Electrovaya SC3000 Tablet PC Review

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Electrovaya SC3000 Tablet PC Review

By: Perry Longinotti


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What is an Electrovaya Scribbler SC3000 Premium?

The Electrovaya Scribbler SC3000 Premium is a true “writing slate” style computer which runs on Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005. Based on Windows XP Professional, but with significant usability enhancements such as pen and speech input, this operating system has been billed for at least a few years as a glimpse at the future of personal computing.

According to a recent news story posted on this site, Tablet PC use in Canada has grown twenty percent. Maybe it is something in the water up here, but I have to admit to liking these things myself. I have reviewed a couple of tablets in the past and using each was a delightful experience. I won’t go into the why’s and why not’s of the platform too much in this article. Suffice it to say if you have not played around with a Tablet PC you really owe it to yourself to test one out.

Recently we worked with Electrovaya’s top of the line Scribbler SC3000 Tablet PC for a few weeks. Electrovaya is a company that has really staked a claim in the emerging Tablet PC market. They know the platform well, so when the FedEx man delivered our review unit I was anxious to get started. 


What is inside the box?

Quite a bit of stuff is in the box, actually. Our review unit consisted of the deluxe package, which comes with the Tablet, pen, ac adapter, removable keyboard/stand, wire stand, cleaning cloth and folio. This is more than I am used to unpacking from a notebook box. One obvious thing that is missing is an optical drive. If you have read my past reviews, you will know that I am a bit of a crusader against notebooks that omit optical drives in the standard package. 


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Base Model Specs (from Electrovaya’s website – our review unit differs slightly as described below)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scribbler SC3000 Specifications

 

 

Processor

Intel Centrino M–LV Processer

 

CPU Speed

1.5 GHz with 2MB L2 Cache

 

Chipset

Intel GMCH — M 915 GME chipset

 

Graphics Chip Internal

128 MB Intel GMCH-M915GMS Graphics Controller

 

System Storage

40 GB (upgradeable to 100 GB)

 

System Memory

256 MB (upgradeable to 1280 MB)

 

PC Card Controller

PCMCIA x 1

 

Audio

AC-97 Rev2.3 24 bit card complaint, integral Sisonic Silicon full duplex Mic x 2 (Mic Array)

 

Display

12.1″ XGA TFT 32-bit color Toshiba

 

Digitizer

WACOM PWB-A560-A

 

Fingerprint Sensor

AuthenTec AES3500 TruePrint Sensor

 

Networking

Built-in IEEE 1394, Intel 802.11a/b/g, 10/100/1000 Ethernet, 56K V.92 Modem

 

Power Management

Sleep and Hibernation

 

Power Mgmnt Modes

ACPI 2.0 Compatible

 

Light Sensor

Screen brightness automatically adjusts to surrounding light

 

LED Indicators

Power On/Off
HDD Activity
Battery Status
Wi-Fi Connectivity

 

 

 

 

External Connectors

AC/DC Power Jack
USB 2.0 x2
VGA Out
IEEE1394
Headphone Output x1
Microphone Input x1
Infrared SMC IrCC
RJ-45
RJ-11
PCMCIA slot
Keyboard/Mouse Base
Docking Station

 

 

 

 

MIC

Dual Array Microphone System

 

Speaker

Internal x2

 

Buttons

Power On/Off
Rotate Screen Layout
Windows Security/Task Manager
Windows Start Menu toggle
Windows Journal – Open New
On-screen Keyboard toggle
Escape (Esc)
Function for Tablet Buttons
Wireless
Direction Ball + Enter

 

 

 

 

Stylus

Wacom Digitizer enabled (battery NOT required)

 

 

 

 

Battery Pack

Hot Swappable SuperPolymer Lithium-ion 75 Whr

 

Battery Charging Time

5 hours 15 min (Computer off mode)

 

Dimension

Keyboard/Mouse detached: 11.96″ x 9.16″ x 0.75″
Keyboard/Mouse attached: 11.96″ x 9.17″ x 1.00″

 

 

 

 

Weight

Keyboard/Mouse detached: 3.5 lbs
Keyboard/Mouse attached: 4.5 lbs

 

 

 

 

Operating System

Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition

 

 

 

 

Software Bundle

 

 

