University of Vermont

CALS Information Technology Office


Tablet PCs are Here!

The computing world is filled with promises of 'user friendly tools that work the way you do.' But the reality? If you are not tethered to your desktop staring at the big screen you're lugging around a laptop. In both cases, your keyboard is still the primary interface. Or if you have a PDA, you're trying to decipher the small print while wondering if it really will interact with your PC the way it's supposed to.

Enter the Tablet PC. The idea is simple: take a full-blown PC that runs Windows XP and all your usual software, pack it into a device that is small enough to carry around but big enough to actually read from and add the one thing that has been sorely missed from human-computer interaction: pen and ink.

In this case, the pen is a stylus and the ink is electronic. Ink allows you to input handwritten information and use the pen to control your computer. Your handwritten notes can be stored, searched, sent as e-mail, or even converted to text (the handwriting recognition is impressive).

What is a Tablet PC? At UVM right now, it is the Motion Computing M1200. Technically, it is a 933MHz Pentium III computer about the size of a one-inch thick pad of paper. Weighing in at 4 pounds with a 12.1 inch screen, it contains a 40 or 60GB hard drive, 512KB of memory, and, best of all, built in 802.11b wireless (WiFi) capability. It also comes with a detached keyboard for those times when you just feel the need for tradition, an external DVD/CDRW combo drive, a lightweight stand, and an optional docking station so you can use it as a desktop computer.

What does this mean? Here are some examples:

In class: You are a student and your professor has already posted class notes online. Your choices are to print them, write on the paper in class, and then worry about storing and finding them later. Or you can just download them to your tablet PC. Once there you can annotate them right on the screen. Highlight key points, add your own comments, draw diagrams to aid understanding (or even just doodle!).

On the road: you are traveling to present at a conference. The airport, the local coffee shop and the hotel you are staying at have WiFi (wireless access). No cables, no plugs, no dial-ups. Fire up your tablet, login, check your mail. Simple. And when you get to the conference, plug your tablet into the projector. And as you are presenting your slides you can draw right on them (return of the overheads!).

At meetings: taking notes is always a chore, and sometimes a laptop, with its clicking keyboard and upright screen, can seem intrusive. Tablet PC? Take notes with the pen, convert them to text, upload the results to the web or send them as e-mail to your group before you leave the room.

Still more meetings: when the synergy was high, and all those great ideas were flowing, everyone in the room understood what we were doing. Two hours later, we can't remember the details. Did anyone copy down the diagrams? Who was taking notes? A Tablet PC and a projector take the whiteboard to a new level.

Using a Tablet PC, you can have a copy of all the whiteboard materials, as images or text as appropriate. Use a Journal note to write just like you do on the board, then save it. If you need to go back to an earlier point, it hasn't been erased--you can even add space in the middle of a page and elaborate. Switch between a journal note/whiteboard and any other program; a PowerPoint presentation, a web page, an image, movie or audio segment.

Is it too good to be true?

Computers are like shoes... Each pair may work well in some situations, and may not be the best choice in others. Which pair you wear most often depends on what you are doing. The Tablet PC is designed for some kinds of work, like meetings, classes or interviews, and it holds great promise to change the ways in which we use technology.

It may displace the desktop PC for many folks. And it can be attached to a keyboard, mouse, DVD/CDRW drive, and more, so that it can function as a full desktop system. It runs Windows XP Pro, so it will run any software that a standard PC can run.

For many folks, however, a Tablet PC will be a valued companion, facilitating some kinds of work that a standard desktop system or a laptop isn't capable of doing or doing well. When I dash out of my office for a meeting, I grab the Tablet. I have access to almost everything that I need to do in a meeting: take notes, draw diagrams, read email, browse the web, play ink ball... all without a keyboard or a single wire... until I use up the 3-hour battery.

To learn more about the Tablet PC see:

or stop by the Center for Teaching and Learning (303 Bailey/Howe) for a hands-on demo.

Current configurations available at the Depot:
PowerBundle Motion M1200 Tablet PC, 12.1 XGA TFT LCD, 933MHz, 512MB Ram, 40 or 60GB HDD, 802 1.1b wireless. Motion Pak, DVD/CDRW Combo, Desktop Stand & Keyboard, Windows XP Tablet Edition. Price $2,555/$2,831

This article originally posted to the May 2003 IT Newsletter.

Last modified May 09 2003 01:39 PM

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