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Working with a tablet PC requires some operational adjustments. With the stylus—officially, an electromagnetic resonance (EMR) pen—you have to watch what's happening on the screen, not where you've put the point of the stylus. The stylus has to be lower than you think it should be for the cursor to hit the right spot. Things also sometimes happen before you touch the screen, through the magic of magnetism. In fact, using a Tablet PC is kind of like simultaneously patting your head and rubbing your tummy at first, but you do get used to it, with practice.

There's also the issue of clicking and right-clicking the mouse. Touchpad users will have no trouble with a tap as a click, but to right-click with the stylus, you hold the stylus on the screen for a moment until a little mouse icon with its right button highlighted appears; then you select from the menu that pops up. Some styluses offer a right-click button as well.

A few applications—notably, Microsoft Office XP with add-on pack and Office 2003, plus Alias|Wavefront SketchBook (see Figures 5–6) and Corel Grafigo—directly support pen input; for others, you use Write Anywhere or the input panel, or give up and flip back to laptop mode and type. That's one weakness to this form factor—it really needs a couple of killer pen apps.

Figure 5Figure 5 Alias SketchBook is fully pen-enabled.

Figure 6Figure 6 SketchBook + pen = ...well, I never claimed to be an artist.

And while running around with your faithful electronic scribble pad on your arm is appealing in theory, just try carrying 3–4 pounds of clipboard for a day and see how your muscles ache!

Another flaw is being addressed by Intel now—many of the tablet PCs are using the Intel Centrino chipset, whose wireless doesn't yet support Cisco LEAP authentication. For corporations whose wireless infrastructure is secured using LEAP, the tablet is useless without an external wireless network card.

But to me, the biggest issue with the tablet PC is battery life. With the exception of Electrovaya, whose primary business is batteries, no one's tablet PC can run for a whole workday without needing to juice up at least once. With wireless enabled, one unit I tried conked out after a mere hour and a half—not even enough time to finish a meeting.

So hang onto your faithful Bic—the pen may or may not be mightier than the keyboard, but real ink still tops digital in pure staying power.

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