Corel Grafigo (Full Version)
Farstone Virtual Drive Lite (Full Version)
Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.1 (Full Version)
Note Taking
Ink Annotation
MS Reader
Speech Recognition
On-screen Keyboard
Franklin Covey TabletPlanner (Trial Version)

Alias SketchBook Pro (Trial Version)

The $2,579.00 USD Scribbler sticks to the well-tested Centrino formula: Tightly integrated components from Intel that perform well together. It uses a 1.5 GHz Pentium M of the Dothan variety (2 MB of level 2 cache). There really isn’t anything left to say about the Pentium M – it is the best mobile CPU available right now due to its performance and miserly energy consumption. It seems as though the 1.5 GHz Pentium M is the most common speed grade, in fact it is a little too common, appearing in a lot of lower priced notebooks. It might be a little slow for a premium product like the Scribbler. 

Intel’s 915 GME chipset ties everything together. It supports the common DDR RAM standard. Our model was equipped with 768 Mb of standard DDR Ram. This consists of 512 MB in an upgrade slot and 256 Mb which is not user removable. The max memory supported is 1280 MB. DDR 2 ram is increasing quickly in popularity; in fact I have been surprised by how many notebooks now use this faster variant of RAM. 

Some of the Scribbler’s RAM (between 8 and 128 Mb) will be used up by the integrated graphics system, in this case an Intel 915 GMS Media Accelerator. For driving the display, this video solution is adequate, but don’t expect to play games on the Scribbler. 

The video system drives a pretty good 12″ display. There is an outdoor viewable variant of this display available as a $289 build to order option. It sports a 1024*768 resolution which is the standard for this screen size. The viewable angle of the screen is quite good. The Scribbler literature claims that a light sensor is equipped that automatically adjust the screen’s brightness to match environmental conditions (i.e. dim or bright). I tested this out in a number of areas in my house (bright to pitch black) and the brightness never changed. Even flicking lights on/off in the room had no effect.

A big part of what makes Centrino a great platform are the networking capabilities. Electrovaya has wisely selected the Intel Pro 2915 802.11a/b/g adapter. This almost guarantees that the Scribbler can connect to any wireless network you encounter as the chip supports the three most popular standards (B, G and A). Gigabit Ethernet and a 56k Smartlink modem are also included for folks that like the retro-comfort of wired networks. Bluetooth is sadly absent, but IRDA is present.

Storage is handled by a 60 GB Samsung 5400 RPM HDD. Not quite as desirable as the Hitachi mobile drives, the Samsung drives are looking to be a good second choice and are starting to pop up more frequently in notebooks and as after-market upgrades. 


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Firewire, VGA, USB 2.0 (two ports, one for landscape orientation and one for portrait), audio in/out, FIR, Kensington Lock, PCMCIA, Ethernet and 56k Modem ports line the edges of the Scribbler.

The software bundle is OK. Included are full versions of Corel Grafigo (a nice outlining tool designed specifically for Tablet PCs – but available for free online), Farstone Virtual Drive Lite (never heard of it before this review, seems to be bundled with Soltek motherboards), and trial versions of Franklin Covey TabletPlanner and Alias SketchBook Pro. Electrovaya claims $300 of software is bundled with the Scribbler but I must be missing something, because the review unit came with a lot of freeware basically.

What it did not come with is virus protection, which is disappointing. My local OEM PC store sells Norton or McAffee for $15 CDN with a full year of updates. Someone buying this Tablet for $2,579 USD should not have to buy antivirus software separately. 

Usability

I tried to get the basic stuff out of the way first. Let’s face it, there are only so many ways to praise the Centrino platform and the accompanying I/O (at any spec or speed grade). I am starting to run out of ways to say, ‘it’s really good.’

Weight and battery life are going to be the primary concerns of a prospective Scribbler user. At 3.5 pounds the Scribbler is nice and light – quite portable. But factor in that there is no keyboard or optical drive (an external combo drive can be ordered for $250) when considering the weight. You may or may not need the keyboard and optical drive when toting the Scribbler about. 


The keyboard/mouse base. (click to enlarge)


The custom stand gives the SC3000 a lift. (click to enlarge)

From a usability perspective I have to comment on the lack of an optical drive. In order to make such a small device which such a big battery, something had to go. A dock with an optical drive would be nice. 

