Tag Archives: Tablet

Passing Notes

The webinar was projecting on the screen as our team huddled around the conference table listening to the latest golden nugget of wisdom from the corporate office. We all consider ourselves professionals and as professionals, we take notes about corporate nuggets of wisdom. Of the ten of us, I had my Microsoft Surface, the guy next to me had his iPad 2, the guy next to him had a galaxy Note 3 stylus in his hand and the phablet on the table in front of him, and the woman next to him was tapping away on her iPhone 6. In fact, everyone had some technology in front of them save one: Our director. She had her lined, bound notebook open to a blank page and her pen at the ready, tapping a syncopated rhythm on the page.

In her office, she has filled shelves with these notebooks. I think she owns stock in the company that makes them. She always has one with her and if I stop by her office, be it for a request, or a status update, or to solve some problem (even if I am—gulp—summoned) she has the book open and the pen at the ready. I’ve never seen someone so diligent about taking notes.

I’ve never been good at note taking.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I do take notes about things. I have a degree after all, and you don’t get one of those without taking a note or two. It’s just that my handwriting leaves something to be desired and even I can’t read it when I write in a hurry. I wrote a blog about this a few years ago and I haven’t improved any since then. My problem—well one of the many—is that penmanship aside, one has to actually go back and read the notes one writes in order for them to be of any good. I kept a note pad in my days in the Army to document all sorts of things. The only time it came out of my pocket was when I was writing in it. I never really went back and read the thing. I even had a Day-Runner in Army cammo to try to keep myself on track.

Reading my notes remained a problem for me in college until technology caught up with me. Some brilliant individual created an electronic note pad. Not only that, it was also a calendar and an address book. It was essentially an electronic Day Runner. Many will remember the Palm Pilot, a ubiquitous accessory for the corporate yuppie in the nineties. What made it work for me was that it beeped reminders. Oh, happy day! No more missing appointments. No more missing meetings. No more missing assignments. Well, no more excuses for missing assignments, meetings and appointments anyway.

Now I have this Microsoft Surface, which I admit I use more as a laptop replacement than as a tablet, and I have the Note 3 phablet. Both have a stylus—that little device that acts like a pen allowing one to write on an electronic tablet. I rarely use either stylus for the same reason I don’t use a paper notebook. Even Microsoft’s engineers, as brilliant as they are, can’t write code that can make any sense out of my chicken scratch.

So in the meeting, I had my Surface attached to its clicky little keyboard all ready to take notes. We progressed through the webinar and my mind (as I’m sure many others have done) began to wander. I looked around the room and I noticed something: all these note-taking devices were sitting idle. No one was taking notes. It wasn’t because the presentation was particularly riveting either. Some were watching the screen, some were fiddling, some looked thoughtful in that distracted-but-I-want-to-look-interested kind of way. Not one of them was writing or typing.

Except one person.

She was scribbling away like she always does. I’m sure she filled up another one of those bound volumes that line her bookcases. In my defense, the nugget of wisdom was accompanied by a Powerpoint deck that had all the notes we would need, so no need to retype it all. I wouldn’t read it anyway.

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The Best of Both Worlds

I once wrote a blog about how the tablet was the replacement of the netbook, and for the most part, I nailed it. Many computer makers now make small computers called ultra books with as much or more power than notebooks and desktops. Most feature touch screen displays similar to tablets, albeit a tad larger, which brings me to my point: The tablet is NOT the replacement for the net book. But then again, neither is the ultra book. No, the replacement is actually a little bit of both. Microsoft introduced the Surface last year and despite a mega marketing campaign and obvious product placement in shows like Arrow (or just about every other show on TV) the Surface has not beaten the iPad or Android tablet in sales. It should. It is the replacement for the net book and brings the best of mobile computing and traditional computing together.

I traded my Acer One net book for an Asus Transformer Prime tablet (with attached keyboard) running Android’s Jelly Bean OS. I used this setup for a couple of years, trying different software to get some semblance of functionality for writing. Unfortunately, Android is still in sore need of a serious word processing solution. After Asus abandoned the prime, software updates made the tablet so slow as to be worthless to me. There was no update to Jelly Bean or Kit Kat for the Prime. It was time for a new device.

