I have always been fascinated by Tablet PCs. When they came out there was a resounding cry from Microsoft and HP that it was the next evolution in computing, while Dell was skeptical and unofficially branded the entire product line as stupid. Although I have no first hand knowledge of why Dell would react this way, I sense it has more to do with the positioning of HP and Dell in the marketplace than about the actual merits of the tablet PC. As of today, Dell is using any tablet PC hype as an advertising opportunity by buying "tablet pc" as a keyword on Google and redirecting people to their site to purchase desktops.
When the opportunity came up to pick up an HP TC1100 Tablet PC, I bought it and reviewed it for two weeks. I took it to meetings, took it back and forth home on my motorcycle, and generally relied on it for everything.
While I have some notable improvements (and advice on buying a different tablet), I don’t think tablets are a failure. Neither HP, nor Microsoft, nor Dell is entirely correct about their status. My business partner would say that tablet pc’s are a "feature, not a product in an of itself", and I think he’s right about this. Over time you’ll want the ability to write on your screen for a lot of reasons, only one of which is the fact that it’s just more convenient and is incredibly useful. But it’s not an entirely new product. It’s a feature that will be incorporated into all laptops over time.
In fact during the time I was testing the tablet, I often caught myself using the tablet stylus to click on items on other computer screens out of habit, and my Alzheimer’s isn’t supposed to kick in for at least another thirty years. That says a lot about the power of this user interface, if you ask me.
My bottom line:
I’m moving to use a tablet as my main machine. I’m hooked. And I’m going to keep the HP TC1100 for the moment.
What follows below is my specific advice and observations about getting and using a tablet. If you have a tablet for a month or more, you’d probably figure all this out on your own. But if you’re thinking about getting a tablet, then this ought to help guide you.
Observation: Tablets are multi-modal
The tablet is a new paradigm in computing, allowing you to use it in a "heavy content creation" mode, as well as in a "content consumption" mode.
I’m not going to haul off and write my great American novel with the stylus. For that, I’ll twist the unit and get the keyboard. Sometimes, though, you want to be mobile, and the tablet is a better "notepad mode" device that even a paper notepad for me.
I also tested the tablet with a lefty, who said he didn’t find the tablet to be an impairment for southpaws. My tester is a law student though, and said he didn’t think that if you took pages of notes every ten minutes that you would switch from a notebook to a tablet, a sentiment I agree with. Going paperless is a luxury of the non-student professional.
There is one additional aspect that most people don’t consider: the social aspect. It’s very rude to be typing on a laptop while speaking to someone. The laptop creates a barrier between you and the other person. This is an important aspect if you pay attention to interpersonal dynamics, or you are a consultant on whom personal impressions literally mean future business. I’ve found that writing in a meeting with the tablet is akin to taking paper notes from an interpersonal point of view.
(Note that the way people rudely use a Blackberry in front of others is one of the reasons I don’t have one)
Gripe: Writing your password can be slow
I made a number of notes on my tablet when I first got it, and the very first one, after unlocking my tablet ten times in one day after it went to sleep, was "Having to write my password every time I wake it up is annoying."
The concept of passwords is not only antiquated, but inappropriate for a tablet environment. The Motion tablets have fingerprint scanners built in, which is the way it should be. (note that they don’t have a keyboard built in).
Gripe: HP’s docking station is poorly engineered
When the tablet sits in the docking station it’s got a very easily disturbed connection. Even the slightest pressure will pop it off the contacts in a visually imperceptible but electronically very important way. I hope they fix this soon, it’s seriously annoying.
Killer apps: Mozilla’s Firefox with mouse gestures
What kind of messed up world do we live in when the killer application for the Microsoft Tablet PC operating system is made by one of it’s greatest competitors?
One of the very first things I installed on my tablet was Firefox with the gestures extension. It allows you to right click and draw an abstract symbol anywhere on the screen and have it interpreted as a browser command. This is such a killer application for a tablet that I’m amazed Microsoft hasn’t thought of it. This is the first thing you should install on your tablet. Hopefully Microsoft will coopt the concept of gestures to let you also control the operating system.
Runners up in the killer app category: Solitaire, Exchange, and all the games (poker clients, backgammon, etc), MS OneNote, and Actual Window Manager
Love: Tablets are more natural naivgational tools
Any application that involves pointing and clicking is going to be a tablet natural, and in fact mousing better on a tablet than a desktop/notebook since using the stylus is a more natural act. We point with our hands and fingers, and using these tools to do interact with the computer is entirely natural, certainly more so than a mouse. (and probably better for all your RSI sufferers)
I tested the tablet on my mom while I was in St. Louis recently waiting for my father to finish surgery. She had never used a tablet, nor had she ever played Windows solitaire before. She took to both like a pro, comfortably using the stylus without training or prompting.
Must have device: Sony Ericsson GC83 GPRS/WIFI wireless websurfing card
The Cingular service that goes with this costs $80 / month and it’s worth every penny. Imagine that you have permanent Internet connectivity without having to hunt for hot spots? It is truly amazing.