I’m a Picky Tablet PC User, Are You?

In the early years of Tablet PCs, I was happy with just about anything that flipped around, was a slate, or I could write on. Over the years, though, I’ve become quite picky about what I like / don’t like in a tablet pc. Instead of becoming enamored with everything that crosses my desk or I read about online, I’m looking for those little things that mean a great deal, and in the end, help me be productive and mobile.

Here is a quick rundown of the things an OEM could do to win me over, and the things to avoid. What does your list look like?

  1. I like a crisp, clear screen.   If I see one more grainy screen in a tablet pc, I’ll scream.
  2. I’m so over loud fans. I like to be able to hear what is going on in a meeting and not be a disruption to the other participants.
  3. I like manual volume switches that are easily accessible whether I’m in slate or convertible mode. Toshiba’s Tablet PC nailed the design perfectly with their volume rotary dial. Whoever thought that touch-based volume controls were a good thing, especially when hidden under the screen, should be taken out to a usability study center for a week. There is something to be said for function….
  4. I like flush bezel screens. They enhance the writing experience rather than interfere with it.
  5. I LOVE extended batteries, but I love them even more when I can charge them while also docked. What use is an extended battery when you can’t charge it while docked? I especially love battery slices and those that provide a nice gripped handle. The good thing about handle grip type of extended batteries is that they tilt the tablet at an angle for typing and writing while in landscape mode.
  6. Whether the keyboard is removable or built-in to a convertible tablet pc, I like a keyboard that has good travel, has decent spacing between the keys, and is not glossy. Lenovo’s X series keyboards are the best ever. I don’t like HP’s dura-finish keyboards – they are too slick. Why in the world does HP put the PG / PG down keys at the very top of the keyboard and make them tiny? Shouldn’t they be next to the arrow keys for goodness sakes?
  7. I like a pen that actually feels like a real pen rather than a stick stylus. Motion Computing’s tablet pc pens are some of the best I’ve used. I also like an eraser on the back of the pen. I don’t like it at all when folks like Dell decide that a button can act like an eraser. Do you see a button on the side of a pencil? Then don’t make me use a button on the side of the pen, either, ok?
  8. I like touchpad buttons that are quiet. HP’s tx2000 touchpad buttons are some of the loudest ever. Surely they can make them quieter. Again, Lenovo’s touchpad buttons are awesome.
  9. I like a nice scroll wheel on the side of the tablet for use while in tablet mode. HP’s 2710p / 2730p scroll wheel is awesome! I miss Lenovo’s scroll wheel in the X200.
  10. I would love a tablet pc that makes me feel lost in the art of writing / notetaking in a similar way that Amazon’s Kindle 2 does for reading a book.

28 Comments

  1. Sumocat

    04/10/2009 at 11:56 am

    With you on everything except the extended battery (haven’t used one yet but the added bulk and girth turn me off) and the eraser side button. I’ve been using a Lenovo X41 pen for a few months now, and I feel as comfortable with its eraser side button as I do with my Wacom eraser pen and stock Toshiba eraser pen. Also helps that it has a bit more heft and a textured finished for better grip. Complete agreement on the Toshiba volume dial too. Love it.

    RE: the title question, I appear to be rather picky. I was asked about upgrading recently and honestly can’t name a model I want because there are no 14″ widescreen models anymore and there’s always a resolution drop on anything smaller. I’m pretty spoiled by the 1440×900 inking space on my Toshiba R25.

    I’m also running into snags due to a lack of dedicated graphics. To me, this should always have been a part of the Tablet PC spec. I got by without it, but that’s no longer a feasible option.

    Reply

  2. AmbiDextrose

    04/10/2009 at 1:22 pm

    – Waiting for the newer Intel Arrandale chips to become available on TabletPCs.

    – Like Sumocat, a TabletPC with a discrete graphics chip coupled with a 1440×900 (at least 13.3″) LED-backlit LCD display. Barring that, at least an NVidia 9400M IGP to support more recent version of software like Photoshop CS4. If this is not possible, support for something similar to Fujitsu Amilo’s external graphics booster that accelerate both external and INTERNAL monitors are acceptable.

    – More navigation controls and/or function buttons with better customization support that’s accessible when in tablet mode. One example would be a multi-function touch strip similar to the touch ring found on the newer WACOM Intuos 4 tablets. Otherwise, capacitive or Stantum-based resistive multi-touch screen with configurable gesture support (or the ability to define completely new gestures).