The Scribbler battery is featured prominently in all the marketing materials. Have a look at the picture, it is massive. Electrovaya uses a SuperPolymer Lithium-ion that is good for a 75 Whr rating in this case.


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I found that I could get battery life in the five hour range (sketching, writing and surfing pretty much non-stop). With some aggressive power settings you could stretch this out even further. Electrovaya claims up to nine hours and I have no reason to doubt that you could achieve that number with some extremely aggressive power settings. So, 5-9 hours is quite good for a relatively small single-battery device like the Scribbler.


Biometric Security to keep your data safe. (click to enlarge)

Having a biometric security system in place on a notebook as portable as the Scribbler is a good idea. Like other biometric systems, the Scribbler’s was easy to setup and worked reliably. Electrovaya uses Softex Omnipass software. Enrolling/registering a fingerprint takes a few moments. Start the wizard and simply follow the prompts. This is a mature technology and quite frankly we should see it standard on any notebook that aspires to be a premium product. 

Like the Toshiba M200 I tested a while back, the Scribbler claims to use an advanced microphone for the voice recognition capabilities of the Tablet platform. When trained, tablets are quite good at taking dictation. Several of the articles on this site were dictated to the M200 when I had it. If I remember correctly, the M200 used a three microphone array, the Scribbler has two. The Scribbler did not work as well as the M200. I attempted to train the Scribbler but it was more frustrating than my experience with the M200 and I eventually gave up.

Later on, I realized what the problem was. The Scribbler microphone array works best if used in portrait orientation and if the speech is directed in between the two microphones. This technique resulted in a much more positive experience, but it illustrates why the Toshiba approach is better. Having three microphones allows the speech function of the M200 to work in portrait or landscape mode equally well. 

I don’t think I heard the fan come on once, and while the Scribbler did get warm the heat never became bothersome. This is a nice change from the cacophony of my Apple PowerBook. I can’t say that I ever heard the HDD spin or read/write either.

Quality

Electrovaya’s Scribbler has a big edge in this category because it lacks a hinge, pivot or joint. The case is solid and made of a material that feels high quality. I usually look for notebooks made from metal, but it is getting increasingly more difficult to tell by touch what is metal or plastic. I liked how the Scribbler felt when I carried it around – not as slippery as most notebooks and it felt solid. It also looks very, very cool. It has a bright platinum color that is quite fetching. The fact that it is a slate-style computer really helps it stand out. These things are undeniably cool.
 
I did find that the Scribbler screen flexed a bit when using the stylus to write on the screen. I have seen this before on other tablets, but it was a little disconcerting. The stylus, appears to be the exact same model used on the Toshiba M200 Tablet (2nd generation with the beefier clip). It worked well and was comfortable to use. Electrovaya uses the Wacom digitizer technology. I like this best, particularly if you are going to be using this with Painter, Photoshop or Alias Sketch as you can download the deluxe Wacom pen driver. 

There is a difference in performance between a digitizer implemented at XGA resolution like this one and one that uses the 1400*1050 resolution. I was never able to get the hand writing recognition working reliably for me – and I have very neat writing (maybe that is the problem).

The included accessories were pretty good quality. The keyboard stand was well made and felt sturdy. I liked the feel of the keyboard keys. Having nothing below the keyboard except desktop gives it a solid feel. It has a nice removable touch pad that slides out from the keyboard. This was good because in the ‘easel’ mode I kept reaching for a touch pad. The Wire stand was nice. Very solid and it has rubber grommets to prevent it from scratching the surface where you place it or the Scribbler. The folio is pretty basic, and lacks a mechanism to attach it to the Scribbler (at least I could not find one). I think it would be pretty easy for the Scribbler to fall out of the folio if opened the wrong way. I would not use this myself.

Electrovaya backs the Scribbler with a 1 year warranty (6 months of the battery). This is short of some of Electovaya’s competitors that offer a 3 year warranty on their premium products, but it is inline with many other manufacturers.

Performance

How fast is it? Fast enough. Seriously, the Scribbler is not going to win many performance contests with its conservative specifications. But you have to ask yourself, how fast does your computer have to be, and what are you willing to sacrifice to get the fastest notebook? Battery life, good thermal performance and low noise are probably more important to the average tablet user than being able to crack a minute and a half in Super Pi or achieve a great FutureMark score. But, I know a lot of you want to see the scores, so here they are: 

We use the program Super Pi to get a benchmark of processor speed.  The Super Pi program simply forces the processor to calculate Pi to a selected number of digits of accuracy.  Calculating to 2 million digits is our benchmark. 

