HP, ViewSonic unveil tablet PCs

Hewlett-Packard Co. and ViewSonic Corp. today announced new tablet PCs designed to take advantage of Microsoft Corp.'s new tablet-optimized operating system, Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.

HP's tablet is officially called the Compaq Tablet PC TC1000. Compaq Computer Corp. merged with HP earlier this year. ViewSonic's tablet is the Tablet PC V1100.

The tablets offer PC functionality in a portable form that can be used while walking or standing.

A key feature of the new tablets is that they use a digital pen instead of a stylus. This means the displays are not touch screens; they contain digitizers. The pens do not have to touch the screen to move the pointer as long as they are held within half an inch of the surface.

Digital pens facilitate smoother movement, especially for handwriting, and allow for sturdier displays because they don't operate based on pressure, as touch screens do.

They also work well with Microsoft's new Journal application, which enables users to write directly on the tablet as though it were a piece of paper. The idea is to replace paper notepads, marrying handwriting with computing.

The tablets come with full PC functionality, including fast processors, large hard drives, Ethernet networking, a lot of memory, 802.11b wireless and an array of ports and interfaces.

One of the biggest sacrifices is the lack of integrated drive bays, for which users will need a docking station or an external drive. The products also lack an integrated or portable keyboard, but HP has created an innovative design.

The keyboard on the Compaq Tablet PC TC1000 comes in the form of a thin slice attached to the back of the tablet. For use, the tablet flips open like a book to expose the keys, and then rotates so the screen is facing the keys. When you don't need the keyboard, it can be removed.

The tablet snaps onto an optional dock with or without the keyboard. You can rotate the tablet while docked, and when you do, the screen's orientation automatically changes. Thanks to an adjustable viewing arm, you can view the tablet from many angles.

The ViewSonic Tablet PC V1100 comes with an optional USB keyboard that costs $39, and you can't rotate the tablet while docked.

Both tablets without docks are priced at less than $2,000; with docks, they run about $2,300 to $2,500.

Federal Computer Week magazine will run a full review of both tablets in its Nov. 11 edition.

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