I first tried a Galaxy Note, but it was too much like my phone, also a Note, and I thought it wouldn’t be a good tool for writing, as Android still lacks a good word processor. I briefly considered the iPad, since it comes with Pages, which I hear is not a bad app for writing, but when I tried it I was underwhelmed. No, I needed to get back to a windows machine, it seemed, especially since I have been dying to try Scrivener, a professional writing app for Windows and Macs. Of course, that meant getting into Windows 8.

The Windows 8 operating system has a split personality that occasionally battles with itself. Tablets like the Galaxy Tab and the iPad feature operating systems and applications tailored for the ultra mobile consumer platform. Users of tablets do not spend a lot of time creating content, rather, they view and interact with content. For this reason, most tablets do not offer all the bells and whistles of a full version of Windows or Mac OS. Apple realizes this and has a separate OS for their mobile devices. Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to be struggling with drawing a line between functions. For Windows 8, Microsoft jumped head first into the mobile platform pool, and took the desktop with it. Long time users of Windows moaned and groaned and clung to their copies of Windows 7 like a life preserver. Some even refused to leave XP. Microsoft listened and revamped 8.1 to include the ability to keep the traditional desktop interface, albeit with some modifications. Once a user gets used to the changes in the full version of 8.1 and not the RT version, the changes are not too bad. There is a learning curve, to be sure, but so far, I have found all the settings and functions I have gotten used to with earlier versions.

The Surface Pro 2 is zippy fast boasting an i5 CPU running at 2.5 GHz, though if one wishes to optimize battery life, it will slow down the CPU when on battery. When it does this it is not appreciably slower to the average user. During my testing, I did notice the slow down on the legacy apps, which are more resource hungry. It also comes with a stylus.

Good keyboard action on the Power Type cover. This has the same chicklet-style keys that the Type cover has, but is on a thicker platform, which for me make it feel more stable. The touch style keyboard is the thinnest and cheapest keyboard, but it has a fabric skin on it and there is no tactile response to the keystroke. For me, as a writer, I must have that tactile response. These keys on my type cover are actually better than many of the ultra books I have tested. The downside of these covers is that the other parts of the keyboard are wrapped in a flimsy covering that feels like paper and I suspect will start to split and peel eventually.

The stylus works well and has an eraser feature which is pretty neat. One simply flips the stylus over and rubs the other end over the tablet to erase, just like a pencil, when used in an app that supports it. It does not default to mouse function in desktop mode, though. It does a very good job of selecting and Windows has altered the file explorer to provide check boxes when selecting, which is easy to do with the stylus. Another stylus-related feature is the Windows journal app, which allows for handwritten note taking using the stylus, including doodles and sketches. The handwriting can be converted into text very effectively by the journal. No easy feat considering the state of my chicken scratch.

Microsoft boasts the Surface has 10-point touch capabilities in the screen. I understand the benefit of multi touch, which allows pinch to zoom and rotation and a host of other features, but why call out the number ten? How could one put all 10 fingers on the screen at the same time? Little Hands? Who’s holding the tablet then?

The Surface Pro 2 is quite heavy, especially when you add on a keyboard. This is a fact that is not necessarily a bad thing if it is used as a notebook, but can be hard to hold for reading. Add in the fact that the battery in the Power Type cover also adds 20 percent more weight as well and it gets quite heavy; about 20 percent heavier than my old Asus Transformer Prime.

The reason I bought it was because it has a 10-inch screen. Most people would balk at the small size, as laptops usually run 13-17 inches with some models running as large as 21 inches, but I like being as portable as possible and I really primarily use it as a writing tool. I looked at several ultra books, since they were cheaper (less expensive) but they were cheaper (flimsy). The Yoga came in a close second, but I didn’t like holding the keyboard flipped backwards.

Now for a tablet, the Surface is quite pricey. The 128 gig SSD Pro 2 version runs a grand by itself plus 120 to 200 dollars for the keyboard depending on which keyboard you get. I got the one with the extra battery to help the tablet last longer. My Asus had that feature, which in that case doubled the battery life, but in the case of the Surface, only provide 50 percent more battery life. Is it worth the extra 60 bucks for the battery? I dunno, but with both batteries fully charged, the surface lasted 12 hours of constant word processor use with some internet and video thrown in. The battery control panel doesn’t accurately report the status in either control panel. This is confusing and frustrating as I never know exactly how much battery life I have left at any given time.

