Now that we've got the IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad X41 Tablet PC review under our belts, we are going to backtrack a bit to take a look at the HP/Compaq TC4200. Although the IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC hit the HotHardware lab first, the HP/Compaq TC4200 was actually introduced before the X41. These two Tablet PCs are targeted at slightly different audiences, however. The HP/Compaq TC4200 is a quasi-ultraportable, rather than being a true "ultraportable," and as such, this is a mobile PC aimed at the professional user...
Measuring in at 11.2" x 9.3" x 1.4" and with a weight starting at 4.6 pounds (our TC4200 sample weighed in at 4.7 lbs.), the HP/Compaq TC4200 is the convertible Tablet PC of the Tablet PC line. Unlike the X41 Tablet, this Tablet PC is slightly bigger and weighs slightly more. This is to be expected from a Tablet PC that more closely resembles a compact traditional notebook. As far as mobility goes, it falls closer to the ultraportable side, rather than the traditional notebook form factor side. The bottom line is that this is still a highly mobile notebook/Tablet PC; it's just a beefier member of that group.
|Construction: Build, Appearance, Size|
The display seems to be cased in polycarbonate, while the bottom of the system (minus the access panels) is just the exposed aluminum frame with a coat of black epoxy paint. However, the access panels and front bezel seem to be made of ABS plastic, and the wrist rest feels like it is made of carbon fiber. The aluminum exterior of the system will obviously be able to tolerate scratches more so than the rest of the system.
Opening the notebook is simple - pushing the center release button releases the single security clip holding down the display lid.
Front (left to right):
Left (left to right):
Back (left to right):
Right (left to right):
|Construction: Field Testing|
Charger –The charger for the TC4200 (65W) is pretty typical of what we see from the HP/Compaq notebook lines. It is a simple, straight forward AC charger with no special design to tie up extra cabling, apart from using twist ties. Hopefully we will see some improvements on this front in the future.
Display –HP/Compaq offers only one display configuration option for the TC4200: 12.1" wide angle TFT XGA LCD (native 1024 x 768).
For the Tablet PC form factor, this size is the optimal choice. Any larger and you get a mobile PC that is harder to be mobile with, while smaller displays may be a possible avenue in the future.
Unlike most displays, the TC4200 has a gradient brightness scale, wherein there are no exact levels. Instead, it's more like working with a fade dial. If you just simply press the brightness buttons like with any other laptop, you can get about 16 "levels" in between the lowest and brightest settings. The dimmest setting is a bit too dark for us to be comfortable with in a dark room, but it would do just fine if you aren't interacting with the system but instead need to conserve battery life while monitoring what is going on. The brightest setting isn't super bright, but it is one of the brighter 12.1" displays we have seen on notebooks, both from the consumer and business lines. In a dark room you are better off at "level 2," if you don't want to strain your eyes. AC and battery brightness levels are not the same (battery is skewed about 50% lower).
As far as any multimedia use goes, watching a DVD obviously is not optimal on this display. The dark scenes are too dark, and the light scenes are not bright enough. This is to be expected of a business class notebook, though. We would therefore describe it as "capable of multimedia" but not "optimized for multimedia." For a business notebook, this can be considered a reasonably bright display. If you put it side by side with the X41, though, you can tell it is still shy of the X41's highest brightness level.
Fan - The fan was active about half of the time the system was turned on. In general, the notebook is quiet, other than the almost inaudible hum of the hard drive, which is louder than the fan at mid speed. If the system is idle, the fan just stops spinning all together. In our field tests, we were constantly using the system, so for the majority of the time the fan was active.
At mid speed ("normal speed"), it is definitely not loud, as it is less audible than the hum of the hard drive. Just sitting in normal typing posture should allow you to just make out the CPU fan, but it is certainly what we would consider to be one of the quieter heat dissipation designs. On a flight, the person next to you probably won't notice it running. In a dead quiet library, you should be able to make out the fan, while the person next to you will probably just barely be able to make it out. From a distance of 2 feet (in a reasonably quiet room), you shouldn't really be able to make out the noise unless you concentrate.
When the fan went to max speed, it has what we would describe as a soft whirling sound. It isn't loud, but nor is it unnoticeable. Compared to its "normal speed," it is about 15% louder. If you are sitting with a normal posture (in a quiet room), you should be able to clearly hear the noise, but it is not what we would consider loud. On a flight, it still isn't loud enough for us to consider it an audio nuisance to the person sitting next to you. From a distance of 3 feet (in a reasonably quiet room), you should just be able to make out the noise. Compared to the click of the touchpad buttons, the fan at max speed is slightly louder.
