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June 06, 2003

The Tablet Experience

When Robert Scoble started raving about using tablets in daily life (Scoble used to work for NEC Mobile before the assimilation), it was met with some skepticism (triggered by Alfredo Octavio, with Mickey Williams pushing Scoble to do better). Scoble countered with a few scenarios, and not a day has gone bye since that he doesn't try to play the tablet evangelist.

Since a few weeks I have been using a Compaq CTC1000 Tablet. I borrowed it from Gun who had been using them in his mobility course, so I could figure out whether it was all hype or that there was actually some use for them. I decided I would take it to the WWW conference as I didn't expect to do much coding on that trip, so the tablet would be used for doing a presentation, taking notes, reading email and weblogs. The Compaq Tablet has a keyboard attached that swivels around and can become the stand. You can detach the keyboard and use it as a pen-only device.

Some positive experiences:

  • The device is great for reading. In portrait layout the screen can contain enough information to overcome the small screen and low resolution. For example using Newzcrawler's newspaper of blog updates is really cool to read with the tablet
  • When reading the pen is a really intuitive way to following links or drill deeper into information
  • The ink recognition has improved immensely compared to what I was used on the pocket pc's
  • The Journal application is cool and useful. I did find it that I really have to get used to writing notes instead of typing them, but I think it is more a technique issue combined with some mental issues (my typing looks a lot neater than my writing).
  • Doing the presentation with the tablet and pen worked like a breeze. Although I can see more creative use of the pen during a presentation, maybe using 'active areas' on the slides.
  • Office 2003 (mainly outlook) handles the orientation changes quite nicely.
  • Using it at home on the couch work great also!

Some negative experiences:

  • Using the pen for anything but note taking and reading hasn't really caught on with me yet. Writing an email of more than one sentence I prefer to use the keyboard. The same for a word document. Maybe this will improve over time as the interaction between my handwriting and the table improves.
  • Coding with a pen is just not possible.
  • The Compaq is really, really, really slow. I don't know whether this is the transmeta cpu, the interaction with the disk or what ever, but a PII-300Mhz appears faster. Even with 768 Mb memory installed. Especially starting up takes a long time. It is certainly not a tablet I would advice anyone to buy.

Conclusion: I am going to get me a tablet for more permanent use. Very likely it will be the NEC Versa Litepad. I like its design, although it is a pity there is no PCMCIA slot.

Update:I forgot to mention that there was another part to the experience; I didn't know how much of a keyboard-shortcut junkie I was until I had nothing else to use but the pen. I don't use many shortcuts, but I use them all the time. With the pen you have to find the corresponding meny item, or toolbar to use. Or get the context menu. This was frustrating in the beginning.

Posted by Werner Vogels at June 6, 2003 12:22 PM


I haven't used a tablet yet, but I do use the FingerSystem i-pen ( I definitely like it, but the positive/negative experiences seem to be very similar to what you dicuss with the tablet... e.g. difficult to write anything longer than one sentence, impossible to write code with, wonderful for intuitive navigation of links when reading/browsing, awesome for note taking and sketching out ideas.

Overall, pen input seems to be as much a killer app as the mouse. It's too bad most applications are not designed very well to handle it (multiple nested menus, etc).

Posted by: James Snell on June 6, 2003 01:24 PM

I have the same experience with the Tablet PC. The pen is hard to get used to. I click on one item and the pen is so sensitive that it clicks on another item that I did not want to click on. Other thann that I am enjoying the benefit of the mobility factor.

Posted by: Howard Davila on September 9, 2003 12:51 PM