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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.

Poor image clarity aside, the TC1100 foisted an even worse indignity upon users: a resistive touchscreen.

The HP tablet doesn't respond to any of the swipes, finger jabs, or touch gestures that bring life to modern capacitive touchscreens. In 2004, the best the PC industry could muster was stylus-driven touch that depended on direct pressure applied to the screen. The first iPhone gave us capacitive touch as a standard in 2007, and modern mobile interfaces exploded from there. We began finger-gesturing through apps instead of mousing through applications, and an entire new computing experience was born.

Choose your text-entry poison

When the TC1100 is docked in its keyboard accessory, it's all but indistinguishable from any other laptop circa 2004. The Pentium M is paired with a paltry 512MB of RAM and a 40GB mechanical hard drive. Running the stylus-oriented tablet edition of Windows XP, that aging boot drive yields start-up times exceeding 15 seconds — an anachronism in today's era of solid-state storage and instant-on tablets. In fact, even the Surface Pro 3 boots from completely off to its Windows 8 password screen in about four seconds.

But the biggest problem with the TC1100 emerges when you ditch the keyboard attachment, and use the machine like a straight-up tablet. There's just no easy, convenient way to get text into the machine. And, remember, this device doesn't run mobile apps a la iOS, Android, or Microsoft own "modern" apps. It runs traditional Windows desktop applications, many of which are geared toward long-form text entry.

Your first text-entry option involves using the TC1100's stylus to tap-type on Microsoft's awkward virtual keyboard (see the video at the top of this article). It borrows the layout of a traditional notebook keyboard in all the worst ways, and for some inexplicable reason, Microsoft labeled each key with a tiny, faint, barely legible key character. Using a stylus to hunt-and-peck letters into a Word document is not a rewarding experience.

Character recognition... at its wonkiest

Your second option is to use the virtual keyboard's Character Pad tool. With this method, you deliberately draw out letter forms on a thin strip of virtual note paper, making sure each character stays within its own boundary box. The character recognition is much more miss than hit. My lowercase "s" too often gets recorded as a "5." My uppercase "C" is interpreted as an open parenthesis. And so on. Use the Character Pad, and you'll begin hating the English language itself.

The Writing Pad tool is your third option. With this method, you use digital ink to scratch out entire sentences in long form. Once you think you've got a cogent collection of words, you hit the Insert button, and Windows XP Tablet PC Edition will convert your penmanship into word-processed letters with varying degrees of success. Sometimes Microsoft's character recognition will amaze you. Other times, it performs just as badly as what you'd expect from 10-year-old technology.


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