One Prospective Tablet PC Users Search

Today’s coverage on GBM has been hardware, hardware, hardware. To take a brief respite from all of that excitement, let’s turn the page and talk about people, or rather one person and how she uses that hardware.

Anyone who has been around the Tabletscape for any length of time will tell anyone else who is looking at purchasing a Tablet PC the same mantra: “It is all about personal choice” or “Tablet PCs put the personal back into personal computing.” That is usually followed very quickly with the question, “What do you want to do with a Tablet PC? ” Rarely, if ever, have I heard or read the question, “How do you need to use a Tablet PC?” In some instances the factors behind that personal choice have to do with performance specs and in some cases they have to do with usability issues. For some, those personal usability issues are more specific than others.

Karen E. is one of those users. She emailed me recently with the request you’ll find reprinted below (with her permission.)  I’m posting it here not to call attention to Karen’s situation, but to demonstrate just how much thought often goes into a Tablet PC purchase, especially when the user has a disability or a condition that figures prominently in their choice. As you will see, Karen has already put a lot of thought into this and I bet, like me, you’ll learn something new from what she offers.

I’m also posting this here so that others can chime in and give Karen some advice. After all this is a community of users who have a myriad of experiences behind them. Here’s hoping we can all help Karen narrow down her options.

I’m so glad I found your site!

I work sitting on my bed or lounging the sofa, and I do both drawing and typing. You can’t prop separate screens, tablets, keyboards, etc. up on your knees, so a convertible is the answer to my prayers. I need to order one ASAP (like, last week), but there’s some subjective stuff holding me back. I know you and your comrades have tried a lot of these different machines, so I’m hoping I can tap into that experience.

I was born with a weird problem inside my right arm/hands/fingers. (The blood that flows in when I use those muscles doesn’t flow back out very well, so there’s swelling, damage, etc.) You remember that old joke: “Doctor, it hurts when I do this…,” “So don’t do it.” :) Well, I need to use those muscles as little as possible, avoiding both motion and using them to apply pressure. As a result, input devices are key.

*Super-Soft Keyboard: One that offers almost no resistance and requires almost no pressure. (Think Toshiba laptops, Vaio… The ThinkPad is out of the question.) I’m also better off with a short key stroke, i.e., the vertical travel of the key. (I’ve read that the average key stroke is 3-4mm, so I guess I’m looking for something less than that.)

*Smallish Keyboard: It doesn’t have to be elfin, just not full-sized — they require too much stretching to get from key to key, not to mention Enter or Delete!

*Light-touch Pen with Eraser: One that’s sensitive to varying pressure would be great for the art side of things.

*Pointing Stick: A track pad requires a lot of finger motion, and a mouse or trackball is impossible. I’ve had a hard time finding convertible tablets with pointing sticks; I’m hoping you can really help me here.

*Dual-Array Microphone: The better the recording, the more voice-to- text translation gets done, and the less I have to type.

Those are the things that are holding up this purchase. If you can share any information or opinions — any of you — I’d be SO grateful.

Of course, there’s also the rest of the wish list, just FYI:

*strong, fast (which apparently means Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM, 160 GB HD, 7200rpm, etc.), able to handle Vista/Aero/Glass, Photoshop, QuickBooks, MS Project, etc.

*widescreen, indoor/outdoor, multi-touch

*WiFi a/b/g, Bluetooth, EV-DO, Ethernet, modem (in just about that order, probably)

*DVD burner (preferably internal)

*PC Cards I & II, multi-format Media Cards, Express Card

*not too hot for a full day in the lap; not too loud

*two speakers that aren’t covered up in tablet mode

*and, of course, a volume dial, wireless docking, and plenty of ports

What haven’t I thought of?

There’s a lot of conflicting and/or partial information out there. A quick summary of how far I’ve gotten:

The Gateway E-155C seems to top the list with a great screen, a dual- array mic, a HD that can be upgraded to 120, good connectivity and card slots (although there doesn’t seem to be EV-DO, and there’s no Express Card, which somebody said means you can’t even add it later).

Their keyboards are usually (at the bottom of) acceptable, and it’s supposed to be relatively cool. On the other hand, I’m not sure if the speakers are covered in tablet mode, and there’s no precious pointing stick!

The Toshiba Portege M400 is also at the top of the list because somebody said they “wish(ed) the keyboard was more firm”. Sounds perfect. The audio is supposed to be good, but I don’t have answers on the screen, optical drive, or connectivity. So far, it seems the big negative is no pointing stick; the little negative is a noisy fan.

The HP Compaq tc4400 has a ***pointing stick!*** On the downside, I’ve read that the keyboard is full-size, with a “feel that rivals the legendary ThinkPad” (depending on what they meant, that could be worrisome). Also, it seems to be Core Duo with just 512MB RAM (upgradable?), the optical drive is external, and apparently the screen isn’t all that good in indirect sun.

The Toshiba Portege R400, given what I know so far, seems like a no: no pointing stick, issues with glare, a weaker HD, and a single speaker. Am I wrong?

The Asus R1F is completely foreign to me. Have you tried their keyboards? Apparently, it doesn’t have a pointing stick, the HD is only 80GB, it’s an indoor-only screen, and there’s no Bluetooth or EV- DO. On the other hand, it does have an Express Card slot, it is Core 2 Duo (albeit 1.66), you can upgrade to 2GB RAM, the screen is slightly larger, and it has the optical drive, which is no small thing.

The Acer Travelmate C210 is still on my list. I don’t know what the keyboard is like (although I tested three Aspires — the 3690-2970 was great, the 9410-2028 was good, and the 5570-4421 was pretty bad — and the Ferrari, which was also too stiff.), and it does say full- size, which isn’t ideal, but it has the optical drive and the dock and it seems quite strong — and that’s a pretty good list. That said, I didn’t see any mention of EV-DO, PC Card or Express Card slots, or an outdoor screen.

The Fujitsu LifeBook T4215 and 4210, and the Gateway M275X haven’t been ruled out, either. (Although what did it mean when somebody said the 4210 has a “bouncy” keyboard?)

But I did cross off things I knew had stiff keys (Asus R1, Lenovo X60), passive screens (Fujitsu B6210, HP Pavillion tx1000), or were over 6 lbs. (HP Pavillion dr9000t).

That’s as far as I’ve gotten. I’d really appreciate any and all advice, relevant to my questions or not. (Who’s to say I’m even asking the right questions?) I’ve got to pull the trigger on this tonight, and I’m nowhere near a decision!

But whichever model I buy, I’m looking forward to becoming a member of your group.

Thank you *so* much,