Why a Tablet PC May Be Right For You

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Get ready for a new type of computer that is about to be as common as the laptop. In fact, you could think of it as the next evolutionary step of the laptop.

Before you replace your current portable computer, you may want to get yourself informed about this handy new machine that is known as the Tablet PC.

Of all the personal technology advances we've seen over the past five years, the Tablet PC has to rank among the most significant. For the Tablet PC is truly one of the most innovative and useful products that is just now starting to gain major traction. These machines, which are powered by a specially tweaked version of the Windows XP operating system, allow users to scribble notes on a screen with a pen-like stylus, turning handwriting or block printing into what's called digital ink.

Although Tablet PCs have been on the market for a few years now, much of the public has been unexposed to them. That's about to change. Tablet PCs are now showing up on TV commercials, in magazine and newspaper ads and being exuberantly talked about through word of mouth. Maybe it's time for you to consider one.

Some Tablets are slate models only. That means there is no keyboard, just the screen. You write on them like those old Etch-a-Sketches that kids used to play with. Others, are called convertibles. Flip the screen up and it looks and works like a notebook computer, with a keyboard, CD/DVD slot, track pad and the like. But swivel the screen around and down over the keyboard and it's a slate.

All of the big computer makers produce Tablet PC models: Dell, Gateway, Toshiba, Lenovo (IBM), Fujitsu and others. There are a couple of Tablet-only makers, too, like Motion Computing and Rugged Computers. Even Apple Computer with its fabled Macintosh line is rumored to be close to developing a Tablet version.

You can get a Tablet PC for arounf $1,800 with most of the features we all demand in portable computers like wo-fi Internet access and Bluetooth wireless. Some models have built-in CD.DVD drives (which adds to the weight factor), others include them as external devices.

Whatever you do, make sure you get enough memory to run all those cool applications. My recommendation is at least one GB, instead of the standard 512MB on most machines.

Over the past couple of years, Tablets have sold fairly well in what are known as vertical markets, among niche interest groups like students (great for note-taking and recording lectures), medical professionals (for keeping track of patient records) and salespeople (for forms and order-taking). Indeed, some schools are now giving Tablet PCs to their students, that's how great they are as educational tools.

But now that the momentum has built up, most observers are convinced the real market is much larger ... and largely untapped, if you'll excuse the pun.

The Tablet PC does everything a regular computer does. It has a complete Windows XP operating system and can run all of the normal programs and applications consumers are used to on their desktops and laptops. The big difference is that with a Tablet PC, you can also use that electronic stylus to run many programs, taking notes by hand or tapping on the individual letters of an on-screen keyboard representation to type.

Handwriting can be converted to type with just a tap of the stylus, though, obviously, the neater you write or print, the more accurate will be the conversion into type.

I've been a a tablet user for several years and, truthfully, I seldom convert handwritten notes on the Tablet. I don't need to. I can read my own notes just fine. And there's something satisfyingly personal about seeing my scribbes on a computer screen. It's sort of the ultimate in customization.

While a Tablet does everything a regular computer does, they have the added advantage of some special tablet-only software enhancements. I bought a $39 add-on to the Outlook program that lets me use digital ink to enter calendar, to-do, journal and contact info. And a $99 program called PlanPlus from Franklin Covey puts the equivalent of a Franklin Planner on my Tablet. I've fallen in love with this application.

Then there's Microsoft OneNote, which comes bundled on many of the Tablets sold today or can be purchased separately for $99. OneNote I believe, is the most amazingly useful application for any platform I have ever tried.

Besides the digital ink note-taking and organizational features, OneNote uses the built in microphone on the Tablet to record meetings, lectures, interviews, whatever you want. As you take notes of a presentation and hear something that's important, make a star or exclamation mark next to someone's words that you've jotted down, just as you do with pen and paper notes. Afterwards, as you review the notes, you can tap on the special mark you made to hear the actual recording of the subject as the presenter spoke the information.

No matter how much I use OneNote, it blows me away every time.

If you're thinking about a new laptop and if note-taking is a part of your life, a tablet should be at the top of your shopping list.

It's that handy.

Is a Tablet PC right for you?

Obviously, only you can answer that. But it's been my esperience as a longtime road warrior who has used all sorts of laptops, that the Tablet PC offers so many more features and so much more convenience than a standard laptop that I would never go back.

I bet you will feel the same.

The author is publisher of the Tablet PC resource and news sites Tablet PC Time (http://www.tabletpctime.com) and Tablet PC Scoop ([http://www.tabletpcscoop.com])

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