Tablet PCs haven't become the mainstream products that Microsoft hoped when Bill Gates introduced the company's version of the concept at Comdex in 2001. Nevertheless, a number of leading vendors, including Dell, HP, Fujitsu Siemens and Toshiba, offer tablet PCs. And there's definitely life in the tablet PC ecosystem because it also supports several specialist companies, selling mostly into vertical markets like healthcare, construction, education and the military. Perhaps the best known of these vendors is Motion.
The company's latest tablet is the rugged, 12.1-inch, slate-style J3400. The specification that we review here costs around £2,340.
Motion's previous 12.1-inch tablet, which it will continue to offer, is the XGA-resolution LE1700. The new J3400 bows to modern tastes by providing a widescreen display with a native WXGA resolution of 1,280x800 pixels. The LED-backlit 'View Anywhere' touchscreen in our review sample combines relatively low power consumption with very good viewing angles and outdoor readability -- essential for this tablet's target market of users who need to 'walk and compute', often outdoors.
The wide-format screen makes the J3400 slightly less square than the LE1700 -- 323 by 231 by 23mm, compared to 296 by 245 by 22mm. The J3400 accommodates two 30Wh batteries, and weighs 1.63kg with one fitted and 1.81kg with both in place. It's not exactly lightweight, especially with both batteries, but it feels reasonably comfortable when held in the crook of an arm, and there are attachment points for a shoulder strap -- likely to prove necessary for anyone using the J3400 extensively on the hoof.
As mentioned above, the J3400 is a ruggedised tablet designed to cope with outdoor use in challenging environments. Specifically, it satisfies the MIL-STD-810F drop-test standard -- it can survive a 36-inch drop onto a plywood-over-concrete surface -- and reaches IP52 specifications for dust and moisture ingress. A '52' IP code signifies partial -- but not complete -- protection from dust and 'no harmful effect' from dripping water. The J3400 certainly feels solid, with a magnesium-alloy chassis and rubberised cladding on the rear.
With the system in landscape mode, the screen-side controls are on the right-hand side, sitting in the 3cm-wide bezel. From the top, they are: the microphone and ambient light sensor, camera button, 'QuickNav' button, 'Dashboard' button, 'Escape' button and four-way directional pad. QuickNav is a large stylus-friendly on-screen keyboard/application launcher, while Dashboard is a convenient utility for tweaking display, audio, pen and tablet, wireless, power and security settings.
On the left-hand side, behind protective hinged rubber flaps, are audio and Ethernet ports, a pair of quite closely spaced USB connectors and a VGA port. The power input is also on this side. At the top of the right-hand side is a slot for the chunky digitiser stylus. This is quite fiercely spring-loaded and, if you're not careful, you can launch the stylus quite some distance. Next there's a removable cover protecting an ExpressCard/34 slot and a Smart Card slot, followed by the power button, a fingerprint reader and, finally, a Ctrl-Alt-Del button and a battery-status LED.
At the back is a 2-megapixel camera, a connector for the optional docking station and a pair of battery bays, beneath one of which is a SIM-card slot for the integrated mobile-broadband/GPS module. The docking connector has a rubberised flap that matches the back of the system, but this isn't hinged or tethered in any way, and could easily be lost. We were also disappointed by the lack of a front-facing camera to complement the rear-mounted unit. Videoconferencing is something that mobile tablet users are likely to require, and front-facing cameras are routinely offered at relatively little extra expense by many smart-phone vendors.
We received a couple of peripheral options with our review kit. The £100 J3400 Mobile Keyboard, which opens up to provide a stand into which the slate-style system unit slots, turns it into a more of a conventional notebook. To this end, the Mobile Keyboard includes a two-button touchpad. If you need to take the keyboard with you, it fits neatly onto the back of the system unit, held in place by magnetic areas in each corner. We wondered why it didn't attach to the front, to protect the screen in transit, but Motion expressed confidence in the display's durability as it stands.