Completely new -- inside and out -- the convertible HP Compaq tc4200 tablet has a high-strength magnesium base and uses the latest Sonoma technology to deliver high performance with excellent battery life. On the downside, it will disappoint those looking for dedicated video memory, an optical drive and some vital business ports.
Measuring 33mm thick by 284mm wide by 236mm deep and weighing 2.1kg, the dark grey tc4200 tablet is on a par with Toshiba's Portégé M200 convertible tablet. Add in the 255g AC adaptor and the tc4200 hits the road with a reasonable travel weight of 2.3kg. The key to its success is that its LCD lid swivels clockwise and easily folds flat for write-and-run operations; an adequate stylus pops out of the tablet's side. Unlike any other tablet, the tc4200 offers the same processor, hard drive, memory and software as the ultraportable HP Compaq nc4200 notebook PC, which should make deploying it in a corporate environment easier.
A dead ringer for the slightly lighter nc4200, the HP Compaq tc4200 is built around a magnesium base, an internal frame and a laminated plastic wrist-rest area, all of which should help it stand up to the daily punishment of busy executives. The keyboard is firm, responsive and logically laid out, with textured, reasonably sized keys, although the slightly undersized spacebar might cause problems. For those who hate having to choose, the system has both a pointing stick and a large touch pad with a dedicated scroll zone on the side. However, the touch pad is too close to the keyboard and unlike other HP notebooks, the tc4200 has no switch to turn it off; chances are you could brush the touch pad while typing and accidentally displace your cursor.
Because it is meant to be used as a tablet with the keyboard out of reach, the tc4200 has a convenient jog dial on the side that helps whiz through long Web pages or PowerPoint files. The glass writing surface, however, is a little too smooth for our taste; there's not quite enough resistance on the stylus to make you feel like you're writing naturally. The system does offer excellent screen controls for rotating between Landscape and Portrait modes, bringing up the character-input screen and opening HP's exclusive Qmenu software, which consolidates all the configuration data you could ever want. The tc4200 has a light-sensor system that continually adjusts the display's brightness. While we like the push-button volume controls, the system's single speaker does better with the spoken word than it does with music.
Inside the HP Compaq tc4200's case is a mostly up-to-date system that marks the start of the third generation of tablets. Our test machine came with a 1.8GHz Pentium M Sonoma processor and 512MB of 400MHz RAM, expandable up to 2GB -- although we have to wonder why you'd need that much memory in a tablet PC. While the system lacks an internal optical drive, it does have a high-speed 5,400rpm, 60GB hard drive.
Forget about dedicated video memory -- the system uses Intel's integrated 915GM graphics engine, which borrows up to 128MB of main system memory. The 12.1-inch XGA screen produces bright and clear images, but pales in comparison to the 14-inch display on the admittedly heavier Acer TravelMate C301XCi. In addition to its infrared window, the tc4200 has Bluetooth and an Intel 802.11b/g radio and a pair of lid-mounted antennas; in our anecdotal tests, it was able to stay in contact 35 meters from our base station -- a little farther than average.
Balancing performance and battery life is the tc4200's strong suit. The system scored a 193 on our mobile benchmarks, putting it a long way ahead of the Averatec C3500 and the Motion M1400, both of which have slower CPUs. The tc4200's battery pack ran for 4 hours, 56 minutes, more than one hour longer than the one on the Portégé M200 and nearly 3 hours longer than the one on the Averatec C3500. If that's not enough, HP's unique U-shaped add-on battery can extend use by a few more hours for full-day computing.
On the downside, the tc4200 lacks a few digital creature comforts, such as FireWire and parallel ports. It makes up for that with three USB 2.0 outlets conveniently positioned with one on each side and one on the back, as well as audio-in, audio-out, S-video and external-monitor ports. In addition to the expected Gigabit Ethernet and 56K modem connections, there's a Type II PC Card slot and a Secure Digital card reader. There are two options for the security-minded: a smart-card reader for online authentication and a built-in security chip for protecting sensitive data.
Our tc4200 came with Microsoft's Windows XP Tablet Edition; like those of most business tablets, its software bundle does not include a productivity suite. It does, however, come with Wireless Assistant, which is a big step forward from Microsoft's Wi-Fi software. It also comes with trial versions of Symantec Norton AntiVirus, FranklinCovey PlanPlus 3.0 and Alias SketchBook.
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
||BAPCo MobileMark 2002 performance rating|
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
||BAPCo MobileMark 2002 battery-life minutes|
Windows XP Home; Athlon XP-M 2200+ 1.67GHz; 512MB DDR SDRAM 333MHz; ATI Radeon IGP 320M 64MB; Fujitsu MHT2060AT 60GB 4,200rpm
Windows XP Tablet 2005; 1.8GHz Intel Pentium M 745; 512MB DDR SDRAM 400MHz; Intel 915GM 128MB; Toshiba MK6026GAX 60GB 5,400rpm
Windows XP Tablet 2002; 1.1GHz Intel Pentium M; 512MB DDR SDRAM 266MHz; Intel 855GM Extreme Graphics (up to 64MB); Hitachi Travelstar 20GN 20GB 4,200rpm
Edited by Michelle Thatcher
Additional editing by Nick Hide