Keep Taking The Tablets

OK, I admit it – I am frustrated by what seems to me to be the utter failure of a straightforward piece of design and marketing. What is it with the hardware manufacturers at the moment?

I’m in the market to acquire a tablet PC. Note, I said a tablet PC, not an iPad or an Android tablet, both of which, given my starting point in the Windows world, I consider to be pointless pieces of frippery.

I want something that recognises my handwriting, and that doesn’t get confused when I rest my palm on its screen as I write, as I do. Something that I can install and run some of my more idiosyncratic Windows applications without bleating that it does not compute. And although ultimately I might want something that can act as either a tablet or a full-blown desktop PC (what I term Origami computing), at this stage, I would be comfortable with something that acts simply as a tablet – something that I can relax on the sofa with, and dash out the odd blog post or email, but yet can rise to the occasion of dealing with my handwriting or to do something more than simply ponce about. It doesn’t have to have enormous reserves of computing power, just something that runs a good slew of my current applications without too much fuss.

And, since I’m firmly in the Windows world, that rules out all of the Apple, Android, and Linux ecosystems.

And in the Windows world, I am currently disappointed by the choices on offer. It may well simply be down to a timing issue – the hardware (Intel) and software (Microsoft) just not coming together at the right time.

In an ideal world, at the launch of Microsoft’s Windows 8, there would have been a plethora of Windows 8 tablets to choose from. Instead, we’ve essentially had just two: Microsoft’s Surface RT and Samsung’s ATIV Smart PC.

The problem with the Surface RT, for me, is threefold:

  • it’s incapable of running traditional Windows applications,
  • it’s not available in most countries – in particular, not here in the Netherlands, and
  • it’s not capable of decent handwriting recognition – it uses a capacitive pen, not an active digitiser, so I can’t rest my palm on the writing surface when I write, as I have done for the last 55 years.

So, the Surface RT is out of the running.

Enter Intel’s latest generation of the Atom chip – the Z2760. This actually has a lot going for it. It’s apparently a better performer than the older Atom processors, with less thirst for electrical power. It will also run traditional Windows applications.

The trouble is that it’s in short supply at the moment. Samsung seems to have been first in line, delivering the Samsung ATIV Smart PC. I was very tempted, by this hardware, but the first wave of supplies seem to have been snapped up, and, more worryingly, reports are emerging of a hardware problem of the tablet not making a good connection with the keyboard dock.

Behind Samsung, both HP and Lenovo are reportedly introducing models based on the Intel Z2760 during December: The HP Envy X2 and the Lenovo Thinkpad 2.

Both models have much to commend them, but currently I’m more inclined to the Lenovo, simply because I can purchase it as a pure tablet, and it reportedly comes with GPS capability, which neither the Samsung, HP nor the Microsoft Surface tablets possess.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced the pricing of the second model in their Surface range, the Surface Pro. I must confess that I really don’t understand what Microsoft are playing at here. It’s based on the Intel Core i5 processor. Yes, it’s a more powerful processor than the Intel Atom Z2760, but it’s also more power-hungry, and it requires a fan to keep it cool. Battery life with the Surface Pro is likely to be half that of the Surface RT and equivalent Atom Z2760 devices, and I really want a tablet that is a sealed unit, not a hand-warmer. It does come with an active digitiser and pen (probably Microsoft’s own, rather than the Samsung’s S-Pen, a Wacom design, or the HP’s Atmel pen Latest buzz is that it is using Wacom technology, which is good).

Still, at this stage, I’m not ready to switch over to Origami computing, and commit to one device that can act as a tablet and a full desktop PC. I’m also not convinced that this first generation Surface Pro is the device to do that with. I think that I should wait a year or two for the Intel Haswell or Broadwell processors to become available. That is the time when I think Origami Computing comes of age.

About Geoff Coupe

I'm a British citizen, although I have lived and worked in the Netherlands since 1983. I came here on a three year assignment, but fell in love with the country, and one Dutchman in particular, and so have stayed here ever since. On the 13th December 2006 I also became a Dutch citizen.
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11 Responses to Keep Taking The Tablets

  1. I think you are still slightly ahead of the delivery curve on real Windows tablets. There is still a decided lack of decent/innovative hardware. MS has also dropped the ball with pricing, I will be going to see the Surface tablets here in Toronto soon but the pricing is out of whack.

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Well, if you compare the Surface Pro with a MacBook Air, then the pricing is probably in line. I don’t think that the comparison is between a Surface Pro and an iPad. Still, the next few months could be interesting.

  2. Al Feersum says:

    Geoff, the Lenovo Yoga looks good on initial impressions, though I would argue waiting for Generation 2 devices, whatever ‘doze tablet you eventually decide to go for. But saying that, that was my philosophy for the Nokia/’doze devices, and I still got Lumia 800 (soon to be upgraded to a 920, when my carrier gets permission).

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Al, personally I’m not convinced about the Yoga. I’m more inclined at the moment towards a pure tablet experience. That’s probably why the Lenovo Thinkpad 2 appeals. And I’m still very happy with my Lumia 800. I’ll skip the next generation and wait for WP9 (or WP10)…

  3. Al Feersum says:

    I don’t think I can be arsed to wait until WP9 or 10, but I’ll see what fixes have been introduced into 7.8 – sure, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I ain’t getting Flash, I’ve just got to be patient while content providers learn how to do HTML5. But there are some software tweaks that can be added in – let’s just hope that MS/Nokia read the UserVoice…

  4. Matt Healy says:

    For me, the iPad and most other full-size tablets are too big. I’m posting this using my Barnes & Noble Nook Color (which I don’t think is available in the Netherlands). I find this device, about the size and mass of a hardback book, just right for portable computing. For quickly checking my email or something online, my phone is handy. For web browsing, music, YouTube videos, reading, etc., this device is great. I often travel with only this. Full-size tablets are almost as big as a regular laptop; for actual work I use a conventional laptop. The great thing about a small Android device like this Nook unit is portability.

    For any tablet, and also printed books (my wife and I have several thousand books which are not going away any time soon) I do highly recommend a great product from Levenger called a ThaiPad. A small version of the traditional triangular cushion from Thailand, it holds a paper book or electronic gadget at the perfect reading angle.

  5. Al Feersum says:

    Geoff… dunno whether you’ve seen this:

    Might make you think…

    • Geoff Coupe says:

      Al, thanks for that link – no I hadn’t seen the programme. I was amused by the presenter making a big point of the Surface RT weighing much more than the iPad. In fact, it weighs 20 grams more (680 versus 660 grams) – the weight of a small birthday card.

      He also wasn’t clear enough about the fact that the Surface brand covers two models in the range (with more to follow). I bet that many people would think that the Surface RT will run Windows applications, if they took his presentation at face value.

      Frankly, I get rather irritated at the majority of such presentations because they are filled with half-truths.

      I’m still waiting for my ideal tablet to become available. I’ll be happy with a Clover Trail Atom device with 2GB RAM and 64GB storage (plus a MicroSD slot). It’s got to have an active digitizer with stylus. So far, only the Samsung 500t is really available, but I’m not convinced by the build quality. Hopefully, the Lenovo Thinkpad 2 and the HP Envy X2 will arrive soon. However, HP are hardly mentioning the optional stylus, and certainly not offering it as a purchasable accessory. There’s also the Dell Latitude 10 and the Asus Vivo Tab 810 to consider. They also look interesting contenders.

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