So you've decided to buy a new laptop PC. It makes sense. After all, prices are down, features are up, and now you can get an affordable model that offers power, mobility, and a long-life battery in a package that weighs only a few pounds.
There is, however, an alternative. The lightweight Tablet PC, a fully equipped PC the size of a letter-sized notepad, is worth checking out. For the same price as a top-range laptop, you will get everything a notebook PC has to offer and more.
Specifically, it is a more convenient size, has a pen-activated screen, and is easier to use at meetings and while travelling. It offers Microsoft's most advanced operating system to date and allows you to run any Windows XP-compatible applications.
Best of all, it enables you to edit documents and send email messages in your own handwriting, and translate most handwriting into text. Included is a feature to help decipher bad handwriting (for really bad handwriting, maybe you should stick to typing). Some models also have voice-recognition input capabilities.
For Road Warriors and Meeting Hounds Granted, not everybody is going to want a Tablet PC. Some will lament the cost now that laptop prices are coming down. Others won't like a smaller keyboard. Still others may have little use for digital penmanship, or the increased mobility.
But "road warriors" and "corridor warriors" - people ensconced in meetings most of the time - are prime candidates for Tablet PCs. So are students, salespeople, doctors and other health-care workers, architects, engineers, researchers and others who need an easy-to-operate, easy-to-transport PC.
"I've sat through a number of product demos, and I find it to be quite impressive," says Alan Promisel, a research analyst at IDC. "It's really pretty cool. And it will make some people's jobs easier." He adds that Microsoft's handwriting recognition technology - a key ingredient of the Tablet PC - has made "enormous leaps and bounds" with this offering and will continue to improve.
'Convertible' and 'Slate' Models The Tablet PC comes in two basic designs - "convertible," a tablet-sized screen with an integrated keyboard that you can fold over like a notebook PC, and "slate," where the screen is detached from the keyboard and can be hooked together at a docking station.
Tablets are being manufactured by major companies such as Hewlett Packard, Fujitsu, Toshiba and Acer, and run on Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating system. You don't need specialised software - Office and any applications you use with Windows XP will work on a Tablet PC.
Why do I think a Tablet PC is worth checking out?
1. It will run Microsoft's most advanced operating system to date. Windows XP Tablet PC is actually a superset of Windows XP Professional, with the power and capabilities of XP, plus additional features to allow "pen-based computing." More on that in No. 2.
2. It will extend the way you use a PC. You can still type your notes and text, and use the internet the way you would a notebook or desktop PC. But with pen-based computing, you can incorporate digitised pen-and-paper into the PC experience. Using a special digital pen that comes with it, and the Tablet PC's input panel utility (which is like a keyboard on the screen), you can write directly on the screen and save notes in your handwriting or convert them to typed text. Your digital pen can take the place of a mouse and keyboard If you wish.
3. You can take all your notes electronically. The Windows XP Tablet PC Edition comes with a note-taking utility called the Microsoft Windows Journal. With it you can create and organise handwritten notes. Notes, diagrams and drawings - all that you would normally create with pen and paper - are captured and stored in the Windows Journal. The Tablet PC's advanced handwriting recognition technology allows you to search your notes quickly to find what you need.
4. You can work from anywhere, and you won't disrupt meetings. Some companies prohibit or discourage people from using notebook PCs in meetings. Why? Because the laptop screen creates a barrier of sorts between the user and the speaker. You lose eye contact while you're plunking away on keys. By using a pen and a letter-size screen (with the keyboard folding over), a meeting participant can maintain normal eye contact and still take notes at a meeting. Meanwhile, the same mobility and wireless capability that a laptop provides enables Tablet PC users to work in coffee shops, in class, on planes and in hotel rooms.
5. The Tablet PC can be your primary PC. Remember, it's a fully equipped PC, not a PDA, so you don't have to synchronise it with your desktop PC.
6. You can collaborate with co-workers effectively. You can apply your digital penmanship to core Office applications. For example, you can add handwritten comments or draw pictures in Microsoft Word documents, emphasize key points in PowerPoint presentations, write and send handwritten emails through Outlook - and share handwritten documents with other PC users.
7. You can personalise. Tablet and pen settings allow you to customise your Tablet PC for left- or right-handed operation, and to program buttons to complete a variety of tasks
8. Your data is encrypted and protected. Windows XP Tablet PC Edition offers all of the protection features of Windows XP Professional, including the Encrypting File System security feature and access control.