The Averatec C3500 Convertible Tablet PC Full Review
By: Barry J. Doyle
Averatec is offering a shining gem of a mobile computer at an unprecedented price. The Averatec C3500 Convertible Tablet PC carries the promise of outstanding portability at a palatable suggested retail price of $1349. With its solid construction, stylish protective magnesium alloy case and a tolerable 5.5 lbs. of weight, all designed to fit inside a compact 11.6″ x 9.8″ x 1.57″ package, the C3500 exemplifies roadworthiness to the max.
At First Glance
In first powering up the C3500, one is struck by its exceptionally bright and clear display. Despite the limited space available in the design, the keyboard is substantially functional and the thoughtfully rounded edge on the lower half of this model offers extreme comfort for typing even over extended periods of time. Style is integrated inside and out. The C3500 is sure to grab the attention of technophiles who happen upon it. In taking this unit out into the world, I have drawn much attention from onlookers in Starbucks, at the bookstore and have experienced envy from coworkers and clients. Even more fascinating for most folks is to watch me pop out the pen, rotate the display and proceed to write directly on the screen. If you get a C3500, be prepared because everyone will want to “just try it”!
Microsoft Windows XP Tablet PC Edition
LCD Size High Contrast 12.1” XGA
Optical Drive DVD+CD-RW
Hard Drive 60GB
Memory 512MB DDR
Wireless LAN 802.11g
Wired LAN 10/100 LAN
USB (4x) 2.0
DimensionsWxDxH) 11.6″ x 9.8″ x 1.6″
Weight (lbs.) 5.5 lbs.
So let’s just dive right in and get down to the features, usability and overall impressions that the many features incorporated into the C3500 offer for the $1349 price tag.
Like most of the Averatec computer products, the C3500 is powered by the AMD Athlon XP Mobile chip. Specifically, the XP-M 2200+ which operates at a respectable 1.8 GHz. Tests using SiSoft Sandra on the C3500 showed that this CPU can hold its own against Intel processors. The Athlon meets or beats the Intel Pentium M at 1.6GHz and Pentium 4 at 2.0GHz in both arithmetic and multimedia benchmarks.
In the arithmetic benchmark the C3500’s CPU almost ties the Pentium M 1.6GHz and slightly peaks past the Pentium 4 2GHz overall.
In the multimedia tests, the C3500’s Athlon beats out the Pentium M 1.6GHz and
Pentium 4 2GHz.
Overall, this CPU is fast to load applications and provides more than adequate performance for just about anything you can throw at it. The C3500 runs Quake III without a hitch. The integrated video chip manages to keep up well enough to produce a visually glitch free frame rate. The AMD Athlon XP-M thankfully offers its’ unique 3DNow! which promises speedy performance for demanding multimedia tasks such as audio, video and photo editing. Finally, this processor runs at a low voltage promising extended battery life. It’s a good thing that the AMD offers this since the C3500 is no frontrunner when it comes to battery life. (We will discuss more on that later in the review.)
Tablet PC OS
It is not common for the operating system to be discussed in much detail in the review of a computer or related product (since “Windows is Windows”, or “OSX is OSX”, etc.), however in this case an exception to the rule has been made. One feature that stands out on this TabletPC is that it comes preloaded with the latest and much improved Windows XP Tablet PC Edition (2005). This updated version features a significantly improved user experience and features definitely worth noting.
The most prominent and handy feature in the new OS is the updated Input Panel. Rather than forcing the user to make a special “gesture” with the pen, the Input Panel in Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 can be invoked by simply hovering the pen over your desired insertion point, then simply tapping the icon that appears automatically. Regardless of each individual user’s preferences, the Options Menu allows the flexibility to totally customize the way the Input Panel operates.
Simply tap the “cog” symbol at on the side of the Input Panel, and a multitude of customization features are available.
Whatever your preferred method of invoking the Input Panel, you can customize
to suit your taste.
The second most notable feature in Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005, is the incredible handwriting recognition technology. I was able to write in what I would call “sloppy cursive” and amazingly convert it to text with almost 100% accuracy — even when converting several paragraphs of notes!