Generally, the notebook only went to max speed once we were getting into CPU intensive loads, and only for around 25 seconds when it did. If you are just going through your daily computer routine: email, word processing, browsing, etc., the fan speeds up when needed and then drops back down to low speed. If you are staying in the 85%+ CPU range, the fan will mostly stay on until the strain on CPU resources drop. We were watching an uncompressed HDTV file (1080i) which kept the CPU usage in the 65% to 85% range. During that time the fan just simply turned on a few times to max speed then slowed down and turned back off. This happened about five or six times during the course of about 10 minutes.
Heat –After about three plus hours of use, the notebook was still relatively cool to the touch. The only place that got warm was the spot below the CPU, chipset and WiFi card, which is basically the whole spot under the keyboard. For CPU intensive operations, you will certainly find it to be somehwat warm, but not an intolerable heat unless you are using it for long periods of time. Basically, you should still feel comfortable and should not feel the need to shuffle or flinch while the notebook sits in your lap. Remember that the TC4200 uses Pentium-Ms that are rated faster than the typical 1.5GHz on the X41 Tablet, so the level of heat dissipation is higher.
|Construction: Field Testing (cont.)|
Keyboard –This isn't the ideal keyboard layout, but it is one of the better ones, as the function and page up/page down/home/end are all located in the upper right-hand corner. We prefer the 2 x 3 button array (including the insert and delete buttons) as opposed to aligning all of the buttons in a single row. However, this is a much better solution than aligning all of them on the right side.
The keyboard doesn't have the same click/tactile feedback as the keyboard on the IBM X41 Tablet. However, it is still better than the majority of consumer level notebooks. We should note that this is technically not a full-sized keyboard as one or two of the alphanumeric keys are smaller than their peers, i.e. the "1" key. Note that most ultraportables do not use full-sized keyboards in the respect that they aren't completely identical in size to a notebook with a 14.1" or 15.0" display.
LEDs –There is one main LED strip placed on the front left side of the system (left to right): wireless status (blue when Bluetooth and/or WiFi is enabled), power status (blinking green for standby and solid green when system is on), battery status (yellow when detecting, blinking green when charging above 90%, and orange when below 90%), and hard drive activity (blinking green when active). There is no secondary strip of LEDs for keyboard key status like caps lock. Instead, caps and num lock have their LEDs situated right next to the keys themselves (green when active). (There is no LED for scroll lock.) The only other things that light up are the power LED next to the power switch (green when system is on) and the mute button (orange when muted).
TouchPad & Buttons –There is a touchpad on this ultraportable/Tablet PC. Unlike the X41, the TC4200 takes a more traditional approach in this sense. This will come as a relief to those who feel that a Pointing Stick (IBM calls theirs a TrackPoint) alone is a frustrating experience.
For scrolling, HP has closed off the right side of the touchpad zone as a scroll zone. Keep in mind that you can still use this part of the touchpad as you would the rest of it to track the cursor. When you want to scroll you just press down in the zone and move your finger up and down.
Speakers & Microphone –The integrated microphone is located to the right of the swivel hinge. The small pin hole and microphone icon designate its location. This is a good place for it considering most people direct their speech forward, toward the screen. This also prevents you from covering the microphone hole while you are typing, should you need both.
There is only a single speaker located on the left-hand side of the TC4200. For an ultraportable, small speakers are what we have come to expect. For its size, the unit's small speaker makes a good impression with its high volume threshold. This is not a multimedia notebook by any stretch of the word, so when we listened to Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know," the audio clarity was shy of what we normally see on consumer level notebooks, i.e. the instrumentals and voice inflections get slightly distorted above 55% volume. Keep in mind that at 55%, the person in the next room can probably still hear what you are listening to, which is a great feat for an ultraportable to accomplish. Of course, if you aren't a multimedia buff or good at picking up the finer points of audio quality, you likely won't notice the difference in audio quality other than volume level. For all intents and purposes, the business user and occasional DVD watcher won't complain.
|Construction: Upgrading and Maintenance|
The display swings backwards on a 180 degree plane and can even go a few degrees lower.
