From: "Jonathan S. Shapiro" <shap@eros-os.org>
Date: Sun, 10 Nov 2002 20:38:52 -0500
Subject: [e-lang] Review: Toshiba Tablet PC

[Dave: This is for IP,  if you like]

I don't normally write reviews, but I've just bought a new "Tablet PC"
that I'm really enjoying,  and that's rare enough that it's worth talking
about. You may have seen the article in th Wall Street Journal or
another in the New York Times about these machines. puffmail

On Friday (the 7th, the day they released) I caved in and bought two of
the Toshiba Portege 3505's for our lab.  The CompUSA guys hadn't set up
their floor machines yet, and had to dig mine out of the warehouse, so I
was probably one of the earlier buyers. I work on operating systems, so
I'm constantly buying new machines. Usually I don't enjoy the process,
but these machines have (so far) been an exception..

The Toshiba unit is a hybrid. It can be used as either a laptop or a
tablet.  At 4.1 pounds it makes a reasonable high-performance laptop but
it's a bit heavy as a tablet. At $2500, it compares favorably (on a cost
basis) with high-end laptops that come with built-in networking, with
the exception that it's screen resolution is only 1024x768. There are
other Tablet PCs that are cheaper, and overall my sense is that they are
priced in the same range as comparably equipped laptops -- again with
the exception of screen resolution.

Because of this, I think that these machines are going to succeed.  I
think that WSJ and NYTimes have missed the boat completely when they
said "but look what happened to GO". There are two important differences
relative to the last generation of tablet PCs:

  1. These machines are full-featured laptops. 
  2. Today, Microsoft is the vendor. Last time, Microsoft
     sought to undermine the vendors.

My case, I think, will prove reasonably common. I was gearing up to buy
new laptops at about the $2500 mark for my lab.  I wanted large disk
drives, built-in WiFi, external VGA ports, and a high-resolution
display. I saw the Tablet and decided that I could live with lower
resolution in order to get the pen inputs, so I decided to buy a couple
and give them a try. About the only real regret I had in buying them was
having to take a step down on display resolution.

Today, there aren't any "killer apps" out for the tablet machines.  As a
result, their short-term success depends heavily on the fact that you
can use them as a laptop. In the short term, this may present a
challenge to the "purer" units like the Fujitsu unit. Look ahead 9
months and I think we'll be starting to see some changes in the
application landscape. The comments that follow are based on the
applications I could run *today*.


In the near term, your satisfaction with the tablet machines will depend
a lot on what you do with your machine.  For text input, the pen is only
so so. I don't want to enter text with the pen when I don't have to, but
I do find that even when I use the machine as a laptop I use the pen in
preference to the touchpad (this may be because I hate touchpads). Also,
it's *much* easier to lean over the machine to look at something with a
second person when you can lay it flat on the table.
 
Handwriting recognition is not as well integrated as the IPaq (which I
use daily).  Given that the IPaq also runs Windows this came as a
surprise. Overall, the handwriting recognition *quality* is comparable,
and I haven't finished fiddling with the configuration modes to figure
out what mode works best for me for handwriting. I'm a touch typist, and
I suspect that handwriting is simply *never* going to be a better option
for me than typing when I am trying to input text.

On the other hand,  the newspaper articles failed completely to mention
that these machines include speech recognition software that's very
good. It's actually feasible to dictate with these machines in a normal
room. I trained it in a room full of computer fans, and to my surprise
it did fine. I'll let you know after I've been using the machine for a
few weeks.

For browsing and reading, the tablet is *terrific*.  For presentations
its amazing -- I plan to use one in a presentation on Tuesday, and I'm
expecting the ability to set the display flat on the lecture stand will
make quite a difference. Annotation of documents is weak, mostly due to
weak integration in the applications, but that will change. If somebody
takes the IBM notepad software for markup and integrates that we could
get something quite interesting.

Also, using the machines for drawing object is going to be delightful. 
Dragging with a mouse is a terribly awkward way to draw. On occasion I
have resorted to an external "tablet" for this kind of thing, and I
suspect that I won't do that any more.

On the whole, the pen is reasonably well integrated given that the
software is still catching up.  The display sensor is an "active"
display, which means it can track the mouse while the pen "hovers" over
the display without quite touching. Should help reduce screen
scratching. The first unit I got needed to be recalibrated (noticeable
gap between where you press and where the screen thinks the pen is) but
that was easily done.

The integrated WiFi is a must. The Toshiba unit can have *both* WiFi and
BlueTooth, which presents some interesting options.  It also has built-in
CF and SD slots, letting me remove a bunch of gear from my office desk
at home. My house has WiFi, and it makes an amazing difference to be
able to sit on a couch and read a document in something approximating
normal size. I still won't get rid of paper altogether, but a lot of the
motivation for keeping paper copies of things like research documents
just went away. It will be interesting to see what impact this has on
copyright infringement. puffmail


The most interesting point about these machines, I think, lies in the
future opportunities for collaborative applications.  We went to fairly
great lengths in my lab to set up a whiteboard and projector system
where we can *almost* work together collaboratively. With the tablet
devices and built-in wireless, I can imagine a simple "shared surface"
drawing program that multiple people can work with.

Overall, I think these devices are going to turn out to be a big win. 

I'll provide more reactions after I've been using the machines for
several weeks and the "honeymoon" is over. 


Jonathan Shapiro 

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