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Ten years after: HP's primordial Windows XP tablet versus Surface Pro 3

Jon Phillips | June 17, 2014
The HP Compaq TC1100 is only 10 years old, but in mobile computing years, it's laughably archaic.

The HP Compaq TC1100 is only 10 years old, but in mobile computing years, it's laughably archaic.

Running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, this device practically dared its owners to enter text without assistance from a bundled snap-on keyboard. It was frustrating then, and it's a museum piece now. Yet the TC1100 was perhaps the best hardware expression of Microsoft's original tablet effort, and it still tells an instructive story about the origins of Surface Pro 3.

The TC1100's design DNA can be found throughout Microsoft's latest, greatest, 4-star tablet. Both machines were expressly designed as 2-in-1, laptop-tablet hybrids. Both come with styluses. And both feature fully functioning Windows desktops.

The TC1100 isn't easy to use by any means, but it shows Microsoft had the right idea. 

Hot to the touch, heavy in the hands

The TC1100 you see in this article had been sitting in my box of discarded tech toys since 2004. I first wrote about the tablet in May of that year, and generally liked HP's effort. But it didn't take long for the tablet's considerable avoirdupois to break my spirit. Even worse, I never warmed to Microsoft's primitive handwriting recognition.

I eventually lost the TC1100's bundled keyboard, which turns the device into a full-blown laptop. But when Surface Pro 3 came out, I was excited to discover that the HP tablet still booted, and more or less worked — the utter vulnerability of Windows XP notwithstanding.

In a side-by-side comparison with Microsoft's flagship tablet, the first thing you'll notice about the TC1100 is its weight. At 3.1 pounds, it weighs almost twice as much as the 1.76-pound Surface Pro 3. And let's not forget that the first-generation iPad, released in 2010, weighs only 1.5 pounds. HP's device is a brick compared to either machine, and its 1GHz Pentium M processor also runs quite hot. The end result is a tablet that scorches your lap, and begins to feel like a kettlebell if you hold it in your hands for too long.

No wonder these original Windows tablets didn't sell: People didn't want to use them. 

Blurry, blurry pixels

Tablets like the TC1100 — or even the original iPad — should make us eternally grateful for modern pixel pitches. The HP tablet features a 10.4-inch display saddled with a 1024x768 screen resolution that looks primordial by modern standards. The machine's pixel pitch is a blurry 123 pixels per inch, and, trust me, the fuzziness of these old displays is worse than you even remember.

At 12 diagonal inches, the Surface Pro 3 display isn't much larger in terms of pure dimensions. But Microsoft's latest hardware boasts a 2160x1440 resolution, delivering the stunning sharpness of 216 pixels per inch. 


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