Every once in a great while, I get to live and experience life on the curl of a breaking trend. Such has been my experience with tablet computing. I was once asked by an editor “how many revolutions do you want to live through?”
In my time I’ve seen and been a part of the first personal computers, a variety of PCs built around graphical user interfaces, truly portable computers, ubiquitous wireless connectivity, web-based applications, and more recently very usable tablet PCs.
For the last six months, I’ve used a tablet PC, a nifty little Lenovo ThinkPad X41, as my primary computer, putting it through damn near every “don’t try this at home kiddies,” test I could come up.
I’ve tried to come up with scenarios where the tablet metaphor would fail to meet my expectations and am somewhat disappointed that I failed that exercise.
+Despite told that using the X41 outdoors was not’t recommended, I do exactly that two of the five to seven hours a day I use it. I live near San Diego, maintain two large organic vegetable gardens and keep extensive records of my crops, the soil, and weather conditions. That information is recorded daily in spreadsheets I fill in as I walk my gardens. As if that’s not extreme enough, I’ve taken the X41 on the boat a couple of times, stealing bandwidth from unsecured WiFi networks belonging to yachts tied up in the harbor near my favorite bait barge in Mission Bay. At no time when I’ve had my X41 outdoors have I ever not been read my screen or connect to an open WiFi network.
+I take my ThinkPad X41 everywhere. One of my favorite destinations is a friend’s home in the California Gold Country East of Sacramento. His WiFi network is in his “barn”, a solid 250 feet away from his dining room table. Other portables I’ve taken on trips there are lucky to find and maintain a network connection, although my HP Pavilion 8000 will catch it and hold it (but shows only one bar of signal strength).
I’ve had similar problems with other portables connected to hotel WiFi networks in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lenovo’s 802.11 implementation and antenna implementation are prime
reasons I continue to believe in the ThinkPad brand and why I’m so upbeat about the X41 as the solid foundation for future tablet computers.
+ I have a disability that I initially thought prevented me from using a tablet or pen-based computer successfully. I’m left hand dominant but had a debilitating stroke on the right hand side of my brain and it’s almost impossible for me to write or print legibly with my left hand. I use the display-based keyboard to enter data on the X41 and other tablet PCs I’ve experimented with. I’ve become incredibly fast and exceedingly accurate hitting the keys with the stylus and using cursor control keys mounted on the edge of the display case.. My experience leads me to believe that tablet PCs can be an important part of educational computing, for physically challenged and “normal” students.
+I’m a ham-handed typist and was initially very concerned about how long the X41’s keyboard would last and whether or not the size of my large hands would prevent me from using the machine comfortably for extended periods. Boy, was that misgiving ill placed. The X41’a keyboard is a joy to use and is as crisp today as it was when I unpacked it more than six months ago.
Those are just some of the pluses I’ve found in today’s first real tablet PCs. There are others that make machines like the ThinkPad X41 a natural for corporate or educational deployment. One of the most important on this list are the multiple security layers (biometric finger print reading and conventional passwords). Something that’s not promoted by Lenovo and other notebook makers who employ password and biometric security is that the two features work in combination to authenticate that data coming from a machine is from an “authorized” user, providing a functional.equivalent of an electronic signature.
The one criticism I, and other, X41 users have is its slow boot-up time, which can be traced back to its small form factor 5200 rpm drive. But I’ve learned to live with that since five hours of battery life means I almost never shut it down.
My experience with the X41 ThinkPad has expanded my creativity, and helped me to better perform many tasks. It’s also helped me realize that once again we—computer users-- are at the forefront of a revolution in computing.
Me and my X41, I’ve got my long board out and waxed.My toes are over the nose as I surf virgin waters,and live through another technological revoluion, yet again.—Jim Forbes, from technologically enriched but bucolic northern San Diego County, writing outside in the shade of an avocado tree connected wirelessly back to the world from my ThinkPad X41 tablet PC.—07/20/2006