The Tablet PC has never caught the imagination in quite the same way that Microsoft or many of the hardware vendors who signed up to be partners had envisioned. True, it has found niche markets in both business and education but for the most part, people remain unimpressed with what it has to offer.
Part of the blame for Tablet PC's failure is down to the average list price of the devices themselves. Not only are vendors asking to buyers to gamble on the usability of the device but they are also quoting a price premium.
Not so with the Averatec C3500, a fully functioning tablet that manages to come in at an affordable price of £695 (inc. VAT). Averatec is a new start-up company in this country that has been in operation in the States for over twelve months. The company is funded by TriGem, a Far-East manufacturer, so the company's pedigree is assured.
The C3500 is a clamshell design, which takes the standard notebook format but adds a digitised screen, which can be twisted and folded back to use the screen in the same way you would a notepad and pen. Being a digitised screen, simply resting on it won't activate the screen, you need to use the digital pen that is supplied.
To keep costs down, the screen measures 12.1-inches and isn't the best example we have seen. We found navigation to be slow, with the pen being slow to respond. We even needed to re-calibrate on a semi-regular basis, in order to keep the pen and screen aligned.
A Tablet PC is primary a tool to be carried around like a notepad. To this end, it needs to be light enough to be carried around with you, all-day and everyday. To do this it needs two factors in its favour; weight and battery life. Weighing in at 2.5kg, the C3500 may well be light in comparison to a laptop but it's rather heavy and bulky for a tablet.
On the plus side, the inclusion of a DVD/CD-RW optical drive means that you can create media at the click of a button regardless of location.
When it comes to battery life, we found that the C3500 came up a little short. We managed to get less than two hours from a full charge. This may be satisfactory if you never have to leave the office but if that important meeting you're taking notes on happens to drag on, you could well find yourself in trouble.
In terms of base specification, Averatec has opted to use an AMD 1.67GHz Athlon XP-m 2200+ processor. Supported by 512MB DDR SDRAM and fitted with a 60GB hard drive, we found the day-to-day functionality of the unit to be acceptable.
As with the screen, the keyboard isn't the most robust we have seen but it works reasonably well. If you think of the C3500 primarily as a cheap notebook but with a rotating screen, you'll possible make the most of the device.
As a fully-fledged Tablet PC, the Averatec C3500 proves, to some degree, that you get what you pay for. The poor battery life and sluggish performance attest to that. However, as a budget priced laptop that can be used occasionally in slate mode, users may well forgive its flaws.