Friday, May 05, 2006

Picked up a new laptop – The good and bad points of my new tablet

My ThinkPad R40 finally degraded to the point that I couldn’t use it anymore. I’m a very heavy laptop user – ten to twelve hours a day, five days a week, moving it between home and work every day. Friends that saw my last laptop were asking me why I was still using it last year [the H fell off… network was a little flakey – last week both the ethernet connection and wireless became extremely flakey making the laptop pretty much useless to me].

I was at BarCamp Ottawa last week, talking with some other folks, discussing the process of design and collaboration. The people I spoke with all did designs on paper (just like I do), and as such, it is difficult to store these in an online system for sharing. Ask anyone I meet with, I can barely speak without a whiteboard and marker, so I end up redrawing a design or idea over and over as I communicate it with various people – it’s great in one sense, because I can explain, and animate my designs as I produce them, but they exist until they are erased – a word document doesn’t cut it, and I can’t be bother to scan paper designs. I had been thinking about a tablet, and after these discussions, and the failure of the old laptop, I swung by a BestBuy and grabbed a Toshiba Satellite R10. I chose it after I had troubles placing an order online at eCost, where I’ve bought lots of other equipment. The Toshiba has 100Gig hard-drive, and was a tablet, with a bright and well sized display and pretty good CPU, and was considerably cheaper than the IBM tablet, and had great reviews as well.

The Good:

  • The digitizer works great – I had seen a tablet years ago, and saw a lag in terms of drawing with a pen, and when the image was drawn on the computer – I knew that these problems were pretty much solved. Surfing the Internet, filing email, the pen is the best interface I’ve used to work with a computer.
  • The hand-writing recognition works surprisingly well. I had never planned to use the pen to write basic input fields – but I think that this could be possible. Because it is dictionary driven, it chokes pretty badly writing website urls, but otherwise is pretty strong.
  • Three different pieces of software for taking notes with – OneNote, Windows Journal, and Sticky Notes.
  • I love how the display rotates when I convert the laptop from tablet to laptop. Being able to switch how I work is really great.

The Bad:

  • The old laptop was 1400x1050. The new laptop is 1024x768. At the office, I run dual display with an LCD monitor, but on the move, and at home, I work with a single display. There is a huge difference between these resolutions when using any app with more than one window – spreadsheets, Eclipse, Thunderbird email. So this is kind of a drag.
  • OneNote – It appears to work really well – searching, and organizing notes – but compatibility is a major disappointment. I thought I would be able to save notes as images – but no… I saw that Microsoft Word is one of the output formats, however simply attempts to convert my notes to text, and produces a purely text Word file – which is completely useless. Now I’m not sure what I will do. So I’ll still be looking for super convenient ways to archive and share the designs with other team members.
  • I’m a really big fan on track points (the little red nubs in the middle of laptop computers), and I really dislike the touch pads. I’ve come to realize that I’m trying to move the mouse to fast with the touch pad, and it’s getting treated as a click. I am typically working on the laptop with the pen now, but as long as I move intentionally slowly with the touch pad, I haven’t been clicking inappropriately lately.


I am very happy with the new laptop - it will be nice when I can get an inexpensive tablet with a nice high resolution display, but until that time, this laptop comes closest to fitting the bill. The pen works great, and people at Alcea have started dropping their laptops on the floor so that they to can get a tablet :) .


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