Tablet PC's - Summary (long)

16 Sep 2004 - 3:55pm
822 reads
aschechterman
2004

All,

Thank you for the wonderful responses and input to my
question on buying a Tablet PC (see immediate, below).

I received a lot of e-mails back-channel as well on
the list; I've tried to preserve the thread, below (to
varying degrees of success). Apologies for anything
I've mangled.

Worth noting a lot of discussion about form factors,
ergonomics, usability, software pros/cons, etc. vs.
favorite brand, etc. Per the latter, seems the Toshiba
M100(x) line comes out on top, as well as Alias
software . . .

Please write me at aschechterman @ yahoo com with any
other thoughts or requests. Happy to respond.

Andy Schechterman, Ph.D.

=====

All,

I'm exploring the purchase of a tablet-based PC for
doing sketching, prototyping, and more. A range of
models are out there such as:

http://reviews-zdnet.com.com/M1400_Centrino_1_1GHz_2G__2x1G___60GB__802_11b_g__Stand__Cover__Pen__6_cell_Battery__Integrated_Fingerprint_Reader__Integrated_Bluetooth__Motion_Pak_SW_w_Microsoft_One_Note/4505-3126_16-31000097.html?tag=coco

Initial impression is the hardware/software technology
is still new (e.g., difficulties in saving free-hand
drawings to other formats? converting? other glitches?
etc.).

Can anyone advise me on this? A good experience with a
certain model(s)? Software? Other impressions?

Feel free to backchannel or post, and I'll summarize
for the group. Thank you in advance for your thoughts!

Andy

I've been using an NEC tablet, the versa T400 for
about 8 months now,
as it's the target platform for the system I'm
designing and building.
The downside of the NEC is the antenna for the wifi
can stick up from
the main body of the machine. It's just begging to get
broken off. So
far I've not broken one but that's probably partly
cause I stuck the
antenna down with double sided sticky tape ;-) Also
the NEC has a
Compact Flash slot, the eject button for which has a
tendency to pop
out a bit to easily - again a breakage risk. Also the
stand that comes
with the NEC is basically useless. I collapses really
easily. The
keyboard that comes with this is just a small USB
keyboard. Nothing
fancy - but it works fine. But the NEC is only 1kg,
which for my
project is really important. So that's what I got.

I reviewed a Motion tablet and they seemed pretty
decent. The only
downside for my application was they were a bit heavy,
but I'm working
with elderly users, so I doubt that's an issue for
you. The docking
system seemed pretty good to, the best of the three
machines I checked
out. Not sure about the keyboard with this one.

I also tried a Compaq machine, a slate version (tc1100
I think), but
found that while the undocked machine was ok, the
docking station that
came with it was a real pain to attach, as was the
keyboard. To dock
first you had to attach the keyboard (which unlike the
convertible
models is a separate unit), then dock it - really bad
design - and
really heavy too. I personally would steer well clear
of this, just on
the basis of the physical design. Also the stylus felt
a bit dodgy -
the nib had a tendency to wiggle a bit.

You should bear in mind though that I was looking at
machines a little
while ago now, in January, so I imagine the models
have changed a bit
since then, hopefully for the better ;-). Also the
selection of
machines was a bit thin then! I had a very hard time
getting demo
models to try out.

As for saving sketches in standard formats, since they
run WinXP tablet
edition, you can run any software you'd run on any
other windows
machine. The stylus on the NEC is as capable as a
typical Wacom
graphics tablet in terms of pressure sensitivity etc,
so using it with
something like Photoshop would be great I'd think. I'm
pretty sure
other tablets are also pressure sensitive in the same
way. Getting
drawings out of the journal software would be harder,
but you can get
the journal reader for WinXP non-tablet edition.

WinXP tablet edition is a superset of WinXP, the
handwriting
recognition, and now with XPSP2 some speech
recognition too, so there's
no loss of capability there.

