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Acer taps into toughened tablets

Can top-flight specs and large screen tempt punters?

Computer manufacturer Acer today announced it is to have a second stab at the tablet PC market with the launch of a high-end desktop model.

Acer already has tablet PC machines on the market. However, the TravelMate C100 and C110 are ultra portable devices with correspondingly cutdown computing power. The model unveiled today, the TravelMate 250PCxi, is subject to no such compromises.

The 250PCXi will be equipped with an Intel Pentium 4 processor and a 40GB hard drive and, as with other tablet PCs, will have a digitised screen so users can enter text using a stylus input device. Unlike other tablet PCs, Acer's new offering does not have a touch-sensitive display, relying instead on a digitised overlay on the standard XGA notebook display.

Acer's move seems strange given that devices based around Microsoft's Tablet PC operating system have sold very poorly since its launch at the end of last year. But Acer claims its TravelMate tablet device with swivel screen has been relatively successful in what is still a niche market.

Acer UK's notebook business manager David White believes poor value and relatively low specifications have so far put consumers off buying tablet PC devices. White is confident that there is a "pent up" demand for tablet PCs and that models with larger screens and full desktop replacement specifications will be taken up by business users and the education sector.

White explains that the "ruggedised" device — tested like all Acer laptops for durability and the capacity to function after being dropped, its screen scratched and hot drinks poured over it — will be especially suitable for a school environment where the ability for pupils to draw onscreen, rather than having to input text via a keyboard, will attract parents and teachers.

Acer is banking on being able to mop up a hefty tranche of the government-funded Laptops for Schools budget. The company's research discovered many teachers are keen on the tablet PC form factor but have thus far been unable to specify one under the educational scheme, which requires listed devices to have a minimum screen size of 14in.

The 250PXCi is based on a standard Acer TravelMate 250 notebook and will have 512MB RAM, a 14.1in display, CD-RW/DVD drive, built-in 802.11b wireless functionality as well as wired LAN connections, four USB 2.0 ports and two CompactFlash Type II expansion slots. The 2.6GHz machine will cost £1,173 including VAT and will be available in the coming weeks.

It's likely that a lower-cost Celeron-based version will also be launched in due course.


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