Kno debuts at D8, a GIANT Courier-like dual-screen tablet

Kno, formerly known at Kakai, formally unveiled their dual-screen tablet at D8, and it is BIG! No, I mean, literally big, as in this guy holding the Kno is not a hobbit. On the plus side, the guys at Kno are serious about pen input.

As shown at D8 with additional details from Barron’s, the Kno sports a pair of 14″ widescreen displays held together by seat belt-like fabric straps. It weighs 5.5 pounds, is equipped with WiFi and Bluetooth (no mobile connectivity), and runs a Linux-based OS with support for Office documents and PDFs. They also plan to have a laptop mode and on-screen keyboard for text entry. No mention of handwriting recognition, but they promote pen input as being essential for learning; the Kno is aimed at the student market. No word on processor, but it runs NVIDIA Tegra, so it’s ARM-based. Battery life is expected to be 6-8 hours. Target price is under $1,000.

First, I want to commend the folks at Kno for taking pen input seriously and putting together a package that hits several key mobility points. That said, are you kidding me with the size of this thing? My own personal, daily-use Tablet PC is a Toshiba Tecra M7 with 14″ widescreen that weighs nearly six pounds, and I’m in slate mode on it most of the time. Trust me, using a device this big in slate mode is problematic enough with a single screen. I cannot imagine a dual screen device of that size and weight being the least bit practical.

Yes, it is a lot lighter than the usual combination of paper-based books and notebooks the Kno would replace. It should work great in a bookbag, but in use, it’s like a notebook of legal-sized paper. Why is that a problem? Do a search on “legal notebook”. Notice how they don’t make notebooks loaded with legal-sized paper. There are plenty of legal notepads, which offer one legal-sized page at a time, but not notebooks. A single-screen slate this size is like working on a legal pad. A dual-screen slate this size is like working on a notebook that no one uses. That should have been a red flag.

Also disappointing is the fabric-based hinge. Makes it impractical to use unless at a desk or flat surface. If you’re standing or sitting at bench, you’d need to use both hands to hold it. Just to hold it. No pen input unless you fold a screen back or let it flap in the wind (sorry, guess they figured that out). Furthermore, in their demo, they used a stand to hold the Kno up at an angle. Excellent idea, so why isn’t that part of the design?

Sorry for dumping on the Kno parade like this, but based on my own experience working with a tablet this size and weight every day, I feel compelled to point out the critical flaws in this initial structure. Also note that the Courier project started off (presumably) as Codex by Ken Hinckley, which was two OQOs on a moleskine. That’s a good size for a dual-screen tablet. The enTourage eDGe with its 10″ screens and 3 lbs is, I feel, about as big and heavy as one can go. Dual 14″ widescreens at 5.5 lbs is way too much. Again, I like everything else they’re trying to do with it, but none of that matters if the device is too cumbersome for people to use. If the Kno folks cut down the size, then I can worry about the other stuff.

Comments

  1. Ken Hinckley says

    The first prototype of the “Codex” that I built was actually constructed of a pair of the old NEC slate tablets, and was about as big as this thing, and YEAH that makes for a tablet that is way too flippin’ large. I could not even use it in my Office without clearing off a good chunk of my desk, or putting away my keyboard. I pretty much had to go to a conference room to set up my battleship station. It also draws way too much attention to itself, which the Codex did not; I could bring the Codex to a meeting, plop it on the table, and unless I actually opened it and started using it, people didn’t even notice that it was anything other than a normal dayplanner.

    • Sumocat says

      Geez, guess I need to give you credit for every dual-screen device that comes along, large and small. :)

      The really wild part is the NEC Versa had a 10″ screen and weighed 2.2 lbs, so unless you were using some other secret model (the Versa’s the only one I know), even your first prototype was smaller and lighter than the Kno. Were I British, I’d be gobsmacked.

  2. Nameless says

    Ever since I moved from the HP TC1100 (10″ screen, 12″ including bezel, 3.1 lbs. without keyboard, 4 lbs. with keyboard) to the Gateway E-295C/C-14*XL (14″ screen, 15″ including bezel, 6.5 lbs. or so with 8-cell battery), I’ve found myself using it much less as a tablet and much more as a laptop with an integrated Wacom Cintiq.

    Why? Too big, too heavy.

    Part of the reason I wanted something like the Courier is that it would be a more compact, portable, and hopefully longer-lived companion device that still offers the pen functionality I demand. There are some times that I do happen to like having a proper Windows-based computer with Wacom pen functionality, but those times are relatively fewer compared to when I’m really just using OneNote.

    The Kno certainly looks like mostly the product I’ve been looking for, but at that size, it’s just too much. I was hoping for something more Newton MessagePad 2000/2100-size if they were going for a booklet form factor. If they’re going to keep it at 14″, drop the other screen. (And why a FABRIC hinge?)

    I’m sure there’s demand for a dual-14″ version, but they’ll seriously have to consider making a smaller offshoot.

    • ChrisRS says

      I like my 14″ Gateway, but I use it more as a portable computer at a desk or table. If it were a true slate, it could be somewhat lighter.

      How about a large clean slate with active digitzer? With a Bluetooth or USB keyboard a 14 inch slate would be more that adequate for writing/typing a paper on. (In portraite mode, the screen allows for menues at teh top and a leter size page at 100% – margins slightly reduced.)

