Teacher Considering a Tablet PC
June 25, 2005 7:20 PM   Subscribe

Tablet PC Curious: Looking for advice from tablet owners, especially teachers.

I am interested in replacing my laptop with a tablet PC. I teach in a wired classroom and online. I am thinking about getting a tablet pc with a keyboard, something like a Toshiba Tecra. I would use it for the usual laptop functions—word processing, surfing, etc., no gaming. But I am unsure what a tablet can above and beyond a laptop. I teach a lot on the internet, with a tablet could I mark up the student papers they send me in Word and send them right back to them? And if I wrote all over a student paper on my tablet, would they need any special software to read it? What other cool tricks could I do with a tablet? Is the display as good as on a good laptop? What are the disadvantages, and things to look for when buying a tablet?
posted by LarryC to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
FYI - I know Josh Marshall recently solicited advice on a purchase decision on tablet PCs and posted his selection and reported on his satisfaction on his blog.
posted by garbo at 7:24 PM on June 25, 2005

Newer versions of MS Office have excellent integration with the Tablet PC. In particular, it's easy to mark up Word documents and to draw on PowerPoint slides interactively during lectures.

Marking up Word documents is surprisingly well done. A marked-up Word file acts like ink on a Tablet PC - the user can edit it, add more ink, etc. On non-Tablet PCs (including Macs!), the ink appears as a non-editable image. Definitely cool.

I own a first generation slate-only Tablet PC, but have replaced it in my day-to-day activities with an iBook - I like OS X too much, and the ergonomics on the slate-only model were horrible.

There are some interesting ed tech demos: the Physics Illustrator and Classroom Presenter come to mind.

If I had the money to introduce some new technology into the classroom, though, I would probably go for a SMARTBoard.
posted by shaun at 7:34 PM on June 25, 2005

Do you have good skills with writing on a rolling-overhead? Those exact skills will help you use a tablet sucessfully.

If you've never taught on rolling overheads... ... (??) the usefullness of a real-time projection system is that you can step through the thought procesese for your students through a) leads b) leads to c) AND /d) AND/OR *PLUS *F* but only *g*.... I'm over-estimating students, aren't I?

If your tablet/projector supports realtime, the leading students *through* a thought is more important than leading students through some "multimedia mystery tour.
posted by PurplePorpoise at 11:41 PM on June 25, 2005

I have an M275 convertible, really like it, but I'm not a teacher. I bought it for art purposes, and use it in laptop mode most of the time. I discovered I love the ergonomics - they're a vast improvement over laptops, basically they're a laptop that doesn't suck the way laptops do. (I don't use slate mode much because I can type faster than I can write).

I also realised recently that I haven't have muscle pain in my arms and wrists in the year since I bought it, which was a problem I used to have. I suspect the use of the pen is behind that.

The rotating screen has also proven valuable on the commute to work, and on flights. When you are jammed up against the seat in front of you, a normal laptop can't comfortably fit, and I strain to see the screen. These, you just rotate them and flip the screen (so the axis is towards your hips rather than your knees) and they give the perfect viewing angle.

Other considerations: Glass or plastic screen? Glass is better, but heavier. If you expect to be carrying on one arm all day, you might want to look at plastic (or perhaps one with a detactable keyboard), but otherwise, glass doesn't scratch, and glass doesn't flex very much (which means heavy writing pressure will ripple the underlying LCD screen a lot less, if at all.

DVD drive - you probably want an internal drive. Check that it's internal. It's really only the slate-only tablets that cut out all non-essentials (like the keybaord) to save on weight, but still, if external DVD would be annoying (and I think it would be), check that it's internal when evaluating models.

As far as I know, the display is as good as on a good laptop. I'm not really a fan of LCD screens though.

I think drawing diagrams/equations as you explain the concepts is a potentially powerful use - it helps bring your online teaching up to the level of the classroom blackboard, and for the actual classroom, it can go beyond the blackboard because of the additional media capability, the ability to record the diagrams for future reference material or handouts, (or dispense with handouts in favour of emailing them or putting them online) etc etc.

But, I'm not a teacher, so I'm not really the person to be spotting interesting uses for the tablet in teaching :-)

If it helps, I think of tablets as a step above laptops in every way, rather than as The New Paradigm, or the "digital clipboard" they're marketed as.

Ie, they're better than a laptop when used as a laptop. But they're so-so when used as a pencil and notepad replacement - some aspects are obviously far superior to a notepad (wireless, etc), while in other aspects (such as the weight on your arm), a plain old notepad is far and away better.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:54 AM on June 26, 2005

I have a Portege m200, and I love it. One thing to do is make sure you get a copy of OneNote and the "Experience Pack". (The experience pack is free, but OneNote isnt).