 Notebook Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits
Electrovaya Scribbler SC3000 Tablet PC 
(1.50 GHz Alviso Pentium M)
2m 16s
IMB ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC
(1.5 GHz Alviso Pentium M)
2m 03s
HP TC4200 Tablet PC 
(1.73 GHz Alviso Pentium M)
1m 51s
Toshiba R15 Tablet PC 
(1.6 GHz Dothan Pentium M)
2m 8s
 Futuremark PCMark04 Scores
  IBM X41 Pentium M
(LV 1.50 GHz)
Electrovaya Scribbler SC3000 Pentium M 
(1.50 GHz)
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Compression 2.66 MB/s 2.7MB/s
Multithreaded Test 1 / File Encryption 21.88 MB/s 22.24 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / File Decompression 19.1 MB/s 19.31 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 2 / Image Processing 8.65 MPixels/s 8.78 MPixels/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Virus Scanning 1465.13 MB/s 1537.02 MB/s
Multithreaded Test 3 / Grammar Check 2.18 KB/s 2.13 KB/s
File Decryption 43.24 MB/s 44.51 MB/s
Audio Conversion 2005.5 KB/s 2036.1 KB/s
Web Page Rendering 4.28 Pages/s 4.71 Pages/s
DivX Video Compression 40.44 FPS 42.66 FPS
Physics Calculation and 3D 78.77 FPS 80.32 FPS
Graphics Memory – 64 Lines 420.72 FPS 361.32 FPS

(editor’s note: Here is an interesting comparison in our Futuremark PCMark04 test. We have the Scribbler SC3000 pitted against the IBM X41. It is apparent that the “standard” Pentium M 1.5GHz in the Scribbler has a bit of an advantage in performance over the X41’s “low voltage” Pentium M @ 1.5GHz)

Not exactly the fastest notebook, but good for a tiny little Tablet PC and superb when you factor the battery life and low heat. There really isn’t that much to talk about here.

Performance is average in absolute terms and good for a thin and light notebook.

I think that the form factor and portability benefits generally trump raw performance in this segment.


The case looks both professional and keeps the Scribbler safe. (click to enlarge)

Verdict

The Scribbler is a uniquely designed computer and Electrovaya is clearly betting that the Tablet form factor will find its market. Right off the bat, we can say that someone who likes the form factor will like the Scribbler. It is a pretty good performer in a well-constructed package.

Out-of-the-box, the Scribbler comes with a lot of goodies in the Premium configuration. The included keyboard, wire stand, and folio case are nice touches. But I would gladly forego some of the extras here in order to have an optical drive. Its nice to have this much stuff in the box, but you pay for it and it isn’t quite as useful as an optical drive would be. Sure, external optical drives are cheap, but should you really have to buy one separately? I feel the same way about Electrovaya skimping on a bundled virus scanner.

Electrovaya differentiates its products through innovative design. In the case of the Scribbler a cursory glance at the spec sheet reveals an uninspiring assortment of parts. This might disappoint some people who believe that they need to have the fastest CPU, but think about the market at which this device is targeted. An ideal Scribbler user would be someone who wants a quiet, cool-to-the-touch machine that they can carry around and use all day. For this person, I don’t think that the internal specs will be a deal breaker. Maybe I am wrong, but keep in mind that I am someone who loves his 800 MHz Apple PowerBook, so your take on the Scribbler’s performance might be different than mine.

A base version is available without some of the extras included in the Premium package. Electrovaya has an online configurator that might make it easier for you to find a combination that works for you. 


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The Scribbler gets “very good” grades, it is great at what it was designed to do. As a pen-based computer you can use it all day, carry it with you, and it won’t distract you with heat or noise. And with a little tweaking of the price and bundle – it could earn it “excellent” marks. Heck, my concerns may not even bother some folks, so keep that in mind.

Pros:

  • Unique form-factor and good ergonomics
  • Good screen
  • Biometric security
  • Battery life
  • Lack of heat
  • Looks cool 


Cons:

  • Software bundle not worth ‘$300’ and lacks virus scan
  • Might be too expensive given the above point


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