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PenLab: ViewSonic V1250 Tablet PC

ViewSonic's convertible notebook is a pleasant surprise (February 2005 issue)

ViewSonic is one of our all-time favorite companies because they have the guts to try new stuff where others wait and see. As a result, the world's been treated to any number of ViewSonic webpads, "super-PDAs," smart and wireless displays, Pocket PCs, and Tablet PCs. ViewSonic was one of the very few who created hardware for Microsoft's "Mira" Smart Display project, just to be left stranded when Microsoft pulled the plug without even giving the platform a chance. You gotta admire that sort of forwardlooking, future-oriented approach to new technology. ViewSonic was also one of the first to have Tablet PC hardware. The ViewSonic V1100 was part of the original six Tablet PCs available at the platform's launch in November of 2001. Sporting a rounded shape and the small 10.4-inch display common to almost all Tablet PCs at the time, the V1100 wasn't the most elegant device, but its toughness and unintimidating, functional design made it a great tool for mobile workers in many industries. A couple of years later, at what was to be the last Comdex trade show ever, ViewSonic introduced the Tablet PC V1250, and it was immediately clear that this was an entirely different animal.

You see, like almost everyone else, ViewSonic realized that while some people want the light weight and small size of a pure slate, many others want something a bit more conventional without giving up the pen and slate functionality. That would be a notebook convertible that can be used both as a slate and as a standard notebook. And ViewSonic's response was the V1250 notebook convertible.

When you see a picture of the V1250 you'd think it was a fairly large and heavy device. Not so. The V1250 is amazingly light and compact. When I opened the box and lifted out the V1250, I first thought it was just a dock or a base. The 1250's footprint is 10.9 x 9 inches and the whole device is just an inch thick. The base, in particular, seems almost impossibly thin. We're talking PDA territory here. As a result, the 1250 feels a lot lighter than the four pounds it weighs. I should mention that the gross footprint is a bit larger due to two extensions that jut out in the front and in the back. In the back the extra real estate houses ports and part of the display swivel mechanism. In the front it's two small speakers and controls. Still, the overall feel is that of an exceedingly light and handy machine.

Like all current notebook convertibles, the V1250 uses a mechanism that lets the user swivel the display and then fold it down flat with the LCD side facing up. This works well and only has one drawback: in notebook mode, the display flexes when you tap it with the pen. This can make editing difficult. It's an inherent problem of this particular design, and no one has found a way to minimize the flexing. In slate mode, the ViewSonic's display is secured to the keyboard/system part of the computer via a snap lock that works on both sides. The two side extensions make it easy to hold the slate in your hands. Several buttons help navigation and control. Lined up along the LCD are four buttons: alt-ctl-del, screen rotation, wireless on/off, and a launcher button for the Journal utility. Next to those buttons are five enunciator lights, On the side extension are four more buttons. One brings up an edit menu, one launches Internet Explorer, one cycles through all open windows, and then there is an escape button. In the middle is a scroll wheel that comes in handy when browsing in portrait mode.

Technologywise, the V1250 initially represented the state of the art of late 2003, but has since been upgraded in several areas. It is powered by Intel's Centrino triumvirate, here consisting of a 1 GHz Pentium M processor (up to 1.44 GHz available, though I haven't seen those for sale yet), the Intel 855GM chipset, and the Intel PRO Wireless module that provides 802.11b/g WiFi. Standard memory is 256MB, but you can order configurations with up to 2GB. 30, 40, and 60 GB hard disks are available. The transmissive 12.1-inch display is sharp and bright. It has a wide horizontal viewing angle, but a narrow vertical one. The fabulous Hydis display with its near 180-degree viewing angle in every direction has definitely spoiled us. The digitizer is a standard Wacom, so it can be used with any Wacom pen. The pen that comes with the 1250 is black and specially designed for the ViewSonic and its garage on the left side of the device.

