Motion Computing CL900 Tablet PC – Peformance and Battery Life

There are a lot of questions being asked about performance on the Motion Computing CL900, with some asking if they should cancel their X220T order. As I indicated in my Lenovo X220 Tablet review, I don’t run benchmarks, etc. I base the performance of a tablet upon how it performs for my needs and workflow. My impressions are purely subjective so take them at that.

The CL900 I am testing is an Atom Z670 running 1.5ghz, 62 gb SSD and 2gb of ram. The base model 1gb / 30gb ssd runs $899. Pricing for additional ram and SSD is only available through a reseller. I don’t even know why Motion offers the $899 stripped down unit. Windows 7 needs a good 2gb of RAM to run decently and the ram can’t be upgraded after purchase. After loading Office 2010, the Kindle app, Windows Live MovieMaker, and ArcSoft, I’ve already utilized 26 gb of the 62 gb ssd.

I’ve been using the CL900 with Word, OneNote, Kindle, ArcSoft webcam, and Internet Explorer all running at the same time. There were no delays in application switching with RAM peaking out at about 1 gb – the system never hiccuped. In addition, I’ve played several movies through Netflix and didn’t experience any hiccups at all (see update below). The experience was actually quite nice on the 1366 x 768 screen. From a cold-boot to Welcome screen took 40 seconds. All of that said, I certainly wouldn’t classify the CL900 as a speed demon. There were delays in opening applications that normally fly open on my Lenovo X220 Tablet PC. However, my X220T is also a 2.5 ghz i5 with 4gb of ram while the CL900 is a 1.5 ghz Atom Z670. I wouldn’t expect the CL900 to hold up well to Photoshop and I wouldn’t purchase the CL900 as my sole workstation. As a secondary mobile computer, however, I would have no worries about bringing it on the road and having to get work done.It definitely feels faster than the HP Slate 500 and I’ve been pleased with the performance.

Update: I have been playing more movies on and off today over Netflix and have noticed some intermittent screen flicker / pausing, almost like there is a caching issue but not in traditional “wait” caching. I’m not sure what the difference is between today and last night, but the movie playback quality over Netflix today is more noticeable. It could a difference in the type of movie being streamed.  I’ve tested YouTube videos (like the ones I posted today) and have not noticed the problem I experienced on Netflix today. The sound was decent at full volume – nothing to write home about, but decent.

The only application I had problems with was Windows Live MovieMaker 2011. While trying to test the webcam out, many portions of the application (Options, timeline, webcam recording) were black. The application was completely unusable. I suspect the problem is likely a video card incompatibility issue. Recording through ArcSoft’s webcam application, though, presented no problems at all. I’ll share samples from the front and rear cameras later.

Battery life has been amazing. Motion claims 8 hours and from my tests so far, that claim seems to be holding up. I’ve been using the tablet on / off since yesterday and have yet to get below 50% usage. Another great thing about the CL900 is that it only takes 2 hours to recharge back to 100% battery. My usage has been with the power options set to Motion Optimized. I would classify the CL900 as an all-day mobile computer.

In closing, the CL900 would make a fantastic secondary computer for a mobile worker or student. I would only recommend purchasing the CL900 with 2gb of RAM and 62gb SSD. Under normal conditions, performance shouldn’t be an issue. I wouldn’t, however, run out and replace your desktop or i5 / i7 tablets with the CL900. It wasn’t designed to compete in scenarios where users need to run Photoshop or CAD. If I needed a secondary computer, though, I wouldn’t hesitate a second in purchasing the CL900.

Motion Computing CL900 Docking Station (Video)

Whenever someone buys a slate tablet pc, the most common accessory purchased is a docking station – especially if the slate is going to be their primary workstation.

