Tools Of The Trade: HP's tablet computer

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The Independent Online

The first generation of tablet PCs were not an overwhelming success, with sales making up only a fragment of the notebook computer market. But the second wave are a far more attractive proposition.

The first generation of tablet PCs were not an overwhelming success, with sales making up only a fragment of the notebook computer market. But the second wave are a far more attractive proposition.

Among the most stylish of the current tablets is HP's Compaq TC1100. This smart silver unit is smaller than an A4 pad and around an inch thick. Weighing 1.8kg, it is lighter than many standard laptops, with a clear and bright 10.4-in screen. This is perfectly adequate for most applications a business traveller would use, including word processing, email, spreadsheets and surfing the web.

But comparing a tablet PC to either a desktop or regular laptop rather misses the point. These are hybrid computers and are designed to work in a very different way.

Top of the list is pen navigation and the ability to take freehand notes, using Microsoft's Journal software. This is great for sketches, jottings and scribbles, even without turning to the handwriting recognition. Operating the computer in tablet mode with the pen is also a great way to surf the internet or catch up on emails in an airport lounge; it feels much less intrusive than using a clamshell-style laptop and its keyboard.

In meetings, the TC1100 may still be too thick for really convenient jotting, but the keyboard can be detached, slightly reducing the weight.

Flip the screen round and the TC1100 turns into a more or less conventional laptop. More or less is the key issue, though. The keyboard is thinner and the screen fatter and heavier, as it contains the computer's hard drive and other features. This makes it slightly top-heavy: OK on a standard desk, a bit wobbly on the lap and probably rather unstable on a crowded aeroplane.

The TC1100's docking station, however, is fantastic. It holds a DVD player/CD writer as well as a wired network connection. The dock tilts and swivels, and the screen works in both portrait and landscape mode, either with a keyboard or with the pen.

Adding the docking station makes the TC1100's ergonomics closer to those of a desktop, with the added mobility features of a tablet. The screen might be too small for day-in, day-out office use, but it is more than enough for a second computer.

HP sells two versions of the TC1100, with 1ghz or 800mhz processors and hard drives from 30gb to 60gb. Memory starts at 256mb and goes up to a generous 2gb.

For frequent travellers, the TC1100 has all the toys, including built-in wireless networking and Bluetooth (for connecting up to personal digital assistants or mobile phones), and a PC card slot. Long-haul flyers may be disappointed that the DVD drive is in the dock, not the main unit, ruling out watching movies on the go. The TC1100 isn't perfect, but HP makes up for that with sheer versatility.

The Verdict

The Compaq TC1100

Rating: 4 out of 5

Price: £1,160 inc VAT (800mhz Celeron version); £2,020 (1ghz Centrino version). Dock £245.

Available from: www.hp.co.uk

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