Acer C314 Tablet PC Review

Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Acer C314 Tablet PC

The Acer C314 Tablet PC is in many ways a breath of fresh air. It's not that this model is the Tablet version of Acer's popular "Ferrari" notebook. What makes this machine special are the nuances and little extras you'll find that were thoughtfully engineered into the design.

The C314 Tablet PC also features the newest Centrino platform, "Sonoma". The new chipset coupled by the very capable NVIDIA Go 6200 graphics GPU promises an extended future. Chances are good that the C314 is ready for the next generation of Windows "Vista" scheduled to hit the shelves in 2006.

C314 Design and Build Quality

There are noticeable design elements that make the Acer C314 Tablet PC unique. A most interesting innovation is the ergonomical "curved" keyboard. Another element is the design of the lid latch. The latch on the C314 is a reverse of the usual design. The hook itself is located on the lower base of the unit and the "slot" is in the display lid. The switch also locks to keep the display firmly in place. Finally, the design of the trackpad (although not entirely original) is simplicity that offers extra functionality, with the added 4-way scroll button located between the left and right mouse buttons.

The case is built of a sturdy sliver and black plastic. The somewhat rounded edges and smooth surfaces are a pleasant contrast to some of the other square and boxy tablet designs. The rotating display hinge is the strongest I have yet to encounter on any Tablet PC. The unit closes tightly with absolutely no play with the lid closed, providing a promising feel as you carry the C314 in your arm or hold on with one hand to place it in your bag.

Heat and Fan


Like many of the Sonoma-based machines, the C314 is capable of generating some heat. Truthfully you can bank on this machine heating up when it is driven hard for CPU and GPU intensive tasks. Such tasks include gaming, video editing or heavy graphics rendering.

When the CPU temperature rises, you can expect the fan to kick on. The fan on the C314 is quiet and runs at smooth intervals. On some Tablet PC's and notebooks sporadic fan action, (constant on and off, on and off) can become a regrettable annoyance. Luckily, that is not the case with the fan on the Acer C314.

Wireless Connectivity


The Acer C314 comes standard with the integrated Intel Pro Wireless 802.11b/g card. A built-in Bluetooth radio is also featured in this model. Both devices work well. We experienced above average range with both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity with no observable lost connections during use. For those with IR PDA's, phones or other devices Acer took care to include an infared port on the right side of the unit.

Battery

The Sanyo 4-cell battery provides about 3 hours of "typical" use (such as cruising the web, office applications, etc).

Using Battery Eater Pro we tested the C314 battery under extreme conditions. Using the "Classic" test mode (stressing all hardware components), we were able to squeeze 2 hours and 32 minutes of time in one charge. This is probably the minimum amount of time you can expect when using the C314 for demanding tasks with the 4-cell battery.

Service and Support

The Acer C314 is backed by a standard one-year warranty. For this review, I placed my traditional "random technical support call". to Acer at 1-800-816-2237. I called the number at 5:16 p.m. (PST) on a Monday afternoon. While on hold, I was subjected to a repetitive classical music loop (about 20 seconds in length) that repeated over and over. The repetitive "music" was combined with constant recorded advertisements about various Acer hardware offerings. I finally got to a human at 5:44 p.m. (28 minutes later)! All in all, I found the wait time to be totally unacceptable compared to the 2-5 minute wait times I have experienced with other manufacturers.

Conclusion

The Acer C314 is an excellent full-featured Tablet PC that is powerful enough to function as a desktop replacement. The generous 1024MB of RAM, 100GB hard drive, Built-in Bluetooth and fast 2.0GHz processor are a good value for the price. This machine is great for students or consumers who want a Tablet to be their "only" PC.

Although there is value in the features that are included, it is obvious that Acer has cut back in their technical support. I would not recommend this model to any first-time computer user who might need to talk to a reliable tech support representative without having to wait for 20 minutes on hold.

Pros

* Powerful CPU and graphics.
* Good build quality.
* Good keyboard and trackpad.
* Built-in Bluetooth.

Cons

* Bad microphone.
* Acer's phone support is very slow to respond.

