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Get Real
November 07, 2004
Comfort Zones: More Road Warrior's 'Truth About Tablet PC'Email This EntryPrint This Entry
Posted by Marc Eisenstadt

Following my (i.e. Marc Eisenstadt's) largely favourable -- with a few surprise personal twists -- Truth About Tablet PC personal blog entry a few months back, I thought Get Real readers would be interested in hearing a more extensive on-the-road deployment story.

I recently had a 10-hour transatlantic flight, during which I needed to do some urgent work, finishing up a keynote talk, both slides and speech. Normally, I don't need to write the words in advance, because I've done these things plenty of times before, and the slides, graphics, movies and demos pretty much are the talk; but this time I was being offered the services of simultaneous translation, and the translators said although not required, they would really appreciate seeing the exact words beforehand. My kit consists of an HP TC1100 Tablet PC, and one extra battery. I had selected the TC1100 after a lot of research entirely because of its compact form-factor, and this is what really won the day on my flight.

For Business Class, any laptop will pretty much do the job. But for Economy Class, where I was stuck, four features of the TC1100 really stood out for me, and caused me to reflect upon the idea of a 'comfort zone' of very-close-up use:

  1. Operating in portrait mode, with the tablet pen, is extremely convenient for fine-tuning large chunks of work that had been prepared beforehand. I wouldnt want to originate too much material this way, but for arranging/editing content, it works brilliantly, even in very cramped quarters. Moreover it felt quite private: the guy inches away on my left could not really see my work.
  2. The power-switch on the TC1100 is set by default to go into standby mode. Ive had many laptops over the years, from all the big names (Sony, Apple, Toshiba, Dell) and some of the small ones too, and never have I had one that 'does the right thing' so quickly. For example, I suddenly hear "Would you like some dinner?" and Im right in the middle of some serious editing but no problem: hit the button, flip closed the screen, put the TC1100 on my lap or in the back of the seat in front of me, and the entire operation is as quick as putting away a magazine. And on resume, I'm right back where I left off. Yes, I know, this is exactly how it is supposed to be, but trust me, not all machines go into standby mode so quickly, without a lot of prior disk thrashing, or restore so quickly and reliably without leaving some apps in a freaky state. Nice one!
  3. The one battery plus one spare was enough to see me through my 10-hour flight. Not that I got a full 10 hours of battery life! From prior experience, I know that a little judicious handling was the order of the day: reduce the brightness to about halfway, dont play too much multimedia, set the power conservation features to the max, and take advantage of meal times and other natural breaks, including take-off and landing, by which time there were only about 8 of hours of usage really possible, requiring 4 hours per battery. Id rate each battery at 4 hours of 'fanatically-careful' use, 3 hours for normal-but-judicious use, 2 hours carefree use with multimedia activity, and about 1.5 hours of 'Caf' use with WiFi enabled. But the point of this commentary is that 2 batteries + careful usage is good enough for a 10-hour flight, and thats fine by me.
  4. The reduced-size keyboard, and it's close-to-screen positioning (disliked by some, but in fact preferred by bifocal wearers like me), were a real blessing in these conditions. I didnt need to do much typing on this flight, but when I did, it fit the bill very nicely, in a way which many other laptops would have not been able to do in such cramped quarters.
Point 1 about the privacy of portrait mode leads me to another observation. The thing that makes a Tablet PC fundamentally different from a laptop has to do with what I'd like to call "zones of comfort". There's a lot of talk about "sit back" (TV) vs "lean forward" (PC) media, but this does not discriminate among 3 different lean-forward "zones", as follows:
  • arm reach (typical desktop and laptop use)
  • elbow reach (typical tablet and PDA use)
  • shoulder reach (typical phone use)

In a nutshell the Tablet PC can be used in a comfort zone that is more like that of a PDA, which makes it not only suitable for pretty private and comfortable use in crowded circumstances like those you encounter on an airplane, but also for taking notes at meetings (just save your notes as digital ink -- don't worry about trying to recognize the handwriting in real time, as it's not worth it). The range of zones also helps me understand why I hate hands-free cell-phones in public places: it converts a phone from very-private "shoulder reach" to much more public "arm's reach", or worse, "sit back = room reach", which is extremely weird and even disconcerting!

Category: Gadgets

Paul Williams on November 8, 2004 12:11 PM writes...

At $1650 MSRP this thing had best be a winner. I'm glad to hear that HP's quality has not taken a dive since the Compuke merge. I have an HP laptop that is so extremely useful that it's very nearly my desktop replacement at home.

Permalink to Comment
Steven Jacobs on November 8, 2004 12:50 PM writes...

Paul, you obviously are a 'home' end-user. HP made crap for the corporate world until they bought up Compaq. Now HP servers and laptops/tablets can compete with the 'big-boys'.

Permalink to Comment
Rob Bushway on November 8, 2004 06:18 PM writes...

Great post, Marc. Very insightful in regards to comfort zones.

Rob Bushway
Tablet PC MVP

Permalink to Comment
Paul Williams on November 8, 2004 07:12 PM writes...


I have been both a home and institutional user of compaq and hp.

In 1994-1996 I worked at a computer lab at my university. We had a roomful of noname clone machines from pc vendor du-jour, a roomful of acers, a roomful of macs, a roomful of SGI Indys, and a roomful of HPs. The clones, while aging, never broke. The Acers were always down, and acer tech support was awful. The SGIs were as bad as the acers, including the tech support. The Macs were about 50% better than the Acers/SGIs and had good tech support. The HPs were rarely down, and when they went down the support was perfect, frequently realizing that those calling in on the institutional line don't need to be run through the normal battery of "is your power cable plugged in" questions, and dispatching a support technician. That experience is what colored my view of HP quality.

