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Start-up to carve out tablet niche

StepUp introduces a tablet computer for the business world that costs about $1,000. It's going to face some competition, though, for a relatively small market.

StepUp Computing, a start-up formed by former Emachines executives, is launching an inexpensive tablet computer.

StepUp's tablet, the DocuNote, weighs 2.5 pounds and features an 8.4-inch touch screen and built-in camera. It will start at about $1,000 when it begins shipping next month, the company said.

The DocuNote is designed for businesses where workers spend a lot of time in the field, such as law firms, insurance companies and real estate agencies. It also is suited for medical, government and education settings, the company said. The machine is similar in philosophy to one designed by Texas start-up Motion Computing, formed by former Dell Computer executives.

StepUp's DocuNote is a tablet computer, meaning it has no attached keyboard. Instead, it relies on pen or touch-screen inputs to enter data and includes handwriting recognition software. It is not a tablet PC per se under Microsoft's definition because it uses standard editions of Microsoft's Windows 2000 and Windows XP, instead of the Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. The latter includes Microsoft's own handwriting recognition software and other elements that give the recent crop of tablet PCs some of their most important features.

But not being a Tablet PC software adherent has some advantages. The DocuNote will cost about $1,000, while most tablet PCs sell for $1,700 to $2,500. StepUp will also offer a model with the Linux-based Lindows 3.0 operating system during the first quarter of 2003.

StepUp will still face stiff competition in a small market from established players such as Fujitsu and Symbol Technologies, which have been selling tablet computers to the same industries for years, even before the advent of Microsoft's tablet PC concept. Analysts have said tablets make up only a few percentage points of the worldwide notebook market's yearly unit sales.

But the company still asserts that it can carve out a niche.

"DocuNote?s tablet PC form factor is ideally positioned between two popular computing platforms to?enhance the productivity of...mobile workers," Young Song, StepUp's CEO, said in a statement. "With this new standard in mobile business computing, users benefit from the full computing functionality found in notebooks PCs with the portability?found in PDAs."

Song, who co-founded the low-price PC seller Emachines, served as vice president of product development there.

StepUp's first DocuNote model, the B1660, will include a 667MHz Crusoe TM5600 processor from Transmeta, 256MB of RAM, and a 20GB hard drive. It can also accommodate a wireless network card via its PC Card slot.

The company will also sell a carrying case with a built-in keyboard and, later, a docking station to connect the machine to a full-size monitor, keyboard and other computer accessories.

StepUp will offer the DocuNote first through resellers in the United States and Asia, the company said.