Thursday, November 10, 2005
My experience with Tablet PCs
Forgive the long post, but I’ve been working on this for a while.
On November 7, 2002 Microsoft launched the Tablet PC platform and what a ride it has been.
I have been through more computers in the past three years than I ever thought possible. I have owned or still own the following Tablet PCs in the following order: HP TC1000, Motion M1300, Toshiba M200, Motion M1400VA, HP TC1100, HP TC4200, Motion LE1600 VA, Gateway M280E, Toshiba M200. That is 9 Tablet PCs. Fortunately for my checkbook (with the exeption of one or two tablets), I’ve been able to sell them for about what I paid for them.
Some of the tablets I used for 3 – 4 months, others I’ve used for a year. Still others, I only used for a week or so. I used the M200 for the longest period of time – about a year.
One of the reasons for the cycle of tablets is that I have to really use a new form factor before I can make any recommendations to my customers. I have to really understand the issues involved – I’ll spend time and money on my end so my customers don’t have to deal with the high learning curve on their end. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about the strengths and weakness of each platform. I can examine someone’s working style or occupation, be able to explain the challenges and issues and be able to speak from an “I’ve been there” perspective.
Just this past week, I met with a customer and we were talking about using a computer in the warehouse. no need for keyboard when walking about. Without any hesitation, I told him to look at the LE1600 and its docking solutions. I knew it would work for him because I had used it.
So, what have been my challenges and what I have I leared about how I work the best?
Screens – The TC1100 10” screen was too small for my needs. The 14” tablet is too big and heavy for how mobile I am. The 12” size has proven to be my favorite – thus the attractiveness of the Motion slates and the Toshiba M200. I really love the View Anywhere Motion screens, and the M200 screen works really well with its high resolution and when you remove the grainey coating. I love a screen to be flush with its casing – the tc1100 and m200, and M280E have that. The LE1600 doesn’t. The TC4200 doesn’t. I understand that Motion’s LS800 is flush. Don’t underestimate how much a smooth surface does for your arm when writing. All tablet PCs should have flush screens.
Keyboards have shown to be more of an issue than I thought or wanted them to be, but it has been where I have learned my greatest lessons and offer my customers and OEMS the greatest insight. I have a longing for a great slate tablet pc. i don’t know what it is about them, but I just like the “idea” of using a slate. I just don’t like the “reality” of using one. You can look at my list of tablets and see that my slates have all been Motion Tablet PCs. I really, really like them. Motion designs a fabulous slate Tablet PC. However best they have tried, though, Motion Computing has not been able to get the hardtop / convertible keyboard right. There have either been typing quality issues, latch problems, hinge breakages, or loud hinge creaking sounds. The keyboard can’t attach to the back when using an extended battery, so I had to remember to bring it with me wherever I went. The only place to attach the keyboard when not using it was the front – which means you can’t write on the tablet. While using the LE1600 and its keyboard in a meeting, i would adjust the angle and create a loud creaking sound that would totally disrupt the meeting – that is not the transparent computing that Tablet PCs are supposed to deliver. Bottom line:The seamlessness and transparency to use the Motion keyboards with the slate has been lacking and it has caused me a lot of headaches. Thus, after using them, I’ve always gone back to either a hybrid or a convertible.
One of the problems may lie in my standard of comparison: the TC1x00. HP just did that one right and nobody has been able to match them. The keyboard just naturally fit in with the slate part – no loud noise, no breakages, no typing issues. Flip it around to use it. Lock the tablet into a portfolio – with or without the keyboard attached. Write on the tablet while locked in the portfolio with the keyboard attached. Seamlessness and no worries.
Speed – As nice as the TC1100 is, it has never been a speed demon in regards to video and processor. With the type of programming work that I do, I need something more capable. That has always been the driving force for me when I have decided to move past the TC1100. The LE1600 and M200 have proven to be very capable in that regard. The TC4200 is a very capable convertible as well – for the money, you get a lot of tablet pc.
