Tablet PCs won't come cheap

Prices and features of tablet PC models from Acer, Toshiba and ViewSonic, posted on CompUSA's Web site this week, range from just over $2,000 to $2,500.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
4 min read
When a new crop of tablet PCs debuts next week, they aren't likely to be cheap.

Prices of tablet PC models from Acer, Toshiba and ViewSonic, posted on CompUSA's Web site this week, range from just over $2,000 to $2,500.

Toshiba's new Portege 3505 Tablet PC,

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for example, was described as coming with a 12.1-inch screen, a 1.3GHz Pentium III processor from Intel, both 802.11 and Bluetooth wireless networking, 512MB of RAM and a 40GB hard drive. The 4-pound device will sell for $2,499, according to the site. The company may offer a couple of less-expensive models with less memory or smaller hard drives as well.

Devices from Acer and ViewSonic will likely be priced closer to $2,000, according to the Web postings.

Toshiba declined to comment for this story, but acknowledged that it had contacted CompUSA, which pulled that company's information from its site. CNET News.com viewed the information before it was taken from the Web site, and it is possible that prices or other details may change. Information on the Acer and ViewSonic devices remained available.

The Toshiba tablet is one of a number of new portable computers that use a specialized version of Microsoft's Windows XP that offers handwriting recognition, among other features. Toshiba, Acer, Fujitsu and Hewlett-Packard are scheduled to release devices based on Windows XP Tablet PC Edition on Nov. 7.

Microsoft has been working on its conception of tablet PCs for more than two years in a bid to create a more functional portable computer that people can operate using a pen. Many of the details about it, such as the features in the operating system software, have already been revealed.

But so far manufacturers have been mum on price. Some, such as HP, have said their tablet PCs would cost roughly $200 more than a similarly sized "ultraportable" notebook PC. That premium would put most devices based on Microsoft's Tablet PC software into the $2,000-and-above range, whereas the average selling price of a consumer notebook is about $1,475, with the most popular models running between $1,200 and $1,500. Businesses tend to be willing to spend somewhat more.

As a result, the relatively high prices on tablet PCs could limit the new computers to a small group of well-heeled consumers and business customers at first, analysts have said.

A computer with a price as high as $2,000 is "a person's primary PC. The hybrids (or convertible tablet PCs) will aim for the high-end notebook user who can spend whatever he wants on it--and just wants another feature," said Matt Sargent, an analyst with ARS. A $500 tablet device, on the other hand, would serve as a good companion to a PC.

"Businesses will consider them" as well, Sargent said. "I think it makes sense...if you have applications where you have people out doing lots of data entry within 802.11's range, then it does make sense."

Tablet PCs such as Toshiba's are expected to begin shipping in the latter half of November. Most will come in one of two form factors--a traditional tablet or what Microsoft calls a "convertible."

Toshiba's tablet PC is similar to other models in the company's Portege line of lightweight notebooks. But it's also a convertible--that is, it functions like a traditional notebook, but its 12-inch screen can also rotate 90 degrees, fold down and lock in place to create a tablet.

HP's device, the Compaq Tablet PC TC1000, will have a 1GHz Crusoe TM5800 processor from Transmeta. It will also be convertible, sources familiar with the company's plans said.

Acer also will have a convertible design that can be used like a regular notebook and like a tablet, while others such as Motion Computing are expected to offer fixed tablet-style products.

The lowest-priced of Acer's new tablet PCs will start at just over $2,000, according to the CompUSA site.

The 3.1-pound TravelMate C100 pairs a 10.4-inch display with an 800MHz Pentium III-M chip from Intel. A TravelMate C102T model, which will include 256MB of RAM and 20GB hard drive, lists for $2,053. A TravelMate C102Ti adds a 30GB hard drive and 802.11 wireless, information on the site said. Its price is shown as $2,399.

ViewSonic's tablet PC takes on a more traditional tablet form, built around a 10.4-inch screen. Unlike a convertible, it does not offer an attached keyboard, relying instead mainly on the pen for data input. Businesses often use similar tablet computers for tasks such as tracking inventories.

Dubbed the ViewSonic V1100 Tablet PC, it offers an 866MHz Pentium III-M chip, 256MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive and 802.11 wireless. It weighs in at 3.4 pounds and will sell for $2,000, according to information listed on the site.

A ViewSonic spokesman said that the company will announce its price next week and confirmed that it will be "around $2,000." The company will also offer an optional keyboard that connects to its tablet PC.

Acer was not immediately available for comment.