The only thing I've found is that while the
handwriting recog is pretty
good once you've been using it a while (it adapts to
your writing
eventually), I still find I work much faster on a
keyboard for text
entry. If that's important for you too I'd recommend
you at least try
out one of the convertible models. They are heavier,
but might be worth
it, if that's an issue.

Hope that's of some use.

=====

I'm curious; if stand-up use were not an issue,
specifically for design
work, what can't you do with a notebook plus a small,
inexpensive Wacom
that
you can with a TabletPC?

=====

Technically, apart from the handwriting recognition,
nothing really.
However, being a small Wacom tablet user myself for a
long time too I
would say that it's easier to draw on a tablet than
the Wacom. I've
tried both systems on my brother, who is a talented
artist (but a
novice computer user), and he found the Wacom tablet
somewhat
unsatisfying and awkward, and significantly preferred
the tablet.
Another member of my family, who's an architect, and
also a talented
artist also found the tablet quite usable to draw on,
although he
didn't try the wacom out. It would be interesting to
see what everyone
else thinks.

Of course, I've not done anything like a formal study
on that, but one
of my colleagues has been designing an application for
the platform I'm
building, and the users response to that, and the
tablet have been very
positive. This has been with older users. I very much
doubt whether
they would have been anywhere near as positive about a
wacom and laptop
system. The tablet PC has the advantage of being
familiar to them, in
that everyone knows how to use a pen! (I'm avoiding
using the term
intuitive ;-) ). Writing in one place, and having it
appear somewhere
else, is clearly not as good.

In terms of personal preference too, the next laptop
buy will certainly
be a convertible laptop/tablet machine. Pretty much
everyone else on
the project here who's used them is saying the same
thing!

=====

The diff between a tablet PC vs. a Wacom tablet and a
laptop?

Isn't it about level of separation? When I draw on the
wacom, it is
like
using a mouse, where I am moving something and have to
assume a
relationship
between the object I am moving and the screen I am
looking at.

When I am using a Tablet PC, I am drawing on object
that I'm working
with
directly. There is not level of separation that has to
be communicated
to
the user.

Now, is the cost differential AND the difference in
the "quality" of
the
total box worth that experience? That's a different
question. ;)

=====

I'm curious; if stand-up use were not an issue,
specifically for
Design work, what can't you do with a notebook plus a
small, inexpensive Wacom that you can with a
TabletPC?

You can encourage a definite lack of RSI!

I've used a tablet on my machine for eight years, as
I'm prone to pain
from mice. This is one of the numerous reasons why
I find working on company standard equipment
intolerable, which
relates to the other thread on personal interfaces....

=====

Regarding text recognition:
The text-recognition isn't 100%. That worried me a bit
at first (what
if
keyboards only typed the key you pressed 95% of the
time?) but in
practice it wasn't that big a deal, and was certainly
easier than
transcribing paper notes. Turns out that most of the
benefit for me is
in *taking* the notes. Once they're in memory, I
rarely go back to them
or repurpose them for something else.

For the cases where you need to enter correct text
(URLs, Text Fields)
correcting text was pretty easy. I set up the
digitizer to recognize
both Palm Graffiti and regular text. Whenever I had a
problem with
text,
I just substituted a graffiti gesture, and it cleared
right up.

Regarding a Laptop+Wacom combo:
The major difference is between true mobility and mere
transportability.
If you're mainly working at a single desk, the
laptop+wacom is
superior.
But you can't easily bring your laptop and a wacom
into a meeting and
take notes. It's too much work. With a tablet, it's as
easy as bringing
a notebook with you around the office. Setup time is
virtually nil.

Even without the Wacom, a laptop is only
transportable. That is, you
can
transport it from place to place, but you have to sit
down somewhere to
use it. Conversely, you can stand and take notes with
the Tablet
anywhere. Even outside in fairly bright sunlight. It
also docks with a
keyboard and track pad for higher efficiency text
generation tasks when
you're at your desk. If you don't need that kind of
mobility/transportability combo, there's no reason to
pay the premium.

