Dan rants: Looking at the NEC Tablet PC

Back in December, Robert Scoble raved about a tablet PC. I've got a couple of applications I thought that a tablet form factor could be really good for, especially after my Hong Kong trip, so I asked him if I could see one. Last night I drove down to Santa Clara and we did dinner. The version of the NEC Tablet PC that I saw was late pre-production for the American market, there were a couple of things that were probably going to get revised, so I'm going to concentrate on the positives.

So: Yes, the form factor makes a difference. I wanted to pass this thing around. This isn't like sliding a laptop across a table to say "here, take a look at this", this is easy to tilt in a direction, or to hand to someone else. And the form factor has a lot of "wow", the staff in the restaurant were all hovering over our table "ooh"ing and "aah"ing. It doesn't seem like it'd make that much difference, but this would be great for showing those digital pictures on, it's got some scroll buttons in a reasonably good place to be a book replacement, and the screen is nice and bright.

I've never gotten along with the handwriting recognition on the Windows CE devices. Although some of them have looked pretty snazzy recently, I've stayed away, and I'm also singularly unexcited about the changes that Palm is introducing in Graffitti 2 . But the handwriting recognition on this device worked wonderfully. Part of this was the quality of the digitizer, it kept up with the smallest squiggles, sampled nice and fast, and having that beautiful display underneath helped me not try to write in glyphs. If you currently use a pad of pape in meetings, this might just replace it. And for entering numbers this works really nicely.

Of course if you're using one of the browsers that runs in full-screen mode with gestures then this fits perfectly.

However, I wanted to fit this into a few vertical market applications, but right now I just can't. The battery life is two hours or so, great if you're going to use this as a display which you can unplug and take to the occasional meeting, not useful for people doing fitting sessions all afternoon. And it's great if there's lots of information to be displayed, but as a data acquisition device it's too large to be convenient; if people have to read the forms they're filling in, the tablet form factor is big.

I'd also like to see some better thought towards integration with other devices for vertical applications. The CompactFlash slot needs to be somewhere that makes sense to hang a camera out of it, and I suppose you could put telemetry information on the USB, but a few bolt holes (like a camera tripod screw) on the back side to attach those add-ons would be very handy.

In short, I want one. But I don't want one $2400 worth. I see it more as a way to augment desktop functionality, maybe just as a smarter display, than to replace my laptop, and if I could get one for $700 I'd still want a good PDA.

comments here

Friday, February 7th, 2003 danlyke@flutterby.com