Battery – I have really grown to appreciate extended batteries. As has been shown from above, I don’t like having to remember to bring something else along or charge another battery in the battery charger, bring my ac adapter, etc. I just want to take my computer and be able to use it for 5 hours if I need to with no battery worries. The LE1600 really spoiled me in that regard. The battery fit so nicely in to the back and I never worried about charging it or bringing it along. The TC4200 has an extended battery as well, but it felt very awkward with it attached to the back – not smooth or integrated. I like the idea of tablet PCs with CD ROM support soley so I can use it for extended battery purposes. That, to me, would be ideal.
Docking Stations – docking stations have proven to be very useful to me – just grab and go – don’t worry about the cable mess. Motion and HP have made the best docking stations in my opinion.
All of the above bring to me what I have learned about how I best use a tablet pc.
At my desk: For me, I have found that a tablet pc is best used as an secondary computer. I normally own at least two computers at a time – one for production work, the other for notetaking and beta testing software. I could, theoretically get away with one high powered tablet pc. However, I don’t like Extended Display and have never been able to get it to work reliably. I want to do my work and be able to take notes just by reaching over and writing. For as much promise as Extended Displays offers, it is just not a transparent process to do so. For example, I’m currently using an M200 as my tablet pc. As much as I would like to, I can’t use it as my only computer because I can’t write and work at the same time. I can’t just reach across with my right hand and jot a note. I have to flip the screen around, rotate it, then write. That is too much interuption in the flow of working. If I leave the M200 in tablet mode, the display gets flipped upside down on the monitor. So..I have two computers: A thinkpad t42 on which I do my programming work and an M200 on which I do my notetaking while at my desk. Lately, most of my notetaking and project planning takes place in MindManager, with a heavy reliant on ActiveWords and their InkPad product. I do all of my email work on my thinkpad. Nothing special about the thinkpad – it could be a high powered desktop for all that matters. I just like having the flexability of bringing both computers with me wheverever I go, whenever I need to.
When mobile: I use the Microsoft sync powertoy prior to leaving and take my M200 with me. My Verizon EVDO / CDMA card stays with me in the car so I can jump on the web when I need to. A PC card slot is essential. I’ve got all of my programming tools, files, and notes with me. The keyboard is a non-issue since it is attached. My only worry right now is battery – since the M200 doesn’t support extended batteries, I have to remember to carry an extra one with me – it is a pain, but I’d rather deal with that pain than the pain of a convertible keyboard and the issues it brings. I take my tablet pc with me to church for notetaking and bible markup, and I prefer to use my tablet pc when sitting in the recliner watching Monday Night Football.
So…given all of my experience with hybrids, slates, and convertibles, where does that leave me in terms of my ideal? Well, the closest that I’ve gotten to my ideal is with my current M200 – 12” screen, 2.0 ghz, 60 gb 7200rpm harddrive, 2 gb of ram, 1400 x 1050 resolution, built-in keyboard, and a pc card slot. I needed a tablet that could perform as well as my laptop and that it does. It could be drastically improved upon by adding an integrated modular CD ROM for extended battery purposes. Unless Motion designs a tablet like the TC1100, I don’t think I will ever go back to using a slate. I need my tablet to work for me, not me work for my tablet.
For right now, that is where I am at. I’ve learned a lot about how I work and what works best for me. The great thing about Tablet PCs is that there IS a right configuration for you. Somewhere in the mess above, you will find your best configuration.Who knows, I might end up buying a TC1100 1.2 ghz for historical purposes – I doubt we see another one like it for quite some time.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
I had the same problem with my 1600. I originally got the Executive Portfolio. Didn't work. The field case is even a smaller form factor. And you know that the Motion is capable.
I am going to review it on my site later this weekend.
It makes for a very bulky package to lug around, and it doesn't allow me to just sit in a chair and use the slate and type. What I need to be able to do is just whip out the computer - use it in slate or laptop mode without having to think about what I need to do to make it work.
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