Regarding software:
Far and away the best drawing software I've seen is
Alias Sketchbook.
With the TablePC's digitizer, it was amazing. The
closest thing to
drawing on paper I've seen.

Another novelty was 3D journal out of Cornell. It
allows you to sketch a wire frame of something, then
rotate it as if it were a three dimensional object.
Nifty.

I was also impressed by some software that emulates a
Franklin Planner.

There's a lot of shockingly bad software for the
Tablet. Demo before
you
buy.

=====

I've been using Tablet PC (Toshiba - portege 3505) for
about 2 years
now.
If you are getting Tablet PC - I really recommend
getting a hybrid
(basically it's a laptop but if you swivel the screen,
it becomes a tablet
PC).
Battery power on Toshiba and tablet PCs are not that
great, hopefully
newer models are better.

As for softwares, there are not many choices out
there.
Most of the times, I use MS Windows Journal for my
sketching, but I
have used sketching software from Corel and Alias. But
for designing flow
diagrams and simple wire frames, windows journal will
do the job (plus
it's free).

I have tried using Tablet PC as replacement for
building prototypes in
paper. However, there were some problems during the
usability testing.
It was hard for me to share the same table pc screen
with the user -
unless you are directly in front of the screen, it
will cause a major
glare.

Another software I could recommend is Microsoft
OneNote ( I believe
Toshiba bundles this software when your purchase new
Tablet PC). OneNote
is a note taking tool, but it has capability of
recording audio and
synchronizing it with the notes you take. I found this
software very useful
when I'm interviewing users.

Hope this helps.

=====

You can encourage a definite lack of RSI!

I've used a tablet on my machine for eight years, as
I'm prone to
pain
from mice. This is one of the numerous reasons why
I find working on company standard equipment
intolerable, which
relates to the other thread on personal
interfaces....

Interesting that you should say that, it's the same
reason I started
using a wacom tablet a few years ago. So I'm in favour
of tablets for
that reason too, it makes a better pointing device for
portable
computers (by which I mean the class of device which
includes laptops
and tablet PCs) in particular.

=====

I'm curious; if stand-up use were not an issue,
specifically for design
work, what can't you do with a notebook plus a small,
inexpensive Wacom
that
you can with a TabletPC?

=====

As mentioned, it's the separation. Learning a wacom is
like
relearning
a device like the mouse. I had to train myself all
over again,
practicing
drawing basic stick figures before I could get back to
normal use. I
never
could get used to using it as the main input device
though, only drawing.

I now use a Toshiba Portege M200 and love the laptop +
tablet because
it
lets me have the best of both worlds. I can discuss
specific models I
considered and their pros and cons off list. Here I'll
quickly talk
about
what it's good for and what it's not good for:

Good:
- drawing. Tablet manufacturers seem to NEVER focus on
this market in
their
advertising. I don't know why. Regardless, I find it
great and use it
as my
tool for OK/C.

- note taking. IF you are not a 70wpm typist which I
am. I end up
typing
notes at conferences instead and just popping the pen
to draw diagrams
at
the same time (without flipping screen over). Many
people I know prefer
writing and so this IS a better form for them.

Bad:
- navigating. Remember Fitts's law? That's irrelevant
in tablets. In
fact
corners are the WORST place for tablets which makes it
really
aggravating
when apps aren't built specifically for tablets. There
needs to be a
serious
overhaul in paradigms for this way of working to reach
its potential.

- regular surf machine. People think "I'll get a
tablet for my living
room
web surf machine." Sounds strange but more than one
have asked me with
that
in mind. There are better, cheaper solutions that are
lighter too. You
want
a keyboard for typing urls, trust me.

=====

Learning a wacom is like relearning a device like the
mouse.

I've been using a digital tablet for over a decade
now, so I can't
personally remember what it was like to pick it up for
the first time.
But,
for drawing, does TabletPC provide high pointing
accuracy, pen angle
control, pen tip replacement for simulating soft/hard
surfaces/instruments
or two-handed control of scrolling, modifier keys,
macros a la Intuos
3?

