2009 was supposed to be the year we see cheap Tablet PCs running with Netbook hardware, but Asus become the only one who actually 'shipped' a netbook Tablet PC. But then again shipped might be too strong a word since it was almost impossible to actually find one on the shelves here.
But now there's a Tablet PC netbook that is widely available. And it feels pretty good to use too.
This is the Lenovo S10-3T Convertible Tablet PC Netbook. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it means you can take the notebook from this position.
Give the screen a little twist...
And you end up with the screen looking at the other side.
At which point you can plop it down and you've got...
The iPad!!!!! Seriously people, this thing has the same screen dimensions and resolution as the upcoming Apple iPad but of course is an actual PC. While the thing isn't light weighing in at a bit more than 1 kilograms, it's a great example of things to come if this happens to be the year where touchable PCs drop to an affordable price point ala the original idea of the Widnows Tablet PC concept.
Oh for those of you who are familiar with Tablet PCs, let me answer a few questions that you might have. The screen hinge is TIGHT it basically snaps into position at the 0 and 180 degree points and once it locks, it's gonna STAY there! I wonder if this friction will be there throughout the thing's lifespan?
Also another interesting tidbit for the Tablet PC enthusiasts, so... which direction does the screen rotate? Clockwise or counter clockwise? The writing on the hinge gives the answer.
It can rotate 180 degrees in BOTH directions, it can't rotate 360 degrees which means you have to return it back to tablet mode with the same path you took getting there. This was unexpected on this sub RM2000 (~USD600) tablet pc.
Another thing that surprised me was how they designed the hinge and battery, normally tablet pc batteries are in front cause they need to make space for the hinge assembly, so imagine my surprise when the bottom of the S10-3T sans battery looked like this.
The hinge assembly is staring at me right in the face! That would mean that the battery would need to have a hole in the middle. And it does have a little valley in the middle of the battery that slides into and covers the hinge assembly.
Other interesting things of note is that this has the typical assortment of netbook ports, which means.
On the right from right to left, analog VGA, 2 USB ports, a hole for where the TV antennae would go in another model, and the bluetooth/wireless switch.
On the left from left to right, the power jack, network jack, air vent (yes, it get's pretty loud if you get the CPU worked up enough that the fan needs to engage at full strength) and the 2 audio jacks.
On the front you'll find a rubber cover blocking an SD card slot, which unfortunately is NOT ABLE to close when there's a card in the slot. On the other end of the front panel you'll find the builtin mic, now before you say "That feels like a bad place for a builtin mic!" IT IS! Either the placement is bad, or the mic just plain sucks but it's TERRIBLE as a Skype communicator, I think you'd have to speak directly into it for it to work properly. Pickup is pretty poor when you just try to talk while typing on the keyboard.
Speaking of the keyboard.
It's a very nice keyboard! Almost feels like they didn't need to compromise on the key size at all! But note that they DID compromise on the touch pad, it's one of those new fangled ones where the buttons are embedded in the lower left and right corners of the pad. Which means if you don't install the actual Synaptic touchpad drivers the touchpad will still register mouse movement when you move your finger in those areas when you try to click the mouse. NOT something you want to happen!
The lower left corner of the screen has a vertical strip of 3 shortcut buttons, from the bottom up they are the mute button (it's almost as if they know people have to need to quickly mute the volume of whatever they're watching!) The rotate display button (There's also an app which rotates the display based on the orientation of the device for you people who love auto orientation rotation, I HATE IT!) And... I have no idea what the 3rd button does... I think it should fire up the Lenovo launcher program but I couldn't reinstall that when I installed Windows 7 Ultimate on the thing. So the button does nothing right now.
The power button is on the lower right corner of the screen, along with a switch for you to lock the power button so you don't accidentally turn off the machine when holding the thing in tablet mode.
The camera is off center on the upper right corner of the screen, why do people feel that this is a good place to put it? Or is it there only because there's no where else for it to go?
And now let's talk about how well it works!
So, after all the show and tell pictures let's talk about how does it perform. Well, first of all the S10-3T runs the new Intel Atom N450 aka Pineview aka Cheaper, Faster processor than previous Atoms. It IS spiffer than any other N270 or N280 netbook I've seen. Most evident when running Plants vs Zombies, my benchmark for netbook performance. It can handle your Flash games a bit better than the old processors but don't expect any miracles on the video processing side.
Speaking of which, WITHOUT the GMA 500 graphics that was in previous Z series Atoms, kiss hardware H.264 decoding good bye! There's no way to watch 720P video on this thing.... unless you go get a proper software video decoder such as CoreCodec's CoreAVC with it, you CAN actually watch most 720P video... and not do anything else which you're doing so. Also... if you do watch such high bitrate videos, you'd be torturing the CPU a lot so expect the expected battery life to drop from 4 hours to... 2 hours?
The base configuration for the S10-3T that I've got came with 1GB of RAM, but the RAM slot (and hard disk it seems, yeah it's a normal spindle drive and not an SSD.) is easily accesible and can be swapped out for a 2GB, I just wonder why they went and stuck a warranty serial sticker over the RAM chip if they expected users to change it?
The 2 point multitouch capacitive touchscreen works as advertised, and with Windows 7's touch enhancements it's VERY possible to control and use your apps in Tablet form without too many problems. (I'm gonna be recording some video about the Windows 7 touch features soon to show this off) Oh.. there doesn't seem to be any palm rejection on the screen, I've just bought a stylus for use on capacitive screens, but I'm having an interesting experience with that and it's in need of another report.
But here comes the biggest problem!
While Windows 7 makes the system fully usable using only touch operations, the touch features are only available in HOME PREMIUM AND ABOVE. In order to keep the entry price level low, the S10-3T ships with Windows 7 Starter Edition. On ANY ORDINARY Netbook, that would be enough to use the system efficiently. But on a touch equipped system like the S10-3T you WANT Windows 7 Home Premium and above on it if you really want to take full advantage of your touch screen. (Lenovo did include apps that use the multitouch functionality even in Windows 7 Starter, but that's ONLY in specific applications, nothing beats having actual OS support for multitouch) So if you do pick up the Starter Edition unit (which seems to be the only one available here in Malaysia right now) Do pick up a copy of Windows 7 Home Premium so you can upgrade to it and make full use of your hardware.
So what's the verdict?
This is gonna be much easier to do than the Fujitsu UH900... If you're looking for a Tablet PC Netbook right NOW? This would make a good one, it has multi touch, relatively cheap, good performance, just do remember to iupgrade up Windows 7 Home Premium at least! If you're looking for a Pineview Netbook but are not particularly interested in touch features, plenty of other cheaper ones out there.
I'm still shocked at the quality of the device vs the price, I'm glad we've come to this point for the Tablet PCs, the point where a convertible Tablet PC is actually affordable and without a high premium compared to normal laptops. Hopefully this will spur the industry to make better computers to write on now!