Sunday, June 03, 2007

How to buy a UMPC or Tablet PC

If there is one question I get asked more often than anything it would have to be “Which is the best Tablet PC?” For those of us watching this space closely we tend to agree that there is no such thing. It seems that each and every time I cough up cash for a new Tablet I think loooooooong and haaaaaaaaaaaaard smaaaaaaaaart about my choice. At present I am in between Tablets (in between 17 of them to be exact) so I thought I would take this opportunity to express, or put done on blog at least, some of my thoughts regarding the buying process. I know some of you own Tablets already and perhaps are looking for a second one; while I know many of you are still contemplating your first. So for all of you reading this post…the following is a definitive account of how to buy a Tablet PC. (I’ve even prepared a special spreadsheet for you to use when you’re done reading.)

In this post I will cover off many of the burning questions and hopefully empower you enough to make the most educated purchase your money can buy. Before we begin there is something I need to make understood right off-the-bat, i.e. that there is no one BEST Tablet - there is only the BEST Tablet for YOU!

With that in mind let’s begin.

Buying a Tablet PC is one of the most exciting and emotionally charged decisions you will make in your life (similar to buying a Home, getting married or having children). Now I can hear some of you laughing already but we need to admit that if you’ve bothered reading this far then you also need to admit that Tablet PC means something more to you than “just another notebook.” My mate Dennis Rice puts it well by suggesting that Tablet PC “provides choice”. The choice to be mobile; the choice to ink, or not to ink and ultimately the choice to sit, stand, walk or run. These are not often the choices attributed to the purchase of a regular notebook so right from the offset the purchase of a Tablet PC becomes potentially transformational.

Looking back at the day I met my first Tablet PC I remember being stunned by its beauty and left in awe of my new found abilities. Not only had I never seen or heard of Tablet PC prior to this date but even worse I was totally naïve to the potential of mobile computing in general. As I prodded and fumbled my way around the device I realized that this was not only the future for me but it was something I wanted to devote a BIG portion of my time to.

The first Tablet PC I ever owned (and still own to this date) was the TabletKiosk i213 Sahara Slate - and I must admit that I was totally an utterly enamored. As I got to know the Sahara I also began to understand Tablet PC idiosyncrasies and inefficiencies. Because my first Tablet was a Slate I was instantly challenged with how to input keystrokes without actually having the ability to stroke keys, and so my journey had begun. Since then I have bought twelve other Tablets and currently looking for a fourteenth. This purchase has caught me a little by surprise so instead of internalizing the process I thought I would share it with you. In the hope that it might empower you (as stated above) I want to share with you a little of my brain.

Normally the first question revolves around “Convertible or Slate” but I prefer to leave that till later on.

Here’s my first thought when buying a Tablet PC:

“Working on a scale of 1 -10 on the HUGOMETER ™ (10 being the highest) how important is it for me to replace a desktop with my new Tablet PC.”

Replacing a desktop may often sound focused on Processors and RAM, when it should actually be focused on ports and docks. At this early stage of the buying process it is a good idea to take inventory of your present hardware setup, and hardware habits. Take a close look at your phone (and how it syncs to your PC), look at your camera (and how it talks to your PC), and look at your printer, your peripherals, your hubs, routers, expansion cards and dongles too. I remember the Sahara and being really comfortable with the Slate design as a desktop replacement because of its clever Dock solution. While the Sahara itself would never have replaced my desktop properly, with the Dock, I actually replaced my desktop and built upon it too.

So on a scale of 1 to 10 for me the need to physically replace a desktop is at least a 7. Because I use my Tablets as my primary computing device then I base a lot of my decision on how well I can extend my desktop onto larger monitors, how easily I can dock and undock, and how well it talks to the plethora of hardware I carry with me. It’s obvious that while replacing a desktop is not all about the external hardware but I wanted to take this opportunity to get you to think a little differently about the situation.

[At this stage I like the Fujitsu T4215 for its port replicator bundle; and the Slates with Dock combos like the TabletKiosk or Motion.]

Once you’ve done this properly, i.e. analyzed your hardware companionship, then, and only then do I begin to think about the Processors and RAM. At this stage once again I give myself the same sliding scale as a benchmark, of 1 to 10. Number 10 being “I need it to tear shreds off a jet airplane with my Tablet’s blistering speed,” and 1 being “I’m happy with zero multitasking and willing to linger upon each click.”

On this scale I might surprise you but I actually peak at a 6 on the HUGOMETER ™. You see for me computing power mostly revolves around multitasking, and not so much around gaming or precision rendering. So with my six I might still consider a Pentium M based UMPC (because of the L2 Cache) or a Core Duo, but I would not need a Core 2 Duo and would probably steer clear of a Celeron based on a 6. Because multitasking is affected dramatically by the quantity of RAM you pack inside your device. Here I tend to consider expandability of RAM more so than Core2Duo n’ stuff.

[At this stage I like the Toshiba R400, because it accepts lots of RAM and just has enough computing power; or the Q1P SSD, fast read/write speeds.]

