A Tablet Desiderata (In Which I Become Ned Ludd)

Luddites, who theoretically take their name from Ned Ludd, are supposed to be opposed to technology.

I, on the other hand, love technology.  Computers, smart phones, you name it.

But as of today, I have to confess that I hate tablets.  Or maybe I only hate Windows 8.1 tablets.

A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft decided to have a sale in their stores on the 7″ Toshiba Encore Mini tablet.

I thought I might give it a try.  It’s true that the thing “only” had about 16 GB of “disk” space, only 5 GB of which were free.  But 5,242,880 kilobytes is a lot of space.  Since I figured I’d mainly use it for notes into OneNote, I thought that would be plenty.

So.  The machine arrived.  I plugged it in to charge, and after a few hours, it was loaded and ready to go.  Once I had entered my information, it loaded my profile from OneDrive (a thing about which I simply cannot say enough good things), looked at my network and installed our printers, and it was good to go.

But.  There are some problems with Windows 8.1 on tablets.

  1. Most productivity apps on Windows 8.1 (things that require any kind of extensive input–like say, web browsers or text processing programs–are not native Windows 8.1 applications.  Rather, they run on the desktop, which means that if you do want to use a keyboard, you have to invoke one.  Nor are these “desktop” programs easily resized to make them more readable on a small screen.
  2. When I installed a native “modern” browser (the very nice UC Browser, which I do use on my Windows phone) I could not make it the default.  Whenever I clicked on a link, Windows 8.1 tried to open Internet Explorer (or, after I installed it) Firefox.  Which meant I was kicked back to the desktop mode (for which, see 1, above).
  3. Handwriting recognition (and I realize this is a fault in both hardware on this inexpensive tablet and the way things are implemented in 8.1) is very poor.  You can write maybe three or four words before the program catches up…not so good.  And while the recognition is good, I don’t think it’s as good as my old Palm PDA.  Which is saying something scary.  Given modern cell-phone prediction capabilities, and decades+ handwriting recognition technology, this should be a no-brainer.
  4. Windows Phone 8.x has a cool keyboard that lets you slide from letter to letter, so it’s almost as quick as writing cursive.  Especially on a small touch-screen keyboard.  Windows 8.1 does not support this.  Too bad, because I’d probably have kept the tablet if it did.

There are hardware issues as well.

  1. Even with all that plastic, the 7″ tablet was just too heavy to hold comfortably.
  2. Also, for someone like me with large hands–even for someone like me–the tablet felt awkward to try to hold in one hand.  Partly the weight, partly the size.  In contrast, my 6″ Kindle Paperwhite feels only slightly too big.
  3. The battery didn’t last nearly as long as it should have.

Finally, it just seemed weird.  Here I had a device that wasn’t a phone, and wasn’t quite a computer.  But my smartphone could do almost everything the tablet could do, some things it couldn’t, and it fits in my pocket.  It’s always on.  The battery lasts all day.  And if I want to do extensive writing, I can open up my notebook.  Fumbling for an uncomfortably-shaped object and trying to use it felt wrong.

This morning I called Microsoft and got an RMA.  Out it goes.

So here I am, Nate Ludd, standing athwart technology and yelling STOP!

So what do I want in a tablet?  In the best of all possible worlds?

  • I want a small, light device.  6″ might be just fine.  5.5″ would probably be better.  But it all depends on how much skirt there is around the screen.
  • I want it to run OneNote, maybe a browser, and that’s about all.  Minimal interface elements.  Well, OK–a camera linked to OneNote (quick white-board captures).
  • It should run both WiFi and 3g/4g connections for data.  Remember SUN’s slogan, The Network is the Computer?  At one time I thought it was silly.  Now I think it’s essential.
  • I want instant-on, with a good 24-hour or better run time on the battery.
  • I want handwriting recognition that’s at least as good as my old Palm Zire:

(Or better.)  I want a fine-pointed stylus, not some bozo foam-head crayon.  And there should be an option to draw on the screen as well as to have text recognized.  A pop-up keyboard for when you really, really need it (entering passwords, for example).

  • Along with handwriting recognition, I would absolutely love it if I could use one of my fountain pens, sans ink, as a stylus.  Dunno if that’s possible, but it would make writing so pleasant!
  • A tough color screen that won’t break easily.
  • And a price of <$100.

That’s not really all that much to ask, is it?

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One Response to A Tablet Desiderata (In Which I Become Ned Ludd)

  1. Pingback: Why do I do This to Myself? | Inter Alia

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