HP Compaq TC4200 Review

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The HP Compaq TC4200 - "Solid as a Rock"

"Flimsy", "cheap", "heavy" are not the words you want to hear about a portable computer. But we hear it all the time. Thankfully you aren't going to hear these words to describe the new HP Compaq TC4200 Tablet PC. The impression you'll get when you first get your hands on the TC4200 is "solid", "compact" and "light". There is even more goodness on the inside. This Tablet PC is one of the first to feature Intel's third generation of Centrino technology dubbed "Sonoma". Yes, deep down the TC4200 Tablet PC has got "guts". Better yet, you won't find the aging Intel 845/855 chipset with (ugh, it makes me shudder to think about it) "Intel Extreme Graphics" technology. Instead the TC4200 has the MUCH improved Intel 915 chipset that incorporates "Intel Graphics Media Accelerator" graphics technology.

The specs. and build of the TC4200 sound promising. So in this review we take the TC4200 and place it under a microscope. We closely examine all the features found inside and out. We benchmark this Sonoma-powered titan in several aspects of performance to see exactly what kind of performance it delivers. Does the TC4200's insides live up to what its got on outside? Read on!

Basic Specs (our review model):

  • OS - Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005

  • Intel Pentium M 740 (1.73GHz, 2MB L2 Cache, 533MHz FSB)

  • 12.1" (1024 x 768) display

  • 40GB, 5400RPM Hard Drive

  • 512MB DDR2 SDRAM

  • No Optical Drive

  • Lithium Ion Battery (6 cell/ 52Wh)

  • Ports: RGB (monitor) port, TV-out (S-Video), 3 USB (2.0),
    External Mic jack, Headphone jack, RJ-45 LAN port,
    RJ-11 modem port, docking connector

  • Intel Graphics Media Accelerator -- up to 128MB Dynamically Shared

  • Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG (802.11b/g)

Extra Features worth noting:

  • Shock Mounted Hard Drive

  • Fast IR Port

  • Pointing Stick w/ 4 mouse buttons and touchpad

  • 3 Year Warranty


TC4200 Design and Build Quality

"Solid". I can't emphasize this enough. HP deserves high-praise for the durability and compact design of this model. In hand the TC4200 feels like it won't compromise the integrity of your precious data. It won't crumble in a tight space in your bag or under a safe, tight grip. When the display on many Tablet convertibles and notebooks is closed, it makes me feel uneasy to apply any more pressure than the minimum required to prevent an "accidental" drop. The TC4200 feels exquisitely durable with the lid closed, open or when folded down into "tablet mode".

The rotating display hinge has a "lasting" feel. The entire unit is constructed of strong black and charcoal plastics, giving the TC4200 a professional appearance with a basic, yet sleek style. HP states that a special "scratch-resistant, in-mold lamination" is used to keep the unit "looking newer longer". Also included is a spill-resistant keyboard and shock mounted hard drive. Although I performed no "scratch", "drop" or "spill" test of any kind, I will just go along with HP's word and concur that the materials look like they will hold up for the long haul, and endure the many adventures of the road warrior.

This bantamweight full-featured convertible weighs in at a very reasonable 4.5lbs. The ports, switches, pen slot and indicator lights are all in logical places which makes for a better user experience. To keep the unit light and small, HP decided to forgo a built-in optical drive which I can live with. However, one slight disappointment is a lack of external stereo sound. There is oddly just one speaker on the left side of the unit. To hear audio in stereo with the TC4200, you'll need headphones or external speakers to plug into the headphone jack. Luckily the fan on the TC4200 is so quiet, you can hear the hard drive's lowly murmur over it. So at least you won't need to crank up any mp3's to cover up that kind of racket! (Oh how I hate fan noise!)

One last thing to mention in regards to the design; there is no uncomfortable heat blasting out of the vents, nor do the hand rests or the base get unpleasantly hot. The only time I noticed any heat issue is when the battery is in mid charge. Luckily this time frame is quite short and should be the only time a user might skip the use of the TC4200 in "slate mode" or resting it on the lap.


