High-Tech Note Taking
Tablet PCs raise doodling to a new level.
At the Fall 2000 Comdex show
in Las Vegas, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates unveiled prototypes of a
new portable personal computer called the tablet PC. Two years later,
seven computer manufacturers launched their versions of the product.
While some computer junkies raced to buy this latest innovation, many
consumers hesitated due to concerns about high prices and uncertain
technologies. Even now, some commercial real estate professionals don't
know what a tablet PC is.
about to change, as the latest generation of tablet PCs offers more
power, speed, memory, and capabilities than its predecessors. Combining
a desktop's computing power with a personal digital assistant's
convenience, tablet PCs may be the answer for commercial real estate
professionals who are fed up with manipulating their bulky laptops.
A Legal Pad That Thinks
To picture a tablet PC, imagine a cross between a spiral notebook and a
laptop computer. Because tablet PCs' screens support digital ink from
special pens or styluses that translate handwriting into text, you can
hold and write on the product like a notebook. "We are all accustomed
to the ergonomics of the legal pad. This is the legal pad on steroids,"
says Gary D. Gregory, CCIM, a broker with Price Edwards & Co. in
According to commercial
real estate professionals who use tablet PCs, the products' size,
capabilities, and accessibility are significant selling points.
Compaq Tablet PC TC1000's "small size makes it easy to carry around,"
says Hunter B. Garrett, CCIM, SIOR, a broker with NAI Earle Furman in
Greenville, S.C. "PDAs are limited in what they can do, whereas the
tablet PC has full computer capabilities."
walking properties or during spontaneous standing meetings, "use of a
conventional laptop keyboard is not always convenient," says Michael
Anderson, CCIM, a broker at RealSource Brokerage Services in Sandy,
Utah, who recently purchased an HP tablet PC. Also, "I found unfolding
a laptop during airline flights to be very cumbersome, especially when
the seat in front is reclined," he says.
also decry laptop use during meetings because it creates visual
barriers between participants and clicking keys are distracting. Yet
like paper notebooks, tablet PCs lay flat on tables or laps, and the
handwriting function allows silent note taking.
fact, tablet PCs' note-taking ability may be their greatest feature. "Before the tablet, I would take notes on sheets of paper," says
Jonathan A. Hunt, a broker with NAI Sacramento in West Sacramento,
Calif., who purchased a Toshiba Portégé 3505. "Eventually these papers
would get filed somewhere and would be too difficult to efficiently
refer to. Now all of my notes are logically organized and searchable."
note-taking function also assists commercial real estate professionals
in the field. Michael E. Gorman, CCIM, general manager of Edward Rose
Cos. in Indianapolis purchased a tablet PC to help his company's
research analysts survey multifamily community residents. "The ability
to write directly on the screen allows for quick and easy data
collection while still being able to actively participate in one-on-one
conversations," says Jordanna Middleton, one of the company's research
Many new tablet PCs come with
built-in 802.11b wireless modems, which allow road warriors easy access
to the Internet and their companies' databases. "I have access at all
times to my e-mail, faxes, forms, data, and contacts," Gregory says. "This availability has allowed me to give prospective buyers virtual
tours of properties and run analyses over dinner -- I also use the
tablet PC during showings by displaying a one-page setup sheet. If [a
client] wants a copy delivered to his office, I e-mail or fax it to him
during the showing." Gregory was an early convert: He purchased a
Compaq tablet PC in late 2002 "after realizing that access by laptop or
PDA was more cumbersome," he says.
Tablet PCs come in two forms: slate and convertible. Slates are just
digital screens; to type information, you must connect an external
keyboard. Convertibles mimic notebook computers, except their screens
swivel over the keyboards to transform into slates. Users can attach
both forms to desktop computers, printers, and other peripherals via a
docking station and USB ports.
tablet PCs utilize the Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition operating
system, which is an extension of Windows XP Professional. The Tablet PC
Edition includes additional software for handwriting recognition and
conversion to typed text, speech recognition, digital pen input, and
document annotation. It also offers screen rotation capabilities, so
you can switch between portrait orientation to take notes and landscape
orientation to view spreadsheets and other documents.
