Get in touch with your PC

Laptops aren’t great for note-taking. But who wants to write everything down and then decipher their scribbles before typing it all into their computer? Enter Tablet PCs, possibly the perfect solution to this problem.

Users can input handwritten notes directly and many models even have a record audio option, says Thomas Baumgaertner, of Microsoft Germany.

The device has proven particularly useful in the business world. Other consumers, however, might be unimpressed.

A Tablet PC is not necessarily a notebook with a touch-sensitive screen, but rather any notebook that uses the Tablet PC operating system from Windows XP, says Juergen Rink of the Hanover-based c’t magazine.
The most important distinction between these variants is whether the device has integrated handwriting recognition.

“There are two models of Tablet PCs,” says Petra Kleine, product manager for Tablet PCs with Fujitsu Siemens in Bad Homburg. They are called Slade and Convertible.

The Slade sits in the user’s hand like a writing tablet, with only a few buttons on the side to turn the device on or off or to regulate the volume. Unlike a standard laptop, it has no keyboard.

Users input data at fingertip on the screen or by using a special stylus.

The Convertible is essentially a notebook with a standard keyboard, but with a display sitting on a special ball joint.

“The screen can be turned in any direction and even lie flat on top of the computer,” says Kleine. Thus, the Convertible can be set up to look just like the Slade.

Most tablets look like the Slade or the Convertible. There are some exceptions. Acer has a notebook with a screen that turns at a 90-degree angle from the computer or slides on top of the computer.

It makes a difference whether information is entered with a special electromagnetic stylus, fingers or a standard stylus, like the one accompanying most PDAs, especially if a user plans to work with graphics.

Only the special stylus reacts to pressure on the screen, says Rink, just like working with pencil and paper. These models only work with the special stylus. If your finger accidentally hits the tablet, no input is registered.

The tablet’s hardware is otherwise not very different from most laptops. Still, one should not compare apples and oranges. The tablet is best sized up alongside a mini-notebook, devices with diagonal displays of 12 inches. Rink says neither device has a particularly powerful graphics chips as it often gets too hot in the smaller housings.

That means computer gamers or others who need superior graphics will be disappointed with a tablet. In truth, the tablets are generally sold only to companies.

“This is something for brokers and stock markets,” says Jaroslav Smyczek, of Niedersachsen’s Customer Centre in Hanover. It’s easier to see quality inspection agents or doctors using these devices.

Still, the devices are great when stretching out on the sofa and listening to music or playing a DVD. Using Office applications is no problem. But the price might be a stumbling block for many potential customers.

While a good notebook might top out at â,¬800, a Tablet PC might cost twice that or more. “Many customers would rather grab a notebook,” says Smyczek.

Anyone who still opts for a Tablet PC should pay attention to the brightness of the display, advises Kleine. There is no point in trying to use it if the display is impossible to see while sitting on a balcony in daylight. Certain devices are equipped with special screens to enable use under strong sunlight. But those models can easily cost more than â,¬2 000.

Also pay attention to battery life, advises Kleine. “About three hours is the norm.” After all, one might want to use the device to watch a movie on the terrace. It would be a shame if the power cut out just as one got to the good part.—Sapa-dpa

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