Friday, January 20, 2006

My Tablet Computer Experience

I have been using a Tablet for about 3 months now, and wanted to write down a few notes about the experience so far. This article is not a review of any specific model, but about the TabletPC (Convertible) concept in general. (For the interested, the exact model is the Lenovo/IBM ThinkPad X41 Tablet, with 1.5 GB RAM. This is my forth or fifth ThinkPad actually... first one was a ThinkPad 560 back in 1997!)

In short - I love it. The "convertible" concept makes sense to me. Yes, I use it as a "normal" (sub-)notebook fairly frequently for anything from writing emails to actual programming - but I love to be able to switch it to "slate" mode, at work in a meeting, while travelling e.g. in the train, at home on the sofa...

What I probably use it most for is as a compact reading device - it really does make a difference to read a PDF file in full screen portrait instead of the usual landscape dimension! Think turning your screen so that look more like a Letter/A4 paper than it probably does now while you are reading this. Similarly, I love browsing the Web from my living room couch, not sitting on a desk, with the tablet! Either in portrait or this more often in the usual landscape dimension - easy to switch! Just using the pen works well for browsing - you need a lot less keys to consume information than to contribute any... in fact not just less keys, less brain too - but that's another story. Of course, music plays from the tablet while reading or browsing... Of course, I could have a similar experience with some MP3_player+eBook_Reader+ePen+Laptop(+POTS_Phone), but for now, a "converged device" approach based on a TabletPC works just great for me.

Now, I have almost not used the character recognition for anything real... it "reasonably" works well, but... I don't have a need for it, can that be?! I do have spent many a meeting now taking notes scribbled on the tablet, instead of paper; both for emailing them to colleagues in ink form, and to later look up something - without carrying that paper notebook around anymore. I just usually don't bother, need, to convert such handwriting to text.

I do wish it would be simple to quickly scribble an email - again no ink-to-text conversion would be needed, just scribble a handwritten short note and send it off - as picture. Surprisingly, this is not easily possible with Outlook (there is a commercial 3rd party plug-in though), and certainly not with Thunderbird yet.

Something else is drawing with the TabletPC - definitely feels more natural. Should be obvious I guess, but if you do have some doubts, do some Noddy cartoon character colouring with your small kid with a Mouse and a Tablet Pen and watch what he/she pick up more naturally... I am no artist, but have occasionally used this to draw up a diagram or something. It's particularly handy to draw or jot down ideas during a presentation, with the TabletPC hooked up to a beamer... ;-)