PCs running this operating system are compatible with Windows XP
applications such as Office 2003; however, to utilize the digital ink
with these software products, you must download a free add-on from the
Microsoft Web site (see sidebar, "Tablet PC Applications and Add-ons").
The operating system's 2004 version should be available by midyear as a
free upgrade for existing users.
July Lycoris unveiled a Linux-based tablet PC operating system called
Desktop/LX Tablet Edition. Currently, only Element Computer produces a
tablet PC running this operating system; however, at $999, its Helium
2100 is significantly cheaper than models running the Windows operating
Tablet PCs are expensive, but
converts believe they are well worth the cost. Most of the newest
models are very similar regarding memory, computing power, screen size,
and weight, but other features come into play when researching your
Before purchasing, first decide
whether you want to buy a slate or convertible. Since slates do not
have integrated keyboards, consider whether you need typing abilities
while on the road. Convertibles offer more flexibility regarding text
input, but typically they are slightly heavier than slates.
factor to consider is screen glare. Tablet PCs can be difficult to use
outdoors in direct sun because the light washes out the display. To
combat this problem, some new models offer reflective screens. For
example, on its M1300 Power model, which starts at $1,899, Motion
Computing offers a View Anywhere display that promises glare reduction
and brightness improvement. Fujitsu's Stylistic 3500 and ST4000 series
offer reflective screen options; prices start around $2,299. Several
other models feature integrated light sensors that automatically adjust
screen brightness, although this option may not work as well as the
Another major factor
to consider is price, because what you see is not what you get. A
tablet PC's list price most likely is a basic model, and many do not
come with CD-ROM drives, integrated wireless cards, extra batteries,
and carrying cases. For instance, Toshiba's Portégé M200 starts at
$2,399, but the price quickly jumps to $3,144 after adding an external
CD-ROM drive, docking station, AC adapter, extra battery, and portfolio
case. Many manufacturers offer bundles, or specially priced packages
containing various accessories, which may or may not represent a cost
savings depending on what accessories you actually need.
adds to the cost. The XP Tablet PC Edition operating system is
preloaded on Windows-based models, but few other software products come
standard. Read the fine print: Many units offer free trial versions of
popular software that expire in 30 days.
Future or Fad?
Are tablet PCs the next wave of personal computers or will they fade
into oblivion? Unfortunately, it's too soon to tell. Many commercial
real estate professionals continue to research their options, while
some already have decided to pass for now. "It seems so intriguing, but
the sales have been slow to take off and the reviews have been less
than great," says Len Magnani, CCIM, managing principal of Lee &
Associates East Bay in Pleasanton, Calif. "I have been an early adopter
before, but I am not convinced of the tablet PCs' long-term prospects
at this point."
However, most tablet PC
users think that it is a spectacular technological tool. Garrett sums
up his experience succinctly: "The tablet PC provides me great
versatility, mobility, and efficiency." If you are considering
purchasing a new laptop computer, check out tablet PCs. Their
convenience may make you a convert as well.
included in Technology Bueyrs Guide articles are for informational
purposes only. Inclusion of a product does not constitute review or
|Comparing the Latest Tablet PCs
Acer TravelMate C300
integrated light sensor adjusts screen brightness; four-in-one card reader; two USB ports
up to 9 hours/
integrated 802.11b wireless connectivity; integrated fingerprint sensor security; two USB ports
Fujitsu Stylistic ST5010
up to 5 hours/
bundled with Microsoft Office OneNote 2003; integrated 802.11b wireless connectivity; two USB ports
HP Compaq Tablet PC TC1100
160-degree viewing angle; two USB ports
Toshiba Portégé M200
bundled with Microsoft Office OneNote 2003; three USB ports
ViewSonic Tablet PC V1250
integrated light sensor adjusts screen brightness; integrated 802.11b wireless connectivity; two USB ports