Tablet PCs were practically foisted onto an unwilling public. Despite attempts to make them usable, the Windows Tablet concept remains unloved. Contrast this with netbooks, where the notebook-buying audience seemed to jump on the idea as soon as the first models crept onto the market.
So what happens when you combine a tablet with a netbook? Let's ask the Gigabyte M912M, a diminutive laptop with a regular folding LCD display that doubles as a tablet touchscreen.
In basic form, the Gigabyte M912M sports the usual complement of ports and components you'll find on just about any netbook today. There's a 9in screen, three USB ports, VGA video out, ethernet and a couple of card slots, one for SD, the other ExpressCard|34.
Inside the Gigabyte M912M is an Intel Atom processor, 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard disk. As is usual for a small cheap computer, the Gigabyte M912M takes the slow Intel integrated graphics chipset for video, so don't expect to play any 3D games here.
The touchscreen is the only differentating point here, earning the Gigabyte M912M a hefty price premium of around £200 over what you'd expect for a 9in-screen mini notebook. Or put another way, the touchscreen nearly doubles the price.
You can use the Gigabyte M912M as a regular laptop by lifting the screen upright from its closed position; or swivel it clockwise by 180 degrees and fold it flat to the body, making a book-like tablet. In its raised position, the Gigabyte M912M's wobbly screen on a flimsy hinge means it's not ideally placed for touchscreen action, until you fold the screen down to the body.
We found the Gigabyte M912M's touchscreen quite sensitive to finger dabbing, but really it needs a stylus to be entirely usable. It's difficult to close windows when they're maximised on this small low-resolution screen, for example, as the X is set too far into the corner to get a fingertip in.
The keyboard of the Gigabyte M912M, as is common for the smaller 9in netbook models, is tiny-tiny, although the keys seemed solid, flexfree and precise in action. In general build, the Gigabyte M912M rates as ‘okay' - but it's below what we'd expect of nearly half a thousand pounds.
In performance terms, there were no suprises here. In our real-world speed test, the Gigabyte M912M score 29 points in WorldBench 6, slightly below other modern netbooks, and here hindered by failing to run six out of the benchmark test's ten routines. Battery life of the Gigabyte M912M was short on useful uptime, measuring 2 hours 50 minutes in the MobileMark 2007 Productivity test.
There may be some environments when a touchscreen walkabout netbook can be useful, in which case the M912 could still earn its keep. But is there a need for netbook performance at a tablet price? For normal usage, given its high price, uninspiring and plasticky build and so-so battery life, even with the addition of a touchscreen interface it still fails to impress.