Time for an update on the tablet PC – how am I liking it after two weeks?
I recently bought a Toshiba Portege M200 tablet PC. I made some notes in a previous post about how I was getting on with it after four days. I’ve now been using it for two weeks, so it’s time for another update.
Let’s start with a good old executive summary. I love it. It’s a great little laptop, and the extra flexibility you get from the tablet features make a real difference.
I use it as a laptop more than as a slate, but fortunately, it works very nicely as both. The only real downside I’ve found so far is that it is a bit on the heavy side for using as a slate. If you really want to be comfortable sitting reading in bed with a slate-form tablet, you might be better off with the tiny HP models where the keyboard can be completely removed. Go see what James Kendrick thinks of his.
The machine is very small and light. Before this, I had a Toshiba Satellite, and took it with me to work a couple of times, but it was really just a nice neat desktop machine. The tablet is so much smaller and lighter that it can go with me much more often. The decent battery life and the built-in Bluetooth makes it more portable too – I can connect to the Internet from anywhere using GPRS.
I’ve already mentioned the main problem – the machine is a bit on the heavy side to use as a slate for too long – becomes a bit uncomfortable after a while reading in bed, for example. Considering the power of the machine, though, there’s probably not much that can be done about that until the technology moves on a bit. The screen is 1400 x 1050 – there’s a limit to how small and light they can make it. I’m happy with the compromise, though – any smaller, and it would be uncomfortable to use on a desk, which is where it spends most of its time.
Some people in the forums I’ve read have commented on the ‘graininess’ of the screen. I can see what they mean, but I don’t mind it. It’s very much like my iPaq with its WriteSHIELD screen protector on.
Toshiba’s Own Stuff
There’s a load of Toshiba software on the machine to start with, and surprisingly, some of it is actually quite good. Their ConfigFree networking software has dealt with everything I’ve pointed it at so far, and whenever Bluetooth has played up, it seems to be able to fix it itself. The only part I’ve actually got irritated enough by to get rid of so far is the gesturing software, as it got in the way of right-button drag ‘n’ drop – not something everyone uses, but I tend to use it a lot.
This was my first time of trying out OneNote. It’s an odd bit of software, and the main learning curve is just working out what it can be used for. It’s easy to explain Word – it’s like WordPerfect used to be, but easier, more powerful, and far more frustrating. It’s easy to explain Excel – remember Lotus 1-2-3? Just like that, but easier and more powerful. It’s easy to explain PowerPoint – it’s the thing used to make all those presentations you have to sit through occasionally.
OneNote isn’t quite like anything else, though, so it’s much harder to explain. Easiest way is probably to think of it as the stack of paper on the side of your desk, but with a bit more organising ability. You can shove content to it from anywhere – drag and drop; copy and paste; print though the magic printer driver; copy an area of the screen you’re looking at. Once the stuff you want to work on is there, you can add notes. Because this is a tablet, and OneNote is ink-aware, you can scribble your notes on the stuff you’re working on with the tablet pen. It’s great for gathering ideas, researching, and then writing up the results.
I’ve taken to using OneNote for writing articles for my blog (I’m writing this in OneNote now), and for our Creativity Wiki. Before starting, I can brainstorm for ideas with a mind map, and any time I get stuck for ideas, refer back to it, or scribble a little more.
OneNote Missing Features
The two things I think are really missing from OneNote are a zooming function, and a ‘hand’ button for moving the page around. Maybe we’ll see these in the next version. It would be handy to be able to zoom out on a large page full of stuff copied from elsewhere, and scribble the connections between them over the top, then zoom in to annotate individual parts.
The magic printer driver mentioned above is a third party product – fortunately, it’s free – but Microsoft probably need to license it quickly to include as part of the package, as this lets you grab your content from anywhere, and is very useful.
I use Outlook for email, and GTD, but apart from that, I don’t really get a lot of use from Office apps. Their ink abilities are limited, but the main apps can all be scribbled on now. Outlook can be used for sending ink mail, but only if using Word as the email editor, which I find a bit unpleasant. I may well move all the GTD stuff into OneNote yet, to take advantage of the ability to just scribble.
If your tablet doesn’t come with a copy of OneNote, you may want to stick with the basic Windows Journal. It can do quite a bit of the stuff OneNote does, and it’s provided with the tablet edition of Windows XP. Not bad at all, for a freebie. If you’ve got OneNote, though, you probably want to stick to that.
The Tablet PC Experience Pack
A free download from Microsoft, the Experience Pack adds a few useful extras to the tablet experience. InkArt is a rebadged version of ArtRage, and is one of the best reasons for buying a tablet PC. The snipping tool is useful too, the crossword is kind of fun if you’re bored. The ink desktop is a nice little extra – makes it possible to scribble with ink directly on the background of your desktop. Good for the odd quick note. With some of the included templates, you can also use it as a simple way of organising your day or week, or even keeping a simple to do list.
If it can work with my handwriting, it can work with anything, and it can work with my handwriting . It’s really quite impressive to see it recognise scrawls that I’d have trouble recognising myself, sometimes even working when I’ve got the word completely wrong and added letters of my own devising to the word.
My results from trying the voice recognition out have been comical. I’m a northerner, though, and quite a few people around here have trouble understanding me. I confuse bar staff when asking for a Coke. They can’t understand why I’d want a cork.
I’ve already admitted recently that I’m now using Internet Explorer, as Firefox just doesn’t seem to get on as well on the tablet. My mail is still in Outlook, and I’m still using pretty much the same apps as before other than that. Notepad++ for text editing and HTML, FileZilla for FTP, eReader for reading books. I’m a recent convert to Paint.NET for image editing – less powerful than The GIMP, but it’s fast and friendly – neither of which really apply to The GIMP. All I usually want to do with images is crop, resize, adjust levels and sharpen, then output as a JPEG – Paint.NET does all this pretty well, and it will have done it all before The GIMP has finished starting up.
For the first week after I got the machine, I was at work, so it was used at home during evenings, and during my lunch break at work. For the second week I was on holiday, so it was only really used at home.
It goes everywhere with me. I have changed to a slightly larger bag to fit it all in, and now carry this machine everywhere. As mentioned, the built-in Bluetooth means that I can connect from anywhere. The fact that it’s a tablet means that I don’t even need a desk to be able to work.
In Our Office
In our office, the machine has a space on the desk to sit, with its mains adaptor, network cable, and a short lead to a USB hub, all ready to plug in. The USB hub connects (among other things) to my external Microsoft Intellimouse Explorer Wireless. There’s also my new Philips speakers on the desk for when I want a bit more noise from the machine, and my GuitarPort for when I want to make noises myself (which then feeds back out through the Philips speakers).
For use in my lunch break, I can either set up laptop-style on a table, or take a short drive to Cossall, and use it slate-style in the car. Either works fine.
So how good is it really?
Let me put it this way – I have given my iPaq to Sam. I can manage with just the tablet and a CheapsterPDA.