      Keep it simple

  3. Chad Essley says

    Having seen Ken’s office, I have to agree. He’d also possibly have to acquire some sort of fishing license because he’d be officially over his limit on tablets.
    :-D

  4. Scott says

    I think you’re being a little too hard on them.

    Sure, it’s big. And yes, it would probably have a lot more obvious usage scenarios if it had a hinge that it could stay at the angle you want it to (like a standard laptop hinge.) But maybe just a kickstand could serve that function.

    It isn’t meant to be used (so much) at an office desk. It is meant to be carried to class where you sit at a desk that’s got nothing on it. Sure, when you get back to your dorm or home, or whatever, you’ll still have to find room for it, but couldn’t you say the same thing for having multiple text books plus a laptop and maybe even paper notebook or organizers?

    In the video of them demoing the thing, they point out they choose the size because the pages of a standard textbook fit within the screen at 100% of the original textbook size, but still leaving room for the interface and controls.

    Do I think there’s room in the market for a smaller sized version of this? Absolutely. Would every device be better if it was lighter and hand longer battery? Sure. But I think this design is pretty good at accomplishing what they set out to do, which is replicate and enhance the textbook experience. (Textbooks are big, man.) Is the design good for working in an office or writing a novel, probably not so much.

    It remains to be seen if they can sell a bunch of them. Most students, however tech savvy, are probably not so eager to write term papers on a virtual keyboard. So are they going to buy a laptop, a phone, an iPad (if we’re being honest)… and this?

    My big question is, how do you charge it? Do you have to plug in both halves? :)

    • Sumocat says

      Maybe I’m over-reacting, but what if I flipped the argument? If I were to argue this is the right size and weight for students, based on my experience, you’d be within your rights to laugh in my face.

      The real problem is the weight. Books are heavy, but you can one-hand them and throw them around. You just can’t do that with a computer, even a rugged one. A digital book can’t simply be lighter than a regular book; it must be light enough to handle like a regular book without fear of breakage.

      Also, trying to replicate a textbook experience should not have been a goal. I used to be a tutor. I’ve shown students how to use textbooks. It’s a pretty lousy system compared to what’s possible digitally. If textbooks were better, they wouldn’t have to be that big. To put it another way: I don’t need a screen as big as an atlas to use Google Earth.

      • Nameless says

        Part of the appeal of going paperless includes transcending paper’s limitations.

        I wouldn’t feel as hindered with a smaller screen since I could just scroll through and zoom in/out of a page as needed. It’s a dynamic window of information, not a static one. Certainly, that’s part of what you meant by not needing atlas-sized screens to use Google Earth.

        As for computers not being as rugged as books, I suspect that much of this has to do with fragile LCDs moreso than the underlying hardware. Would something like OLED or mirasol hold up better to the rigors of being tossed around and dropped?

        In any case, I’d be happy to do away with those thick, heavy textbooks, but it’ll take a while before the school systems start to see things the way I do…

  5. acerbic says

    What’s the curse here that all these companies seem to have to design something useless or clunky and weird? Why is a simple slate with pen and touch an impossible concept to them?

  6. Mike says

    I think they are looking at it from the perspective that a single school text can be this size and weight and they could replace all of them with the one unit.
    It seems a reasonalbe argument on its face but it is not going to convince people who are looking at it as a comparison against other available tech.
    I would love the big screens.
    I would be willing to put up with the big size to get them… but not the thickness or the weight or the short battery life.
    Also…. while the two screen thing is awesome it also needs to be versatile.
    ANY two screen solution needs to be able to fold in some way so a single screen is presented and the device can be used in a clipboard like fashion.
    It is simply something which will come up time and time again in actual usage.
    Though you can’t do that with a book obviously, we have all wished we could on more than one occasion.

  7. RDX. says

    I bought a couple of NEC VY11F/GL-R tablets at the beginning of the year (japan yahoo auctions) and have been meaning to get a case to use them courier style – can anyone suggest a case? At 900g each, they’d still only weigh 1.8Kg together, roughly the same as a X61 or t2010 with a extended battery.

    As I would only be using one for inking and the other for reading, I have thought of replacing one with an iPad…but then an iPad would cost what I paid for both of them…

    Although old hardware by now, they do run Win7 and OS X fine – although I haven’t had time yet to figure out rotation with Win7 (ati graphics).

    I actually prefer 12″ screens to 10″ (irrespective of the resolution) as it is closer to A4 size paper…

    • Ken Hinckley says

      That’s the exact model of the NEC I used to build my first prototype over 2 years ago now.

      I just modified a day planner, and attached velcro to the back of the NEC’s to hold them in there (while also affording easily taking them out). A few cable ties and wire guides held the power cables, etc., in place so that I could easily charge them in-place. I attached a zipper pouch to the outside to hold the actual power supplies and other accessories – and this also angled the tablet at about 10 degrees upward when you used it in landscape mode, for more ergonomic viewing and writing. I used the leg of a picture frame to swing out and support the vertically oriented side.

      I didn’t try using it in portrait as much. At this large size, the landscape set-up seemed the most useful. I’ll have to do a blog post about this thing at some point with a few pictures.

      • RDX. says

        Thanks for the info – I’ll give it a go sometime.

        I love using A4 spiral bound notebooks and the working area afforded by x2 A4 pages side by side (I usually print stuff on the left side and write notes on the right side) – but perhaps x2 NEC’s side by side will prove to be too unweildly – I’m so used to just holding the weight of one of them by now!

Leave a Reply