Notebooks are getting progressively better, with the kind of graphics potency that enables them to play demanding games, backed up by clearer screens. They're getting as good as their desktop counterparts, and in many homes are becoming the primary PC.
So when HP releases a compact entertainment notebook with tablet features, it makes you wonder where it'll fit in. Is it designed for in the house or on the streets? And will you use the tablet feature?
The HP Pavilion tx1030ea is a notebook with a convertible screen, utilising integrated touchscreen technology. When the display is turned over it doubles up as a tablet PC, and includes a pen for writing or drawing directly onto the screen.
Starting at £799, the tx1030 comes in three different flavours and there's not a huge difference between them. The one we tested was the mid-range, boasting 2GB of memory, a 120GB hard drive and a dual core AMD Turion 64 X2 Mobile Technology TL-52 running at 1.6GHz. It's fast but it's nothing special given the price, so it'll need tricks up its sleeve to impress us.
At 12.1in, the tx1030's diminutive screen keeps the overall size down, and at 1.92Kg, it weighs next to nothing. On paper, the widescreen 1280x800 WXGA boasts decent quality that doesn't quite translate into reality.
Immediately noticeable is Windows Vista (Home Premium), which doesn't look at all like its usual vibrant self here. The colour palette is noticeably washed out and there's some graininess. It's not a bad screen, but tablet digitizers have a habit of blocking clarity where it's needed.
Designed to please
The tx1030's graphics come courtesy of an integrated GeForce Go 6150 card with 128MB of shared memory, and it'll happily run less power-hungry games such as Half-Life 2. High definition video runs fine too.
Unlike some other notebooks, the tx1030 puts out a decent level of volume through Altec Lansing speakers built-in to the screen.
Visually, the tx1030 is something to admire. The piano-black surface covering the back of the screen looks classy, while the silver interior with its unique touchpad and vertical scrolling pad grille has a certain charm. With its lithe proportions, it's easy to carry.
There are some great additional features, such as the remote control to control your movies or music that conveniently slots into the chassis. There's also a built in microphone, which is handy for speech recognition, and you even get a fingerprint reader for logging onto accounts without typing a password.
On the basis of all this, you could use the tx1030 as a notebook and nothing more and be perfectly happy. But it's the tablet function of this convertible PC that makes it come into a world of its own.
The tx1030's display can be turned around and folded down, which turns it into a tablet and enables you to write directly onto the screen. A button-press on the side of the screen changes the view from landscape to portrait mode.
The pen and ink facility in Vista converts written words to text. It has the ability to learn your style of writing, so if you're messy when it comes to joined-up scrawl you can teach Vista to recognise troublesome words.
At first, scribbling on the screen can be awkward, but with practice it becomes easy. The touchscreen (which offers less accurate resolution than a standard tablet) can be inaccurate at times.
This isn't so much an issue with writing or drawing but it makes browsing tricky, more so if you're trying to quickly close a document and can't hit the close button straight away. Getting pages to scroll up or down with the pen's 'flick' feature isn't much fun either and usually results in the pen flying off the screen.
The tablet facility is great, if slightly imperfect. In this price category, most home buyers will opt for a conventional notebook design with more hardware under the hood. Professional users might like the option of tablet functionality for less cash. With its ultra-portable design, healthy power output and range of features, this is worth a look.