Now, the biggest issue with the Surface is none of the things I have yet mentioned. No, the biggest hurdle is the interface; the surface uses Windows 8—an operating system I have spent the past year decrying as terrible. One might wonder if I have changed my viewpoint on this subject since I did spend more than a thousand dollars on a device running this pariah of an OS. The caveat I claim here is that I have always said, and I still maintain, that Windows 8 was designed for touch screen devices like tablets and cell phones and the surface is one such device. As it has a very responsive touch screen, Windows 8.1 is functional using the metro interface. With the latest updates to 8.1, the legacy desktop interface is still there, one simply has to look for it and with the new version, it is only a touch away. Most of the features of traditional windows are still there and if one still uses a mouse and keyboard, one might forget for a moment that it is on a tablet.

With the pro version, legacy windows apps such as Word 2007 and Photoshop CS4 run like they always have, in desktop mode. Microsoft is busy trying to build a library of metro interface apps so the users will have an iPad-like experience with an app store that runs in the touch metro interface. There are two versions of Internet Explorer, one that runs windowed like IE has for years, but also a touch-optimized version, which puts the address bar in auto hide, drops it to the bottom of the screen and changes up the UI entirely. Instead of clicking a back button, or even hitting the backspace key, one simply swipes from the left to go back.

The other version of the Surface was initially called the Surface RT, but Microsoft dropped the RT from the name. It has an atom processor and runs a stripped down version of windows that supposedly drops support for legacy apps. I cannot verify that as I have the Pro, but that was the main reason I got the pro. I need to use the apps I have already paid for. I see no reason to pay Microsoft a monthly fee to use Office, which is the current model for Office 360. Adobe has followed suit with a monthly charge of $40 to use Creative Suite.

It occurs to me though, that even as much as the Surface does, it probably should not be the only computer in anyone’s network. It has a SSD running from 32 to 512 gigs, depending on how much one wishes to shell out. Microsoft is graciously throwing in a year’s worth of Sky drive for cloud backup, but unless one has some money, either an external USB drive or some network storage solution would be best in addition to the Surface.

So far, after a week of using it, I am loving the Surface. I am mad at myself for waiting this long. This device has my whole hearted recommendation. Even Windows 8 gets a nod, given that it is on a touch screen and has 8.1. Just be prepared for a bit of a workout lugging it around.

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For the Love of Chicken Scratch

It has been a while since I have blogged anything, mostly because, in all honesty, I have been too lazy to try to put ideas down on paper.  Well, that’s not really true.  I haven’t put ideas down on paper in a long time.  Paper and pen are old technologies that I rarely employ these days.  I was watching the TV show “Almost Human” with Karl Urban which is set in a techno-advanced near future where half of the police force is staffed by robots and everything is done electronically.  On this episode, Urban’s character Kenex is confounded by some scribbles on small pieces of paper.  The witness tells him that her dead boyfriend was old school and wrote his phone number on the paper and kept it after she tore it up.  She thought his sentimentality was sweet.  Kenex then searches all over the precinct for a piece of paper to impress a girl.  It takes a long time.  No one in this dystopian future uses paper anymore.  I know I rarely do.

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I have been writing on a laptop, netbook and tablet for years.  I use my mobile phone to dictate notes to myself.  It just makes sense to me.  I was working with a technician the other day and he had this stack of index cards in a cup holder in his van.  I asked about it and he told me that he takes notes on every job he works to keep a ready reference.  Outstanding idea that more technicians should adopt.  When I was a technician, I similarly kept notes on my jobs, but I did it on a laptop.  This tech has an iPhone and an iPad and still uses pen and paper to take notes.  I felt like I was back in 2000.  Someone get me a cd player.

I went rambling though a Barnes and Noble and one of the largest sections they have are journals.  Some are very well put together, bound in leather, heavyweight, low-acid-content paper journals.  Now, I love leather.  Anything leather.  Seeing a leather-bound book gets to me in a real , almost physical way.  Every time I see one, my first thought is ‘buy it.’  Then I look at it and ask myself when would I use it?  Could I see myself carrying this everywhere I go?  I already carry my tablet and phone everywhere.  Which would best facilitate writing?  The answer to that question is obvious to anyone who has tried to read my chicken scratch.