    – Better pen designs approaching the quality and variation of Intuos pens (e.g., ArtPen, AirBrushm et.al.). Support for (pen) tilt functionality as well as more pressure levels (1024 pressure levels would be a welcome update).

    – Better quality LCD screens that support 24-bit color (instead of the standard 18-bit LCD displays found in most notebooks). Maybe we’ll this will be possible when OLEDs become more prevalent.

    Reply

  3. Frank

    04/10/2009 at 1:47 pm

    a clear and bright 12″ display with LED backlight with a very high resolution ((W)UXGA). Battery life with min. real 8 hours. A few tablet buttons (4 or 5). Lightweight and thin, and a silent fan. A real outdoor useable screen. And maybe some sort of a passive digitizer, too, combined with an active like the Modbook Pro. If it’s a convertible then it must have a touchstick.
    Optional a hybrid graphics system with an IGP and a dedicated GPU, like some Sony Vaio notebooks have.
    An almost perfect slate is the Motion J3400, sadly it has a too short battery life, is too thick and heavy and too expensive.
    An almost perfect convertible is the Fujitsu T2020, sadly a bit too thick and it could have a better display coating, similar to the Motion one.

    Reply

  4. Paul Harrigan

    04/10/2009 at 1:53 pm

    I agree about being picky. The loudness of the HP TX 2000 and TX2500 buttons really bother me, as does the exhaust fan when it ramps up.

    Basically, my priorities these days are:

    1) Weight and sturdiness — I like to use the tablet as a tablet, which doesn’t work if it’s too flimsy and doesn’t work if it weighs seven pounds;

    2) The pen must fee like a pen when I write;

    3 Dedicated graphics — travel requires relaxation time, and a little gaming (not heavy FPS but WoW or something) is a big help;

    4) Enough screen space to be a useful pad of paper — 12″ is bare minimum, 13.3 or 14 would be nice.

    If I were doing the design, a tablet form with easily attached keyboard would be best. I keep waiting for Motion to introduce a general market tablet (which may never happen) or someone else to step up with the same idea.

    Reply

  5. TateJ

    04/10/2009 at 3:01 pm

    Real 8 to 10 hour battery life. I’ll take a little extra weight and size as long as I can go all day without worrying about my battery life. That is the only think that keeps me from using my tablets more.

    Reply

  6. Medic

    04/10/2009 at 3:26 pm

    I would agree with the comments above.

    I am using a Lenovo X60 multitouch/multiview. It is 2 years old.

    What I still miss is good software that is intuitive and with good inking recognition. Vista and Windows 7 beta have shown that this is possible, but it is not intuitive enough. One still needs to interupt the act of inking, by pressing insert when ready with inking. Still not all symbols and laguages in ink are recognized, which is why we have to press buttons, and yet again interupt the inking proces. Scrolling, panning, zooming in-and-out als asks to press yet agin another button elsewhere. It would be nice that “write anywhere” would become the standard. seperate functions like, shift, ctrl, panning, scroling and zooming-in-and-out function could be integrated in the pen throughsmall buttons.

    I think that if more R&D effort was performed on the pen hardware and software for tablet pcs, we would have less issues on tablet pickiness. It is time someone takes steps to integrate and improve that what we actually already (should) have.

    Reply

  7. Mark (K0LO)

    04/10/2009 at 5:14 pm

    Rob, I thought that I felt the same as you did about #7 (pens and erasers). When my new X61 Tablet arrived it came with an eraser on the top of the pen. I actually wanted this; at least I thought that I did. However, after using it for a couple of weeks I couldn’t stand it any more. The act of flipping the pen upside-down to erase was distracting and time-consuming. In addition, it became very difficult to do precision erasing with such a large eraser. I found a colleague who preferred top erasers and quickly traded him for his pen with the side eraser button.

    Reply

  8. M

    04/10/2009 at 5:48 pm

    I totally agree with you Rob. But I want a tablet with some power to it. A good processor and a good graphics card. So I can do all my work and gaming and not have to go “Gosh, I wish this thing had some more power to it.”

    Reply

  9. Gavin Miller

    04/10/2009 at 5:48 pm

    Surely someone must take up the reigns on a cheap, light atom powered tablet. I’d love a Slimmer TC1100 with netbook innards, couple of gigs of ram, 64Gb SSD running Windows 7.

    Reply

  10. Dodot

    04/10/2009 at 6:10 pm

    I’m with Gavin on this! :) The Atom processor would lessen the heat, help extend the battery life, help set the stage for a smallish form factor, and make the tablet a bit more affordable.

