Many thanks to Buzz member violajack for this well written and exhaustive review of the HP tc1100!
Introduced in 2003 as the successor to the award winning design of the TC1000, the TC1100 is still a solid performer in a small and lightweight package. Yes, 7 years later, the TC1100 remains a great entry into the world of tablet computing.

My TC1100 quick specs:

  • Proc Intel Pentium M 733* (Ultra Low Voltage 1.1-GHz processor, 2-MB cache and 400-MHz Front Side Bus)
  • RAM 2GB (maxed)
  • HDD 32GB Transcend SSD
  • Original HDD 40GB Pata IDE 4200RPM
  • Graphics NVIDIA GeForce 4 Go 420 with 32MB (4X APG)
  • Screen 10.4-inch color TFT XGA with 1024 x 768 resolution (up to 16.7M colors internal)
  • Digitizer Wacom, battery free digital pen
  • Battery 40 Wh
  • Wifi 802.11 a/b/g bluetooth



Design:

The design of this machine is unique in a world of convertible tablets. It won awards when it came out and it's a wonder why the concept has not been replicated. UMPCs carried on the slate idea in relative obscurity. It's only in just the past few years of trade shows that slates are getting more attention. A few of them have even made it market, until the iPad came out and overshadowed them all. There are still more slates being shown off at the trade shows, but they are mostly Android based tablets trying to compete with the iPad. There is still a shortage of slate tablets running a full desktop OS.




The main guts of the machine all live behind the screen. The TC1100 can stand alone as a slate tablet, with no keyboard or pointing device aside from the pen. The front is clean and simple, with three soft buttons activated by the pen, and three LED indicators for AC adapter, charging, and wifi status. The tablet feels solid and sturdy in the hands, especially in a world of plasticy netbooks. The fact that all the physical buttons are along one edge helps keep the overall look of the tablet simple, which still providing many handy shortcuts to commonly used things, without the need to pull up the onscreen keyboard.



Access panels on the back also make RAM and HDD upgrades simple. The ports are all hidden behind a door on the side, keeping the edge clean and easy to hold.



My favorite little bonus feature in the design in is the two little fold out feet (I guess you could call them mini kickstands) on the top of the device in portrait mode, that provide a very comfortable angle for setting the machine on a desk or table for writing, as well as lifting it enough for some added ventilation.


Ports and Buttons:





The physical buttons all live along the top edge, in notebook mode. From left to right as you look at the screen (or right to left in this picture) is the power slider, screen selector, Q menu button, tab, esc, ctl/alt/del recessed in a pun-pushable hole, and the jog dial for scrolling.




Around the right edge are the jacks for headphone, line in, and microphone, as well as a small hole for the machine's built in mic.




The bottom has some lock slots, the connector for the keyboard attachment. The bottom left corner is the IR port, which makes more sense in portrait slate mode, where it becomes the top left.




Continuing around, bring us to the door that hides the VGA, 2 USB, Ethernet, and modem (oh yes, dial up) ports. There is a type 2 PCMCIA slot, which is useful for a variety of add on cards, as well as an SD card slot that sadly is limited to 1GB or smaller cards. The pen lives in a click in garage on the top left corner.

Screen and digitizer:

The 10.4" screen at 1024x768 is a good balance between size and readability. Packing more pixels than most net books, the 4:3 screen may seem old school, but most e-readers, and even the iPad, still pack 4:3 screens. It makes more sense in portrait mode, where 16:9 wide screens start to feel narrow and comically tall. The veiwing angles on this screen are impressive. It's hard to find an angle at which the screen doesn't look its best, which is important when the tablet is flat on a table for writing. The main drawback of this screen is that is predates the proliferation of LED backlighting, so it's not quite as bright as a modern screen, and the digitizer does make it look a bit grainy. Glare is not a problem unless under really bright indoor lights. Outdoor viewing is less good, as not even the highest backlit setting can compete with sunlight.

For someone who has come to the world of tablets though UMPCs (like the viliv S5) and convertible netbooks (like the Asus T91), the active wacom digitizer is a dream. I had forgotten how awkward avoiding palm writing can be until I got a stylus and Penultimate for my iPad. Palm rejection there is pretty good according to reviews, but it requires the right timing, and doesn't always work. Being able to just lay my hand on the screen and write is truly liberating. Writing is smooth and accurate, and with pressure sensitivity, very natural looking. The pen is big and comfortable to hold like a regular pen, unlike the tinny plastic styli that come with resistive touch screens, and the right click button is very handy. Another huge benefit to the active digitizer, is hovering. The screen knows where the pen is even when it's not in contact, up to about half an inch. This makes roll-overs possible for navigating menus and other things that require roll-over without clicking.

Heat and Fan Noise:

This is not the coolest running machine in the world, but it does not get hot to the point of being uncomfortable to hold. When plugged in and playing back video or older games, it can get rather warm and loud, but with Windows 7 set to step down the processor before turning up the fan, it can stay cool and silent during note taking and light web browsing.

