Last week, while being interviewed for a Pod Cast that’s now up on www.GottaBeMobile.com, I was asked by the host “why tablet PCs have gotten short shrift by reviewers writing for the computer press.
I’ve been thinking about my answer to the question all this week. Right off the top I think the question was fair and I agree with its premise. Until recently there doesn’t seem to have been a lot of thought among the magazine editors about how to review tablet PCs. I also believe tablet PC makers have a big role in why tablet PCs have gotten some bad press. Here’s what I think has happened
+Today’s generation of tablets are light years ahead of first generation products such as those made by Momenta Inc., General Magic and others. Today’s machines not only work well, their battery lives are better than those of most conventional notebooks. Furthermore, Tablet PCs with integrated keyboards and swiveling screens are among the most versatile small form factor portables ever produced..
+Magazine reviewers are production writers whose professional life is governed by their ability to produce X number of stories in Y amount of time. If you’re in that environment you quickly realize there’s only so much time you can devote to reviewing a specific machine. New form factors that break old molds are a challenge to magazine reviewers who focus on quantifiable factors like system benchmarks, overall usability, cosmetic appearances, general reliability and other items in reviewer’s spreadsheets (the exact specifics of which are seldom made public to notebook makers or their marketing representatives).
+ In an effort to simplify reviewer’s lives and to cover marketing points, PR people who present information to reviewers are overly reliant on PowerPoint decks that are given to reviewers as leave-behind material. For the most part, every magazine gets the same material. This is often why a review in one magazine closely resembles that of the same product in another magazine.
+ There’s no way on God’s Green Earth that a reviewer can grasp what are often subtle, but very important differences, in a machine that incorporates new functions or which breaks new ground by using a machine on a desk for 5- 8 hours. To write a breakout review that goes beyond numerical values in the spreadsheet you need to physically live with a machine and try to find it’s limits and to verify its usability. This is particularly true with tablet PCs.
My experience with using a tablet for the last half-year is that the one I use, a ThinkPad X41 is one of the most versatile computing platforms I’ve tested in more than 15 years of writing, editing and directing reviews of portable computing. Had I not carried my tablet PC into a university classroom, I may have never discovered how useful PowerPoint can be as a two-way instructional tool.
+ Until very recently manufacturers never varied their messaging on potential markets for tablet PCs—entering data on forms, annotating files with handwritten information and so on. Reviewers and editors have been equally blinded by past attempts to market tablet PCs.
+ The overall versatility of the platform has never been effectively communicated by notebook manufacturer’s PR people and by editors.
+ I honestly believe that if PR people were to be forced to use tablet PCs on a daily basis, in the months before reviewers’ units are distributed they would be able to much more effectively communicate how tablet PCs can break new ground. But by and large, reviewers are just too pressed for time to really do this form factor justice.
And I know, I use to review notebooks for a living. But what I’ve learned over the years is that there’s no substitute for long-term hands-on experience, And most of all, that experience should start with the people who are charged with promoting and writing about the platform—Jim Forbes, a true believer using a Lenovo ThinkPad X41, from Escondido, CA.