Here’s my second thought when buying a Tablet PC:

“Working on a scale of 1 -10 on the HUGOMETER ™ (10 being the highest) how important is it for me to utilize the Pen features of a Tablet PC, or are am I buying it for the form-factor, and perhaps end up focusing on my finger?”

In the last few years owning a Tablet PC has become synonymous with mobility. This may sound obvious to most of you but to others that still remember Microsoft’s “think in ink” campaign you will remember that Tablet was originally all about the pen. More recently the introduction of the Ultra Mobile PC has emphasized this distinction and in fact created two camps, i.e. those that drive with pen and those that drive with finger – hence starting to move away from the pen all together.

While I started my Tablet PC experience based on “thinking in ink” now it seems as though mobility has slowly pushed its way forward on my list. So on my scale the pen has gone from a 10 to about an 8.5, and mobility has gone from a 4 just three years back to a healthy 9 today. Why the change you might ask? I guess it’s because my needs have changed. While I respect the Pen, and will always remain loyal to everything it has given me, I now enjoy the freedom I get from the Tablet PC and Ultra Mobile PC form-factor more than anything else. Because the Pen is still so high I find it hard to settle on a fulltime device like the Samsung Q1P SSD, as its pen features are so poor, but I like it a lot for mobility. This is why the algorithm I have developed is so important.

[At this stage I like the OQO model 02, for being shipped with an Electro Magnetic Active Digitizer; and the Slates for the extra mobility they provide.]

Here’s my third thought when buying a Tablet PC:

“Working on a scale of 1 -10 on the HUGOMETER ™ (10 being the highest) how important is it for me to be connected, and maintain expandability.”

At this stage the camps really start to shed their skin. Not only do the answers vary intensely but at this point in the algorithm you need to be quite introverted to get the most out of your purchase. Let me give you my example to see if it makes more sense.

I use my phone (Dopod 838 pro) to connect to the internet as my preferred modem. I pair it to my Tablets via Bluetooth which in turn allows me the ability to interchange my Tablets without being too concerned about Drivers, PCMCIA slots or even worse, integrated SIM card slots. Because I carry my phone every day the last thing I need is to carry my modem too. Most people’s phones support this form of connectivity so it instantly voids the need for a separate modem. While the connection speeds are not as fast as a dedicated modem they are often “good enough” for most surfing and emailing required on the road.

When it comes to expandability the first thing that comes to mind is my camera. I use a Sony still camera at present which uses the Sony Memory Stick. My plan is to transition to a more common SD memory card based camera so that I can create an interchangeable ecosystem for my phone, camera and Tablet to coexist in. I do like my Tablets to have a PCMCIA slot as it allows me lots of flexibility when it comes to connectivity but as stated above it is not a must for me. Given what I’ve mentioned with regards to SD memory I also hunt for a device with at least an SD Card Reader included too.

On a scale of 1 to 10 on this scale I am not very concerned. I sit proudly on a 4 as my hardware is flexible enough to not need to demand expandability or connectivity out of the box. While everyone’s criteria will be different for me at I am afraid my low score will not help me narrow down my preferred device at all. As you begin to witness it is the highest scoring results which will help dictate one device over another when using the HUGOMETER ™. Low scoring results, like on this occasion, must be entered into the algorithm as they will play a crucial role in the end result on the HUGOMETER ™.

[At this stage I like the Fujitsu T4215, the P1610, the Toshiba R400 and possibly the ASUS R1F, although I’m not a fan of this device.]

Here’s my fourth thought when buying a Tablet PC:

“Working on a scale of 1 -10 on the HUGOMETER ™ (10 being the highest) how important is it for me to see my screen”

Confusing as it might sound today view-ability has moved away from talk of screen resolution and moved closer towards conversations of screen size and screen brightness outdoors. As unheard of as it was two years back to discuss fully functioning handheld PCs today we have several devices capable of throwing up full blown Windows onto 4”, 5” and 7” screens. Whereas previously we thought bigger was better, today we are just as likely to want to place a device in our back pocket!

At present this decision is a hard one for me. I am torn between two devices…two very different devices. The first is the OQO model 02; a device which has to be one of the most thought provoking and awe inspiring devices that exist today. While the 5” screen is considered small for Windows it pulls no punches and throws up 1024 x 600 as good as anything else I have seen on the market. I love this device for the convenience it gives me and for the manner in which it allows me to compute on the road. However the other device I am leaning towards is the Toshiba R400. While it is at the opposite end of the spectrum to the OQO model 02 it is also a magnificent beast. Its screen brightness is almost unparalleled (in the non-outdoor readable market) and its wide angle display is something that makes instant desktop replacement almost possible right out of the box.

With such a degree of difference between the two you would think the choice would be clear, but regrettably it’s not. With one I have a pocket sized notebook killer, and with the other I have a notebook sized pocket killer! LOL. On this scale for screen view-ability I sit at a 9. My screens need to be bright and be able to display the highest resolution possible. Both the OQO model 02 and the Toshiba R400 score a 9 here so – for want of repeating myself – this is why the use of the HUGOMETER ™ is so important.