In this video, I demonstrate the docking station that can be purchased with the Motion Computing CL900 for $159. Motion claims that it “enables complete desktop PC functionality and connectivity”, however as demonstrated in the video, there are several issues with the docking station that buyers should be aware of before purchasing: no standard video output on the docking station and tablet easily comes out of the dock when the power button is slightly pressed. It is worth noting that the CL900 does have a mini-HDMI port, but part of the justification of a dock is not having to plug in cables every time a person docks / undocks. I also recommend that Motion update their product description text on the dock to indicate that an adapter cable will be necessary to plug in an external monitor if they have a DVI or VGA monitor.

I asked Motion about why they did not include a standard video output on the docking station and received this reply:

“The first docking station available with the CL900 is a countertop dock (designed for the standing working) vs. a standard docking station. This enables users to take advantage of touch input, for example as a sales person would do in a retail environment. There are solutions available, such as the micro-HDMI port on the CL900 or a USB to DVI or USB to VGA adapter from a preferred provider, to equip the countertop dock to function as a desktop docking station, and we anticipate that additional docking solutions for a variety of environments will be available in the future.”

Motion Computing CL900 Handwriting Demo (Video)

Lots of questions floating around about how the Motion Computing CL900 handles touch and handwriting at the same time.

Overall, I have to say that I’m fairly impressed with the CL900 and N-trig’s latest digitizer.  My experience is much better than on the HP Slate 500. As demoed in the video, I rarely experience stray ink, but will occasionally register false touches while writing. In addition, the pen-on-screen noise is quieter than the Slate 500, but not quite as good as Wacom-based tablets.  Overall, I’d say the noise is still distracting. I shot an email over to N-trig’s Gary Baum, asking him the difference between the two units. According to Baum, the Slate 500 uses 3rd generation hardware, whereas the CL900 uses 3.5 generation hardware. The palm rejection technology in the CL900 has more memory and computing power, thus providing a better handwriting experience. This is mostly due to the time difference in the tablets being brought to market.

Here’s a quick video demonstrating handwriting on the CL900. My apologies in advance for the screen flicker. Filming  a computer screen is very difficult :-)


Motion Computing CL900 – Designed for Tablet Users

Motion Computing sent me their 10.1″ CL900 Tablet PC to review and I’ve been happily touching and inking away on this light and rugged tablet since last night. My initial impression of the CL900 is that it matches up with what I expected from Motion: a beautifully designed tablet with the tablet user in mind. One area this shines through is with their pen-silo. Unlike other slate tablet manufacturers, Motion knows that tablet users need their pen with them. With that in mind, they designed a pop-out silo that discreetly hides the pen away when not in use, but makes the pen easily acessible with the push of a button.

I’ll be sharing more over the coming days about the tablet writing experience, battery life, performance, the docking station, and more. Meanwhile, enjoy this small picture gallery and post your questions below.

Useful Stuff

Sometimes, you just need a can opener …and nothing else will do.

Years ago, I discovered CyberGuys , who sell an amazing variety of handy little parts and accessories that I have (mostly) never seen anywhere else. I had the occasion to order some things from them recently, and it occurred to me that you might be interested in some of these things, too. So I put together a short list of items that I have found to be handy. Maybe you’ll find them handy, too!

PS: If you have discovered some handy little device, gadget or gizmo that works well for you, tell us about it in the comments!

1 Foot Long, 2-Wire AC Cord for your AC adapter

1 Foot Long, 3-Wire AC Cord for your AC adapter

2-Prong AC Plug to 2-Wire (C-7) Plug for your AC adapter (no cord at all)

Retractable 2-Wire AC Cord and 3-Wire to 2-Wire Socket Converter for your AC adapter

Folding Feet (2 colors) to prop up your tablet

Tablet Easel / Stand that folds up in its own footprint (A TabletKiosk product)

Shoulder Strap Cushion

USB Port Covers (Flush, Trapezoidal or with Handle)

6 Inch USB Cables for those tight slate USB sockets (A male to A male, A male to A female, A male to mini + micro male)
Male – Male
Male – Female
Male – Mini/Micro

12 Inch USB Cables (same as above except for length)

4 Inch Gold USB Cable A male to A female

Lenovo X220 Tablet PC Review

Lenovo X220 Tablet PCI’ve been putting my new Lenovo X220 Tablet PC through my daily work grind the past several weeks, enough so that I have finally collected enough info to share for a review.

