Burney’s Legal Tech Reviews – Burney’s Gadgets for Legal Pros: A Tablet PC for Lawyers in Motion

Brett Burney is the Legal Technology Support Coordinator at Thompson Hine in Cleveland, Ohio. He regularly reviews products for Law.com’s Automated Lawyer and Law Office Computing Magazine. Feel free to e-mail Brett with your legal technology questions .

Several advancements and improvements have been made in the world of Tablet PCs since I penned my overview of them in the February/March 2003 issue of Law Office Computing (“Take Note: The evolution of Tablet PCs is opening up whole new world for mobile attorneys).

Excitement was high in late 2002 when the Tablet PC was first introduced, but since then, some of the wind has been knocked out their digital sails. Earlier this year, some pundits were questioning the evolution of the Tablet PC as a viable platform and speculation was rampant that Microsoft was considering canning the project altogether.

Several manufacturers, however, have taken it upon themselves to continue to innovate on the platform and are emerging with some exciting technology. While the Tablet PC has marginally established itself in professional fields such as health care and insurance, it’s barely been a blip in the legal technology arena (where, granted, new technologies take many years to “catch on”).

One of the more fruitful companies that have jumped on the Tablet PC bandwagon is Motion Computing, based in Austin, Texas. Several entrepreneurs from companies like Dell saw an interesting opportunity in the Tablet PC world and took it. The result is some of the more functional and competent Tablet PCs on the market today.

While some Tablet PC models from Toshiba and Acer are referred to as “convertible” models, Motion Computing only offers a “slate” Tablet PC model. The convertibles look just like a regular laptop PC, but their screen can swivel 180 degrees and fold back down on top of the keyboard. The slate models have no attached keyboard – they are carried around just like a legal pad and you can connect an external keyboard when necessary.

Tablet PCs use a “super-set” version of Windows XP called, appropriately enough, Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC edition. This operating system is basically Windows XP with some additional applications and utilities designed for the Tablet environment, such as built-in handwriting recognition and programs that can take data from a pen-input device.

I’ve used a Tablet PC periodically since they first arrived on the scene and I have always been impressed with the functionality they provide. I can take a Tablet into a meeting or conference and write my notes directly on to the screen. Before, I would usually transfer my handwritten notes into a Word document, so having my notes written directly into a file on the Table PC saves me a lot of time. The Tablets also come in very handy when I need something light and fully-functional when I travel or simply to go down to surf the Web at my local coffee shop.

The new M1400 Tablet PC from Motion Computing fits that bill for me perfectly. The latest model sports a Pentium M 1.1GHz processor designed to run as efficiently as possible. You can pump up the memory and hard drive space as needed, and the M1400 comes complete with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functionality.
I had used an earlier model of a Motion Computing Tablet PC and I was very impressed with the improved speed and performance of the M1400 model. The menus popped up quickly and applications launched immediately. The screen on the M1400 also rotated quicker than what I remember the previous model doing.

One of the neatest tricks with a Tablet PC is that you can switch the orientation of the screen from landscape to portrait at the click of a button. I love this feature and was very happy to see that the response time was improved.

I have always appreciated the screen size of the Motion Tablets – all of them measure in at a big, beautiful 12.1 inches. Many other Tablet PCs reduce their screen size to 10 inches to conserve battery power, but Motion Computing makes the larger screen size work wonderfully without sacrificing anything on performance. And the M1400 even comes complete with a special display option that gives you a great view of the screen from any angle.

The Motion M1400 comes with fingerprint reader tabbed right on the side of the unit. You can use the included software to program your fingers as your password for logging on to the computer, or even for certain Web pages. This is a great help when it may be too tedious to try and “write” out a password with the pen/stylus.

As I stated earlier, the M1400 Motion Tablet is a slate model, so make sure you purchase a bundle that includes an external keyboard for your unit. I was excited to test out Motion’s new “hardtop” keyboard. This is a basically a “lid” or cover for the Motion Tablet, but it doubles as an external keyboard. While this is an incredibly cool idea, I didn’t find that the keyboard worked all that great and I much preferred the mobile keyboard that connects to the Tablet PC via a USB cable. The mobile keyboard can actually be combined with a full-fledged docking station for the Motion Tablet so that you can use it as a regular computer while you’re sitting at your desk. When you’re ready to go to another meeting, simply pick up the Tablet and go. When you get back to your office, just pop it back into the dock and work like a regular computer.

Granted, Tablet PCs are not for everyone, but if are flirting with the market to make the bold purchase, I would highly recommend looking at Motion Computing. There are many other players in the Tablet PC market today like Compaq and Toshiba, but in my opinion, Motion Computing manufactures a Tablet PC that truly stands out .

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