Motion’s CL900 Windows 7 Tablet – First Look

Motion’s CL900 tablet looks a lot like current consumer devices, but is no iPad competitor

Motion Computing has taken the wraps off its first small form factor, rugged tablet PC designed for productivity and business integration. Approaching the tablet market from an opposite direction to Apple’s iPad, Motion claims that its device offers a practical option for customers who require versatility and durability in the workplace.

eWEEK Europe got a preview of Motion’s 10.1-inch CL900, which is expected to be available early in the second quarter of 2011. Weighing in at less than 1kg, it is by far the lightest tablet that Motion offers – and also one of the cheapest, with a price tag of £825.

Motion has been selling tablets for nine years, but we reckon it is a safe bet that in that time it has sold nowhere near the one million tablets shifted by Johnny-come lately Apple in the first month after it launched the iPad last year.

That’s an unfair comparison, of course. Motion has not been selling a consumer gadget frosted with Apple magic, but rugged mobile devices for engineers, utilities workers, and the aviation and healthcare industries. Earlier models such as the J3500 and C5v (with a handle) are larger, heavier and almost twice as expensive, as they run on Intel Core i5 and i7 processors and offer full PC functionality.

But it’s important context. After years of pushing a useful-but-expensive device, Motion now has a chance to catch some reflected glory, and cash in on the sudden receptivity to the idea of tablets amongst its prospective customers.

A light-weight model

The CL900 is Motion’s bid to use the iPad’s popularity on its home markets. It is lighter, slicker  and cheaper than previous models, and is powered by the upcoming Intel Atom processor currently codenamed “Oak Trail”, but it still has the old enterprise features, including Windows 7 – an OS not normally associated with cool tablets – and something you would never see on a consumer tablet: a stylus.

Motion denies this is an iPad competitor, but acknowledges that Apple has opened people’s eyes to the possibilities of tablets. “The iPad is the best thing that ever happened to us,” said Mike Stinson, Motion’s vice president of marketing. “For nine years, the first question out of the box has been, ‘Where’s the keyboard?’ We designed some very elegant keyboards, that we didn’t really want people to have, but they just simply wouldn’t go without a keyboard. People are so much more comfortable now. Touching the display has become acceptable.”

The CL900’s dual-mode touchscreen offers the option of capacitive finger touch or stylus operation. The stylus has its own little compartment tucked away in the side of the device, which pops out when needed. The screen is IP-52 rated, to protect against dust and moisture, and is also covered with scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass, to improve durability.

The Windows 7 operating system is still a long way behind other touch-based systems like Android and iOS. Finger navigation is sticky, and I found myself using the stylus more often than I would like – for closing browser windows and choosing options from a list. Stinson explained that, for the market that this device is aimed at, a stylus is essential, but I still regard this as a limitation for navigation.

The stylus itself is so precise that it often took a few attempts to hit exactly the right spot. Despite this, display quality is good, and incorporates DuPont Vertak which means that the screen remains visible in various lighting conditions.

The screen had a rather poor viewing angle, which made it difficult for three people to see the screen at once. Stinson explained that visibility in daylight had been chosen as a priority over viewing angle, as most applications don’t require it.

I also noticed that pressure on the screen produced white blobs on the display, due to flexing of the frame and components touching. eWEEK Europe was shown a pre-production model, however, and Motion assured me that this would be fixed before the final model is released.

Long battery life

Around half of the device is taken up by a lithium-ion battery, allowing up to 8 hours of constant use. The design is more boxy than some other tablets, but at less than 16mm thick, the screen fits nicely into the crook of an arm. It has a 30GB or 62GB solid state drive (SSD), and up to 2GB of RAM, as well as a USB port, SD card slot, audio and video connections in the form of HDMI and headphone sockets.

While the CL900 is able to multi-task, performance was slow when I tried to run two media-rich files on top of one another. However, Motion pointed out that most of its customer base would not be placing such high demands on the device, making greater use of enterprise applications that require less processing power.

The CL900 has rear and front-facing cameras, offering 3.0 megapixel and 1.3 megapixel resolution respectively. Photos are stored in JPG format with a resolution up to 2048 x 1536 pixels.

Connectivity is not a problem with this device, as the optional integrated Gobi 3000 mobile broadband module offers GPS, 802.11 a/b/g/n WLAN and Bluetooth 3.0. Users can also connect to 3G through a wireless SIM port.

The security of enterprise mobile devices is always a high priority, and not one that Motion has overlooked. The company demonstrated how the back of the device could be unscrewed in order to bolt peripherals such as a card and fingerprint reader onto the side of the tablet. The device also ships with Computrace Complete anti-theft software, allowing companies to track missing devices and remotely delete data.

A niche device

The CL900 will undoubtedly generate a lot of interest among Motion’s key customers. As a versatile tablet for entering client data with a stylus and running enterprise applications, it is a well-designed and robust device. Unlike other ‘enterprise tablets’ such as the RIM PlayBook, which is essentially a high-tech toy for C-level executives, Motion’s CL900 has honed in on its core markets and created a practical device for day-to-day use.

The bottom line, however, is that Motion remains a niche company. The CL900 may look similar to an iPad or a Samsung Galaxy Tab, but it will never appeal to the wider market, largely because Windows 7 does not provide the touch responsiveness that many people have come to expect from tablets.