Gateway Tablet PC Review - Page 2

By Eric Grevstad
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The Tablet PC Experience
Let's interrupt this mixed review for an unqualified rave: You've probably used pen-stylus PDAs or maybe even earlier touch-screen PCs, but the Tablet PC's accuracy and convenience is leagues ahead of those devices. The secret is the active digitizer that responds only to the special pen (even if the latter is hovering just above instead of actually touching the screen), leaving you free to rest or drag your hand across the screen without messing things up.

It's not perfect — the pen's "ink" invariably seems to appear just a millimeter or two away from where you think you're pointing, even after you use the provided, four-tap calibration utility a couple of times — but it's a far more natural, comfortable way of writing or drawing, and one you can adjust to quickly (even though Gateway's pen, unlike some Tablet PCs', doesn't have an "eraser" on the blunt end).

For instance, it takes hardly a minute to get used to the Tablet PC pen as a substitute for a mouse — tap to click, double-tap to double-click. You can right-click by tapping while pressing a rather flimsy button on the pen barrel, or (our usual choice) by pressing and holding the pen down for a few seconds. We initially turned off the Start menu's "Open submenus when I hover over them" option, since unwanted menus were popping up like dandelions, but later learned to master even that function.

The M1200 complements the pen with six buttons to the right of the screen, below the pen-holder slot and above the rather small and stiff-sliding power switch, that let you control the M1200 when there's no dock or keyboard in sight. One duplicates a PC keyboard's Esc key; another the Ctrl-Alt-Del sequence to log off or check Windows' Task Manager. A four-way compass or rocker switch serves for cursor control, with a straight inward push equaling the Enter key.

Another button is a Fn key that can be used in combination with the remaining two, programmable buttons to launch applications or perform various functions. By default, one of the latter two switches the LCD between portrait and landscape modes, while the other launches Motion Computing's Dashboard utility — a handy mini-control panel that lets you toggle wireless networking and adjust power-saving options, screen brightness, and speaker volume, as well as several program-launching or keystroke-combination shortcuts.

For entering text without a keyboard, you turn to the Tablet PC Input Panel, which lets you tap letters one at a time on an onscreen keyboard or write naturally in a one- or two-line handwriting recognition area; when you pause (or tap a "Send" button), the OS translates your writing to text in your word processor, e-mail client, or other active application. (Alternative settings let you write in a large, floating text box if you find the default input area too small, or try a Pocket PC- or Palm Graffiti-like simplified character set.)

The Write Stuff
Generally, the system's handwriting recognition gets a "not bad, but not good enough" rating — it didn't turn our scrawl into a hopeless jumble, but its errors were plentiful enough to make us reach for the keyboard despite many painstaking, good-faith efforts to work in longhand. The same, if not more so, goes for the built-in speech recognition, which — after a minimum of 10 minutes' training — lets you dictate text with fair-to-middling accuracy; like all such systems, it works best in a quiet room with a plug-in headset microphone, taking a considerable hit if you simply talk in the direction of the built-in mic amid the background noise of an office.

But if you'll crave a keyboard — or a hideaway-keyboard convertible like Toshiba's Portege 3500 or HP's Compaq TC1000 — for anything more than a one- or two-sentence e-mail reply, you'll want to spend even more time enjoying Tablet PC Edition's pen-and-ink (bitmap rather than text-conversion) applications.

A handy Sticky Notes utility lets you scribble or voice-record various reminders. And the platform's main attraction, Windows Journal, is a remarkable legal-pad emulator — with not only more pen and highlighter colors than a box of Crayolas, but features no paper pad will ever have, such as the ability to lasso and drag a scribble to a different place on the page, or insert space for an addition between two existing lines.

In a final winning feature, while the Gateway's bottom grows noticeably warm with use, its lithium-ion battery is good for plenty of lap time. We regularly jotted and doodled for three and a half hours before the first low-power warning, with at least 10 minutes to spare after that.

So is it the head or the heart? If the Gateway Tablet PC weighed and cost one-third less, we'd be gushing about how it's an executive status symbol or conversation piece, stylish light-duty desktop, and truly convenient note-taking and idea-capturing platform all in one. As is, however, the Gateway is as cool and innovative as a Segway, but just as unaffordable for the vast majority of PC users. Stay tuned for the second generation.

Adapted from Hardware Central.

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This article was originally published on January 31, 2003
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