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By Chris De Herrera 
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Smart Displays versus Tablet PCs and Pocket PCs - Which is Best for You?
By Chris De Herrera, Copyright 2003
 Revised 2/5/2003

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At CES, Microsoft introduced the Smart Display. The Smart Display is a remote desktop client to Windows XP.  The Tablet PC was introduced on November 7, 2002 in New York City.  In this article I compare the features and capabilities of the Smart Display and the Tablet PC.

 The Smart Display - View Your Desktop via Wi-Fi

The Smart Display is a 10� to 15� LCD display with a touch screen.  The touch screen allows users to use the stylus or a pen to interact with the display like a mouse.   There is a know side effect of the touch screen, if you touch the screen at the same time you are using the stylus, your cursor may jump to a place you did not intend it to be at.  Also in order to use the Smart Display, a Wi-Fi LAN must be configured and a Windows XP Professional (not Home or Windows 2000) PC with remote desktop support is required.  Viewsonic offers their Smart Displays with USB based Wi-Fi adapter and an upgrade copy of Windows XP Professional so you can upgrade your PC to work with the Smart Display.  The Smart Display allows the user to connect back to their desktop using remote desktop support so they can run all the same applications that their desktop has without re-installing them.  Further remote desktop supports playing audio files however it does not play video properly so don�t plan on watching videos on it. Also while you are connected to your desktop, you cannot use the desktop in any way, just like using remote desktop from any other PC running Windows 9x, ME, 2000 or XP.  Once you are connected you can use the stylus as a replacement for the mouse and you can use a pop-up keyboard or handwriting recognition to enter data into your PC. The handwriting recognition appears to operate similar to the Tablet PC Soft Input Panel (SIP).  By the way, the Smart Display has audio in, audio out, USB ports (for a keyboard and mouse) and a PC Card slot. Also, you can surf the web and do anything else your PC does from anywhere in the house.

The Tablet PC - Ink, Handwriting and Voice Recognition

The Tablet PC is a full blown Windows XP Professional with the Tablet PC Extensions installed by the manufacturer.  You cannot upgrade an existing PC to add the Tablet PC Extensions.  So since you have a full blown computer with Windows XP, you can install applications such as Office XP on it.  You can also use ink with the Tablet PC in selected applications that have been modified to support ink as an option like Office XP with the Tablet PC extensions or other applications designed to support ink.  Further the Tablet PC uses handwriting recognition or a pop-up keyboard for data entry into all existing applications regardless of whether they support ink or not.  Since the Tablet PC is a full blown computer, you generally have a variety of input options including a PC Card slot, USB port. 1394 FireWire (iLink) and a VGA port as well as a built in modem and 10/100 Ethernet port so you can connect a variety of peripherals.  Also you can use the Tablet PC as a client to a Windows XP Professional PC using the remote desktop. Finally the Tablet PC allows you to use it by itself since it does not depend on another PC to operate.

The Pocket PC - Handwriting, Instant On and Small

The Pocket PC offers a rom based operating system called Pocket PC 2002 that is based on Windows CE.  Pocket PC 2002 includes productivity applications like Pocket Word, Pocket Excel and Terminal Services Client.  The Pocket PC depends on the ability to use a passive stylus or finger to click on the screen and handwriting as well as ink.  Of course you can use a pop-up soft keyboard or a real keyboard plugged into the bottom of the Pocket PC.  Also the Pocket PC supports a variety of peripherals in the form of CompactFlash and PC Cards including Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GSM/GPRS, serial, USB, etc.  Overall the Pocket PC is highly mobile due to it's pocketable size and it does not depend on another PC to operate.

Feature Comparison


Smart Display

Tablet PC

Pocket PC

Handwriting Recognition


Yes, more options

Yes, more options





Pressure Sensitivity Stylus


Most offer this


Stand Alone Use

No, requires a host pc

Yes, runs Windows XP Professional

Yes, runs Pocket PC 2002

Display for Desktop PC

Option on selected units



Keyboard and Mouse

Optional via USB

Optional built in or USB

Optional external keyboard

Display Resolution

800x600, 1024x768 16 bit color LCD

1024x768 16 bit color LCD

320 x 240 x 16 bit color LCD
Display Size 10 to 15" 10" to 12" 3" to 4"

Plays Video




Battery Life

About 4 hours

3 to 20+ hours

6-12 hours


Less than 3 lbs to 6 lbs

2.2 to 4 lbs

less than 1 lbs






The use of the Smart Display is really limited to the functionality that is possible using the remote desktop support and the installed applications on the desktop.  The Tablet PC and Pocket PC can also connect to your PC using remote desktop support and still function as a stand alone PC as well.  The cost structure of the Smart Display is not inexpensive compared to other devices such as a Pocket PC, notebook PC or Tablet PC. Clearly the reduced functionality should be cheaper since consumers can perform the same functionality and have more features with a notebook pc (these are now available under $1,000 on the low end). Also, based on my review of the Microsoft Office XP license, I believe you are allowed to install Office XP on both your PC and notebook with the same license if you are the primary user of both machines.  Since Office is one of the main reasons that users want to use their PCs, this allows them to use Office on both PCs.  I think that some consumers will like the simple features of the Smart Display even though the price point is so high since it is easier to setup than a Pocket PC, notebook or Tablet PC to perform the same functions.   So if you want the greatest flexibility, I suggest considering a notebook PC or a Tablet PC or if you want high portability consider a Pocket PC instead of the Smart Display even if it costs you a little more.

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