Conclusion



"Back in Black
I hit the sack
I been too long
I'm glad to be back
Yes, I'm dead loose
from the noose that's kept me hanging around..."
- AC/DC





Brian Johnson sang it just right! Over the last year or so, I have questioned whether or not HP would continue to deliver well-designed, full-featured and well-supported mobile products. With the apparent decline in quality and innovation of its Pocket PC devices, and notebook computers I began to lose trust in the legendary brand name. However, if the HP TC4200 is any reflection of what's to come down the pike from a somewhat reorganized management heading the corporate giant, my trust and attention to HP products will become rapidly revitalized.

The HP TC4200 starts at a respectable $1,599 that will buy you a solid, business-class, full-featured Tablet PC convertible. With no hesitation I would recommend this model to consumers looking to get extreme value without compromise. The TC4200 is strong, powerful and built for the road. This model exudes the dependability and stability of the best desktop in a portable package. If you are looking for a reasonably priced, portable convertible Tablet PC that has got the right stuff, the HP TC4200 is a prospect that should be at the top of your list!


Pros

  • Impeccable design and good all around features

  • Solid construction, compact design

  • Tablet functionality/user experience is great

  • Outstanding value and quality

  • Cons

  • Single external speaker

  • No built-in optical drive

  • What Tablet PCs Can Do for You

    Thursday, October 13, 2005

    Tablet PCs are great. If you are a mobile person, and you have never considered getting a tablet PC in the past, now is as good a time as any to start checking them out - the technology is cutting-edge, the usability is superb, and prices are starting to drop.

    There are two main types of tablet PCs: convertible and slate. Convertible tablets look a lot like normal laptops except the screen can be rotated all the way around and laid down flat across the keyboard. You then input information through the screen using a stylus. Slate tablet PCs include only the screen interface – though they are fully integratable with peripherals like keyboards and mouses, the computer itself does not have them. Both types are viable options, depending on your personal preferences and what you’ll be using it for.

    As with any technology, tablet PCs have advantages and disadvantages. Thanks to the last few years of development and enhancement, the disadvantages are shrinking in number, and the perks are becoming more and more enticing.

    Advantages of Tablet PCs

    Far and away, the best thing about tablet PCs is their mobility. You can take and use them anywhere you go, the same way you would take notebook and pen. That means that when your boss bumps into you in the hallway and gives you a number of assignments, you can write them down. In meetings you don't have to hide your face behind the monitor of your laptop because you can lay the tablet PC flat on the table. For students, this mobility is great - you can study your notes while you're waiting in lines or even in the car.

    Tablet PCs let you use digital ink to store handwritten notes, graphs, charts, and pictures. You don't have to worry about taking your laptop and a notepad and pen to meetings or classes. Using the stylus, tablet PCs record your handwriting and drawings. They can convert your handwriting to text if you need to turn in an assignment typewritten.

    All of the money you have been spending on pens, pencils, highlighters, notepads, papers, binders, folders, staples, and paperclips stays in your pocket. Because of the digital ink option on tablet PCs, much of the need for paper supplies and writing utensils is eliminated. You can keep all your notes on your computer.

    Finally, one of the advantages of tablet PCs over regular laptops is that you don't lose any functionality from your computer. Tablets operate on similar platforms and run many of the same programs. In fact, many programs integrate all of their normal functions with digital ink, so you can add notes to documents and even email your handwritten notes to someone.

    Disadvantages of Tablet PCs

    Despite my obvious zeal for tablet PCs, I recognize that there are still some disadvantages. First is the price. The prices for tablet PCs are coming down quite a bit from when they were first released, but on average, you can expect to spend more for a tablet PC than for its equivalent laptop. Depending on the bells and whistles you're looking for, expect to pay anywhere from $1,000 on up.

    The handwriting-to-text conversion does not always work the way you wish it would. Just like speech-to-text systems require a trained style of speech to work properly, tablet PCs recognize a trained penmanship easier than the way you may write naturally. A lot of the kinks in these conversion systems have been worked out - but don't plan on handwriting your next novel expecting to be able to convert into a print-ready copy with no problems.

