Friday, April 29, 2005

The Other Tech in My Life: the Other Tablets

Somewhere around late January or early February 2003, I caught the TabletPC bug. I had done plenty with my Dell Axim X5 Advanced PocketPC, but one can only do so much with the tiny screen and limited storage space, and storage cards were expensive. Using the laptop (a 600MHz Dell Inspiron) on the go wasn't much fun, if I didn't want to stop and sit for a while, and the poor thing was out of date when I bought it, anyway.

When I saw Microsoft's promotion to give away devices which combined the convenience and mobility of a PDA with the screen size and application compatibility of a laptop, my little technoloving heart didn't stand a chance. There was just one problem, or maybe a few thousand problems, each one of them a dollar bill. I made a promise to myself that I would wait a year and save for this must-have technology. I entered the contests Microsoft sponsored (3 in all) giving away TabletPCs, but never won the coveted device.

As we started rolling into the second quarter of 2004, I knew I couldn't wait any longer, so I started buying older tablet form-factor machines on eBay in hopes of staving off the big commitment. I started with a Fujitsu PenCentra 130. Oh, I really wanted the 200, but by the time I really started seriously bidding, it was the 130 or nothing. Even after paying shipping, what I gave the seller was less than a tenth of the price Fujitsu originally charged for these devices.

A device running Windows CE 2.11 (a precursor to the current Windows Mobile OS that runs on today's PocketPCs), this guy had a few advantages over my more powerful Axim: it had Pocket PowerPoint and Pocket Access in addition to the Pocket Word and Pocket Excel found on PocketPCs; it had two PCMCIA card slots, and, of course, it has 6-inch VGA LCD. The disadvantages were insurmountable: from the start, the screen, though legible in direct sunlight, was difficult to read in bright light (I'm still not certain as to whether that was a problem with my device, or if any PenCentra would be the same); the infrared port, while ok for synchronizing PIM info, seemed useless for file transfers, and its version of Pocket lnternet Explorer was incapable of allowing me to authenticate to the wireless network at work. With information from HPC Factor and PocketPC FAQ (formerly CEWindows.NET), I hacked away on it for a while before I conceded defeat and turned to eBay again.

This time, I aimed for something that would run more standard windows apps. Competition for touchscreen slates had gotten fierce, but I did manage to get a Fujitsu Point 510. With Windows 98SE and a 6 gb hard drive, I was able to do more than I could with the PenCentra, including get on my employer's VPN. I couldn't be satisfied, however, since I could never get DRM activated on the device, and therefore could not read my PC Magazines in the Zinio Reader or read my protected Microsoft Reader eBooks. I couldn't get MP3s to play decently, either. After that, and after getting my hands on a Motion TabletPC my manager was evaluating, all attempts at responsible behavior were out, and I got my V1250.

But now the V1250 needs repairs. Don't blame ViewSonic; I bought Accidental Damage insurance, because I knew I would need it. I rather loathe the idea of going back to my Inspiron, though, while I wait for my baby to get to ViewSonic and back, so I hit eBay once again, looking for something to distract me and help me work. I'd sort of vowed I'd get an ePods one day, and I did. A CE 2.11 device like my PenCentra, it has the distinct advantage of having a gorgeous, bright LCD and a Compact Flash slot, which precludes the need for using a PCMCIA adapter card. Disadvantages, when compared to the PenCentra, are the lack of Pocket Excel (SpreadCE will make that a non-issue, if I can ever get it to run), Pocket PowerPoint and Pocket Access; also, the device had to be hacked (but that was kind of fun!). Though I've tried getting the same Compaq WL110 wireless card working in the ePodsOne that I had working in the PenCentra, I haven't had much luck.

One thing the ePods has helped me to understand is why Microsoft TabletPC MVP Chris H. keeps saying that a user cannot rest her hand on a touchscreen device while writing, which is one advantage he proclaimed that the TabletPC, with its active digitizer, had over older pen input technology. You see, I'd never had a problem with my PenCentra or my Point510 sensing my hand, but the ePods does every time a finger brushes against it, causing me quite a few problems when working. I guess my Fujitsu's touchsceens aren't as sensitive as the screens of others.

I do hopeViewSonic tech support turnaround time is brief!


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