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You won’t find a keyboard and you won’t find an optical drive on Motion Computing’s F5 tablet PC, but you will find a bright 10.4-inch screen that is viewable in any light, yet attracts fingerprints worse than a stainless steel refrigerator. So, you may want to keep grubby fingers away from this 3-and-a-half pound ruggedized slate PC.

At a price close to $3,500, our sample unit came loaded to the gills with features and options in the F5’s 10-by-10-by-0.9-inch magnesium alloy enclosure, which is covered by a rubberized coating to protect the unit from bumps, drops and spills. Buyers will find an Intel Core Solo processor U1400 (1.20GHz), Intel PRO/Wireless 3945 a/b/g networking, 2GB RAM, a 32GB Solid State Drive, integrated 3G wireless broadband and a fingerprint scanner as part of the standard offering.

Options worth noting include an RFID (radio-frequency identification) reader, built-in bar-code scanner and an integrated 2.0 megapixel camera, all of which make the F5 an inventory-taker’s dream and an excellent companion for a medical practitioner.

From an ergonomics point of view, Motion Computing has pulled off what could be considered a near perfect slate PC. All controls are located in easy-to-reach locations, the unit sports a nifty integrated handle and the weight is low enough to make the system comfortable to use all day. The Wacom-enabled touch-screen works well with the included pen (which stows conveniently in the handle).

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However, performance is another story.  The unit is hampered by the slower processor and runs Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. Vista does offer more tablet features than XP, but the current hardware is probably not up to snuff to run Vista fast enough to be usable in the field.

That said, Windows XP Tablet PC Edition does offer the needed features to make the F5 worthy of consideration. The handwriting recognition and other tablet-centric features of XP are stable enough to keep workers working out in the field.

Another sticking point however, is that the unit lacks any connectivity ports. There are no USB, VGA, or Ethernet ports. While that makes for a clean design by preventing any moisture or germs from infiltrating the unit, the question becomes, how does one install applications or connect to other devices?  Motion did think of that problem and includes a handsome docking station, which not only charges the unit but also offers the ports that most users would need. The docking station supports an external monitor and offers mouse, keyboard and external drive support via integrated USB ports. Users will also find a 10/100/100 Ethernet port on the docking station. By hooking up a monitor, mouse and keyboard, the unit can transform from a slate PC to a desktop PC; just don’t expect it to break any performance records.

For the untethered user, battery life hovers around 3.5 hours. Of course, if some features were disabled (such as the wireless radios) and the screen were set to a dimmer mode, users could expect close to 5 hours of battery life.

The Motion Computing F5 proves to be a very good slate PC and would work well in a number of niche markets, including inventory control, insurance adjusting, field service and the medical industry. That said, the unit’s high price and less than stellar performance make it a no-go for broad use by the general PC market. That market will be better served by a convertible notebook PC where the  tablet features are needed occasionally out in the field.

Solution providers can expect channel support from Motion Computing, which supports revenue from margins and offers standard support services to the channel. Most channel players will want to incorporate Motion’s slate PCs into specialized solutions for vertical markets, where slate computing is a must have and a valuable tool for specific functions.