When I went back to college in ’98, I studied writing and most writing classes have in-class writing assignments.  I know at least one syllabus required that we buy these annoyingly expensive composition books just for these assignments.  After struggling to write neat enough for the professor, I found myself barely finishing before the class ended and of course, the comments by the prof usually praised my style and cursed my penmanship.  That, coupled with the sensation of someone driving nails through my metacarpals drove me to look for a technological solution.  Finally, I bought a laptop and a portable printer and a bag the size of an encyclopedia salesman’s sample kit.  In 1998, laptops were not the tiny featherweight slates that populate first class on airplanes these days.  No, laptops were were the size of your average family Bible and weighed about as much not including the power supply brick (which bore a startling resemblance in size and shape to its namesake).  The printer I had was not much smaller than the average desktop printer.  The only thing that made it portable was the fact that it had a battery.  A heavy battery.  That lasted about an hour.  It wasn’t WiFi, it wasn’t Bluetooth, heck, it wasn’t even USB.  It had a parallel cable!

I came to class and started looking for a power outlet (since back then, a laptop was lucky to get two hours use on a charge and I had to make it last all day).  I found one not too far from where I usually sat.  Ever notice how just changing a seat makes everyone act weird?  I opened my huge carrying case and began untangling cords and plugging in my equipment.  Once, I had the laptop opened and booted on my desk and the printer set up on the vacant desk next to me, I was ready to begin and I still had about two minutes before the class was supposed to start.  I looked around and everyone was staring at me.  The professor came over with the furtiveness of someone pointing out my fly was open and asked about my setup.  “I’m ready for today’s writing prompt,” I announced.

“You know you have to turn it in at the end of class, don’t you?  I can’t give you time to go to the computer lab to print it out.”

I patted the printer next to me like a race car driver stroking his formula funny car.  “I’ve got that taken care of,” I replied.

I not only finished my paper with time to spare, I had enough time to almost totally revise it before printing it for the prof.  She was more than satisfied with the results of my setup and didn’t mind my using it for the rest of the term.  I have used it in every class from then on.  In fact, several other students began pulling out laptops in class.  Today, in my classes, EVERY student has one, and for the few that may not, the university has several computers in every classroom.
Handwriting is a dying art.  I have heard many people lament the decline of penmanship, while others clamor for a faster demise, stating that technology has made the ink pen obsolete.  I remember sitting in a classroom decorated with a running border along the walls illustrating the proper way to form cursive letters trying to make the lower case letters touch the dotted line on the Big Chief notebook while keeping them all leaning the same way.  I HATED cursive writing.  It hurt my hand and it took forever.  I liked print.  I wrote a blog a couple of years ago when I started my graduate studies about having to write a paragraph in order to take the GRE.  Handwriting is painful and slow.  But then again, isn’t said that one must suffer for one’s art?  The love letter, the sympathy note, and the thank you note are all examples of the best uses of handwriting.  Sometimes its not what you say, but how you say it that matters.  Suffer through script to share sentiment, but for everything else, ticka ticka ticka I say.

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The Netbook’s Eulogy?

There has been much ado in the mobile computing world of late as a new platform has threatened to kill the netbook. The netbook was developed as secondary device to a regular notebook computer to allow more portability with internet access. Many netbooks even come with 3G network access for internet access while on the go. Opponents to the netbook bemoaned the fact that although smaller and lighter, it was essentially the same user experience as a notebook–kind of redundant. A new device, the tablet, was developed with two distinct camps touting the praises of their respective platforms while degenerating the opposition.  This polemic view of this next evolution of personal computing is no where near resolution as developments on both fronts push the debate along.  I joined into this debate this past month by finally buying a tablet PC.image

