I laughed at them. Just like everyone did. I mean: Why on earth should I pay more to get less? Tablet PCs usually have a much too small monitor and are much too powerless – not to speak about resolution (I’m quite the screen resolution guy anway, considering that I’m seriously thinking about buying myself a T42p with the cool 1600×1200 resoulution, just because of that. But then: Have you ever really used Delphi? If yes, you know what I mean). And on top of that: Why on earth should I rely on handwriting recognition when everyone knows that this doesn’t work?
Then, I got a panel on my table to evaluate it’s potential as mobile device running our PopScan. While it’s not important what brand the thing actually was from (Acer in this case) and while I certainly did not have the opportunitiy to really test the thing like I did with my T40, one thing I’ve seen: Tablet PC’s are cool. Really cool.
For one there is that extremely powerful handwriting recognition engine. In contrast to all other engines I’ve seen, the one running on the tablets really works. Without training or getting used to on my part, I had a recognition rate of about 95% with the exceptions being some non-words anyway (like gnegg or “Sauklaue” which actually got recognized as Saddam [Sauklaue is what you call a really terrible handwriting in German]). The engine is so good that it actually can serve as a keyboard replacement – at least if you’re not writing too long texts (like this entry here ;-) )
But the real killer application of that thing is the included Microsoft Journal: A digital notepad (the name notepad was already taken for something… else… in Windows). You just make your notes, which goes very well using the pressure sensitive pen and because you can rest your hand on the display while writing – the tablet reacts to the pen only. Then, when you are done, you can draw a circle around the text you want to have recognized. Journal will do as you ask and replace your writing with a common text-box, leaving your drawings in place.
This is perfectly adapted for my workflow. I usually have a piece of paper lying on my desk, serving as container for all that small stuff I have to keep in mind. Line numbers, small concepts, interface definitions – quite a lot of stuff actually. Then, when the paper gets full, I usually throw it away and take a new one.
If I could do those notes on a Tablet PC, I could actually conserve them. But not only that, I could search for them – in full text (recognition is done in the background)! And it does not stop there: When I actually wrote down program code in those notes, I could immediatly reuse it, instead of manually retyping it
All this potential is realized with the really great UI the Journal has: You can insert space everywhere you want, pushing down the content below (and doing that quite intelligently), you can copy and paste your drwaings (sometimes I really whished I could do that on paper) and all that with a really simple UI. This is so incredibly great.
So to all those people laughing about the Tablet PC’s: Try them! Maybe you will be quite surprised. I for myself am quite sorry, I had to send the thing back.