Saturday, May 07, 2005

Make Mine Lite

I'm hauling around, and I don't use the word lightly, a Dell Latitude D800 right now. I finally went out and bought a case with wheels to avoid a coronary. Don't get me wrong - this is a beautiful machine, and the NVidia card supports output to both the laptop and an external monitor at the same (that kept me amused for a few days). But its just too heavy.

We have an HP Tablet PC tc1100 at the college which I used for about a month, just until I got the software sorted out. I had a colleague asking me questions the other day that made me realize he had a lot of misconceptions about the tablet PC format. This little HP unit weighs in at only 4.4 lbs, and comes with a leatherette case that makes it look like a diary. It runs Microsoft Windows XP Tablet Edition- which is just regular Windows XP with some software to show off the tablet capabilities. It runs all the regular versions of the Office software suite, and I had no problems using Camtasia and Dreamweaver. There are 40 and 60GB disk drive models, and you can install up to 2GB of memory (standard are 256 and 512MB models). The stylus works like a mouse, and when you need a keyboard the base swivels around to expose a usable, if somewhat cramped, keyboard.

If you really want the full size monitor and keyboard then you can use the
external monitor port, and plug in a USB keyboard/mouse combination.
Anyway, I long to get this machine back. I could carry it around under my arm, it ran all of the software I needed, it has built in wireless and Bluetooth, and when I really need to do some heavy typing or graphics work, I plugged it into my 17" screen. I preferred to use a Genius Mini-Scroll over the stylus, but at times the stylus was very handy, and there is a little scrolling switch on the side of the case so you can read PDF files and scroll through the document without using the mouse or the stylus. The price of these machines has come down to $1599 or less, although the extra options start to bump the price up pretty quickly. The other machine that I would bring in on trial is the Dell Inspiron 700m, which weighs in at a slightly lighter 4.2 pounds, and uses a more standard laptop layout. The nice thing about the Dell is that it comes with a DVD writer, which is an external option for the HP Tablet PC (by the way, I wouldn't buy the expensive HP option, unless the weight is really an issue- any USB connection external DVD unit will work just fine). Other options are out there that would also fit this category - Sony's Viao comes to mind (again, these were ridiculously expensive, but have come down in price).

I've been involved in the proposal and implementation stages of some student laptop programs recently, and have gone for the heavier but more capable models such as the Dell D800, but the students complain about having to carry the laptops between classes and off-campus. However, the concern, and it is a valid concern, was that students should be asked to purchase machines that were capable of running software such as the Microsoft development products like Visual Studio .NET. I installed the VS .NET development IDE on the HP tc1100 and it ran fine, but with students in programs for several years, the concern was that it would not be suitable in 2 or 3 years time. I don't think this has affected them too adversely, except for some back strain.

But for me, more than anything else, its the weight. I am willing to give up some performance, as long as the software runs reasonably, and get the portability that this format machine gives. It means that I can carry a tablet (or laptop) to meetings without a second thought. I can throw it in my case, or carry it by itself in its little pouch. This machine would be on my highly recommended list for students for the same reasons.


At 10:50 PM, Blogger Rob Bushway said...

Great post, Kelly.

I've owned several types of tablet pcs over the past 2 1/2 years, and the TC1100 is my all-time favorite.

At 8:30 AM, Blogger Kelly Holdstock said...

Thanks Rob.
I surfed over to your blog and saw that there are some positive reviews on the TC4200. I wish I was on the free equipment list like the magazine pundits! I'll have to wait until I can try out at the local gadget shop - but I don't see the advantage of this unit over the TC1100, except for the the more traditional keyboard layout. Probably just trying to cover all the market segments. Cheers.

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous luis said...

well, just to be fair, the TC4200 is easier to write/draw on because there isn't a thick slab of glass between your stylus tip and the actual screen. i think that alone would be a huge boon for me, because i use my tablet for a lot more than just scribbling notes -- i also use apps like Sketchwave a lot, and the friction-less surface of the TC1100 makes it exceedingly difficult to pull off anything professional-looking with it. (not impossible, but difficult such that it is no longer a better alternative to drawing on paper.)

of course, the 4200 is also heavier, and can't be detached the way the 1100 can, so there's the whole weight issue again.

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Kelly Holdstock said...

Hi Luis,
Yes, the TC4200 is 0.2 pounds heavier - I wish they were going the other way with that. Thanks for the comments. Cheers.

At 10:51 AM, Anonymous Christopher said...

Kelly - I have to agree with Rob, I haven't tried many admittedly, but in terms of portability the TC1100 comes up trumps - the TC4200 comes close (not bad for a 'convertible') ... but then I am biased.

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