HP Compaq tc4200 review: HP Compaq tc4200

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MSRP: $2,103.00

The Good Good performance and battery life; responsive keyboard; three-year warranty; screen-brightness sensor.

The Bad A little heavy for holding in one arm; three-prong AC adapter; no FireWire, parallel ports, or optical drive.

The Bottom Line First of the third generation of tablet PCs, the HP Compaq Tablet PC tc4200 convertible has a lot to like, from its top-shelf performance to its nearly five-hour battery life.

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6.9 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7
  • Battery 8
  • Support 7

HP Compaq tc4200

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 1.5 inches thick by 11.1 inches wide by 9.3 inches deep and weighing 4.7 pounds, the dark-gray tc4200 tablet is on a par with Toshiba's Portege M200 convertible tablet but a few ounces heavier than the Motion M1400 Tablet PC. Add in the 9-ounce AC adapter, and the Tablet PC tc4200 hits the road with a reasonable travel weight of 5.2 pounds. 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 Notebook PC, 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 high that you could brush the touch pad as you're 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. Like the Electrovaya SC-2000 tablet, the tc4200 has a light sensor and 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. HP offers a few choices of components for various needs and budgets; see our take on the tc4200 series for more information on configuration options. Our $2,099 (as of May 2005) 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 about those who think they 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 115 feet 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 CNET Labs' mobile benchmarks, putting it light-years 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 an hour longer than the one on the Portege M200 and nearly three 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.