=====

I don’t think so. Fitt's works just fine on a mac with
a tablet. It's
only the certain lack of 'proper edges' within the
windows
environment that makes the less grid-oriented movement
of the tablet
input more imprecise. Mac Fitts. Though with time
you could likely train your hand to jump to the right
spot in any
interface with any input every time.

What about the track pad and trackball, are they
''funner"? Or are they
less accurate? I know there's test results, but what
do
people actually like overall?

=====

Perhaps I wasn't clear. Obviously, larger target areas
are still
quicker to
acquire but the basic principle of the five easiest
points to hit being
1)
where your cursor is and 2-4) where the corners are is
false in a
tablet PC
(NOT tablet input device because that essentially is
still a mouse).
Why?
Because the areas are not infinite anymore. I can't
wave my pen off the
screen and click, I have to precisely hit the corner.
In addition, the
precision for corners on tablet PCs are currently the
worst areas. You
say
Mac with Tablet so I can only assume you're not
referring to Tablet PCs
at
all but rather a PC with a peripheral tablet input
device (i.e., the
pointing isn't directly on the screen).

I maintain: apps need to be fundamentally designed
differently to make
the
most use of the tablet PC form factor.

=====

Personally remember what it was like to pick it up for
the first time.
But,
for drawing, does TabletPC provide high pointing
accuracy, pen angle
control, pen tip replacement for simulating soft/hard

surfaces/instruments
or two-handed control of scrolling, modifier keys,
macros a la Intuos
3?

=====

This was my complaint about them never marketing to
artists. It is
quite
difficult to find out from each manufacturer if the
levels of pressure
sensitivity each product had and other features you
mention.

For the most part, tablet PCs are licensing technology
from Wacom and
thus,
at a minimum now support a high level of pressure
sensitivity (enough
that I
couldn't tell the difference between that and my
Intuos 2). I never
used the
two handed nav in Intuos so I can't comment on that.
Accuracy is good
enough
for me - no complaints except around edges at times.
I've
never
done pen tip replacement for my Intuos (didn't even
know you could) but
note
that different tablet PCs use different surfaces.
HP/Compaq TC1100 uses
glass display whilst my Toshiba M200 is just a coated
TFT. People like
the
glass because there's no distortion when you press
down. I actually
find no
noticeable issues on the M200 either and like the
slight give that the
screen has to give a softer feel.

Modifier buttons and eraser tips on the other end are
all dependent on
vendor. Toshiba's comes with both, just like the
Intuos series. Also,
it's
worthwhile to note that I often draw in laptop form
(instead of
flipping the
screen) and use the keyboard shortcuts concurrently.

=====

Perhaps I wasn't clear. Obviously, larger target areas
are still
quicker to
acquire but the basic principle of the five easiest
points to hit
being 1)
where your cursor is and 2-4) where the corners are
is false in a
tablet PC
(NOT tablet input device because that essentially is
still a mouse).
Why?
Because the areas are not infinite anymore. I can't
wave my pen off
the
screen and click, I have to precisely hit the corner.
In addition,
the
precision for corners on tablet PCs are currently the
worst areas.

It depends on the physical design of the tablet. If
there are raised
edges, then the corners remain fast to point to. Time
to point, to a
first order of approximation, is proportional to the
log (base 2) of
one plus the ratio of the distance of the target and
the length of the
target in the direction of motion. Some sources have a
different
formulation, but this form has a strong information
theoretic
foundation, and good empirical behavior. If a display
has a raised
bezel then your target can be very large as the edges
will guide the
pointer to the corner if the interface allows you to
slide there before
clicking to indicate the desired point. The size of
the target is never
infinite, by the way, but to get the effective size
for Fitts's law you
need to do some testing to see the range of where the
person is aiming
for.