Performance and Battery Life

I judge the performance of a laptop / tablet based upon how it holds up with the apps I run on a daily basis. I don’t run CPU tests and then compare them from a library of other computers. Most of my impressions come from a mental, subjective list: am I questioning myself about how long the boot process is taking, do I find myself waiting while Dreamweaver loads or am I impressed by how quickly it just pops up, am I having problems maintaining a wireless connection, am I able to run multiple apps at the same time with no worry, am I questioning whether to bring the power cord when going out for day. Those are questions real users ask.

what apps am I running on a daily basis? MindManager, Evernote, Word, Dreamweaver, OneNote, Chrome, Visual Studio 2010From a performance and battery standpoint, my experience with the Lenovo X220 Tablet has been outstanding. Booting up on this i5 2.5ghz, 320 gb 7200 rpm hdd-equipped tablet pc takes about a minute or so from button press to log-on screen. I remember thinking on several boot-ups that the timing felt about right – not SSD good, but 7200 rpm good. Fresh from a boot, an application may take 2 to 3 seconds to launch, but subsequent launches are pretty much instantaneous.  Needless to say, I’m not fiddling around while waiting for apps to load up. When I opted for the i5 2.5 ghz and 7200 rpm drive, I wanted affordable speed and my expectations have certainly been met.

While running on Energy Saver mode, battery life is around 6 – 8 hours depending on how taxing I am on the CPU. Considering I don’t need to plug in an extended battery, that is all day computing to me and fits every need I have to go cord-free. Oddly enough, the Lenovo battery indicator consistently underestimates remaining battery life when compared to the Windows 7 battery indicator. At one point, the two indicators were two hours apart.

Screen Resolution

Much has been said about the X220 Tablet’s 12.5″ screen and 1366 x 768 resolution, in particular the narrow screen real estate while browsing or writing notes while in portrait mode. I’ve been using wide resolutions on tablets for quite a while so the narrowness doesn’t necessarily bother me. The ability to pinch and zoom while on a webpage fixes the scroll bar issue for me, while collapsing side panels in OneNote helps provide more writing space. The benefit of having a wide screen while in laptop certainly makes up for any minor inconveniences of a narrower screen while in portrait mode.

What I miss from earlier Lenovo X tablet pcs is the hardware scroll wheel / d pad. If memory serves me right, the first Lenovo tablet had a scroll wheel on the side of the bezel that made scrolling up and down a webpage super easy while holding the tablet in portrait mode. Subsequent versions then had the scroll wheel / d pad on the bezel which still worked but was less convenient than the original version. At some point in the last year or two, Lenovo chose to remove the scroll / d pad altogether, which was a big mistake in my opinion.

Touch Screen

I wasn’t quite sure about what to expect with this Wacom-based touch digitizer. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well it just works.   I’m not getting any false clicks when operating between touch and pen, and the interaction between pen and touch is relatively seamless. I’ve not registered any false touches or stray ink marks while taking notes on the screen.

The digitizer only supports two touch points, while others support four or more, so keep that in mind if your software needs require more than two touch points.

Previous versions of Lenovo’s X tablets were notorious for problems with fingerprints. The matte finish on the X220T pretty much fixed that problem. I’ve not had to bring out a wiping cloth a single time in the two+ plus weeks I’ve used the X220 Tablet.

Tablet Usage

Most of my tablet usage involves using the X220T in portrait mode. I rarely use the X220T as a tablet while in landscape mode. While cradling the tablet in my left hand, I can take notes pretty easily and interact with the system using either the pen or my finger. The ergonomics and contour of the battery makes the X220T a pleasant to hold and carry around. It doesn’t feel quite as light as my Dell XT2, but it isn’t hefty either.