[At this stage I like the Toshiba R400, the OQO model 02, the Lenovo X60, for its higher resolution; and the Motion LE1700, for its higher resolution.]

Here’s my fifth thought when buying a Tablet PC:

Working on a scale of 1 -10 on the HUGOMETER ™ (10 being the highest) how important is it that I look good?”

Now this may sound Narcissistic, and to a degree I hope it does. I will be the first to admit that the marriage between me and my device begins with looks. This may come across all wrong but here goes any way…

I started dating my wife because when we first met I was physically attracted to her – (in my defence, and in case my darling wife reads this) I fell in love with her for much more than that and subsequently married her for more than that again. When it comes to the Sahara Slate Tablet PC that I first owned, I physically lusted after it way before I even cared if it could iron and cook ink and connect to stuff. So when it comes to choosing a device we are spoilt for choice at present. They’re all relatively “good enough” for “most” of us to use so beginning with looks is not as silly as it might sound. After all, you’re the one that has to sleep with it look at it spend the most time with it.

On this sliding scale I am an overzealous 7.5. I would have placed this criteria top of my list but I haven’t for fear of total retribution from the UberTablet family. LOL.

[At this stage I like the Toshiba R400, the OQO model 02, the Toshiba R400, and the Sahara i440D Slate and did I mention the Toshiba R400?]

In Conclusion

Completing the selection process is easy. Add up the numbers above, i.e. 6 for desktop replacement, 9 for Pen Features, 4 for connectivity and expandability, 9 for screen view-ability and lastly 7.5 for aesthetics, etc., which gave me a grand total of 51, and divide it by the number of criteria to get your average score out of 10? (See spreadsheet for full working sample of the HUGOMETER ™.)

So in order to select my next Tablet PC it needs to score a minimum of my average score (or above) to even show up on my radar. While the actual criteria I use may vary, change, or adapt as the years clock over, I believe that you should use as many criteria as possible for your own algorithm. As with any survey designed to provide feedback REMEMBER TO BE AS HONEST AS POSSIBLE. Now go and visit Mr. Excel to complete your task.


F2theD said...

Love those metaphors! (Your wife and all)

Looking up my perfect Tablet PC right now on the HUGOMETER!

MID's said...

Greetings Hugo:

Well I was really looking for a UMPC,but after all that talk about marriage and wife, I think I'll be looking for a nice mobile Canadian/Italian girl.:)

Hugo excellent information about Tablet PC's.

Any news on what's happening with your OQO model 2?

From the other side of World, Montreal, Canada.

Regards Robert

F2theD said...

...and it's the Fujitsu p1610 with 1.5 points higher than my minimum requirements.
Thanks for the excel download!

BTW, I added a column "difference to min. requirements" so I could easily see which devices met the specs by how many points. I thought maybe others want to do the same.

Chuck said...

Hugo - good analysis. I would add a column with time before access to power source. In other words - How long can I go before plugging into the wall or my car (which by definition means I am non-mobile until the battery(ies) is(are) recharged)?

Hugo Ortega said...


Hi Fabian,

Thanks for the support. I wasn't sure whether I should add the wife metaphor but I am kind of glad I did. You know me by now...I'm really an open book aren't I.

Have fun with the HUGOMETER and keep me posted with any developments or modifications you have made.



Hi Robert,

It seems as though the talk of wife has caught more attention than the talk of Tablet. I just sat down with my wife and showed her the post and she laughed at your comment, and Fabian's above. (She really enjoyed it).

Thanks for the support. WRT the OQO model 02 I am still between a rock and a hard place. I am waiting for OQO to decide how to deal with my case. I will keep you posted.


Hi Fabian,

I'm so glad it worked for you. I like this calculation and it actually helped give me some clarity too. Hopefully it has selected the P1610 for you and if you think about it honestly I would assume the choice is right.

Keep me posted. Thanks again for your great enthusiasm.


Hi Chuck,

I think the beauty of this algorithm is that you can claim it as your own very very quickly. With a couple of modifications you can really get a great result for yourself. It's great that you mentioned battery because as I woke up this morning I realized I failed to really add it to the algorithm at all.

Having said all that I believe this is what the Excel sheet is all about.

Great work.

Anonymous said...

Hugo, you naughty, naughty little boy, comparing your wife to a device like that. Shame on you!

But if that's what it comes down to, then who needs men if the mere device can do it all for us?...! At least it won't argue with us or sulk, heh... Us women are free at last!

You're not feeling a little redundant now, are you? ;-) Ah no, of course not, you've always got your trusty friend in the form of a device.

Sweet dreams,

Tee hee...


Hugo Ortega said...

Hi cheeky girl,

I am afraid that when we start talking about replacing men with battery powered devices I no longer can participate. Now I really feel redundant.

LOL. I can feel nothing but nightmares coming really. :-)


Hi Hugo,

thank you for this very interesting subject. I'm a lucky man who owns a tablet pc & a umpc and i must admit these 2 products are complementary and no redundant.

If you want to see the huge differences between UMPC, TABLETPC & other mobile products, do no hesitate just have a look on my video "no coment"...:-)a big joke


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