The two dominate formats for tablet computing are Apple’s iPad with iOS and any number of tablets running Android.  Apple gets points for introducing the tablet PC to the public with the first consumer model in the iPad.  There had been a Microsoft Windows-based tablet floating in the fringes of the market for high end users, but it was aimed at doctors or similar professionals and priced out reach of most consumers.  Windows also lacks a viable touch interface with XP or Windows 7, making the user experience less than par.
Apple had already won the hearts and minds of the public with its touch-based iOS on the iPhone and iPad touch, so it seemed logical to use the same interface for a full-sized tablet.  The iPad was touted as the netbook killer and projected to redefine the mobile market.  It did redefine the market, but it did not kill the netbook.
I have been using a netbook to write for the past three years and it has done a wonderful job.  I used an Acer Aspire One with Win XP and Word to write, surf and email while on the go.  Of course for more serious applications, I had my work laptop and the home media center to carry the heavy computing load.  Since my netbook has become, in personal electronics years, the equivalent of geriatric age, it was time to replace it.  The question was, what to replace it with; a new netbook or something more portable.
I have watched the tablet market for the past year as HP, Acer, Samsung and others battled to produce a tablet to compete with the iPad.  Android and Windows both are being pressed into service on tablets, but as I have said earlier, Windows does not make for a good tablet interface.  It also eats batteries for lunch.  For example, Asus makes two tablets, one that runs android and one with Windows 7.  The Android tablet gets 8 hours of service, the Windows tablet only 5.
I found that most tablets are using the Nvidia Tegra 2 processor chip.  It is a respectable dual core processor and fast enough for most applications. 
I played with all kinds of tablets in the store trying to find the one that said “buy me.”  None did.  Not even the iPad.
The iPad has smooth scrolling on its pages, and the applications seems fluid enough, but the iOS leaves me wanting.  It does not support widgets and it does not multitask very well.  In fairness, iOS 5 does multitask, but not as well as Android 4.
Android has widgets and multitasks very well–though not as well as Windows.
So where does this leave the prospective buyer? Looking for other features. Like a keyboard.
There are plenty of keyboard options for tablets users who want one. Most of them are Bluetooth, which poses its own problem. Bluetooth uses more power. Also, most Bluetooth keyboards for tablets are flimsy sealed rubber key devices that are integrated in a tablet case. Only two manufacturers have dedicated keyboards that make a direct physical connection to the tablet. The Samsung Galaxy Tab has a plug in keyboard that holds the tablet in an attached stand. Not a bad solution, but not optimum in my opinion. The clear advantage goes to the Asus Transformer Prime, which touts a snap-on keyboard which turns the tablet into a netbook. The Transformer Prime also touts the latest Nvidia Tegra 3 Quad-core processor and now updates to Ice Cream Sandwich upon making a network connection.
I bought the Transformer Prime about a month ago and waited to write this review until I had put it through its paces. I am glad I waited.
The device has redefined my use in many ways. I have had the Kindle app on my phone for more than a year and even had a book. But I rarely read it as even with my Epic 4G’s large screen, it was not big enough for comfortable reading. On my Prime, reading is an enjoyable experience. I have finished three novels in the month I have had the tablet. I have become addicted to spider solitaire. Netflix is awesome again. Every app I enjoyed on my phone is better on the tablet–except, of course, calls and text messaging.
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The drawback (and its biggest complaint from the iPad crowd) is the lack of GOOD productivity apps for the Android platform. Asus ships the Prime with Polaris Office, a Microsoft Office compatible program that allows one to view and edit Word docs, Excel spreadsheet and PowerPoint presentations. I found this app lacking, unfortunately and while there are alternatives, none have the full-functionality of a dedicated professional word processor. As a writer, this is quite distressing and it has kept me from using my tablet as I envisioned until tonight. I have had the WordPress app on the tablet from day two, but since I have never composed IN the app before, I didn’t know it has some really cool and productive features, including spell check.
Armed with this knowledge, I anticipate breaking my writers’ block that has kept my blog silent for more than 2 months. Let’s hope anyway. The action of this keyboard is fantastic for such a small and light device and with the Quad-core processor, the Prime is more than up to the task.
In full disclosure, many Prime owners have complained about WiFi and GPS signal issues. These complaints almost made me rethink my decision to buy one. Now, I will first say that I have experienced absolutely zero problems with WiFi on my Prime. It finds my networks at home and the office and here at a B&B in Smithville, Texas with no difficulty. I am streaming Tune-in radio right now with no buffering and no chirps, gaps or dropouts while I type this. Now as for the GPS issue, one: Google maps locates me using the WiFi positioning faster than any GPS ever found me. Two: Google maps requires a constant internet connection to work. The Transformer Prime is WiFi only (no 3G or 4G option is available) so having Maps work from the WiFi signal shouldn’t be a problem. Google Nav does need GPS to triangulate and plot course, so those who would use that feature may have an issue. I tried it twice and once it didn’t locate me and once it did and it worked for the duration that I used it. I see no problem in my case since I use my phone for GPS navigation anyway. It fits in the center console and this tablet won’t.
I also use my phone as a camera. The Prime has two cameras: one 8 MP rear-facing and a 2 MP forward facing. I have taken 2 pictures in the month I’ve had it. I take a lot of pictures both with my phone and my real camera; a Nikon D80. I can’t see the benefit of holding a full-sized tablet up to take a picture.
I love my Transformer Prime. It has replaced my Acer Netbook, but I won’t say it has killed the class of Netbook, merely replaced it.

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