=====

There is another factor besides those mentioned:
tablets are absolute pointing devices. Mice and
trackballs are relative. This means that one uses two
very different motions to acquire a corner, depending
on the device. With a mouse, you flick your wrist or
scrub the mouse a few times. Acceleration, combined
with the relative motion of the pointer mean that you
never have to move your hand very far. With a tablet,
you have to move your hand to the corner--probably
engaging your arm and shoulder in the process. Raised
corners and edges will help with target acquisition,
but won't change the fact that you are probably making
larger motions.

=====

But the hand-eye cooridnation is absolute and not
relative or calculated. I know exactly how far I have
to move. Also, tablets themselves are an
absolute predictable size.

I would love to see a series of comparative tests
around overall pointing device success w/ a mouse (not
just corners) and a pen on tablet (w/ edges
and w/o).

A problem I see w/ tablets is that using a "pen"
relies heavily on the
steadiness supplied by having the arm at rest. The
problem is that
there is
not a predictability of a secured flat surface to
place under the hard.
This
unsteadiness is something I see that would cause a
bio-mechanical
problem in
using a tabletPC.

=====

It depends on the physical design of the tablet. If
there are raised
edges, then the corners remain fast to point to. Time
to point, to a

Good point. I was speaking in response to the original
poster asking
for
opinions on Tablet PCs and under current designs, this
to me has been a
noticeable problem. The start menu in Windows is now
rather cumbersome
and I
see many possibilities with gestural shortcuts that
are applications
are
only scratching the surface of at the moment.

If a display has a raised
bezel then your target can be very large as the edges
will guide the
pointer to the corner if the interface allows you to
slide there
before
clicking to indicate the desired point. The size of
the target is
never
infinite, by the way, but to get the effective size
for Fitts's law
you
need to do some testing to see the range of where the
person is aiming
for.

Perhaps I should have said the "infinite like" size of
the target that
mousse get in corners from never overshooting the
corner target. Click
of
the wrist and all that. Even with bevels, the motion
must be more
controlled
than a mouse needs to be to reach corners. I will
however rephrase what
I
said. Fitts's law of course, does still apply, but the
common first
application of Fitts's law that people use (thanks to
Tog) is the idea
of
screen edges and corners providing an effectively
larger virtual target
as
the mouse doesn't overshoot. This particular
application of the law, on
all
current tablet PCs that I'm aware of, is not only not
applicable but
actually slightly cumbersome for me.

To avoid sounding like a broken record on the topic,
I'll try to push
this
forward somewhat and offer what I feel might be
improvements for an
ideal
tablet OS/application.

Apps like ArtRage and Sketchbook are using radial
style menus and
palettes
to great effect. I think context sensitive radial
menus (seen in
numerous
incarnations with mouse interfaces before including
LogiTech bundled
s/w) is
particularly effective for a tablet PC. Even more so
are the stroke
interfaces like those used in Sketchbook. These menus
involve the user
initiating at a certain point in the menu and making a
quick stroke in
a
certain direction to indicate the action. Which is
slightly different
from
gestural interfaces (specific motions to signify a
command) - but both
are
useful for tablets.

=====

One of my first PC programs (circa 1985) was AutoCad.
It was set up
with
two monitors (one for commands, one for the drawing)
and a tablet with
menu
of commands surrounding the screen area. The tablet
used a puck rather
than
a pen. The menus were programmable, so we had one for
drawing
schematics,
one for mechanical drawings and so on. We were pretty
careful to put
menu
commands that were common to all in the same location.

When I was drafting, I worked pretty intensely with
the program, so
there
was a lot of chance for "muscle memory" to build up.
When I was really
in
the flow, I could not only hit specific menu commands
without looking
over
at my hand, but could often return the cursor to a
precise location on
the
screen when I moved back into the pointing area.

We often underestimate the power of kinesthetic
memory, and under-use
it in
interaction design. The relative positioning of most
pointing devices
makes
it difficult to use effectively, and we have (mostly)
taken for granted
that the pointer should be relative. I've often
wondered how much that
is
because "we" work with mice/trackballs all day long
and find them a
familiar way of working, and how much because it's
really optimal.