    Finally, their smaller size is both an advantage and disadvantage. They are much more mobile than their laptop counterparts, but the viewing area is also smaller. Likewise, the keyboard also shrinks down to accommodate the smaller size, so if you feel like your fingers are already cramped on a laptop-sized keyboard, you'll want to make sure you're going to be able to use the tablet PCs before you buy one.

    Fujitsu ST5000 Review

    Tuesday, October 11, 2005

    It seems like all the excitement in the consumer Tablet PC market has recently been lent to Averatec's C3500 and Toshiba's R15 Convertible Tablet PC's. Undoubtedly this is understandable. With prices for these models hovering between $1,100-$1,599 these are very tempting options - and for some value-minded consumers (especially students) a mandatory requirement.

    However, before jumping on the Tablet PC bandwagon and making your purchase decision based on the two most popular consumer models, we recommend that you read further! The Fujitsu ST5000 series is a worthy heavyweight contender.


    Case in Point(s)

    1. Without any mention of the Fujitsu Tablet PC hardware itself, just the amazing support that this company offers after your purchase is something to consider.

    2. In a nutshell, the quality of the Fujitsu ST5000 product is superior in just about every aspect, and you will get a solid machine period.

    3. If ultimate mobility and connectivity is what you seek in your Tablet PC, this model literally defines "mobility".



    So What's the Catch?

    As with any device we have ever reviewed, the ST5000 is not without its flaws, and we will discuss our nitpicks (although minor) in this review. Additionally the cost of the ST5000 is going to range about 25%-45% more than you will pay for the Toshiba R15 or Averatec C3500. Is it worth it? Well we know it certainly would be to some people, so please read on to draw your own conclusions as to whether the ST5000 Tablet PC is the right choice for you.

    Overview of Form Factor, Features and Design Unlike the R15 and C3500 Convertible Tablet PC's, The ST5000 is a "Slate". While many users prefer a convertible-styled Tablet, others like the unique feel and unparalleled mobility of a Slate Tablet. The ST5000 offers exactly that and more. At only 3.3 pounds this machine is a laudable host to just about every feature a mobile professional demands.


    The lightweight body and sleek streamlined case lends itself to the ultimate mobile computing experience. Beyond the super cool, ultra-modern design, the ST5000 feels exceptionally comfortable and secure to hold in your arm. The machine runs "mouse quiet" and stays comfortably cool, even during extended periods of use. User comfort is maximized by Fujitsu's thoughtful suede backing that offers additional shielding from heat generated by the processor.

    Included in the Box...

    - ST5000 Series Tablet PC
    - Battery
    - Pen & Tether (to attach to unit)
    - 2 Screen Overlays (with instructions)
    - Getting Started guide
    - User Manual
    - Cleaning cloth
    - AC adapter/charger
    - warranty booklet/registration card
    - Software and Recovery CD's



    As we discussed in our ST5000 "First Look" story, Fujitsu deserves an honorable mention for including high-quality, customized screen overlays with the unit. I feel that a screen overlay is a necessary accessory to protect your touch screen from wear and tear. Although one school of thought suggests that the Tablet PC screen surface is made just for the purpose of writing, most damage will occur when small particles of dust are dragged across the screen by the pen. Eventually all touch screens will show signs of wear because of this reason. After shelling out $2,000 for a great piece of hardware, it is nice to know that the manufacturer cares enough to give you the basic necessities to use it without damage right out of the box.

    Pro's:

    -high quality components
    -great integrated wireless and expansion options
    -size, Weight and Battery Life
    -backed by Fujitsu's great reputation for customer support

    Con's:

    -skimpy software bundle.
    -docking station, optical drive not included



    Final Thoughts

    The Fujitsu ST5000 is a great choice for the right person. If you are looking for the "Lexus" of Slate Tablet PC's, you can stop here. The ST5000 exudes elegance, functionality, mobility and connectivity desired by most every mobile computing enthusiast. With this compelling hardware combined with the excellent Fujitsu customer support, you can buy this Tablet with confidence. I give this model an overwhelming "Thumbs Up".

    "If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up." - Ferris Bueller