Convertible tablets capture Comdex spotlight

If this year's Comdex show is any indicator, the hottest thing in tablets is convertibles.

Convertibles differ from their slate tablet brethren with their inclusion of a permanent keyboard, making them essentially a notebook than can function as a tablet when the screen is rotated and flipped down.

Five vendors showing off new convertible tablet offerings include Acer America Corp.; Gateway Inc., Sharp Electronics Corp., Toshiba America Inc. and ViewSonic Corp. Acer is the only one to feature a two-spindle design, including a CD-RW/DVD combination drive. The others are one-spindle devices, so you need to use an external optical or floppy drive with them unless you're using Toshiba's optional docking station, which features a drive bay

The Acer and Gateway tablets boast roomy 14.1-inch displays, while the Sharp, Toshiba and ViewSonic models come with 12.1-inch displays. Of course, the tradeoff for a larger screen is more weight. The Acer weighs 6.2 pounds and the Gateway weighs 5.7 pounds, while the Sharp tips the scale at just 4.2 pounds, the ViewSonic weighs 3.9 pounds and the Toshiba starts at 4.4 pounds.

Intel Corp. Pentium M processors ranging from 1GHz in the ViewSonic to 1.6GHz in the Gateway power all of the tablets. The difference between these processor speeds is so small that, in practical terms, they are virtually the same. No user would be able to tell the difference.

With memory expandable to 2G, the Acer and Toshiba systems offer the most maximum memory, followed by the Gateway with 1024M. Sharp and ViewSonic both offer memory expandable to 768M.

Gateway offers the largest hard drive of the five at 60G. Acer and Toshiba come with 40G hard drives while Sharp and ViewSonic come with 30G drives.

Other noteworthy features include Acer's power-saving light sensor that automatically dims the screen in bright lighting situations and brightens it in dim light, and Toshiba's Accelerometer that automatically changes the screen orientation depending on how the user is holding it. In addition, Toshiba boasts exceptional screen resolution with its 1400 by 1050 SXGA+ display.

Starting estimated pricing for the convertible tablets is as follows: Acer, $2,299; Gateway, $2,099; Sharp, $1,999; Toshiba, $2,499; and ViewSonic, $1,795.

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