    As for being a picky tablet user, I don’t think I am. So long as the tablet offers a good, natural pen-based note-taking experience (ideally through an active digitizer, although the Classmate PC Netvertible seems to be an ok compromise as well), isn’t too heavy or bulky (12 inches is a nice footprint), offers a long enough real world battery life, is and is rugged enough I think I’ll be pretty happy with it. :)

    Reply

  11. GoodThings2Life

    04/10/2009 at 6:46 pm

    In January I bought one of the HP tx2000 tablets when it was on sale as a Woot special. While I don’t *hate* the system, I don’t really like it either. It’s too thick, too heavy, and the glossy design just annoys me.

    The HP 2730p, on the other hand, is almost perfect for my tastes. The only significant improvements I’d like to see would be a dedicated graphics (preferably Nvidia), and a volume control that’s accessible.

    I would also love to have the 2730p with Windows 7, a 128GB SSD, and the extended battery, but those are all easily accomplished.

    Reply

  12. harv

    04/10/2009 at 6:56 pm

    I have HPTC1000,HPTC1100,HP2710p, Toshiba M205-s809. Have used Motion LE1700.
    1.Clear screen is very important, but that’s why they need to bring back discrete graphics GPU.
    2.Load fans suck. Quiet is required now.
    3.Manual switches are alwas better. for volume, for, brightness, for anything.
    4. Flush bezel is better for writing.
    5.Extended slice batteries rule.Just make them so thet can be re-charged while in the docking slice ALONE (tablet is still in remote use).
    6.I am neutral on keyboard key finish. I am more concerned with touch travel and response. I spend most of my day using the pen. I am also neutral on detachable keyboards. I have grown to like my convertable. don’t have to decide to take/not take.
    7.I like bigger pens. Easier to grip over time.But more important to me is the eraser tip on the top. And a positive snap into the pen slot.I have had too many pens slide out on their own.
    8.I am neutral on touchpad buttons,again as I use the pen all day. But quiet is always better in a crowded room.
    9. Scroll wheeels are essential. The 2710p really needed the 2730p upgrade.
    10. I would love them to bring back the larger sized screens. I went looking for a Gateway M285 the other day for just that reason, and discovered they were history.

    Reply

  13. Jim

    04/11/2009 at 4:46 am

    I still want a 9-12 inch that is getting lighter. I want to hold and grade papers for several hours. Nothing is under about 3.3 lbs. So I am using a motion c5 and longing for something lighter.

    Reply

  14. JL199986

    04/11/2009 at 6:36 am

    I am picky- my dell xt is great except for boot/ wake speed and battery life.

    I want instant on. I want truly instant wake up. Real world notetaking is much harder to use…because of of the few extra seconds (or worse) due to full Windows. Windows CE/ Mobile has instant on…I’d actually go for a Windows Mobile product if it had a 12 screen. instant on/wake, 12″, slate, big battery, some version of One Note.

    Reply

  15. JL199986

    04/11/2009 at 6:42 am

    a slate the size & thikness of my XT’s LED screen or even just a bit thicker for a massive battery. Could be plenty heavier..2-3 pounds is still very tote-able. Aimed at writing, able to do the rest okay.

    I very much liked Motion J slate ink show….just needs truly instant wake up & maybe a tad thinner.

    Reply

  16. Robin Capper

    04/11/2009 at 6:48 am

    Many of your requirements match mine but I also want the power to run design applications (sep graphics). I like the HP2710 extended battery design, hate their slidy touch control for volume.

    See http://rcd.typepad.com/rcd/my-perfect-computer/

    Reply

  17. Wade

    04/11/2009 at 7:26 am

    So dudes, which existing tablet comes closest to having all of the features you like? I’m asking as a tablet newbie who’d like to have a tablet that could take full advantage of inking/sketchbook interfaces like Inkseine.

    Reply

  18. Mikey

    04/11/2009 at 7:43 am

    Love my tablet kisok i440d – but do with the extended battery was lighter and fit in the dock somehow – annoying to switch it around all of the time for multiple purposes.

    I like Wade’s question – what does come closest to these specs? (PS – Love Inkseine)

    Reply

  19. Rob Bushway

    04/11/2009 at 7:55 am

    Next week I’ll address which tablet comes close “to me” to meeting those needs. I’m not sure right now….