There are three buttons available on the bezel while in tablet mode: CTRL-ALT-DEL, Rotation, and Power. On more than one occasion, I’ve gotten the CTRL-ALT-DEL button mixed up with the rotation since they both visually say the same thing. I’d recommend Lenovo revisit the imagery on the CTRL-ALT-DEL button so it doesn’t communicate “rotate”.

After pressing the rotation button, there is about a two to three second delay before the screen is displayed again. On a few occasions, I’ve had to press the rotation button an additional one or two times to activate a rotation because I didn’t press the button hard enough.

Like I mentioned above, taking handwritten notes on the X220 Tablet is seamless and natural. The ink flows fluidly, there are no false interactions with the touch screen while taking notes, and the is no clickity-clack noise while taking notes. I love a quiet pen!

The Keyboard, Trackpad, and Track Stick

Not much to say here except that the keyboard is as awesome as ever. I could type all day long on that thing and never wish I had a full-size keyboard. If Lenovo will ever be known for one thing, it will be their keyboard.

One of the nice enhancements to typing on the X220 is the new battery: it creates just enough of a angle to put the keyboard at a better position for typing than the original flat battery.

The trackpad is now multi-touch enabled, button-less, a little bit larger than previous X tablets, and features some tiny dots spread over the trackpad to provide some nice resistance. The right / center / left buttons are still there, too.

A Few Quirks

Don’t let anyone fool you – there is not a perfect tablet experience out there. While the X220 Tablet is really, really good and has met or exceeded most of my expectations, there is definitely some room for improvement:

  • Lenovo’s SimpleTap is slow to load and doesn’t offer a consistent user experience across the application. Read more about it here.
  • The rubber feet on the bottom battery are already starting to come loose. The glue holding the rubber feet on the battery doesn’t feel strong at all, and I have a feeling I’m either going to have to get the battery replaced or stick some rubber cement in there to hold them in place.
  • Speed up rotation. I should’t be staring at a black screen for two to three seconds while the tablet decides what to do.
  • Bring back the scroll wheel / d pad. They are a needed feature while in tablet mode.
  • The docking station did not come with a power cord, nor a display port adapter.
  • I would have opted for the SSD, but the $280 price differential made it cost prohibitive. 7200 rpm performs really well, but superb performance will definitely be experienced with the SSD.


When the X220 Tablet first arrived, I was pretty pumped. Two weeks later, I’m just as pleased, if not more, with my decision to go Lenovo. It is an excellent Tablet PC for anyone needing a convertible solution. I’ve been using Lenovo Tablet PCs since they first arrived on the market many moons ago, and if they continue producing excellent products like the X220, I’ll continue giving them my dollar.

Review the photo gallery tour of the X220 Tablet here.



Fujitsu Q550 – Not As Ready For Prime Time As It Should Be

The Fujitsu Stylistic Q550 is the latest Atom-powered tablet to reach user’s hands, and the result is a distinctly mixed bag of noteworthy capabilities and deficiencies. Potential buyers will likely want to compare it to HP’s Slate 500 and it should come as no surprise that the processor performance of these two devices is nearly identical. After familiarizing myself with my Q550 for the past week, I have put together a preliminary series of comments that I hope will be helpful:

<> With regard to the “Q,” much has been made about its ability, or lack of ability, to play 1080p videos. If all you want it to do is play such videos, pass on this slate (based on this and next item). I downloaded a 1080p clip to my desktop machine and played it with WMP to ensure its integrity. Video quality was excellent on my calibrated Dell U2410 monitor (I use this same monitor for soft-proofing digital images). I then copied the file to the Q desktop and attempted to play it with WMP. The Q could not play the clip without occasional video tearing and pixilation. I repeated the trial a couple of times with no change in the results. Note, however, that all lesser videos that I tried played OK on the Q. Only 1080p was a problem.