So what exactly is in Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005? It is essentially Windows XP Professional with added Tablet functionality. Is Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 as reliable and stable as the Home and Professional editions of XP? Well, not exactly. I have noticed that the Hibernation feature (at least on the C3500) can be a bit temperamental. Sometimes the machine recovers from hibernation, but sometimes it doesn’t. A word to the wise; be sure to save your work before hibernating or walking away from the machine for more than a few minutes. On the positive side, I have experienced no lockups and rarely experienced the dreaded “unexpected quit” phenomenon while working with reputable software titles.
The Pen and Digitizer on the C3500 are manufactured by UC-Logic Technology. The digitizer offers 512 levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt functionality for a more natural feel. The only issue that is up for debate regarding any pen or digitizer that is not manufactured by Wacom, is a question on incompatible drivers. In other words, it is possible that certain applications (outside of Microsoft Ink enabled apps.) may not recognize this hardware. So far I have not run into any issues in my own testing. The pen requires one “AAA” battery, which should only require a change after several months.
Averatec calls the display on the C3500 “high contrast”. The truth is that it is all that and more. The lcd on this model is analogous to the Sony UltraBrite technology — offering a bright, clear view with the added bonus of extended viewing angles. It is easy to read text on this display even when viewing from the absolute side edges. The size is a modest 12.1″ leaving a somewhat wide frame that could accommodate a 13″ display. This would be a welcomed extra to the already near perfect display.
Writing on the slick surface may not appeal to all users who may desire a more textured surface for which to write. This can easily be remedied by using a “screen protector/overlay” adding a textured surface. I personally find the screen on the C3500 easy to write on sans any add-on screen protectors. I prefer the clarity offered by the smooth surface since the top layer of the screen essentially functions as the window to the lcd.
The C3500 video is powered by the Integrated Mirage Graphic Engine for use in AMD Athlon XP chipsets. The SiSM741 chipset features a SiS Mirage Graphic Engine, an AGP-8X port, and a Shared Memory Architecture DDR-400 unified memory controller, that supports a Front Side Bus up to 333MHz. This seems very much like an “AMD answer to Intel Extreme Graphics” which is the platform used in many Pentium M powered devices. Personally I think that the Intel Extreme Graphics solution is a far cry from this integrated solution offered by AMD. I was able to adjust the graphics memory from its default of 32MB to 64MB easily by adjusting the shared memory setting in the bios.
To give the graphics performance a real world application test, I went for a true trial by fire for any laptop — the video games! I was able to successfully run Quake III and Soldier of Fortune, both slightly older games but nevertheless fairly demanding on video resources. Just to go to the absolute extreme, I installed and actually ran Doom III (notorious for its ridiculous video requirements). Although the game did actually run on the C3500, as expected it was painfully sluggish, the graphics appeared dark and textures were poorly rendered. In all fairness, running this game on just about any notebook (with the exception of the Dell XPS notebook or one of the incredibly powerful gaming machines from Voodoo and Alienware) is going to bring the machine to its knees.
The video software settings are fairly advanced for an integrated chip and offer limited color calibration through a Gamma Correction option and some additional options as well.
As expected with most mobile computers, the speakers on the C3500 are just about good enough to here the audio prompts from Windows or a short video/audio clip on the web. If you plan on watching dvd’s or listening to mp3’s while you work, I suggest a good pair of headphones. Averatec was thoughtful in the C3500 design with the addition of a functional rotating volume switch, which is easily accessed on the right side of the unit. This switch is basic, yet handy, and effective to suit its purpose.
Despite the somewhat weak audio quality produced by the built-in speakers, there is a fairly sophisticated software interface for controlling audio in the Control Panel. Should one wish to hook up the C3500 to a serious external receiver and speakers, this utility would be helpful to work with.
When it comes to “sub-class” smaller sized notebooks, there is limited space for manufacturers to integrate a fully functional and comfortable keyboard to work with. The keyboard on the C3500 is an exception to the rule, offering a good layout of the keys. Therefore, minimal compromising is needed for the typing style that you may be accustomed to exercising on a full sized desktop keyboard.
