While the entire world (or at least bloggers) seemingly holds its breath for the announcement of a tablet PC from Apple, one might think that touch-screen computing is some kind of shocking new development. In fact, tablet PCs have been around for years, and there are several touch-screen laptops currently on the market that could easily satisfy your finger-tapping needs.
We've always loved tablets conceptually, but in real-world situations their usefulness can be dubious for mainstream computer users--most tablets are actually targeted at hospital, education, or industrial customers. Windows XP's wonky tablet support also didn't help matters (although both Vista and now Windows 7 do a much better job).
The most common type is the convertible tablet laptop, which looks like a normal notebook until you swivel the touch-sensitive screen 180 degrees and fold it down over the keyboard. HP's
Netbooks, with their tiny keyboards and buttons, always seemed like prime candidates for the tablet treatment, and the new
Of course, Apple could easily steal the tablet spotlight with a well-made, easy-to-use device (especially if the company follows the hints in our Apple tablet wish list), or they may announce nothing at all in the near future. And despite the reams of mindless speculationabout Apple's tablet plans, one company has already beaten them to the punch, in a way.
The current closest relative to an Apple tablet is the Axiotron ModBook, which takes a stock 13-inch MacBook, and reconstructs it as a tablet, removing the keyboard and trackpad, and replacing the display with a Wacom-enabled LCD and digitizer.
If all this tablet talk has got your fingers twitching for some tactile feedback, check out the touch-screen devices detailed below--they're not for everybody, but perhaps worth a look if you're thinking of trading your mouse in for a stylus.
The good: Good price for tablet functionality; multitouch gestures are fun; flashy but not garish design.
The bad: Poor battery life; mediocre application performance; weighted down with bloatware; a tad heavy for a 12-inch ultraportable.
The bottom line: A fair price, an attractive design, and multitouch support may allow tablet shoppers to overlook the HP TouchSmart tx2-1275dx's middling performance and poor battery life.
The good: Small and light; well-done custom touch-screen interface; good battery life.
The bad: Uses less powerful version of the Intel Atom CPU; not much space on the tiny SSD hard drive.
The bottom line: Asus does a good job combining a Netbook and a touch screen in the Eee PC T91, even if the system hits a couple of first-generation snags.
The good: Very long battery life; crams Netbook features into a compact, portable size.
The bad: Tiny 4.8-inch screen is almost impossible to read; difficult-to-use virtual keyboard; high price.
The bottom line: Too large to be a smart device, too small to be a useful Netbook, the import-only Viliv S5 is a neat proof-of-concept that is best for portable media playing.
The good: Dual-mode tablet display; fun-looking design; decent port assortment for a 12-inch laptop.
The bad: Mediocre battery life; unimpressive performance; touch-screen response lags.
The bottom line: The HP TouchSmart tx2z Tablet PC has the features, functions, and price to convert consumer laptop users to tablet users. We just wish it could live a little longer away from an outlet.
The good: Attractive case design; 13.3-inch screen provides plenty of real estate while still being portable; comfortable stylus; new Centrino 2 components.
The bad: Bulkier than other 13.3-inch laptops; small touch pad; lousy speakers.
The bottom line: With the LifeBook T1010, Fujitsu adds tablet functionality to an otherwise typical 13.3-inch laptop. It's a good choice for students and executives who prefer to take handwritten notes on the run.
The good: Ingenious design, marrying slate tablet to bottom half of a stock MacBook; built-in GPS and Wacom digitizer for accurate input.
The bad: Screen stuck in landscape mode; heavy; big premium over original MacBook cost; shorter battery life than the MacBook.
The bottom line: We're impressed with the engineering behind Axiotron's rebuilt, tabletized MacBook, but the target audience is likely very small, especially since Windows-based convertible tablets do so much more.
Check out some more shots of the systems detail above in our tablet gallery:
Forget the Apple tablet: These touch-screen laptops are available nowSee all photos
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