Monday, 18 July 2005

One more dedicated post reviewing the new X41 ThinkPad Tablet and my experiences of the past week, then back to our regular (random) programming. You can read my first two review posts here and here.

Walk into an aiport or a coffe shop and start writing on your screen. You'll get "the look." Tablet PCs tend to attract and grab the attention of people who have not seen one before. They're also of interest to gadget freaks, of course.

X41-SlateModeI spent a few hours Saturday with some "new media" geeks, hanging out in downtown Portland. Several of them asked if I brought along the new ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC I've been using this past week. Well, of course I did. Several of those present said they've been thinking about possibly been getting a Tablet PC for their next computer, and wanted to see one. Others were simply curious about what IBM has done with their initial foray into Tablet-Land.

Of course, Josh Bancroft wanted to take pictures, heh. Many wanted to hold it in their hands, see how it feels, and to learn about what you can do with it. I've noticed one of the huge selling points of these things (with geeks and their wives and girlfriends, anyhow) is how the thing feels in your hand. Once I rotated the screen and placed it in their hands with the extended battery as a sort of "book spine" grip, that Tablet PC realization kicked in and you could see the expressions change on each of their faces. When people start using the pen, the "ahhhhhhh's" come out and the questions start. The main difference this time around is the X41's an even better example than most of why Tablet PCs are so darn cool.

Anyhow, I have been making a quick little list of things I'd like to see IBM/Lenovo to do to improve this thing, because while it's a terrific machine and I'm definitely won over, it's not quite perfect.

ShockerUse the hard drive protection gyroscope for screen orientation
I've been playing with it for a while now, and as far as I can tell, this model has a gyroscope (or similar) device built in that's used for real-time awareness in order to protect the had drive from shocks. You can even open the active-protection configuration applet and move the computer around and watch the picture of the thing on the screen move around just as fast as you can make it. But it doesn't appear the IBM software is connected in any way to the software switches that control screen orientation. Why not? If I'm holding the thing in my right hand with the battery on the left, use that technology to make sure the display isn't upside down, for gosh sake. Or, if I am missing something and the capability's already there, tell me, please.

Better stylus/pen
I wrote about this before. The pen has no "eraser" end on it. As expected, I was able to verify that any standard stylus that does have an eraser end works just fine with the T41 (I used an Acer pen for the test)... So, hopefully IBM will ship a new pen that has the eraser end, and I will buy it. Honestly, it's driving me nuts every time I work in pen mode. But that's okay, I'll live. For now, anyhow. I just wish the Acer stylus was the same size and shape as the IBM model, so I could just swap them out. No such luck.

Fingerprint software loses focus when Windows has been console-locked
This is a software nit-pick, and I am not sure if the problem exists on non-tablet versions of Windows XP or not (and I don't have a computer to test this with), but when the computer is "locked," the fingerprint reader dialog (they replace the regular Windows "This computer is locked" dialog with their own) often loses focus, and swiping your finger does nothing until you click on that Window to bring it into primary focus. I am wondering if it's because of the on-screen virtual keyboard, since it appears to have focus on the screen. I'll have to check on that and figure out how to turn it off, if that's the issue. Anyhow, it's a usability issue, and should be addressed one way or another.

Your mother is a hamster; Your father smells of elderberries
Just seeing if you're paying attention. Are you? Hmmm... If you can read this, you're too close. No, I mean you're doing fine. Yes, fine, thanks for asking. No, sorry I am busy tonight. Move along, nothing to see here. Maybe lunch though? Oh, oops...

So - All in all, not much to gripe about. If those are the worst things about this computer, then hey - it's a pretty darn good machine.

There are (of course) also a number of things about the computer that I really like over others I have used. So, to tie this thing up and put it to bed, a couple of them are:

The wireless networking software and hardware is pretty much rock solid
They got it right some time ago, and I really appreciate the reliable, easy to use and easy to count on wireless networking setup. I especially appreciate the fact that the ThinkPads are among the few computers  that load the wireless drivers right up front, so when I log onto the Windows domain, the login scripts are able to run just like I was plugged into the wire.

Sturdy, very light, and everything is right where it should be
From the pen location (front left side edge, right up front) to well-placed slate-mode controls (the fingerprint reader is on the monitor frame along with special Tablet PC buttons for rotation and common keyboard buttons as well as CTRL-ALT-DEL), they put stuff right where it works well. It's super-light, and no rickety construction here. The real point is that IBM waits til they know they've got it nailed down before they release it to the market. We've seen them do this before, and I remember talking to and IBM rep over a year ago when they told me IBM was working on a convertible Tablet PC overseas, and that it was definitely coming, but not to expect anything for about a year because there was no way they were going to get it wrong when they actually released it.



Add/Read: Comments [6]
Tablet PC | Tech
Monday, 18 July 2005 20:25:45 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
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Tuesday, 19 July 2005 05:11:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
AFAIK the active hard drive protection is done using an accelorometer not a gyroscope like thingy so detections in movement can be made but not in orentation
anon
Monday, 25 July 2005 02:24:44 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
the active hard drive protection does detect orientation, not just acceleration. It's already been hacked on powerbooks to provide a pseudo-orientation control. It shows the exact orientation in the IBM applet on my X40.
alcuin
Thursday, 11 August 2005 17:08:33 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Greg, about the pen/eraser... I read this in the IBM/Lenovo website:

The Digitizer Pen provides the ability to take handwritten notes, sketch pictures or edit existing documents directly on your screen. ** The X41 Tablet Digitizer Pen switches easily between inking and erasing with a rocker-style button ** and is non-powered so recharging is never an issue. The pen fits neatly into the side of the palm rest for storage, and is the size of a standard pen for comfortable and easy use.

Does that work?
carlos granier
Thursday, 11 August 2005 21:11:37 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Carlos - yes, that does work. I was referring more to the fact that the stylus doesn't have the eraser end. And unfotunately, the rocker switch is not the most solid mechanism - not as usable or reliable as the style with the "eraser" end.

I tried a Acer stylus that has the eraser end - works fine. So it's just a pen design thing, really.
Tuesday, 30 August 2005 16:19:17 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
Have you investigated a replacement stylus that will fit within the X41?

And how about some feedback on how VS.NET worked on the X41.
Keith
Sunday, 27 August 2006 16:27:44 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)
if you look in the setup. you can tell the pc to automatically rotate the screen to what ever orientation you want when you "transformer" the screen. I use the X41 for many things and one of those things is to obtain customer signatures. and being able to hit a button and have the screen flip is nice...that way i can keep ahold of the thing....dont want someone to drop it and look at me and say....sorry....
tom jay
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