<> Sound quality is a definite shortcoming. With only one speaker, the resulting volume was always lower than I would have liked and more than occasionally “raspy.” Sound through earbuds was OK, though. Unfortunately, the Q produces an unsatisfactory “pop” (sometimes it’s more like a “crackle”) at the very start of an audio clip, as if the audio decoder is, perhaps, initializing. Thereafter, the sound will be OK. In my opinion, there is not excuse for the audible ‘blemishes” in the Q’s sound reproduction.

<> In a side-by-side comparison with the Slate 500, I saw no significant performance differences in accomplishing different tasks! Starting-up, opening an application, opening IE9, navigating to a website, opening a video… neither machine was ever more than a second or two different from the other. (Note that they were both pulling from the same router. Since I have high speed Internet, I assume that this was not a bottleneck and, in any event, the router would have no effect on start-up or the opening of an application.) For reference, my Asus EP121 starts up in less than half the time that it took the Q (20 seconds versus about 45 seconds). It was no contest at all.

<> In a side-by-side comparison with the TC1100 (running Win7), the Q was usually at least a few seconds faster than the TC, but every now and again the TC would beat the Q at completing a task. The Q was consistent enough that it is reasonable to say that it is faster, but differences that we’re talking about were on the order of maybe 5 seconds or so…!

<> The screen on the Q looks much better to me than the Slate. Color values look more correct, and they hold up very well over large viewing angles. The colors on the Slate have always struck me as being too saturated (too “hot”), and the Slate’s narrow screen viewing angles cause further color distortion with little viewing angle change. I also find the Q’s larger screen more to my liking because I can position my hand and write more on it before my palm starts to slip off the edges.

<> During the lengthy Windows initialization and start-up, and in all my other tests, the temperature on the left side rear was never more than “warm.” I made it a point to specifically run virus scans, and there was no significant heat build-up during those times.

<> The Q’s claim of eight hour battery life is perfectly believable, based on my experiences, and I was running in Balanced power management mode. In various trials, running for at least 4+ hours at a shot, the battery was never significantly below about 50% capacity. During many trials, I noted that the CPU seemed to be aggressively throttled and tended to run at only 600 MHz for much of the time. While this is surely a major component in the Q’s long operating life, the “slow” processor may be partially responsible for other owner’s complaints about sluggish behavior (in particular, touch?).

<> Inking seems subtly better than both the Slate and Fujitsu’s own T580. Head-to-head with the Slate, touch curiously seemed to be the same almost every time I compared the two machines, yet somehow touch frequently felt subtly less positive on the Q. As noted above, I suspect that the aggressive processor throttling might be a factor. With the processor running at 600MHz, an initial touch would cause a brief acceleration to 1500MHz but then the processor would slow start to throttle back again. I have not had time to try tweaking the power management settings to see if they make any difference.

<> The Q’s overall dimensions, in particular thickness, are acceptable to me. Length is nearly identical to the TC1100 and the width is a fraction of an inch smaller. Of course, the Q is noticeably thinner than the TC. Weight seems comfortable, and the construction fit and finish look OK, although I am not a fan of the black front and white rear. I found the tablet buttons, along the right edge, to be hard to press. Despite earlier hopes, the Q does not feature a pen garage, but it does have an anchoring point for a pen tether.

In summary, the processor and graphics / video issues look to be “fixable” IF Intel steps up and supplies driver updates. The sound issues may / may not be fixable. Certainly, the low volume from the small, single speaker isn’t going to change, but a driver update may be able to fix the distracting popping and crackling sounds. All other aspects of the Q appear to me to be good, given the design intents and the price point. In particular, the screen is excellent and the Q’s overall dimensions makes it very comfortable to work on.

Despite its deficiencies, I will be keeping my Q largely due to its nice intermediate size. My Slate 500 is simply too small. Since I am not much into videos, the Q’s 1080p performance issues aren’t terribly important to me. The audio does matter though, but I guess I can use earbuds, and it’s not much of a sacrifice to carry them.