I admit that I've been out of the HP loop since then, as I've done little direct tech support since -- preferring to build my own pcs. However, in my limited experience using compaqs from 1992 thru 2003, I've noted that compaq machines are difficult to work on, and the tech support is generally clueless (Q: "On what versions of Red Hat do you support CPQxxxx raid controller for box xxx?" A (paraphrased): "D'wuh?"). Their bios software is bloated, and serves mostly to ensure you have to purchase tech support.

Perhaps HP hasn't been much better, but it'd be hard for them to be worse.

Permalink to Comment
Alex Shim on November 8, 2004 09:59 PM writes...

Imagine if you didn't need to switch batteries. Wouldn't that be great!


Permalink to Comment
tekchic on November 9, 2004 10:59 AM writes...

Paul -- You're shocked at a $1650 MSRP? I just paid $2299 for a Toshiba M205 and it was worth every penny :P

Enjoyed the blog. I too, recently flew from ATL to HNL (A 9+ hour flight) in which the people in front of me had their seats reclined. My laptop didn't have a prayer of opening up for that whole trip, I had to use my Palm Pilot and a Stowaway keyboard to get some work done.

Looking forward to the next flight now that I've got a tablet to work with :)

Permalink to Comment
Ray on November 10, 2004 09:47 AM writes...

I, too, am quite satisfied with my TC1000. It's small and light, which lead me to forgo the corporate-standard Dell brick for this "renegade" notebook. At home and the office it's plugged into an external monitor, and I use both screens simultaneously. The keyboard is fine, and the CompactFlash slot is used often.

Quibbles: The first-generation processor and video card are anemic (both addressed in the TC1100), no infrared or Bluetooth, the internal 802.11b setup doesn't support Cisco's LEAP authentication, so I have to use a PC Card at the office, and swapping the battery requires -- get this -- a tiny screwdriver. I've had many such screwdrivers confiscated by airport security types; fortunately vendors keep supplying me with new tiny screwdrivers. Also, the headphone jack is located at the bottom of the screen when in portrait mode, so listening to music while reading/working on a flight is difficult, but, as mentioned by Marc, to conserve the battery it's best to use a separate music player.

Now to find another couple grand in the budget for a newer/faster model...

Permalink to Comment
Marc Eisenstadt on November 10, 2004 11:13 AM writes...

Thanks for the good feedback, everyone...

One comment for RAY: re

> the battery requires ... a tiny screwdriver

Au contraire!!! Do what I did on Day 1: take that screw OUT and THROW IT AWAY!! Since the battery is held in solidly by the little slide-switch latch aboove it, the screw is absolutely unnecessary!! Speaking as a very heavy user in all sorts of conditions, and as a frequent battery-swapper, I assure you I have never regretted getting rid of that screw. [CAVEAT: this at least applies to the TC 1100, UK model that I have!! I would hate for my advice to mess up someone with, say, a TC 1000, US model, so test out this advice first!]

Permalink to Comment
coolkid on November 10, 2004 03:16 PM writes...

First I want to talk about Acer. I bought an old acer desktop four years ago. It is still alive and kicking. Last year I upgraded it to 256MB RAM and it can run Windows XP smoothly. Now my parents use it and they are really satisfied.

Secondly, I am a Toshiba M200 owner. The battery life is 4 hours, not bad. I don't have an extra battery so I bring the plug thingy with me. I take the machine with me in the class, taking notes and do the organization stuff. I prefer using portrait mode when writing. The keyboard is a bit small but all right for me.

One thing I don't really like is the glare of the screen. It hurts my eye. Lack of CDROM can be a problem but it doesn't occur to me. About the music player thing, I never use Toshiba as a music player when in battery mode. I would rather use my SONY MD player.

Last thought: it will be great if the tablet OS can have speech recognition in Chinese.

Permalink to Comment
Peter da Silva on November 10, 2004 05:56 PM writes...

Small space, no room to work?

Toshiba Libretto. Mmmm-mmmm good. It's the size of a hardcover book, the battery lasts 5 hours full blast, and you can't buy them any more because everyone wants desktop replacements instead of small long-lasting laptops that are actually useful.

Permalink to Comment
Alastair on November 12, 2004 01:50 PM writes...

Having recently looked at vitually every Tablet on the market I believe that Electrovaya.com out of Winipeg, Canada has the longest lasting battery in the industry. Their Scribbler SC 2100 has a run time of up to 9 hours and their computers have all the upgrade option to the outdoor screen which is amazing for anyone wanting to relax by the pool while on a business trip.

Permalink to Comment
Tc1100 user on November 12, 2004 07:19 PM writes...

I have also looked at most tablets on the market back in July. However, working for a University in Canada I have been privy to have seen more than just a few system types. I have actually handled the SC2100, as has a co-worker of mine. We noticed the tabs that hold the scrbbler to the keyboard were not sufficiently strong enough, as they broke off while moving them.

In my work, I find having the built-in bluetooth was very handy - as of six months ago, only the Compaq TC1100 had bluetooth built-in. Futher, I use the rubber case for the TC1100, and can wear the tablet when I inventory systems using a bluetooth barcode scanner.

I have no plans to become Borg yet though. ;)

Permalink to Comment

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