The TC4200 follows a simple layout. Removing the center bottom access panel gives way to reveal the unpopulated DDR2 SODIMM memory bank. This ultraportable doesn't use an embedded memory design, so the theoretical limit is only limited by what the chipset can support (2GB). Beneath the lower right access panel, meanwhile, lies the hard drive.
In order to access the second memory bank, CPU, CPU cooler and miniPCI slot (populated by a WiFi card) you need to remove the keyboard. This can only be done by first unsecuring the plastic bezel protecting the swivel hinge (4 hex screws), unsecuring the plastic bezel above the keyboard (2 additional Philips screws), and then unscrewing and unsecuring the keyboard (4 hex screws). In all, it was somewhat of a challenge to access the hardware below the keyboard. We recommend only those with patience and reasonably good computer skills attempt it.
|The Tablet PC Experience|
Conversion to Tablet Mode - To convert into Slate mode, the display simply needs to be swiveled clockwise 180 degrees and clipped down. The security hook holding the display down is actually hidden away. The small magnet located in the display locks the hook into place once the lid is closed in either direction.
Once you swivel and push the display down to lock it into place, at about 10 degrees, the screen will automatically rotate the image 90 degrees clockwise.
It seems to be that Tablet PCs are designed with right-handed people in mind. Primarily this is due to the fact any grip the Tablet PC provides is optimized so that you hold the tablet with your left hand while writing with your right. While IBM did this with their 8 cell battery, HP's grip space is smaller, as the display hinge is the only natural place to get a grip on the Tablet. Again, I would like to see HP provide the option to rotate counterclockwise; this would solve all of the issues. This way southpaws don't have to screw around with the software, deal with upside down labels or sacrifice the grip designed for right-handers. The temporary solution for any southpaw is to use the OS and manipulate the image. The only downside is that the icons and buttons are going to be "upside down" from the right-hander perspective.
Lighting - You may notice a small, clear LED located next to the label "Compaq tc4200" in the upper left-hand corner. This is in actuality an ambient light sensor. It is supposed to automatically detect the environment's lighting and dynamically change the brightness of the screen as need be (enabled and disabled via Fn + F11, default startup mode is disabled). In our use, it was about 85% to 95% right in the sense that it automatically tweaked itself to the right brightness level. There were times when we felt that it didn't change to a bright enough setting, i.e. when we came in from the parking lot to the office building. However, the changes are done slowly (within 4 or 5 seconds, lowest brightness to highest takes about 10 seconds) on a gradient level that you probably won't even notice or complain about. In all, we like this feature because it is an automatic way of saving/preserving precious battery life for any highly mobile user.
Tablet Digitizer Pen - The digitizer pen is located on the bottom left side of the screen. If you are in Tablet mode, the pen will be located on the bottom right side. The pen is spring locked with a push lock/release mechanism. It pops out when you push the release button located about 1" north of the HP logo. The pen is locked in place once you push it back in.
Left to Right: Buttons in Tablet mode, screenshot with the Q Menu
Tablet Buttons - All of the buttons are to the right of the digitized screen (top to bottom): Q menu, rotate screen 90 degrees clockwise, and writing pad. On the right side of the display there is also a button for the task manager (combination command = CTRL + ALT + DEL) and a vertical scroll toggle. Note that the first set of buttons are actually digitized buttons that can only be accessed via a digitizer pen/device. This is a clever way of preventing unintentional button clicks during writing in Tablet mode.
Writing - Using the digitizer pen is pretty similar to other Tablet PCs we have used. The difference with the HP digitizer pen is that the single click button functions as a right mouse button. The other end of the pen functions as the eraser.
As far as tracking goes, basically all of the Tablet PCs use Wacom's digitizer, so tracking is extremely similar from one Tablet PC to another. Stuff like digitizer pens, therefore, are interchangeable between different systems - for the most part (we used a TC4200 pen on the X41, and vice versa).
Software - Like other Tablet PCs, the TC4200 Tablet relies on Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition OS. The OS has an overall natural feel to it, with sufficient information. In any window that requires writing, there is a small icon that allows you to select the way you want to input information, similar to Microsoft's Pocket PC OS.
Left to Right: FranklinCovey PlanPlus, Alias SketchBook, Microsoft Windows Journal, Microsoft Sticky Notes, Zinio Magazine Reader
HP includes trial versions of FranklinCovey PlanPlus 4.1 (30 days) and Alias SketchBook Pro 1.1.1 (15 days). The SketchBook program is particularly helpful if you can actually make decent sketches. The digitizer pen uses sensitivity tracking to determine the weight of an stroke. FrankinCovey PlanPlus is a organizer/planner that provides an unique interface for writing notes instead of typing in "Conference at 3:00." Zinio Magazine Reader is kind of like the Adobe Acrobat Reader of magazines. For those who publish e-versions of their magazines, you can use this program (no trial limitation) to read them front to back. You click once to zoom in on text and click again to zoom out.
LEDs - The front LED strip is not visible in Slate mode. You will need to turn the Tablet to see the status of any of the LEDs. Obviously the LEDs located near the keyboard will not be visible at all.
Heat - After using it for a few hours with a lot of multitasking, the bottom of the Tablet PC gets fiarly warm, but not uncomfortable enough for anyone to flinch or complain. If you are only using it the way we suspect most people will, the bottom will only seem warm as you cradle it like a sketchpad. It's different from the X41 in that the TC4200 needs greater airflow to maintain a usuable temperature. So if you are a right handed person, you will most likely feel the airflow directed towards you when you get into CPU intensive operations.
Speaker(s) and Microphone - If you are holding the Tablet PC, using the microphone is fairly easy since it is facing towards you. Even during writing, we didn't find any noteworthy situations were the microphone picked up muffled audio.
|Features: Software & Hardware|
We are going to be adding a new section as needed, which will focus on proprietary software from the notebook vendors. Whether you buy from Dell, HP, Compaq, IBM, etc., each company usually has software that is branded with their name to make the notebook experience just that much sweeter. By that we mean easier, simpler, more feature laden, with user fixable solutions, etc...
There are no specific display indicators for mute, volume up, volume down, increase brightness or decrease brightness, though Microsoft does have a system tray icon for mute in Windows. There are, however, display indicators for the status of num, caps, and scroll lock, as well as for WiFi status.
Of the various software enhancements that HP/Compaq includes, we want to particularly note:
Reinstallation of Drivers - This will require that you use the driver/application CD that shipped with your system or go to the TC4200 download section of HP's driver support site.
|Test Systems and General Performance|
In order to keep the list of notebooks from getting exceedingly long and turning this page into a scrolling race, we are going to archive past notebook specs in an Excel file (XLS format) which will be updated with every notebook review (click here). If you have questions, please feel free to email us.
Business Winstone 2004 from Veritest uses scripts to test the performance level of a computer in business-related applications:
Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 from Veritest uses scripts to test the performance level of a computer in multimedia rich environments:
Higher scores here indicate better performance. You can read more about Business Winstone 2004 on Veritest's FAQ page. And you can read more about Multimedia Content Creation Winstone 2004 on Veritest's FAQ page.
The scores are pretty consistent with the results that we have seen from similar 915XM-based systems on the market.
We turned off the ambient light sensor for all of our testing.
We also should note that our system came with a single SODIMM module, which means that dual channel technology was not being taken advantage of. This means that two SODIMM memory modules will increase the performance scores, but only a slight increase will be apparent. HP does ship TC4200 Tablets with a memory configuration of 1 x 512MB.
|Battery Info & Performance|
We are using the standard benchmark settings from Bapco, along with a few other minor system tweaks. The screensaver was disabled and volume was set at approximately 20%.
MobileMark 2002 utilizes the following applications:
The white papers for MobileMark are available on Bapco's website should you want to read up on how this benchmark works. In the graph above, higher scores equal better performance.
The TC4200 has 2 battery options: a 6 cell primary battery and an 8 cell extended battery. The 8 cell extended battery is intended to supplement the primary 6 cell, not replace it. Its addition will put the notebook on an incline, though, due to its size.
6 cell primary battery with 8 cell extended battery
Charge time for the batteries from 0% to 100% is as follows (real world numbers, not estimates):
The times listed below reflect the time it took for the system to power up until the cursor appeared with no busy indicator on the desktop background.
So far we have reviewed two different Tables PCs, the TC4200 and the IBM X41. For all intents and purposes, we feel that these two convertible notebooks/Tablets cater to two different types of people. The X41 Tablet is really more for those on the extremely mobile side of the spectrum, offering good battery life in tandem with a small form factor and weight profile. The TC4200, on the other hand, is more of a heavy duty Tablet PC. It feels more like a true crossbreed between a slate Tablet and a pure business notebook.
If the X41 Tablet is the king of the high mobility space in ultraportables/Tablets, the TC4200 is its big brother. Even though the X41 Tablet has sufficient computing power, you need additional accessories to make it feel more like a notebook (i.e. an external mouse to compensate for the lack of a touchpad). Meanwhile, the TC4200 feels more like a traditional 14.1" business notebook. It has just been shrunk down a bit for the 12.1" display form factor. The little brother has great battery life and portability, while the big brother packs a bigger punch in the performance and workhorse divisions.
Even though the battery life of the TC4200 can actually exceed that of the X41 Tablet, it is still not necessarily what we would consider on par with the portability of the X41. Keep in mind that the TC4200 uses heftier battery packs on top of its slightly bigger frame. So, one must choose. Do you take the heavier choice knowing that you can get more battery life in some scenarios or do you take the lighter choice knowing that you will be less limited by weight but more so by the frequency of visits to the charger? As it stands, IBM's (or Lenovo's, depending on how you call it) X41 Tablet can only beat the TC4200 when it takes up an 8 cell primary battery. However, for those going the extra distance, the TC4200 can pack an amazing 12 hours with its additional 8 cell extended battery pack. This surpasses IBM's highest battery score by more than 3.5 hours.
Directly from HP, the TC4200 comes in two base models priced at $1,599 and $1,849. The major difference is that the first is loaded with a 1.73GHz Pentium-M 740 Dothan processor and a 40GB hard drive, while the latter uses a 1.86GHz Pentium-M 750 Dothan with Bluetooth and a 60GB hard drive. We should mention that the TC4200 is also one of the few Tablets on the market that can be equipped with a 2.0GHz Pentium-M 760 Dothan processor. There are no [TC4200] systems available based on the Celeron-M. This is to be expected from a convertible Tablet that caters to users looking for a more powerful computing platform than just a simple ultraportable, which tends to use LV (Low Voltage) or ULV (Ultra Low Voltage) Pentium-M processors.
Where the X41 Tablet excels in giving an edge in mobility, the TC4200 provides an edge in performance. While it can be used for day to day computer operations such as emailing, word processing, work related projects, browsing, presentations, etc., it is still a workhorse that can take on the demands of Microsoft Visual Studio. The advantage that this notebook has is that you can replace the paper notebook in favor of a completely e-office or e-otherwise experience. For some, this is a necessity of their lifestyle, while many others may find it a bit harder to let go of the "exquisite tactile" feel of paper writing apparatus. We have, after all, grown up with the latter. Nevertheless, while we group ourselves somewhere between the two groups (you can't deny that there is something about writing on a paper notebook that is hard to reproduce), the ability to do e-everything when it comes to office, school, communication, documentation, etc., has undeniable advantages. No longer do you need to archive a whole shelf or box full of notepads from the previous 6 months or perhaps longer. The ability to store written notes allows you to properly archive text and content for fast retrieval in the future. Let's face it, scanning isn't quite the same. Scanning documents for storage doesn't turn text on a page into an e-document. It basically becomes a stored picture.
We mentioned this in our X41 Tablet coverage, but we still need to underscore that, other than price, the past problem which Tablet PCs and ultraportables faced was performance. The lack of enough performance in the past to even smoothly render visualizations in Windows Media Player meant that these types of PCs were even more reliant on a main system, be it a desktop or larger notebook. However, performance now is up to the point where an ultraportable can conceivably be used as one's only personal computer. Those planning to make this their only personal computer, though, would be wise to look into the TC4200's docking station.
As always, remember rule #1 when it comes to shopping: "you get what you pay for." Tablet PCs are going to be priced more expensive than simple ultraportables because they can do more than simple ultraportables. That aside, Microsoft still needs to continue to enhance the OS experience with more intuitive menus, easier to interact with menus for Tablet mode, and Tablet mode specific indicators, and perhaps a bigger cursor.
In the end, we are giving the HP/Compaq TC4200 Tablet a high 9.0 on the Heat Meter. Outside of the software improvements we want to see from Microsoft, the only major thing that would make this mobile PC better would be the ability to rotate it counterclockwise for left-handed use. The only problem this presents is that the buttons on the right hand side would be someone cumbersome to access. However, the reason the rotation is important in this case is that the ambient light sensor needs to be as far away from the user as possible. The closer it is the harder it is to use, as your own shadow will sometimes cause the sensor to "mis-adjust" its brightness level.