The touchpad is easy to use and provides all the functions most users demand. Additionally, the touchpad offers both built-in vertical and horizontal scrolling functionality; a feature that is not commonly found on the majority of notebooks.
The scrolling features really enhance the touchpad on the C3500
The C3500 uses the Ralink 80211.g wireless transceiver for wireless functionality. This feature offers a cost effective two-chip that integrates a 2.4 GHz radio transceiver and an integrated baseband/MAC chip that provides system optimization and solves the seemingly conflicting throughput/range dilemma commonly associated with high data rate transmission. Basically I have found that this solution provides adequate performance in my Wi-Fi environment, which spans approximately 1,800 sq. feet. I have not experienced any notable interruption in my signal in 30 days of testing.
The handy Wi-Fi switch makes it easy to turn the WLAN on and off.
Averatec has also included the other basic essentials for communication including a Motorola 56K fax/modem and an integrated 10/100 LAN card. Absent is Bluetooth technology, but what the heck do you want at this outstanding price point?!!
The C3500 includes a PMCIA, MODEM, LAN, TV OUT, VGA OUT, 4 USB 2 Ports, headphones and microphone ports. Although the USB ports are all located on the back of the unit (I just hate that), I will commend Averatec for offering 4 since a USB hub is just one extra thing to buy and carry. Unfortunately there is no Firewire or IEE1394 port, but once again I would not expect that at this price point.
What the !@%$#? I have held back from being anything but professional in this review so far, but this is unfortunately the big flaw in the C3500 that for me is a hassle. When it comes to mobility that means cutting the cord. If you have to keep it plugged in to get much more than an hour of use, this can be a real dilemma. This machine has been cleverly planned out in just about every characteristic to be an exceptional mobile solution for the price, but the battery life is just plain weak. In testing this machine, I have used it in several real world situations, one being a 40 minute PowerPoint presentation. I took the fully charged C3500 (with Wi-Fi turned off), left it in “sleep mode for about 10 minutes, then proceeded to carry out my presentation. I was astounded to have the machine shut itself down before I could finish. I don’t know if perhaps this particular unit has a weaker than normal battery, but it seems that the rated 4,400 mAh capacity is not adequate to accomplish the claimed 2-3 hour battery life in the C3500. I would recommend that true road warriors go for an extra battery that retails for $129. One thing to note for those who own or have owned the 3200 series Averatec notebooks, the battery slot in the C3500 is greatly improved. The battery fits flush and tight into the slot, rather than the somewhat loose fit in the 3200 series notebooks.
The C3500 includes an integrated DVD+CD-RW drive. One hard drive with a 60GB capacity provides plenty of storage. Hard drive performance is speedy and quiet.
Overall, I have found the C3500 to be a pleasure to use. The Screen swivels on a sturdy hinge keeping the display firm at any angle. The fan is noticeably quieter than those found on the Averatec 3200 series notebooks. I should mention however, that this machine definitely gets hot! The vent that releases heat is located on the top left underside of the unit, and can quickly become uncomfortable to your left leg when using it on your lap. I suggest a cooling pad accessory for anybody wishing to use the C3500 on there laps for extended periods of time. The unique flipping latch on the lid is sturdy and well-designed. There are nice additional hardware controls built right into the edge of the display to rotate the screen, scroll and to invoke menus, saving time and frustration while the unit is folded over into “slate” mode. One minor gripe is that the Power Switch becomes inaccessible once the unit is folded over. You can shut down Windows via software while the display is folded down, but oddly enough, you are stuck opening up the unit to power on while in this mode. It would be a plus to see the Power Switch relocated in subsequent models.
The bottom line: If you are looking for excellent quality in a Convertible Tablet PC without emptying your savings account, The Averatec C3500 should be at the top of your list. As I send our review unit back to Averatec, I will surely miss it and might just add it to my Christmas Wish List!
PROS & CONS
-Sturdy magnesium alloy case
-Excellent features and value
-Weak battery life
Barry J. Doyle
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