In terms of connectivity, the V1250 is well equipped. On the left side is a standard Firewire port and both a PC Card and a SD slot. The on/off switch is on the far left. Along the backside are two USB ports, audio in/out, video-out, RJ11 modem, RJ45 LAN, and the power connector. The right provides access to the internal hard disk. The bottom houses the rather undersized 28 watt-hour Li-Ion battery which is designed to be part of the housing, access to the memory expansion slot, and a docking connector.

A few words about design and housing: both the top and bottom seem to be magnesium, with the entire display assembly matte silver and the entire bottom matte black. The overall design is reminiscent of the no-nonsense Toshiba Portege 3500, but the ViewSonic is a bit sleeker and more elegant. Again, all aspects of this design minimize apparent size. No matter what angle you look at the V1250, it looks compact and slender. This optical illusion continues with the keyboard. It, too, looks small, but is, in fact, full-size. Unlike many competitors in the thin&light category, ViewSonic was smart enough to provide a 100%-scale QWERTY layout by making some of the less important punctuation keys narrower. The keyboard is also very well laid out and the keys provide just the right amount of tactile feedback. All keys are black with large white lettering, with the keys of the overlaid numeric keypad perhaps marked a bit too prominently which makes the keyboard look busier than it could be.

Unlike some recent arrivals on the Tablet PC convertibles scene, the V1250 doesn't have an internal optical drive, thus keeping the unit as slim and light as possible. ViewSonic, however, does offer plenty of useful peripherals, and some can be ordered as a bundle. Our review setup was the top-of-the-line and exceptionally complete Tablet PC bundle. The package includes the two pens, two batteries, an external Firewire DVD/CD-RW optical drive, all necessary cables, a protective black leather case, and even a dock with three USB ports, Firewire, audio in/out, VGA and Ethernet ports. Best of all, the dock even includes a charging bay for the second battery.

On the software side, the 1250 comes loaded with more personal productivity and other software than most of the competition. There's the Franklin Covey Tablet Planner, Zinio, Collego Personal Edition, numerous utilities, all in addition to the very complete Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Our bundle even came with Microsoft Office.

So far the news is all good (except for the lack of the wide-angle Hydis screen), but the price for all this is relatively high. The basic V1250 without all of the extras in our bundle lists for US$1,899. Add the dock and the optical drive and the price goes to US$2,399, and our de-luxe bundle with the two pens, two batteries, dock, optical drive, case and Office is US$2,799. A few years ago that would have been considered a bargain for what is an excellent and very well equipped machine. Today, prices have come down considerably, as evidenced by the US$1,345 Averatec C3500 with its blazing speed and internal optical drive. This doesn't mean the ViewSonic V1250 is too expensive, it just means that we'd probably pass on several of the options, especially the relatively redundant and ill-fitting dock, and would go for just the basic unit.

And that would still leave us with one of the best notebook convertible offerings out there. The ViewSonic Tablet PC V1250 is good, very good. Its sleekness and built quality surpass most of the competition. This is a machine that feels just right, one that you want to use and work on. The V1250 is also much quicker than I'd expect from a 1GHz machine running Windows XP, and yet it runs cooler than most other Tablet PCs. I really like this machine and give it a big thumbs-up. -

Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

Type Notebook convertible
Processor Intel pentium M 1GHz
OS Windows XP Professional Tablet PC Edition
Memory 512MB expandable to 2GB
Display 12.1" XGA (1024 x 768) TFT
Digitizer/Pens electromagnetic/1
Keyboard 85-key full-scale
Storage 30/40/60 GB hard disk
Size 10.9" x 9.3" x 1.0"
Weight 3.9 pounds incl. battery pack
Power 28 WHr Lithium-Ion
Communication 10/100base-T, 56K V.90 Modem, internal 802.11b/g wireless LAN radio
Interface 2 USB 2.0, audio/mic, RJ-11, RJ-45, VGA, IEEE1394, 1 PC Card Type II, SD Card
Price starting at US$1,899