On the question of what you can do with a tablet PC
that you can't do
with
a tablet pointer device: There's a whole raft of tasks
and work
contexts
for which a tablet PC would be a revelation. Anyone
who does a lot of
interviewing/facilitating usability tests, has to
read, edit or comment
on
documents (of any kind or content), or needs to take
notes/sketch in
situations other than a comfortable desk
environment...

I haven't yet worked myself up to NEEDING one, but I
sure love the idea
of
HAVING one.
On the question of what you can do with a tablet PC
that you can't do
with
a tablet pointer device:

My question was focused on design not general
computing, ignoring
mobility.
The revelations you cite *in this context* assume that
TabletPC is
easier to
write on than a digital tablet, but the rest is really
a matter of
software,
not of the form factor.

=====

My question was focused on design not general
computing, ignoring
mobility.
The revelations you cite *in this context* assume
that TabletPC is
easier to
write on than a digital tablet, but the rest is
really a matter of
software,
not of the form factor.

Agreed.

I was thinking of cases where having the writing and
pointing surface
be
the same would be an advantage, and where a
traditional screen+desk
surface
would not be available or optimal.

My examples are mostly from "our world," but think of
nurses and other
healthcare professionals, people inspecting things
(checking off
items),
doing inventory (writing in a few numbers), and a
whole range of
industrial
applications...

I've already seen some early applications that used a
Vadim (touch
screen
twisted around the way a tablet does) used for home
health
applications, so
patients could track diet, medications etc. The
visiting healthcare
workers
could pick up the data via something like a USB memory
stick and bring
it
back to the central records. This was about 5 years
ago, but it was a
clever solution to bringing a simple data gathering
application to
people
who did not have computers, modems or sometimes even
their own phones.

=====

My examples are mostly from "our world," but think of
nurses and
other
healthcare professionals, people inspecting things
(checking off
items),
doing inventory (writing in a few numbers), and a
whole range of
industrial
applications...

Sure, there's a market for pen-based interfaces. We
just don't quite
know
how large/lucrative yet. I know MS invented the
TabletPC :-) but we
have
some early data/experience with a
smaller-than-TabletPC form factor; we
can
go back to 1993 for that, when Newton was released.

Newton had a ton of vertical apps, like the ones you
suggest:

<http://www.panix.com/~clay/newton/

One of the most popular fields was healthcare:

<http://www.panix.com/~clay/newton/query.cgi?medical+index

Incidentally, bunch of drawing apps also:

<http://www.panix.com/~clay/newton/query.cgi?drawing+index

Newton didn't benefit from a lot of technology we take
for granted
today.
But proved incredibly useful in what it could do.
Apparently, there are
still more than 20,000 Newton users.

TabletPC seems to principally target two types of
usage:
note-taking/editing/form-filling and design/drawing. I
think it's
over-priced for the former group and underdeveloped
for the latter.
That's
why I was wondering, for the latter group, what it
could offer
(mobility
notwithstanding) over a PC+Wacom.

=====

Absolutely. I have a Toshiba M200 and wouldn't want to
use anything
else. This is a SOLID, stable machine that has a
higher resolution
display than any other Tablet PC of the same size.
That means more
screen real estate. The motion Tablet is a slate, and
has no built-in
keyboard. I find I use the keyboard on my M200
probably 95% of the
time.
When I fly or am in the car, I will use the pen. In
meetings, I use the
pen and/or keyboard.

Yes, Motion just announced a "portable" Bluetooth
keyboard, but it's
still an extra thing to lug. The M200 has 3.5 hour
battery life, a
great
keyboard, high-res screen, 2 USB 2.0 ports, and a good
display adapter
that provides high resolution for a second display as
well. I usually
use an external display in addition to the built-in
for more screen
real
estate.

Anyway, if it were between the Motion and the Toshiba
for me, there
would be no contest. Toshiba is a better machine. Hope
this helps.

=====

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