March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 08.04

Don't Give One to Moses...

...because it would be a pity if he smashed such an interesting and useful device to smithereens.
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By Eric M. Zeman




Here I sit in my office in New York, feet propped up on my desk, scrawling away on a Tablet PC that is resting comfortably in my lap. Aside from swapping my office for more enticing scenery (a beach comes to mind), I can’t imagine a more relaxing way to pen this article about the much-hyped Tablet PC.

The two-year anniversary of the Tablet is only a few months hence, and making in-roads in the enterprise has been a slow and difficult climb for the Tablet (500,000 units shipped in the first year, which Microsoft called “on track”). Sure, we’ve seen some deployments in verticals such as healthcare and public services where data collection and forms-based computing are the norm, but I have yet to see a regular professional boot one up during a meeting to take notes.

I think some of the hesitation at embracing a new technology is natural. True, sometimes it’s fun to be the first on the block with the newest toys, but it’s not always practical. As with everything coming from Microsoft, enterprise buyers are aware that the first release will be rife with bugs that need fixing and anomalies that need tweaking. The first revision of the tablet OS is due before too long, and that should help ease some early adopter fears.

A bigger issue facing the enterprise lies in the form factor itself. Manufacturers are divided between the slate model and the clamshell-based convertible. Both have distinct advantages. Where the slate models tend to be lighter and more solid, the convertibles provide a full qwerty keyboard and often desirable features such as on-board optical drives. Choosing between the two is often as much based on end-use and application as it is on preference. Most slate models come with docking stations that include keyboards, optical drives and additional input/output slots.

I recently had a conversation with some Tablet manufacturers. We discussed price points in depth, and it was quite clear that while the average person was willing to fork over an additional $100 for the Tablet functionality, it actually costs (on average) about $200 to add those features to the convertible form factor. Pricing will always be an issue for many potential buyers. Most have yet to be convinced that the Tablet’s features are worth it.

From my vantage point, they are.


Computing in Motion

A little over a month ago I received a review unit from the fine folks at Motion Computing. They sent me their M1400 Tablet PC. This particular model is a slate and features Microsoft Windows XP Tablet Edition, a 12.1-inch TFT XGA display, an Intel 1.1 GHz Pentium processor, 256 MB of RAM (expandable to 512 MB), a 20 GB hard drive (up to 60 GB available), an 802.11b wireless card, integrated fingerprint scanner, integrated Bluetooth, Speak Anywhere audio technology, ambient light sensor technology, a detachable, mobile keyboard and a desktop stand to make for easier viewing.

The M1400 can also be purchased with Motion’s View Anywhere display, which features dramatically improved daytime and sunlight viewing with a wide 160-degree viewing angle. It has the standard hook-ups, including FireWire, USB, microphone and headphones, Ethernet and modem connectors and one type II PC card slot. The included battery provides about four hours of computing time and the unit weighs in around three pounds.

I felt it was my duty, as editor-in-chief of Mobile Enterprise magazine, to give the M1400-and the Tablet OS-a run for its money. This means I’ve dragged this extremely portable device just about everywhere these past 45 days and used it in every capacity I could.


An Apt Writer’s Tool

Back in high school and college I did almost all of my writing by hand and ventured into the computer labs only to type up final drafts. I most enjoyed taking my notepads to coffee shops, slipping my earphones on and scribbling out my fiction or reports hunched over a small table, sipping caramel cappuccinos. Plunking down a laptop doesn’t have nearly the same relaxed feel, and they don’t fare as well as paper notepads do when coffee is accidentally spilled on them.

Adjusting to a professional life clickety-clacking away on full-size keyboards was inevitable, and I find I am faster at typing anyway. Still, I was pleasantly surprised when I fired up the M1400 for the first time and launched Microsoft’s OneNote application. The electronic note-taking app is especially useful for, well, taking notes. Acting just like a yellow legal pad, OneNote lets users scratch down thoughts, make drawings or diagrams and all the other things you’re free to do on paper. This is downright liberating!

Of course, using the pen as a mouse and digital ink does take some getting used to. Motion provides a hotkey to the dashboard, which makes for easy adjustments to the Tablet’s settings and functions. Once I adjusted to the pen, it made activities that are writing-intensive much more enjoyable and natural. Working in Excel and PowerPoint was just as easy as with a normal laptop and I was able to create some spreadsheets and presentations without any difficulty.

With the Tablet in landscape mode the hot buttons are right under my thumb, which makes for easy navigation of documents and web pages. After a few attempts, I was able to secure my desktop with the biometric fingerprint scanner. I then went for broke and configured the fingerprint scanner to work as my e-mail password. Security being paramount, this feature is very useful.


Off-Label Uses

One very interesting use I found for the Ml400 was making sound recordings. The included recording software only lets you take 60-second sound bytes at a time, so I downloaded some freeware with the help of the included 802-11 card. Paired with the Ml400’s two microphones, I was able to make some high-quality MP3 recordings of a recent gig my band performed in the city. However, this function is probably better suited to capturing the dialog between two people seated at an interview or meeting, especially since the microphones can be configured to capture very narrow or very wide bands of sound. This is accomplished with Motion’s Speak Anywhere technology.

Though I am still testing certain features and functions of the Tablet PC, I can say that I find it to be a refreshing way to complete my writing tasks—whether taking notes during briefings, penning articles or scribbling out some e-mails in front of the TV. This writer has duly been converted to the Tablet faithful.
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