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 Qbe Personal Computing Tablet: A Tablet for Walkabout Workers
By Raymond M. Padilla, Computer Shopper
May 23, 2000

Tablet computing isn't for everyone, But for professionals who need to carry a full-fledged computer on their daily rounds—doctors, repair technicians, and insurance-claim adjusters, for instance—it can be a pretty compelling option. It's the consumer who wants a 7.5-pound portable tablet with notebook PC components that Qbe Technologies targets with its Qbe Personal Computing Tablet.

Some may find the Qbe's price of $3,995 a bit much to swallow. But for professionals who need a powerful tablet computer that runs Windows 98, its convenience could outweigh the cost. By accommodating a variety of input means, the Qbe attempts to deliver keyboard- and mouse-free input methods, with varying degrees of success.

The Qbe (pronounced "cube") comes loaded with a 400MHz Mobile Celeron processor, 128MB of SDRAM, and a 12GB hard drive. The tablet's modular bay houses a 24x CD-ROM drive, which you can swap out for an optional DVD-ROM or CD-RW module. (Pricing for these add-ons was not set at press time.) The unit also includes an integrated Ethernet connection and 56Kbps modem, as well as two open Type II PC Card slots for options like wireless connectivity.

The Qbe's luminous 13.3-inch XGA display delivers good color quality and a roomy viewing area that makes it possible to review a great deal of data. But it lacks a cover, leaving the screen vulnerable to scratches and more serious damage, and its shiny glare makes it difficult to view at certain angles. You can rotate the display's view horizontally or vertically, but doing so could affect the unit's performance. (More on that in a moment.)

Roughly the size of a very thick legal pad at 1.5x10x14 inches (HWD), the Qbe can be carried under an arm. Its bulk could help you build up your biceps, although those who use it probably won't hold it for extended periods of time and therefore may not notice the heft.

Qbe gives you a choice of input options: a combination of a TouchPen and handwriting-recognition software; an onscreen keyboard; a headset and speech-recognition software; and the traditional keyboard and mouse. You can capture images for videoconferencing or stills with the built-in CCD camera at the top of the tablet.

While appealing in theory, these various input methods can be clunky in real-world use. The TouchPen option requires you to use a corded pen, rather than a cordless stylus. Right-click and scroll buttons on the face of the unit ease navigation when using the TouchPen, however.

Video-capture quality was decent, but getting the camera to pop out of its shell was difficult, and we got no help from the manual. The headset makes sense for this type of unit, but like all speech-recognition software, the included Lernout & Hauspie Mobile and Voice Express required a bit of training before reaching acceptable accuracy levels.

The keyboard and mouse attach to the unit through the ports on the device or the included Porticle docking station, which has a full array of ports (serial, parallel, PS/2, VGA, USB, FireWire, and game). The docking station doubles as a stand for the Qbe, enabling you to view the screen upright on a desk. The Qbe includes a SmartCard reader for security purposes, although our evaluation unit did not have the necessary software support. (Qbe says it will be available by the time you read this.)

In overall performance testing, the Qbe scored 18.2 on Business Winstone 99 in horizontal-view mode. In vertical-view mode, however, it scored 16.2, roughly 11 percent lower. We were unable to pin down the reason for the difference in the scores, but we believe that graphics performance is the culprit. Regardless, these ratings match up to those of similarly configured notebooks.

The Qbe stumbled in battery performance, lasting only 1 hour and 36 minutes on our BatteryMark 3.0 test. That's considerably lower when compared with today's portables, which achieve an average of 3 hours. The one-year parts-and-labor-warranty is also brief.

Though the Qbe Personal Computing Tablet has its shortcomings, it could be a worthwhile product for walkabout workers who need the performance of a full-fledged notebook and flexibility in input options. The average mobile user, however, can easily get a lot more value in a conventional notebook.

Product: Qbe Personal Computing Tablet
Rating:  25/6 Stars
Price: $3995.00 US
Pros: Numerous input options; robust components and features; visual appeal
Cons: Expensive; short battery life; unprotected LCD; brief warranty
Configuration Tested: 400MHz Celeron processor; 128MB SDRAM; 12GB hard drive; 13.3-inch XGA active-matrix LCD; 24x CD-ROM drive; Silicon Motion Lynx3DM graphics chip with 8MB VRAM; ESS Maestro 1980-M3 audio chip; Capacitive TouchPen Overlay pointing device; integrated digital camera; headset; keyboard; mouse; Windows 98

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