Like all of us, I had hoped that the Q would be better, but compared to its immediate competition, I guess it’s good enough for now. Let’s hope that Fujitsu and Intel support this new product with the driver improvements that we, and it, deserve. A few minor improvements would make all the difference!

Hands On With the Acer Iconia Tab W500

When I first saw photos of the hybrid tablet Acer Iconia Tab W500, my thoughts went way back to the early days of tablets and the HP TC1100. A slate when you want to be as light as possible and an attachable keyboard when you need a real keyboard. Since I’m a sucker for getting my hands on all kinds of tablets, I sent a twitter message to my good friend Pat Moorhead at AMD and asked if he could help me obtain a review unit: ask and you shall receive!

I’ve been playing with the Windows + AMD-based Iconia Tab for the past several days and thought I’d share a few thoughts on the usability of this tablet. A photo gallery is included below


  • AMD Dual Core C50 1 ghz processor
  • ATI Radeon™ HD 6250 Graphics
  • Windows 7 Home Premium
  • 2 gb ram, 32 gb SSD
  • 2 usb, 1 2-in-1 card reader, and 1 hdmi port.  With the keyboard attached, you gain an additional 2 usb ports and an ethernet port
  • 1.3 megapixel front and rear camera
  • 3 cell battery
  • 4 point capacitive multi-touch digitizer by EETI
  • 1280 x 800 resolution
  • 10.1″ LED screen

Usage Thoughts

The beauty of a hybrid tablet is that it can adapt to how a person needs to use it. With just a couple of exceptions, I found that to be true of the Iconia Tab as well. When I wanted to watch some videos on the couch, I could unobtrusively do so. When I wanted to type some notes in OneNote, I could do so by easily plugging in the keyboard. The keyboard attaches to the Iconia Tab in two different ways: 1) in laptop mode, 2) to the front of the screen in the way a closed notebook looks. Unfortunately, the keyboard does not attach to the back of the Iconia Tab. This would be helpful so a person could use the tablet in slate mode and not have to forget to bring the keyboard. Another negative with the keyboard is that there is no tilt adjustment. I have a picture below that shows the camera showing half my face – I couldn’t adjust the camera or angle of the tablet in order to show my entire face. Having a tilt option would be another way to improve this tablet.

The Iconia Tab is designed to be a touch and keyboard device, and within the current Windows 7 experience it operates similar to other Windows-based tablets out there. Touch operated as expected and the chicklet-style keyboard was a joy to type on. I could type for hours on that keyboard. However, don’t expect to be very happy using your favorite capacitive-touch stylus to hand write notes in OneNote with it. The experience is awful on other Windows units and the Iconia Tab is no different. If you want to take hand writen notes, find another solution.

Rotation on the Iconia Tab is supported with full 360 degree options and it is supposed to rotate automatically based on the angle the tablet is being held and turned. Unfortunately, rotation is a bit laggy and I found that it didn’t always respond.

Acer includes some of their own software that is supposed to enhance the experience. Unfortunately, I found that it does the complete opposite. The Acer Ring is supposed to be launch panel for frequently used programs. It has pre-built options for Sync, Acer GameZone, Windows Calculator, WebCam, Snipping Tool, Disk Cleaner, and Device Control. There are no options to remove those and add your own program shortcuts. In summary, it is a useless piece of software. Another piece of included software is the Device Control which allows control of WiFi, back light, brightness, power, and volume. There are a couple of problems with Device Control: it is not rotation aware and not touch friendly. When I launched the Device Control from the Acer Ring launch panel in anything other than primary landscape, the screen would always rotate to primary landscape. Although the Device Control UI elements had some big touch-friendly elements, the slider elements were not responsive to sliding even though the UI communicated differently. Someone coming from an iPad world would not be impressed with Acer’s software and they do nothing to encourage people to try Windows solutions.

Battery life was between 4 and 6 hours – pretty darn good for a Windows machine and I’m sure AMD’s processor has something to do with that.

