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Tablet PC 101: The Convertible Tablet PC



So you’ve been reading about Tablet PCs, but you’re not quite sure how they work or the major benefits.  A convertible tablet unites the power of a traditional laptop computer design with the benefits of a slate tablet.  The base of a convertible Tablet PC has a full keyboard, while the top of the unit has the ability to be turned 180 degrees, flipping over the keyboard to be used similar to a pad of paper.  The user relies on a stylus or pen to navigate, perform major functions, draw, or write on the tablet.  The convertible Tablet PC provides greater versatility and functionality than a slate tablet, but is often heavier or larger in size.

Convertible Tablet PCs typically run Windows XP Tablet edition or Windows Vista.  Windows XP Tablet is a flavor of XP designed specifically for the tablet platform, while all versions of Windows Vista except home basic and starter editions support tablet functionality.  Although there have been many rumors of a Tablet PC from Apple and some Linux distributions support tablet functionality, the Tablet PC platform relies mostly on the Microsoft Windows Operating System.

The Tablet PC platform has received mixed reviews from consumers, although a recent trend towards multi-touch computing and the success of devices like Apple’s iPhone have helped renew interest in the tablet approach.  Many students and teaching professionals are beginning to realize the note taking and instructional advantages of convertible Tablet PCs as software and technology improves.

Learning about the convertible Tablet PC can be confusing.  Let’s define a few terms.

  • Inking: Using the stylus or pen to write or draw on the tablet.  There are many applications available to capture and organize what is written on a Tablet PC.  Perhaps the most popular is Microsoft Office OneNote, a program that allows you to create virtual notebooks.
  • Swivel:  Generally, convertible Tablet PCs have a heavy-duty hinge that allows the screen to pivot into tablet mode.
  • Active Digitizer:  An active digitizer is often preferred but usually more expensive than a passive digitizer.  The active digitizer allows the cursor to follow the stylus without having to physically touch the tablet’s screen.  They are considered to be more accurate when writing or drawing. 

Benefits of using a convertible tablet:

  • Provides traditional laptop computer functionality.
  • The screen has the ability to rotate into tablet mode for Inking capabilities.
  • The tablet screen can be used in Portrait or Landscape (widescreen) modes for easier Inking and reading.
  • Convertible Tablet PCs are lightweight.
  • They are more powerful than Netbooks or entry-level laptop computers.
  • Many Tablet PCs feature anti-glare LED screens that are bright and able to be read easily outdoors or in sunny conditions.
  • There is strong community support and many resources are available online.
  • The Tablet PC allows individuals that might have difficulties interacting with a keyboard an alternative way to compute.

Individual’s that commonly rely on Tablet PCs are:

  • Educators
  • Students
  • Salespeople
  • Realtors
  • Website developers/designers
  • Interior Designers
  • Programmers
  • Architects
  • Artists
  • Many other professions rely on Inking capabilities as well as traditional keyboard input. 

Popular Convertible Tablet PC manufacturers:

One of the criticisms of the convertible Tablet PC form-factor is the higher price.  Because the device provides two major input methods and relies on advanced technology such as an active digitizer, Tablet PCs can tend to be more expensive than conventional laptops.  Major manufacturers such as Lenovo, Dell, HP, Toshiba, Fujitsu, and Gateway, produce at least one convertible Tablet PC as part of their business or consumer lineup.  It is possible to purchased factory refurbished Tablet PCs from most manufacturers at significantly lower prices.  More affordable and portable convertible tablets have recently started appearing as preproduction models.  The 3rd generation Classmate PC from Intel and the Gigabyte M912V feature touch enabled, convertible screens.

As technology advances and the Tablet PC continues to gain interest, prices should fall and more options should be available to consumers.  To learn more about where to buy, different brands, or user experiences, check out our popular forums

You can learn more about the Tablet PC in our series, Tablet PC 101.  How has the Tablet PC improved your productivity or overall computing experience?  Share your insight in the comments.

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