Not to be a name-dropper, but when Bill Gates spotted me recently at a news conference in Ann Arbor, Mich., his face broke into a big grin...

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Not to be a name-dropper, but when Bill Gates spotted me recently at a news conference in Ann Arbor, Mich., his face broke into a big grin and he greeted me with something to the effect of “Hey, Mike, my favorite reporter!”

Alas, it wasn’t my journalistic skills that brought the compliment. It was the machine I had, a Tablet PC. Gates loves it. He thinks it’s one of the most innovative and useful things Microsoft has invented, even though it’s been slow in taking off.

The last time we met, in April during a visit to Dearborn, Mich., Gates was so taken by my use of the Tablet that he mentioned me by name a few days later during a speech in Seattle. So when Gates saw me again using a Tablet, he once again beamed approval.

Later, when I asked him about technology that personally excites him, he mentioned the Tablet PC. “I’m staking my reputation on it in a very big way,” he said.

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The Tablet PC that I was using is the LS800 from Motion Computing, one of a dozen or so computer makers who put out Tablet versions. Some look just like laptops. The screen swivels around to cover the keyboard and, with a stylus, you can take notes in handwriting right on the screen’s surface.

If you want a keyboard, swivel the screen up and around, and it works like a regular laptop.

The LS800, like all of the Austin, Texas-based Motion’s models, is a slate tablet, meaning there is no attached keyboard. The whole computer is contained in the box that makes up the screen.

Most of the work is done in your own handwriting, which can be translated back as text or stored as you would notes on paper.

The unit will also work by wireless Bluetooth with an optional detached keyboard.

The LS800 is the tiniest of the slates made by Motion, weighing just 2.2 pounds and about the size of a thin paperback book — 8.94 inches by 6.60 inches by 0.87 inch thick. A button lets you have the screen appear in vertical or horizontal formats.

It has built-in Wi-Fi and runs the Windows XP Tablet PC operating system. That means it’s just like Windows XP, with the additional ability to do on-screen note taking and drawing, which Microsoft calls “ink.”

On the unit I’ve been testing, though, is what I think is the single most useful piece of software I have ever used: Microsoft’s OneNote.

This lets you take handwritten notes on a Tablet PC and simultaneously record an interview. Afterward, tap the screen next to a notation you made, and it plays back what was being recorded at that precise time.

All Tablets have a built-in microphone. On the LS800, though, is a multidirectional array microphone design and configurable acoustics software called Speak Anywhere that maximizes sound quality.

I recorded the news briefing with Gates, for example. He was two seats to my right around a conference table, and the mic picked up every word just fine.

The LS800 lists for $1,899 with a basic configuration of 256 MB of RAM and a 20GB hard drive. The unit I tested had upgraded memory (512 MB), a 30 GB hard drive and an optional software package that included preinstalled Microsoft Office and OneNote applications, and cost $2,338.

You can get OneNote as a stand-alone product for about $80 online.

Personally, I prefer the larger Motion 1400 Tablet I bought about a year ago. When I’m not using it for interviews at work, I carry the 15-inch tablet around the house to read the Web and handle e-mail.