    Reply

  20. Bristolview

    04/11/2009 at 8:06 am

    I’ve lost much of the use of my right hand over the past few years. As such, I lost the ability to touch type. To keep working, I opted for a Tablet PC and TIP/Handwriting recognition. I am now nearly 100% pen based for all my work, and that’s working in the software industry and writing technical documentation. As such, I may be a bit picky too, as I cannot fall back to the trusty keyboard that many use in addition to the tablet functions.

    Working pen based all the time is a bit different than working on a typical notebook, namely, the typical working mode is handheld. No desk anymore. Holding the PC 100% of the time puts a lot of strain on cable connections, so it’s best to run without any, thus battery power is the way to go. The other HUGE thing is that typical use (pen based and handheld) is in Portrait, which many makers seem to overlook.

    Motion almost nailed the battery thing with the new J3400, having hot swappable batteries is great, and allows a full day without powering the PC down to swap a dead battery with a charged one. I said almost, because they didn’t launch an external battery charger, meaning you have to charge your hot swappable batteries in the PC itself. Um….. (Yes, I know the Dock can charge, but that’s not really portable, fine in an office, not elsewhere). Motion almost got it right, hopefully we’ll see an external charger from them soon.

    The other item I mentioned is Portrait use. Motion typically botches this, and the J3400 is in character. Not bad, just not great with regard to port location. The J3400 is a rockin machine, but in portrait orientation… you can’t really access the USB ports. Not great. The Fujitsu P6012 nails the portrait optimization just about right. The grips are clear of ports, the bottom is free of ports and the ports are arranged such that you can hold the unit in portrait and not interfere with them. Wow, they actually get it. If Motion did that, the new J3400 would be amazingly great. The other aspect of Portrait use is display resolution. at 1280×800 landscape resolution, it changes to 800×1280 resolution in portrait, which is really poor. Browsing and working in 800 wide is a lousy experience. The SXGA+ displays on the x61 and LE1700 were perfect for this. It seems nobody is offering these on tablets anymore, and I suspect the device makers are subject to what the display makers are making, such is life. Tablet makers, if possible; push the display makers for higher resolution.

    So, for me… in addition to most of the comments above, a higher width for portrait orientation, and port location realizing that people actually use portrait.

    With regard to the Dell eraser button, I actually like that. I didn’t at first, but now I prefer it. It’s faster to not need to flip the pen over.

    Reply

  21. Rose

    04/11/2009 at 4:44 pm

    The screen is absolutely critical, but don’t forget the extended viewing angles! Unlike monitors, tablets need a very wide viewing angle from all directions. For me and my old eyes, 12 is the minimum, and I’d love more (for the same current weight as my T2010.) 512 levels of pressure is a minimum. I would really like to see at least 1024,
    AND DEFINITELY, pen rotation.
    I also don’t want to skimp on cpu and graphics power. The T2010 works ok for the price I paid, but I’ll expect a very nice bump in power when I buy again.
    I decided I prefer the keyboard attatched because : 1)it provides a safety cover always ready to hand (broke my previous motion tablet’s screen) 2)the keyboard is always ready for ememgency recovery (I mostly use the pen in everyday use, but had to cart a keyboard in my pack for emergencies) 3) It provides a built in reading stand, adjustable to any angle (another seperate item with a slate) 4)when reading in bed at night, the tablet can stand by itself on any edge and all you have to do is push a dedicated button occasionally for “page-down” 5)there was no weight penalty for the built-in keyboard with my fujitsu. All the aforementioned “accessories” are neatly packaged and save room in my pack.

    The fujitsu failed to have dedicated buttons that can be distinguished in the dark. I had to “tag” mine. Speaking of buttons, tablets need MORE MORE MORE. (fujitsu has 5). Think of all those nice buttons on the cintiq’s and you’ll keep me from casting green eyes in that pasture (of course I’d wait the cintiq’s can communicate wirelessly over USB3 instead of messing with all those cables)

    I’m also hooked on the extended battery that came with my Fujitsu. Instead of charging and swapping batteries, one battery lasts me all day most days (unless kids are playing games on it). So I just plug it in every night.

    I’d like a pull-out lip under the fan exhaust. When I’m sitting with the machine in my lap (cross-legged), I have to be very careful about positioning to allow for airflow. A pull-out lip would solve this problem.

    Reply

  22. Joe T.

    04/11/2009 at 6:00 pm

    As harv said: “9. Scroll wheeels are essential. The 2710p really needed the 2730p upgrade.”

    I hate my 2710p for only one reason: its lack of a scroll wheel. You might want to change that mistake in #9, to remove giving credit to the 2710p for awesomeness of its non-existent scroll wheel.

