Step Into a Larger World

It’s handy to have a computer that you can easily carry around. I’ve been using a Palm computer for years because I really liked having a computer in my pocket. I’ve used my Palm to write articles, send and receive email, edit spreadsheets, and of course keep track of my calendar, contacts, to-do list and reference notes.

However, sometimes that tiny display can be frustrating. While I usually find it adequate for composing text, it wasn’t practical for editing text that I had written. I always have to transfer it to my desktop PC to do editing and cleanup.

Sometimes I want something larger than a Palm, but I don’t want anything as large as a laptop or even a notebook computer. I have found a compromise: I’m using an M1300 Tablet PC from Motion Computing.

The tablet computer is designed to be usable as a handheld, but the screen is much larger — on some models, it’s as large as a laptop screen.

There are one or two types of tablets, the convertible and the slate. A slate does not have a keyboard. All input is done with a special pen. (The screen is not touch sensitive, so you must use the pen which came with the tablet.) The convertible tablet includes a keyboard, and is very much like a notebook computer. On some convertibles, the keyboard can be detached to convert it to a slate.

(I specifically chose to get a slate-style tablet. I figure that if you want a keyboard, you may as well get a notebook computer.)

Apart from that, a tablet is very much like a notebook PC. It’s running a superset of Windows XP Pro designed for tablets, and can run just about any program that will run under XP. The newer tablets use the Intel Centrino processor, which provides longer battery life and doesn’t generate much heat.

Tablet PCs are designed to be used very much like a tablet of paper. Some applications, like Windows Journal, Microsoft OneNote and FranklinCovey TabletPlanner, are designed to use digital ink — your notes are stored in your own handwriting. You can convert your handwriting to text if you want, but in many cases there’s no need to. You can even search your handwritten notes.
At least in the current version, you can’t train the OS to do a better job of converting your handwriting. I’m hoping that this capability will be available in the near future.

I was pleasantly surprised with the search capabilities. For example, I wondered if I wrote “TEXT” in my handwriting arid later searched for “text,” would it find it? The answer is Yes, and quite quickly.

Since you’re using the tablet like a sheet of paper, tablet-enabled applications usually allow you to write anywhere on the screen. Some will also allow you to draw sketches on the screen. Input truly is very much like writing on paper. But since you are working on a computer, the information can be saved, backed up, and shared easily. (The M1300 has a jack to plug into your network, as well as a phone jack for the internal modem.)

The tablet PC comes with Microsoft Windows Journal, which emulates a pad of paper. You write a title at the top of the page, and that becomes the file name under which this Journal is stored. You can then write, draw, and even doodle anywhere on the page. You can select different kinds of pens, including a highlighter. You can add additional pages to the Journal with a single tap.

When you work in an application that is not ink-enabled (for example, as I am writing this article in Microsoft Word), you can use the Tablet Input Panel (TIP). The TIP has two screens: one is an onscreen keyboard where you can “type” by tapping the keys on the screen, and the other is a Writing Pad where you can write in your own handwriting and it will be translated to text and entered into the program you are using.

The handwriting recognition is usually pretty good — it could translate my handwriting at times when even I couldn’t read it. But it does have some interesting problems. For example, I seem to have trouble writing a lowercase “c”— many times when I write “computer” or “could,” it comes out as “Computer” or “Could.” It also seems nearly impossible to write a dash — like I used in this sentence. Maybe it just takes some practice to get used to.

The tablet PC is an interesting idea, but it is really the software that will determine how useful and popular it will become. I don’t think there is a “killer app” for the tablet yet, but there are some programs that make good use of the pen-and-ink interface. My next articles will discuss some of these applications, including Microsoft OneNote, FranklinCovey TabletPlanner and Mindjet MindManager.

I really like my tablet PC, and find it to be very useful. It’s a nice way to carry a PC, without the weight and bulk of a laptop or notebooks PC. Tablet PCs are not yet ready to replace Palm computers. There are times when it’s nice to have your calendar and phone book in your pocket. And since a tablet PC has to boot up just like a desktop or laptop, it’s not “instant on” like a Palm computer. Even with the tablet, I still keep my Palm Tungsten T in my pocket.

But if you’ve thinking about getting a notebook PC, it may be worthwhile to consider a tablet instead.
Motion M1300 Tablet PC
Motion Computing

© 2003 by Charles M. Olsen