 MB of memory out-of the-box. Other specs are fairly typical for the category: 866MHz Pentium III processor, 10.4-inch XGA screen and connectivity options that include Ethernet, a 56kbps modem, 802.11b, Compact Flash slot and Firewire. Also available is a removable keyboard that allows simultaneous pen and keyboard input.

Toshiba Portégé 3500

Mobile Professionals who are intrigued by the capabilities of the Tablet PC but not yet ready to completely abandon standard notebook amenities such as a large screen, ample keyboard, plenty of horsepower and flexible expansion capabilities should look no further than the Portégé ($2,299).

This is one Tablet PC that could easily serve as your only computer. The Portégé is a convertible model, which means that its roomy 12.1-inch screen (Toshiba and Motion Computing boast the largest Tablet screens) pivots 180 degrees, laying flat against the keyboard for use in Tablet mode. Unlike the rather flimsy hinge found on the Acer TravelMate Tablet PC, the Portégé’s aluminum hinge exudes confidence. You won’t want for speed, memory or storage space, either. The Portégé has a 1.3MHz Mobile Pentium III processor, from 256 MB to 1 GB of memory (a higher ceiling than other tablets) and a 20GB to 60GB hard drive. As might be expected, the tradeoff comes in battery life, which at 3.5 hours is a little skimpy for a computer designed to accompany you to every meeting.

The Portégé has a full complement of connectivity options including Ethernet, Wi-Fi (both 802.11b and the less common but faster 802.11a), Bluetooth, USB 2.0 and infrared. It also includes an SD slot along with the more common Compact Flash.

ViewSonic Tablet PC V1100

ViewSonic, best known as a manufacturer of computer displays, has been branching out lately, with a low-cost Pocket PC, a SmartDisplay and this Tablet PC, all of which share similar design characteristics. The V1100 ($1,995) is a slate model that is larger than its 10.4-inch display would otherwise imply. Its rather large bezel does make it easier to grip, but adds more than you might like to its overall dimensions. On the other hand, it’s fairly light at 3.4 pounds.

Performance is about average with an 866MHz Mobile Pentium III inside and from 256 MB to 512 MB of memory. The hard drive is a bit small at 20 MB and peripheral options are much more limited than the competition, so it’s unlikely you’ll be using the V1100 as your only computer. Its other features include both Type 11 PC Card and Compact Flash slots, USB, Firewire (a big plus), 802.11b, a 56kbps modem and Ethernet.

Walkabout Hammerhead XRT

Although the first round of Tablet PCs included such features as magnesium shells, shock-mounted hard drives and spill-proof keyboards, none were especially rugged in the industrial sense of the word. Rugged, in vertical industries such as construction, transportation and the military means computers that can still perform in freezing temperatures, pouring rain and desert heat. As its name implies, Walkabout’s Hammerhead XRT Tablet PC ($4,350), built to military test specifications (MIL-STD-810F)
is one such beast. The Hammerhead XRT can handle a 3-foot drop and temperatures ranging from 4 degrees to 131 degrees Fahrenheit.

At 4.5 pounds it’s the heaviest of all slate models, but that extra weight is put to good use. Inside its watertight aluminum housing you’ll find a 10.4-inch display, an 800MHz Mobile Pentium III processor, 128 MB to 512 MB of RAM and a 20GB to 40GB hard drive. The Hammerhead can be made wireless via a Type III PC Card slot or a “Flex” slot which accommodates Mobitex and GSM wireless modems.

Xplore Technologies

Xplore Technologies has years of experience making industrial-strength pen tablets (small “t”) built with the input of customers in the public safety, retail and wholesale warehousing, utility, military
and marine and transportation industries. Like the Hammerhead XRT, Xplore’s iX104 is literally built like a tank, conforming to MIL-STD-810F specifications. A magnesium chassis packs a 10.4-inch display, an 866MHz Mobile Pentium III processor, from 256 MB to 512 MB of memory and a 20GB to 40GB hard drive.

The X104 has above-average graphics support with an AGP graphics accelerator and up to 48 MB of video memory. Its industrial readiness is also apparent in internal radio bays that allow for simultaneous WLAN and WWAN wireless connections, and an array of docking stations that enable the X104 to be mounted on a desktop, in a vehicle or on a wall. An onboard, backlit keypad allows access to Tablet PC functions and system diagnostics. Expansion modules provide support for GIS, digital imaging or scanning applications. Prices range from an entry-level $3,750 to the well-endowed $5,000.

Copyright 2004 Leisure Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.
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