The first generation of tablets was too small and underpowered to run a lot of the applications that I need to use, but the 2d generation, like the M200, works just fine. I am supposed to be getting a Tecra M4 soon, which will let me dump one of my desktops.

(in the interests of full disclosure, I work there, but I have nothing to do with the Tablet PC people)
posted by stupidcomputernickname at 9:46 AM on June 26, 2005

i've owned a tablet for 6months (like above, a portege m200)

I love it, it's small enough to haul around and do all my work (I'm a freelance illustrator and use Sketchbook Pro by alias all the time).

Great product to use!
posted by Hands of Manos at 1:08 PM on June 26, 2005

i can't stand "tablet" PCs, really. i've worked with various fujitsu and acer tablets, and ... feh.

get a toughbook t2. they're a little more expensive, but they're incredibly strong and are awesome to hold. plus, they're touch screens, so you can install tablet XP and do the same types of things you can on a tablet, but on an actual laptop.

it comes with the screen rotation and the whole nine yards.
posted by taumeson at 5:25 PM on June 26, 2005

Thanks for all the great and generous answers! This is exactly the info I needed. I could make every one as best, but that would look silly... Time to go shopping!
posted by LarryC at 6:51 PM on June 26, 2005


Just a terminology thing - the Toughbook models you're talking about are tablet-PCs, so they come with tablet XP pre-installed. They are tablet-PCs by every official definition. It sounds like when you say "tablet", you're referring to a computer which only offers the slate form factor. Generally, you would call that a slate to avoid confusion, since tablet pc refers to laptop< ->slate convertibles like the toughbook as often as not.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:54 AM on June 27, 2005

You're an educator...the academic price on OneNote is just $50, and it's $50 well spent.

I'm a university student, and I've been using TabletPCs for about two years now. I'm on my second one now, and they've both been Toshiba models.

Your question about marking up documents has been well answered already. It's easy and better-implemented than you'd expect. And yes, anyone with the standard versions of Office (probably since Office 2000) can read them with no problems. OpenOffice.org would probably read them without any problems, too.

Is the screen as nice as a laptop screen? I think it's better. My current Tablet is a Toshiba m205, which has the highest resolution of any Tablet currently available: 1400 x 1050. The higher resolution certainly does make a difference in usability, both with Tablet functions and with general laptop use.

My wife's laptop, on the other hand, has a 15" LCD with a resolution of 1600 x 1200. It renders nearly everything so small that she can't read it. And it isn't shiny like my 12" Toshiba LCD.

If you really want a gorgeous screen, here's what I did; rip the anti-glare film off of the screen. It's simply astonishing how beautiful it is. There is more glare than before, but I don't really care...that screen is just stunning. And my stylus does not scratch it. I've had the anti-glare film off of the machine for about five months now, and the Tablet gets daily use in Tablet mode. Still pretty (and pretty is a big deal to me).

My recommendations/warnings regarding Tablets follow:

1. Get a convertible. If you're used to a laptop, you're going to want laptop functionality. You should only get a slate model if you're absolutely sure that a slate is going to fit your needs. Of course, you can plug a USB keyboard into a slate, but that puts a serious crimp in portability.

2. Don't skimp on RAM. I work my Tablet pretty hard and I had to upgrade from 512 to 1GB. I'd say that 768MB is reasonable for most uses, but 512 is an absolute, bare-bones minimum.

3. Spend some time in the forums over at TabletPCBuzz and do some research on the model you're thinking of buying. These guys are fanatical about their Tablets, and you'll get raw opinions on any given model there.

4. Do get the Microsoft add-on software to make your Tablet more useful. I use OneNote everyday, and I get covetous looks at every meeting I attend. The Experience Pack is really well-done, especially for a Microsoft free package. I know I keep saying this, but Microsoft has really worked hard to make Tablet a premium product, and it shows. And no, I'm not an M$ fanboy...I run a MythTV instead of Windows Media Center, if you need any evidence.

5. Don't settle for anything without a Centrino processor. It isn't just marketing gobbledygook. Centrino's architecture is such that a 1.5Ghz Centrino is equivalent to a much faster Pentium 4 M (stands for "Mobile") or Celeron.

The one gripe I've had with my two Toshibas is the lack of an onboard optical drive. Well, about three weeks ago, Toshiba announced a new Tablet, and guess what? It's got an onboard DVD burner. I'd beg for one, but my pleas would fall on (my wife's) deaf ears.

Whew. Sorry about the length, but if you have any questions, you can get my email from my profile.
posted by SlyBevel at 4:11 PM on June 27, 2005 [1 favorite]

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