    Reply

  23. fabb

    04/12/2009 at 2:56 am

    are there really no 14″ tablets on the market or comming up?
    less than that would feel a bit awkward for me too.

    Reply

  24. Boojumhunter

    04/12/2009 at 10:02 am

    I’m still using my trusty Toshiba M200. Like Sumocat, I’ve found it difficult to settle on an upgrade, though it is clearly time to do so. Every time I start looking for the right upgrade, I’m annoyed by what seem to be serious (and obvious) design errors.

    Any upgrade will give a hefty bump in raw oomph. While nice, the fact that I’ve not *had* to upgrade shows that processing power isn’t the primary concern. What is needed is to find a machine that doesn’t annoy me after a month or two of use. Perhaps the M200 spoiled me. It’s run without issues since mid 2004, and after removing the grainy screen film, I honestly have only one complaint: the keyboard’s too flexy.

    Have been leaning towards a Lenovo… but will now wait for your next article, Rob. Over the years you’ve stated much of what I was thinking about tablets. Very interested in what you think of as “best of breed” now.

    Reply

  25. MiniMage

    04/12/2009 at 8:30 pm

    I prefer erasers on the end, as well.

    I like portables that, when docked, can be turned on when the lid is down. I really think Dell knew better; they had this all figured out back in the days of the Latitude X300, but then they made me see red with the XT. I keep hoping there’s something I overlooked with this; if there is, someone please tell me, and I’ll eventually get over the embarrassment.

    Reply

  26. blash

    04/13/2009 at 12:12 pm

    Priorities for me:

    1) Battery life: 7-8 hours real-world, with WiFi on. Screen brightness isn’t as much of an issue since I work indoors.
    2) Weight, and to a lesser degree, thickness – my X200T has very nice thickness but is just a tad heavy. Below 3 pounds would be perfect, although I realize that in order to make a stronger, high-quality product this may not always be possible.

    I agree with 2, 3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 above. I don’t do my photography work on my tablet so the graininess doesn’t bother me in the slightest, having used the non-flush touch screen on my X200T I don’t see why I’d prefer a flush screen (especially if it adds cost/weight), and although I sort of agree with 7, I have no problem writing with my medium-size X200T pen although it would be nice if it was thicker since I have big hands and I like those big, thick pens for writing on paper.

    To a smaller extent, I’d like some performance. nVidia’s Ion platform looks like it should slot into a TPC quite nicely.

    High-resolution is almost mandatory nowadays for almost any application, be it programming, note-taking (the toolbars take up less space and you therefore have more room to write), image work, games (like EVE Online, which is essentially a lot of spreadsheets), even web-browsing (nice when pages don’t have to cram stuff in to fit your screen). Although it’s not a priority per-say, I would definitely pay extra for one and I could make a decision to buy one laptop or another on the basis of this.

    SSDs are also almost mandatory on tablets due to their mobile nature. If I was an OEM, I would not even offer a TPC with a traditional HDD anymore even if it ended up making my product more expensive than anyone else’s at first glance because it lends such a positive aspect to the experience, both in speed and in utility (jamming with your TPC, using it while you’re riding your bike or walking from one place to the other, etc.)

    Reply

  27. MichaelS

    04/15/2009 at 7:07 am

    I am picky too. I am still using my Toshiba Tecra M4 because nothing has come along that approaches the spec (dedicated graphics, screen size and resolution etc). That said, I would upgrade in a nano-second if someone would come out with a flush screen slate, screen the size of an 11×17 sheet of paper, decent dedicated graphics, SSD, lots of hardware buttons, multi-touch, and at least 6 hours of battery life. I am an industrial designer, so I am mostly using SketchbookPro. I find that I rarely use the keyboard on the Tecra, so that is why I would be willing to go slate. A large, bright, view-anywhere type screen would be ideal for presenting or doing demos.

    I am getting a bit nervous about what will replace the Tecra, it is already on it’s second motherboard (after the first one got cooked by an energetic graphics chipset and marathon Half-Life 2 sessions)

    Reply

  28. Eric

    04/15/2009 at 7:59 am

    Amen on most of it Rob!

    I also look for the computing power to use my tablet as the primary computer at work (I’m a graduate student and I need to buy my own computer), which is why I have stuck to an X200 tablet so far. I realized my X41 was just too underpowered to survive all the use.

    The lighter the tablet, the happier I am, but I still need to have the extended battery so I can go all day unplugged. I would dream of a tablet the weight and size of a macbook air with the power of an x200.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *