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.