Current Cover (3068 bytes)
Current Cover

Recent issues

HOME | More Q&A | Windows Mobile | Palm OS | Rugged PCs | Pen Computers | Tablet PCs | Case Studies | Industry leaders

Reader Q&A

Convertible Tablet PC with Outdoor-Readable Screen

You gave me some advice a few years back when I was shopping for my first Tablet PC. I went with the Toughbook CF-18, which has served me fairly well for nearly three years. Being a high-volume eBay seller of Palm PDAs and a long-time user, I was drawn to the Tablet idea. Now I am ready to get another and hoped you could direct me to my best choice. I read your recent comments in the Tablet PC Q&A in Pen Computing where you advised the reader to go with the Fujitsu convertible as they wanted an outdoor-readable screen, which I also do. I got the Toughbook CF-18 with the promise of an outdoor-readable screen, which was either a con by the sales rep or a mistake. I can barely see it when I try to use it outside. I mainly use it for tending to my eBay business, which I do from my home. It would be nice to have the option to work outside, as I am steps from the beach here in Ventura, CA. I have looked over the Fujitsu site and liked what I saw. My question to you is, has something better come along and/or is there anything soon-to-come that I should hold out for? What I really need to know is if Fujitsu is the only convertible with a outdoor-readable screen option. I'm ready to buy today with the slightest encouragement! Assuming you will be giving me some, where do you suggest I make the purchase?

-- Rudy Cicatelli

Technology Editor Geoff Walker Answers

Rudy, the Fujitsu T4000 is not the only convertible with an outdoor-readable screen.  The HP tc4200 and tc4400 (new) also offer an optional outdoor-readable screen (click here for details).  Both use the same Hydis wide-viewing-angle 12.1" XGA LCD, although Hydis doesn't provide the outdoor-readability enhancement (see below).

Between the Fujitsu T4000 and the HP tc4200 there's no contest; I'd choose the Fujitsu.  They're roughly the same vintage of technology, but the Fujitsu has an integrated CD drive.  

However, I'd have to stop and consider the tc4400, since it has the very latest Core Duo processor.  Perhaps even more important, it has the Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics, which supports Vista Aero (the 3D user interface), while the tc4200 and the Fujitsu T4000 both use the Intel GMA 900, which doesn't support Vista Aero.  Microsoft's recent announcement finally clarified this; the GMA 900 is classified as a "Vista-Capable" video controller, which means that it will run Vista in "XP Compatibility" mode, but it won't run Vista Aero, the cool new 3D user interface.  Without Vista Aero you don't get one of the big advantages of Vista, which is "resolution independence".  This technical term means that you can enlarge a window and everything in the window, including icons, scales up evenly.  This will change a basic perception about PC screens.  Today the perception is "more pixels makes everything smaller and harder to read"; with Vista Aero the perception will become "more pixels makes everything clearer and sharper".  Over the next 3-5 years this will have a huge effect on the resolution of all desktop monitors and notebook LCDs.  People will want to buy higher-resolution screens, since "more pixels makes everything clearer and sharper".

None of the other current commercial-grade (non-ruggedized) convertibles on the market offer an outdoor-readable screen.  These include the following 10 products:

Of all the Tablet PCs above, my favorite 12.1" convertible has become the Toshiba Portégé M400.  It has everything the Fujitsu T4000 has (except an outdoor-readable screen), but it uses the latest generation of technology.  The T4000 is nearing end-of-life (in a marketing sense).  In the next couple of months Fujitsu will be announcing a refreshed model that's more competitive with the M400.  Among the 14.1" convertibles, my favorite is still the Toshiba Tecra M4.

Regarding the outdoor-readable screen, make sure you know what you're buying.  It's a