With convertible PCs dominating the Tablet PC market in recent years, only a handful of manufacturers specialize in the pure slate design, and for the most part, these companies understand the platform's use cases very well. While most business users prefer the flexibility of an attached keyboard, stylus-only computing fits some vertical niches such as health care, construction, and design. The Sahara i440D demonstrates that the company knows what slate customers want.
Comfortable, Sturdy Design
On a slate tablet, ergonomics really matter. That's because this kind of tablet usually sits on a user's forearm for long stretches. We also expect a slate to be a little more durable than traditional notebooks because they're meant to be used while standing and walking.
Unlike a convertible, the Sahara i440D remains ultralight at 3.3 pounds, and its Pearl White (also available in Carbon Black) rubberized 11.8 x 9.5-inch frame makes it easy to carry anywhere and gives it a sturdy feel. The stylus has the comfortable dimensions of a roller ball pen, and it interacted nicely with the display. There is a comfortable hover zone in which to execute gestures. Though not hot, the unit did run warmer than other notebook's we've recently tested.
While far from a convertible, the Sahara i440D does include a small folding keyboard that attaches to the unit as well as a plastic stand for setting the display on a table. It also comes with a light and very handy folding stand that helps turn the slate into a laptop-like configuration.
Pushing the Right Buttons
The Sahara i440D clearly was designed with plenty of tablet savvy behind it; most of the niceties important to stylus computing are here. Four buttons on the left side of the unit (when in landscape mode) raise and lower volume, change screen orientation, and bring up the Windows Task Manager. Four user-configurable buttons and a fingerprint reader are on the right side. Our only gripe: all of the launch and shortcut keys are large and flush with the front panel, so we found ourselves activating them accidentally on occasion.
Good Dual-Mode Display
Because a stylus can be inconvenient to pop out for simple menu or window clicking, some tablets, including the Sahara i440D, now have dual-mode displays that combine a digitizer for both the precise action with a stylus and touch sensitivity for simple finger presses. The i440D is the first model we have seen, however, with which the user actually switches modes via one of the tablet launch buttons. Touch-Sensitive mode required more of a fingernail tap than a finger press to activate the cursor, but the unit comes with a very extensive and detailed calibration and adjustment tool for customizing sensitivity.
Overall, the 12.1-inch screen was bright and maintained its visibility even at extreme angles and in indirect daylight. (The Sunlight Viewable Wide Angle View Display, which is ideal for field workers, costs an additional $275.) The panel looked only slightly duller than a standard digitizer-only display, and it held up well to finger presses, but the matte finish picked up fingerprints.
Audio input/output was also strong on this slate. The solid dual-array microphone picked up voices well. The stereo speakers were also good for this form factor.
Plenty of Ports
The Sahara has a fair collection of ports, and all are conveniently situated on one of the short sides of the unit. The standard VGA, FireWire, Ethernet, modem, and two USB ports are here, as well as the audio-in and -out jack. Unusual for a tablet is the eSATA port, which will connect to compatible external SATA drives for superfast data transfers or backups.
Sahara i440D Performance
The 1.83-GHz Intel Core 2 Duo L2500 processor started the Sahara i440D quickly, and along with the 80GB 5,400-rpm hard drive, loaded programs fast. Although the system's PCMark Vantage score of 1,655 is below average for an ultraportable, this slate handled most Vista operations without irritating pauses. The integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 950 has barely enough 3D horsepower to run Vista's Aero interface and gave us a below-average 3DMark03 score of 972. If you want better performance, we highly recommend an upgrade from 1GB to 2GB of RAM ($159).
Wireless and Battery Life
With throughput of 16.6 Mbps at 15 feet from our access point, and 12.4 Mbps from 50 feet, the wireless performance of the i440D's 802.11a/b/g radio was fine but not great. Battery life was below average for an ultraportable. The heavy-duty battery lasted 3 hours and 4 minutes with Wi-Fi off, about an hour short of the average. For a tablet that feels solid enough for outdoor use, 3 hours seems stingy.
TabletKiosk offers a one-year standard warranty but doesn't have a toll-free number to call for support. You're stuck sending the company an e-mail or visiting its online forums.
Sahara Slate PC i440D Verdict
If you're in the market for a slate, the $2,295 Sahara i440D is a good choice. It's comfortable to use for long stretches, and we appreciate the versatility and responsiveness of the dual-mode display. It's evident that TabletKiosk understands how Tableteers actually use these unique devices.