Are Tablet PCs a passing gimmick or an emerging necessity?
December 11, 2003 10:43 PM   Subscribe

Are Tablet PCs a passing gimmick or an emerging necessity? [More]

I don't have enough money to do it now, but I've been saving up to buy a new computer. I want something portable and I don't care about gaming, so it's between a notebook and a tablet pc.

The idea of a tablet is ideal to me, but the models I played with don't blow me away with their ease of use. If they worked like they should, it would be no question -- I'd switch happily.

Let's say it takes me 2 years to be able to afford one: what I want to know is, will they still be around, and will they be any good? Does the technology have a future, or is Bill Gates pushing another .NET?
posted by Hildago to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
I see a tablet pc as much more an accessory than a primary computer -- none available have the abilities I'd want in a primary. One of the best I've seen recently (whose make and model I don't recall) has a small fold-out keyboard for regular use but doesn't become a full laptop -- a nice compromise between a convertible and a full tablet (no keyboard).

Anyhow, I wouldn't get one unless you already have an adequate computer for your needs. While XP Tablet PC is pretty good at this point (I'd wait for the next version anyways), some functions are still inadequate (notably pen recognition options (the actual inking is quite good) and configuration tools, though the powertools (Hold Tool especially) help).

Find a store that will let you use one fully -- download the Tablet powertools and test the options out. Also make sure to check out Microsoft OneNote -- the functionality dramatically increases from Windows Journal.
posted by j.edwards at 11:40 PM on December 11, 2003

The TabletPCs I've seen with a keyboard manage to be both heavier and more delicate than a super-slim laptop (the kind of laptop I'm thinking of here is like a Sharp UM32W).

The keyboard solutions I've seen, where either the screen swings around on a centrally located hinge or where the keyboard kind of clips on the bottom, don't look that sturdy, and usually the quality of the keyboard leaves something to be desired.

On the other hand, tablets that totally lack a keyboard look like an interesting solution, but I'd hate to either peck out words on an on-screen virtual keyboard or have to hand-write everything, since my typing skills are way better than my handwriting skills. I think a better solution to the same problem is a PDA with a nice large screen. You can get Palm devices that have 320x480 screens, and I think I've seen PocketPC machines that have 640x480, and although isn't huge, the device itself is way smaller than a TabletPC (and cheaper too).

I can see how a TabletPC would be great for certain niche markets, but I don't think they're going to take the computer industry by storm until they get smaller and cheaper. Unless I needed to literally use my computer while I was standing, all the time, I would at least wait for the next generation of devices.
posted by bshort at 5:27 AM on December 12, 2003

The hype around tablet computing is merely a resurgence of the "pen computing" meme from the early-mid 90s. Handwriting recognition was a solved problem at the time (for those of us who write in block letters and are willing to spend an hour or so to train a recognizer) and the tablet PC hardware of the time was more or less equivalent to the desktops of the day. I spent a few months working for the leading recognizer vendor of the day and used pen input heavily, almost exclusively for some tasks.

The IT press made a ton of noise over pen computing, and quite a few products went to market, but as with today the products are chiefly novelty items offering little functionality that couldn't sit just as or more conveniently on a small form factor laptop.

I don't really forsee tablets catching on this time around, either. The right form for most handheld computing tasks seems to be something much closer to a PDA (or perhaps slightly smaller) but with more functionality in the device. I don't forsee doctors and nurses, notorious early adopters of handheld computing, lugging around something just as large as a clipboard yet ten times as heavy and infinitely more fragile. And in an average office environment, tablets aren't offering anything that would displace the laptop.
posted by majick at 6:06 AM on December 12, 2003

I do very close to 100% of my reading at home (which amounts to 2 to 3 hours a day, novels, poetry, nonfiction and so on) on my laptop.

A tablet PC would imitate the form factor of a traditional book more closely, I'd think, and for that reason alone I'd buy one, if I had the cash money.

What j.ed said about the Tablet as an accessory is on target, I think. Sitting on the sofa in a wireless-networked house with a tablet PC close to hand if I want to look something up on the net or just lay down and read a bit, that'd be the sweet spot, for me at least.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:13 AM on December 12, 2003

Wait until Apple make a tablet.
posted by armoured-ant at 8:27 AM on December 12, 2003

Thanks, fellas.
posted by Hildago at 10:54 AM on December 12, 2003

Does anybody make a tablet that has a docking station? In my mind, the perfect design would have the tablet operate in a "terminal services" mode over 802.11 while undocked and would take advantage of a true video subsystem, wired networking and a full range of ports when docked. It just makes sense.
posted by machaus at 4:16 PM on December 12, 2003

You're thinking of this. I believe that some models can be used as real monitors via a docking station.
posted by kindall at 4:53 PM on December 12, 2003

At gizmodo I've seen a system or two with just that setup, machaus, where you just pick the tablet up outta the dock, where it sits in front of a fullsize keyboard etc, and go walkies. Very cool.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:53 PM on December 12, 2003

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