HP Compaq tc4400 review

24 Oct 2006

Price when reviewed 
920
5

It's extremely rare that a product spends its whole life on the A List, but that's exactly what the HP Compaq tc4200 managed to do. However, after spending an incredible 15 months as our top choice for a tablet PC, the time has finally come for a refresh, in the form of the tc4400. Needless to say, we were expecting great things.

The good news is that the tc4400 is everything the tc4200 was, but better. For a start, the tc4400 ditches the original Centrino components for some far superior Centrino Duo versions: the old 1.86GHz Pentium M 750, 400MHz RAM and 915GM chipset have become a 2GHz Core Duo T2500, 667MHz DDR2 RAM and the 945GM chipset. This gives a tremendous speed boost over the previous model, and you also get Intel's newer 802.11a/b/g wireless card. Not bad, considering the tc4400 costs only £13 more than the old model.

This power comes with no discernable downside either. Battery life is impressive at 4hrs 35mins under light use. An Extended Life Battery is also available (£85), which HP states will give you a maximum of 12hrs 30mins.

A great asset to stringing out battery life is the comprehensive control over the backlight behind the 12.1in TFT. This can be dimmed down so far that it almost turns off completely, with the only drawback being that - even when you power up to full brightness - it isn't quite as vivid as a normal notebook. It's still a good screen for working on, though. Viewing angles approach 180 degrees in all directions, so you can share a presentation with a room full of people if need be. There's a slight reflective shimmer to it, but it's fine for working in front of for prolonged periods. And while the 1,024 x 768 resolution sounds restrictive, we found it acceptable in use.

Data security is taken care of by the fingerprint reader in the bezel, bolstered by a TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip.

Swivelling the screen into tablet mode reveals the inevitable weak spot: the hinge. The swivel mechanism is strong enough, but the screen-tilting hinge feels weaker than we'd like. It's no worse than the hinge on the tc4200, though - no surprise given the all but identical chassis. Like the previous model, a magnetic screen tether locks the lid in place when in tablet mode, and it's helped by two plastic nubs that fit into recesses in the lid to hold it securely.

Once in tablet mode, you'll find everything tailored to your needs. Three stylus-operated buttons open the handwriting-recognition panel, switch orientation or open the Q Menu (which gives access to touch-friendly Control Panel-like options). Buttons like the power switch and Wi-Fi switch are placed around the sides where they can be pressed easily in either mode. And then there are extras like the jogwheel to scroll through documents and a Ctrl-Alt-Del button.

The design for tablet mode is so good, it's easy to forget that there's a perfectly good keyboard at hand. Like the tc4200 before it, the keys are fantastic to use: just firm enough, the right size and exuding quality. The keyboard's still spill-proof, and there's both trackpad and trackpoint, with a set of buttons to go with each of the input devices.

Considering it's a cheaper, faster version of a model that's staved off competition for 15 months, we have no qualms about recommending the tc4400 to just about anyone considering a tablet PC. It isn't absolutely perfect, but it's the closest we've seen yet, and there are no penalties for this extra speed and responsiveness. There are a few things to consider before placing an order, though.