By writing this article, I have probably put myself on the “hit list” of every Tablet PC enthusiast. James Kendrick runs a great site called jkOnTheRun. Hugo Ortega runs a site at Uber Tablet. There are also a lot of sites that support the UMPC (ultra mobile pc), a mini Tablet PC that has pretty much bombed despite some attractive features. Even though the Tablet PC platform that was introduced in 2002 has yet to become mainstream, it still has a strong cult following.
A Tablet PC is a notebook (sometimes slate-shaped) mobile computer. Its touch screen or digitizing tablet technology allows the user to operate the computer with a stylus or digital pen. Most tablets today allow the user to use the keyboard like a regular notebook, but also allow for the screen to be turned and “folded back” so the unit resembles a notebook. Tablet PC computers usually have less memory and omit other features which similarly priced notebooks have. They are somewhat popular in the business world, where people can substitute their tablet for pen and paper. But is it really a substitute?
I entered the Tablet PC world in May of 2006 when I purchased the first ultra mobile Tablet PC, the Samsung Q1. Writing on this was very uncomfortable since the letters would vector themselves into outrageous shapes if I happened to touch the screen while I was writing. The actual handwriting appearance was completely annoying as the writing would appear “squiggly” as I inked a word, but straighten itself out afterwards. The promising new Sony UX Micro PC series didn’t help the situation either. While the screen on these computers had a resolution that made everything look razor sharp, the actual digitizer (which operates at a different resolution) must have had a total resolution of about 5 pixels. Try inking on it and you’ll know what I mean.
At the end of the year, Fujitsu came out with what seemed to be the perfect pen and paper replacement: the P1610D tablet. Not only was this tablet about the size of a paperback book, but it also employed a technology that allowed the user to rest his/her palm on the screen while writing. Unfortunately, early releases of this tablet had calibration problems and when the processor was very active, inking became quite painful.
Luckily, Fujitsu also released the T4215 series, an active tablet (which requires a special kind of stylus pen) that has a gorgeous (but somewhat grainy) screen, DVD writer, and other attractive features. While the T4215 makes a great notebook (and it is priced far more than other notebooks with similar features), it is just too heavy to take with you and write whenever you want. Putting it on your lap is also the equivalent of going out in the hot sun and flashing a huge magnifying class on your legs. You get the point!
Two months ago, HP got into the game with its very affordable TX1000 Entertainment PC, which also works as a tablet. Everything looks great until you try and ink on this. The horrifying experience is equivalent to writing on a pad of paper with a pen that is running out of ink. After using this for an hour, I actually considered smashing it against the wall.
Luckily, Fry’s Electronics allows computer returns without a 15% restocking fee. I thought that perhaps I expected too much from this absolute piece of junk and was happy to find out that they had received five returns of the same exact computer that day. To be fair to HP, this computer is advertised as an “Entertainment PC” rather than a “Tablet PC.” It’s entertaining enough if you just make sure to look at the screen at a completely straight angle. Otherwise, the screen looks undersaturated.
My final attempt was an OQO Model 02, which I reviewed very favorably a couple weeks back. The fact that this mini computer didn’t have a slot for the stylus, as well as the slow processor creating lag time when inking, made this computer useless for my inking needs. While I was very impressed with the screen at first, I noticed it looked quite different at other angles. Luckily, someone on eBay bought it for almost the full amount I had paid. After shipping the unit to the lucky (as long as he’s not using it as a tablet) new owner, I felt a sense of frustration. “What’s next?” I asked myself and the answer didn’t hit me until I arrived at the office the next morning.
I noticed a plain white binder that almost seemed to be trying to communicate to me. Instantly, my mind had flashbacks of the days before I became a tablet geek: buying smooth, ball point pens; being able to read without having a screen glare back in my face; and knowing that all my writing would be there without having to press a “save” button.
I remembered how much more simple those days were, especially knowing that my notes would be right in front of me whenever I wanted. I converted my Windows Journal and Microsoft OneNote files into PDFs, and printed everything out that I needed for work. Luckily, I had easy access to a hole puncher. My next duty was to find folder tabs. I labeled one tab “admin,” the other, “tasks,” and another “general information.” I thought of a couple more categories but wanted to keep it simple. I then filed each page under the tab that matched it the most.
While rapidly snapping in the pages, I was reminded of how much time I’ve wasted this past year on Tablet PCs. My life could have been so much more productive had I not purchased so many tablets, lost sleep over the excitement of their arrival the next day, being frustrated because they didn’t meet my needs, and going through the hassle to return them. I decided to make up for that time by buying a beautiful Sony notebook, the new FZ140E, which I’ll review in another article. I can’t write on this thing, but for a price much cheaper than most of the tablets I purchased, it has a far better screen, a more useful keyboard, a faster DVD writer, more memory, better speakers, etc.
Some may argue that a pen and paper may be great, but they need something where they can view their most important information wherever they go. This, my friends, is what a Smartphone or PDA phone is for. Every cell phone carrier has at least five phones that have thumb keyboards, organizers, Internet access, email access, word processing, etc. I’m using a Motorola Q right now, which feels like a small bar of thin soap. Before that, I had the Treo 700p and countless others throughout the years. On all these phones, I have installed Microsoft Word-compatible software that allows easy synching between my mobile device and my laptop.
Now, I’ve decided to take it a little further. On the phone, I have put the following folders: Work; Personal; Bills; Blogs; Computer. I’m going to use these folders to put only the most important information I write down on pen and paper each day, such as passwords, information about one of my company's products, how to use certain features of all my graphic design software, etc. I will always have this information at my fingertips and on my computer, whenever I sync the phone to it. For those who want to be more on the cutting edge, you can now sync Microsoft OneNote files with your windows mobile device even adding pictures and sounds to your notes.
Tablet PC enthusiasts are living in a dream world. They may think they are cool by writing on a computer screen with a digital pen; it certainly garners them attention. They may think they are cool because they can use a computer without typing. They also think they are ahead of ordinary geeks because they can velcro their tablets to their car dashboards and use them as GPS machines, or even media players. What good is this if the battery life on most tablets running advanced applications lasts them about as long as Paris Hilton’s singing career? I understand their dream world as I was once a part of it. For now, just give me plain old paper and a nice pen!Powered by Sidelines