Acer TravelMate C300
The $1899 Acer TravelMate C300 is a convertible unit that can serve as either a conventional notebook or (with the screen flipped over) a Tablet PC whose screen you can write on using the included stylus. Notebook users who can't live without a big display will appreciate this model's larger-than-average convertible screen, though its size makes using the device in tablet mode a little awkward. Facing forward, it's suitably roomy for conventional use with a keyboard; swiveled 180 degrees and locked against the keyboard, it becomes a generously proportioned tablet capable of displaying either in portrait or landscape mode. The black and silver C300 measures 1.6 inches tall and, including a DVD-ROM and CD-RW combination drive in its modular bay (but not the AC adapter), weighs 6.1 pounds.
Equipped with Intel's 1.5-GHz/400-MHz Pentium M processor and the Windows XP Tablet Edition operating system, the C300 earned a PC WorldBench 4 score of 115, only slightly slower than laptops based on the 1.6-GHz/600-MHz Pentium M. Battery life was 5 hours, 9 minutes, one of the longest times we've seen.
The C300 also has plentiful connection options, including two USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire port, and an S-Video-out port. The monitor, network, modem port, replicator, and expansion connections all sport protective rubber covers. Acer even adds a four-in-one multimedia reader PC Card that takes Memory Stick, MultiMediaCard, SD (Secure Digital), and SmartMedia cards. However, the notebook has no parallel port for connecting older printers (the optional $129 EasyPort port replicator has one, though).
The keyboard sports the trademark Acer 5-degree ergonomic curve, a design that the company claims can help prevent typing-related injuries in the long run. Five reprogrammable buttons launch your favorite files and applications. The touchpad comes with a four-way scrolling button. A sensor built into the screen bezel automatically adjusts screen brightness depending on the ambient light; at its default setting in our unit, it brightened the screen in a well-lit room, and lowered the light level when we took the notebook into a dark room.
You can easily swivel and lock down the screen to turn the C300 into a tablet device. The shortcut buttons in the screen bezel--to page up and down, change orientation, and launch the Task Manager--are oriented for landscape use, but aren't difficult to use in portrait mode. In addition, an on-screen soft button offers centralized access to wireless and modem connections, volume control, and screen settings.
The C300 is upgradable in a number of ways: Both memory slots are user-accessible, though one is located beneath the keyboard and requires removing a total of eight screws. (The other resides in a more conventional, and convenient, compartment on the bottom of the notebook, behind a panel and one screw.) The hard drive is also removable from its nearby compartment, the cover of which is held in by two small screws.
Now for the brickbats. To get our unit's combination drive out of the bay (located on the left side of the notebook, or at the top of the tablet in portrait mode), we had to yank it. That problem could prove a hassle for users who want to swap drives frequently or add the optional $199 hot-swappable secondary battery. The main battery, located on the bottom, was also difficult for us to remove, but this chore doesn't come around often. The least-impressive feature is the audio: The built-in front-mounted stereo speakers produce dull, flat sound, and in tablet mode the only way to control volume is through software.
If you think you might like to scribble on the go, you may favor the $1899 Acer TravelMate C300. At 6.1 pounds it's heavier than a slate-style Tablet PC, but it does have a large screen.