Most users should opt for convertible tablets over slate-style machines

HP Compaq's TC1100/TR1105 is a light-weight tablet PC that

offers portability and performance. Yet after using the unit for several

months, I believe only those who need a slate-style tablet will be truly happy

with this unit. When used as a pure slate (sans keyboard and docking station as

shown here), the TC1100/TR1105 is an ultra-portable, ultra-convenient computer.

Unfortunately, it's slate-focused design also makes the unit cumbersome at times

and necessitates the purchase of the optional docking station. Depending on the

configuration and accessories you purchase, the TC1100/TR1105 costs around

$2,000. I also think the detachable keyboard ($149) and tablet PC docking

station ($299) are must-have accessories.

TC1100/TR1105

See more images of the TC1100/TR1105 in this photo gallery.

My test unit came with a 1.0 GHz Pentium M processor, 512 MB

of RAM, 40 GB hard drive, NVIDIA GeForce4 420 Go video card, 10.4" TFT

display, detachable keyboard, and integrated Ethernet and Wi-Fi networking

adapters. The docking station came with an optional DVD/CD-RW drive.

Unpacking the test unit, I had my first tablet PC epiphany--these things are useless with out the stylus. The test machine had arrived with a keyboard, docking station, leather carrying case, but no stylus. I tried to use the machine without the accompanying input device, but my best efforts proved fruitless. Once HP sent a replacement stylus, I began using the TC1100/TR1105 with renewed enthusiasm.

Over a period of several months, I used the TC1100/TR1105 as the average

business user would. I created and edited documents using Microsoft Word,

Excel, and PowerPoint. I composed and send e-mail with Microsoft Outlook. I

browsed the Internet and used online applications with Firefox and Internet

Explorer. I took meeting notes with Microsoft OneNote and gave PowerPoint

presentation. I even played solitaire and worked a few crossword puzzles.

While putting the TC1100/TR1105 through my real-world tests, I made the following important realizations that anyone contemplating a tablet PC purchase should carefully consider:

  1. Unless you will primarily use the tablet in slate-only mode, don't buy a slate-focused tablet like the TC1100/TR1105. Instead, buy a convertible tablet--one that works like a traditional laptop but also has a swivel screen and functions as a tablet. Slates are perfect for meetings. Their ultra-portable nature make them perfect for taking handwritten notes, browsing the Internet, or giving presentations. Slates also excel where portability is key--nurses and doctors could easily carry them on rounds. Anything beyond these mobility-oriented tasks, and you need either the keyboard or the docking station--see Number 2.
  2. It is impractical to regularly compose documents of more then 50 words using the stylus. Although I was pleasantly surprised by Windows XP Tablet PC Edition's ability to successfully recognized my handwriting, the keyboard remains a more efficient text entry tool.
  3. The unit's lack of a built-in DVD/CD drive is a significant inconvenience. For several years, I used a Compaq M300 laptop--ultra-portable with an optical drive in the docking station. I understand HP Compaq's desire to keep the TC1100/TR1105's size and weight in check by not including a DVD/CD drive, but I find the hazards outweigh the benefits--software installs are a chore (if not impossible), you can't watch DVDs while traveling, and you can't share large files by burning them to a DVD or CD. There are ways around these complaints, but in my opinion an integrated optical drive is a must.
  4. Carry an extra stylus when traveling without the keyboard. Unlike PDAs with touch-sensitive screens, tablet PCs won't let you use a regular writing instrument or your finger as an input device.

I like the TC1100/TR1105, I only recommend the unit for environments where its slate-based features shine. Users who continuously move and only perform limited text entry are perfect places for the TC1100/TR1105. Otherwise, consider a convertible notebook that functions as both a tablet and traditional laptop.