Overall, boot-up and speed were decent enough, especially considering this is a 1ghz Dual Core machine. I did find the system responded better when sticking to core Windows applications and not running the Acer-included utilities.

Closing Thoughts

At $549, the price is definitely right. However, for me to recommend the Acer Iconia Tab or buy it for use within my office, I would like to see the following things improved upon:

1) Fix the rotation bugs

2) Make the keyboard attachable to the back of the tablet

3) Support tilt while the Iconia Tab is attached to the keyboard.

4) Put in a different digitizer so handwriting can also be supported. Wacom and N-Trig would love to talk with you…

5) Slap Windows 8 on this baby. I see value in a Windows-based tablet in the enterprise, but the use-cases that need solving won’t come about until we get to Windows 8

Power On The Go

When it comes to operating life on the go, it seems like more is never quite enough. Who among has never wished for just one more half hour of life from our computer or cell phone? Fortunately, there are some pretty good options out there for extending our time away from the nearest AC outlet. Let’s quickly discuss some of them.

Of course, one of the most obvious options is to carry a second battery for your device of choice. However, I’m going to skip over this option because many devices (most infamously the iPod and iPad, but also the HP Slate 500 and the Asus EP121) don’t feature user “swap-able” batteries. However, there are several brands of external battery that feature capacities that are two, three, even as much as eight times the capacity of your typical “small” laptop PC. Possibly the best and largest survey of external batteries that I have seen recently is here:,2821.html
(credit to WildParadise at TabletPCReview for bringing this link to my attention)

Having had a fair bit of experience with external batteries, I’m a believer in the “use it or lose it” approach. If you buy an external battery and then simply put it in a drawer, using it only occasionally, your chances of eventually finding that battery prematurely dead or significantly degraded are quite high! On the other hand, if you use it on a regular basis your battery will likely last for years. My last external battery, an APC UPB-80 just died after almost three years of service. If I wasn’t using it while I was out and about, I used it to recharge my TC1100 each night, then recharged the UPB-80 as needed.

Perhaps this idea of regular use strikes you as “high maintenance.” Is there another alternative? Why yes, there is, particularly if you spend a lot of time in a car; a DC-to-AC inverter. Inverters are small-ish devices that plug into your car’s DC power socket (what some of us used to know as the cigarette lighter socket) and output 110V AC. Using this approach, you would simply plug in your device’s AC adapter just as you would if you had an AC wall socket in your car.

Most inverters are one or the other of two types, either “modified sine wave” output or “true sine wave” output (there are also “square wave” inverters; I would avoid these). The former is less expensive and outputs a “two-step” square-wave approximation of wall plug AC power. Although crude, the modified sine wave waveform is usually close enough to a smooth sine wave shape to allow electronic gadgetry of all types to work with only a little increased heat or RF noise (which might, for example, cause interference with your car’s AM radio). Needless to say, the true sine wave output looks almost exactly like wall plug AC power (typically less than 3% total harmonic distortion), so your electronics work completely normally. Ironically, even true sine wave inverters can have noisy (both RF and audible buzz) circuitry, so be sure that anything that you buy can be returned! Duracell, Belkin, Cobra and Xantrex are just a few of the makers of modified sine wave inverters. Samlex, Xantrex and GoPower are a few who make true sine wave inverters. If you shop on sites like Amazon, don’t forget to check the reviews for helpful insights into individual devices and their pros and cons.

And one final note. Most cars feature power sockets that are limited to 12V at either 10A or 15A. This translates to 120W or 180W of maximum draw respectively. Most laptop AC adapters are 90W or less, so are perfectly OK for car use. If you use a technical (workstation) PC, you may have a 120W AC adapter; pushing it, but maybe still OK. Just remember that your car is like your home; don’t draw more watts than your socket can supply; check your owner’s manual!

HP TouchPad – Getting One?

HP announced today that their TouchPad tablet will be available beginning July 1 for $499, with preorders starting on June 19. Are you planning on getting one? Me?…Highly likely :-)

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