Sound and Speakers:

The speakers are loud compared to most netbooks. It’s nice to be able to watch a video and be able to leave the speakers set only halfway up.

Keyboard and pointer nubbin:




The 95% keys feel comfortable spaced for a less than full size keyboard. The keys have good travel, and a nice firm feel. I find it very comfortable to type on. There have been some complaints that with the keys at the front edge of the keyboard, there is no wrist rest. I don't find this to be a problem personally, as it's thin enough that the desk provides enough of a wrist rest for me.

The keyboard also has a trackpoint style pointer in the middle and two mouse buttons under the space bar. It took some getting used to, but I find to be responsive and accurate. The main thing I miss from more modern touchpads is the scroll zone. The Vaio P had a handy button that put its nubbin in scrolling mode. There is a jog dial which is great for scrolling in slate mode, but I don't want to have to reach to the top of the machine to scroll when it's in notebook mode. While the arrows keys work sometimes, it's not as convinient as the scroll zone of a touch pad, or just the extra button press on the Vaio P.






The detachable keyboard adds just a pound to the tablet, bringing it up to 4. It also adds just a bit of thickness to the back when folded under. The unique swiveling hinge allows the keyboard to be folded flat to the back of the tablet when not in use, and swings the tablet into the middle of the base so it doesn't tip over when it's in notebook mode.




Dock:



The dock can hold the tablet with or without the keyboard attached, and allows it to be rotated between landscape and portrait.



The dock in landscape.



Docked in portrait. Being able to work with the tablet in portrait mode is very useful for working with long documents, or in my case, sheet music. The 4:3 screen accommodates a full page of sheet music quite nicely in portrait mode.



It also adds three USB ports, VGA, Ethernet, and headphone/ line in jacks.



The dock also houses a multibay with a CD/DVD drive option.


Software and OS Options:

The TC1100 originally shipped with Windows XP Tablet edition. This adds the TIP panel, Windows Journal, and a few other pen related things to Windows XP. HP also included a trial of the Franklin Covey tablet planner software, which is interesting, if way out of date at this point. In fact, most everything that came preinstalled on the TC1100 is rather out of date. Letting a fresh recovery image work its way up to SP3 and chug through updates can take all day.

Windows 7 runs quite nicely on this hardware. A RAM upgrade is helpful, and neither Windows Aero glass effects nor Windows Movie Maker will work on the 32MB video card, but the tablet tools (TIP, Journal, Pen Flicks) are built in to Home Premium and up. Handwriting recognition and pen navigation is much improved in Windows 7. This will add a bit to the cost of the machine, but given how inexpensively they can be picked up now, the upgrade to Windows 7 was definitely worth it for me.

For Windows 7 set up instructions see: http://mobilepcwiki.com/mpc/index.ph...allation_Notes

For something a little different, and more free (as in beer), Ubuntu 10.04 is also a good performer. It feels a bit snappier than Windows 7, but has some issues coming out of standby. Battery life will also take a bit of a hit vs Windows 7. There are some comparable tablet utilities like cellwriter for a virtual keyboard and handwriting recognition text entry and easystroke for pen gestures. Xournal is comparable to Windows Journal and does an excellent job of annotating PDFs.

For Ubuntu install and set up instructions see: http://www.unifyingtheory.net/ubuntu10.04tc1100.html


Performance and Benchmarks:

The Intel Pentium M 733 is comparable in feel to most netbooks I've tried. I was initially skeptical of how well a 7 year old machine could perform with modern software, but it's kept up with my expectations. You're not going to tear through Photoshop or the latest games on it, but web browsing, email, and office apps run well. Video play back is also right in line with the current generation of netbooks. Youtube, hulu, and netflix will play back relatively smoothly at standard sizes, but HD is a slideshow.

GeekBench scores (average of 3 runs)

Ubuntu 10.04 - 935
Win 7 - 784
Win XP - 776

For comparison:

Asus T101 (10” convertible netbook running an Atom N450) - 997

Atom N270 - mid 8's to low 9's
Atom N450 - high 8's to 1159
Atom z530 - upper 7's to mid 9's

Comparisons and Conclusions:


Versus convertible netbooks

Similarities
• Size/weight

Pros
• Wacom active digitizer
• 1024x768 vs 1024x600

Cons
• Battery life
• Graphics

Versus Modern tablets

Similarities
• Wacom digitizer

Pros
• Portability, both weight and size

Cons
• Slower perfomance
• Smaller screen


The TC1100 is lightweight and compact. Performance is comparable to modern netbooks with the advantage of having the active Wacom digitizer. If you need a high performance computer, this is not it. If you need all day battery life, this is not it. But if you want an inexpensive entry into the world of active pen tablets in a netbook sized package, this is a great option.