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Tablet PCs That Mean Business

A broadening range of tablet PCs like HP's EliteBook 2740p aim to popularize touchscreen computing for business use.

Tablet PCs--touchscreen computers that bridge the gap between paper notepads and laptops--are all over the local news lately thanks to the iPad, which threatens to revolutionize portable computing when it arrives April 3. But as is evidenced by the impending debut of HP's EliteBook 2740p, a multi-touch tablet designed specifically with commercial applications in mind, plenty of other manufacturers in the space besides Apple mean business.

Just as Lenovo's IdeaPad U1 netbook/ultra-portable PC hybrid and Archos' 7 and 8 Home Tablets (designed for casual Web and online-connected multimedia consumption) aim to innovate within the space, so too does the EliteBook 2740p offer several novel twists. Users can simply rotate the device's 12.1-inch display for easier use and viewing, and activate or control on-screen programs with a tap of a finger or stylus. Multi-touch commands make it easier to browse and navigate using multiple digits, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity also built in. Road warriors will further enjoy the benefit of outdoor viewing options that mitigate the effects of glare, as well as a durable case and shockproof features that protect the hard drive from inadvertent drops or jostles. A fingerprint sensor is also offered along with data encryption options for greater file security.

Running on the Windows 7 operating system, owners can opt to cram in low-voltage Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, up to 8GB of RAM and a 250GB SATA II or 160GB solid state drive into the machine. That's enough to power the vast majority of business applications, with wireless connectivity advanced enough to grab bandwidth from any conference room or Wi-Fi hotspot. In addition, quick boot-up options let you speedily access your e-mail, contacts, calendar and the internet without going through a lengthy startup process, saving on time and aggravation and allowing you to boost productivity. While it won't win any awards for industrial design, and overall graphics capability is underwhelming, the device's portability (it weighs in at 3.8 pounds and measures 14.7 by 9.9 by 1.28 inches) and flexibility offset these drawbacks.

Lacking the iPad's pure wow factor (don't expect stunning multimedia performance or dedicated e-reader functionality) or the pedigree of Microsoft's long-rumored dual-screen "Courier" tablet, the EliteBook 2740p may be less glamorous than its rivals. But with five to 11 hours of battery life, the ability to take a beating and enough horsepower to more than handle the average entrepreneur's typical workload, let's be realistic: It may cost a pretty penny, with prices starting at $1,599 when the device ships in April along with sister product the HP EliteBook 2540p ($1099), but for small business owners (especially those in the areas of healthcare, education and sales) looking for a custom, gesture-tracking solution that packs in more power and greater screen real estate than can be found on smartphones, it delivers.

Not only does the system point toward rising interest in the tablet computing category across the board from manufacturers from Gateway to Acer, possibly leading to a renaissance for the field as a whole. As is evidenced by its suitability for use with commercial endeavors, there's also ample reason for entrepreneurs to reach out and touch one.

Technology and small-business expert Scott Steinberg is the CEO of high-tech consulting firm TechSavvy Global. He's a business keynote speaker who frequently appears on broadcast networks such as ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and CNN.
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