- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

The Tablet PC, a Microsoft-inspired portable now available from several manufacturers, was off to a modest start: research firm International Data Corp. estimated that 72,000 units were sold in the product's debut in the final quarter of the past year.
Gateway's Tablet PC, only recently available, could help change things. Of all the units I've seen and tested, it's the best, even with a nearly $2,800 price tag, and is equipped with a CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive and a docking station. The former is a more necessary option than the latter, but both, I think, are critical.
But, first, the basics: The Gateway Tablet sports a 12.1-inch display, one of the larger among the new breed of Tablet PCs. Its colors are sharp and crisp, and its weight, about 3 pounds, is not too onerous for carrying around an office. There's a snap-off cover that protects the screen, while "backing up" the computer at other times; it clips to the unit's rear.
The 40 GB hard drive and 256 MB of RAM are enough for most business users. The RAM can be quadrupled, although there are no hard-disk expansion options at present. There's a PC Card expansion slot, though it's necessity is lessened by the built-in modem, Ethernet port and 802.11b (WiFi) radio, all of which make network communications easier.
The computer is powered by an Intel Mobile Pentium III processor, running at 933 MHz, and designed to consume less power than some of its brother processors. This is another plus for the unit, as some competitors use slower, non-Intel processors.
So you end up with the equivalent of a midrange notebook computer for nearly double the price. Is it worth it?
Yes, for the ability to carry just the tablet into a meeting, wirelessly check e-mail without attracting much attention, show off presentations easily, and access files with a few moves of a stylus/mouse on the display. Docked, the computer can handle a range of accessories and outputs, including an external monitor, the previously mentioned "media drive," and two USB devices, as well as external speakers and an external microphone.
The Gateway Tablet has, for a couple of weeks, been my primary home computer, as well as a traveling companion at a technical conference in Las Vegas. I expect to take it to another event in St. Louis, where I'm due to walk around a large convention center, taking notes and making plans.
In these various situations, the unit performs well, and better than a regular desktop or notebook would. Carrying a desktop PC around an office or a meeting hall is, of course, absurd; that's why notebooks were invented. But the flip-up lid of the notebook "announces" your presence to the masses and is a bit obtrusive in some situations.
The Gateway Tablet's size is large enough to write on, small enough for it to be carried easily, and equipped with enough options and connectors to do the job. A separate keyboard comes with the system and is attached via a USB port. That keyboard includes a touch-pad mouse, rather nice for the road warrior.
At home or home office, I've switched to a Microsoft wireless keyboard and mouse, just because I prefer these. Users may want to make a similar switch if the Gateway Tablet becomes their primary computer, since the supplied keyboard lacks a separate numeric keypad. This is, of course, a matter of personal taste. Hooking up a Creative Labs SoundWorks speaker system produced concert-hall quality sound, which tells me the audio output is solid as well.
Whether you need a Tablet PC will depend on your lifestyle and budget. If you see a Gateway Tablet somewhere, however, it's very likely that you'll want one, regardless of need. More information on the unit is available at www.gateway.com.

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