Programming Windows: Tablet PC Roundup (Premium)

In this Programming Windows sidebar, I look back on the five Tablet PCs that I traveled with for seven weeks while I hosted the Microsoft Mobility Tour. Here’s the original article I wrote about this adventure, from May 2003, with some annotations.


Five Tablet PCs, arrayed across the table from each other: a Toshiba Portégé 3500, an HP Compaq TC1000, an Electrovaya Scribbler, an Acer TravelMate C100, and a Fujitsu Stylistic ST4000. It's an awesome sight, for a geek anyway, and one I don't expect to see repeated again, at least within my home. But they're here for now, anyway, and thanks to my seven-week adventure on the Microsoft Mobility Tour, I have this unique opportunity to provide an overview and comparison of these interesting mobile devices. And then I have to send them back. Sigh.
Types of Tablet PCs
Tablet PCs ship in two basic form factors, slates and convertibles. A slates is exactly what it sounds like: a slab-like notebook computer that basically just looks like a screen and includes no integrated keyboard or pointing device. (They do, of course, include a stylus). Convertible laptops resemble "normal" notebook computers, but they feature screens that can be rotated around and locked back on top of the keyboard, presenting the user with a second, slate-like, form.
When most people think "Tablet PC," they probably picture a slate-like design. The very first Tablet PC prototypes were slates (or "slabs" as they were known then), and my immediate reaction was, who really needs a PC like this? The answer, however, is that certain types of computing scenarios almost demand a slate form factor. Consider people like doctors or factory workers who spend the day on their feet, but need to access networked data or input their own data. As computing moves away from the desk and into ever-more mobile (and yet connected) places, slate-style Tablet PCs are ready.

In the slate category, I tested the Fujitsu Stylistic ST4000, the Electrovaya Scribbler, and the Compaq TC1000. The Compaq was my favorite, though it was a bit underpowered, because it features the nicest design, a clip-on keyboard that lets it emulate a convertible laptop design, and a cool docking station that, while I didn't test this, lets you use the device with a second monitor, and a full-sized keyboard and mouse, giving you the ability to use one machine in virtually any situation. The Fujitsu and Electrovaya weren't without their charms however: I did test the Fujitsu's docking station, which works well, and the Electrovaya features almost surreal battery life. We'll look at all of these devices in more detail below.
Convertible laptops
Most people today still need a more traditional computing platform, even if they occasionally need to access a system via the stylus. For those people---which I think comprise a far larger market segment, frankly---Microsoft's hardware partners came up with the convertible laptop design. This innovative type ...

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