Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The Vermont Slate!

We looked at a number of factors when the decision was made to adopt the "Vermont Slate", i.e., the HP TC1100, as our standard for hardware. There are a lot of fine machines out there, and different schools will place emphasis elsewhere than we did. I doubt that there is a wrong and right in this decision, but for us the "correct" answer seemed pretty clear-cut.

One reason we opted for the TC1100 was precisely because of the hybrid capability I discussed in the last post. I believed, and still do, that a permanently attached keyboard would tend to delay the development of Tablet PC skills in the users. Some Tablet things do take getting used to and some effort must be expended to learn the new skill set. For many users, the keyboard would be a crutch. (I touch on this a bit more in Training I - Do your users think in ink.)

At the same time, sometimes a user really does need a keyboard, and a pure slate model would have required carrying a separate keyboard for those times. Our students do have papers to write, after all, and I don't think anyone wants to write a term paper with pen input when they could type it. Much as I love the pen, I know I wouldn't want to. Having the keyboard attached, but detachable seemed the best compromise. (I'm composing this on a keyboard, in fact, though on a docking station.)

In the first year of our project, we've found that a few of our kids still use the keyboard almost exclusively and haven't bothered to learn how to use the pen as anything but a mouse. (They also are generally the same ones who skipped the training sessions.) A lot of others seem never to have the keyboard out but do have it attached. I don't know how many rarely carry it, but there are some. I certainly have it detached far more than I have it on the machine. What I gather from this serves to confirm my beliefs that making it easy to not use the keyboard is good, and training is absolutely necessary.

Another big factor in our decision was portability. This translated into size and weight and, to a slightly lesser extent, battery life. (Battery life was a consideration in its own right, anyway.) At the time we made our decision, the TC1100 was among the lightest Tablets available. It is still on the light end of the spectrum. Take the keyboard off and it is very easy to use and carry for an extended period of time. We evaluated a convertible Tablet early on and, while it was a great machine, it was a bear to carry and use in your arms for an extended period. I'm not a small guy and am fairly strong, but it got heavy fast. I carry the TC1100 all day with no problem.

What about the lack of a CD/DVD device built in? Well, actually, I consider that a strength of the slates and hybrids, not a deficiency. We are here for education and want these machines to be primarily educational tools. Why provide an additional distraction (not to mention more moving parts to break)? Still, all of us look to our computers for entertainment and it is a legitimate concern for the students. We offered two options for this: a docking station and a portable USB CD/DVD. Either can be used to put mp3 files on the hard drive or install and play a game. (Thus eliminating one of the gains of not having a CD drive in the machine!) The proliferation of iPods is starting to make this point moot anyway.

One other thing we really liked about the HP was the docking station. Keep a keyboard, mouse, and monitor attached to it on your desk and you have a drop-in desktop replacement with extended desktop capabilities. I am absolutely sold on the extended desktop. I wish I could have four monitors off my machine, not just two. The docking station itself is solid and works well. I have a few issues with "grab-and-go" from time to time, but they are a distraction more than anything else.

One last note. There were really two machines in the running when we made the final decision for the HP. The other was the Motion. I liked the larger screen of the Motion, though not the larger external dimensions. I didn't like the port location on the Motion as they were right where my hand held the machine when writing and the video connector was awkward when connected to a projector. They have a dynamite docking station, weight is good, and the optional view anywhere screen is superb, though pricey. The folks at Motion are excellent--the best I've dealt with. It is a machine well worth consideration.


  1. AHHHH!!!!!! I want a dvd/double layer -+rw for tablet now!!!

  2. Nice! I totally agree with you on the lack of CD/DVD being a bonus: I had to use threats of "violence" in our Mac lab (5260's) to get the students to stop playing CD's... and to get them to stop putting "other things" in the CD tray.

    Apple unknowingly provided a nice solution: I opened up each machine and removed the power clips from the CD drives -- even easier to do than removing the molex connectors in PC's.

    I personally like the idea of the slate. I think HP has a winner in the new tc4200 convertible: I think the weight is low enough and many users (especially those who skip the training) really have a problem "going keyboardless." It's also less scary for those who need time to understand the whole concept of the tablet.

    Me? I had a tough time deciding between a Motion M1400 and the Fujitsu st5022. I eventually went with the Fujitsu ...I can't wait for it to arrive!

  3. Rick! You have usb 2.0! Buy an enclosure and drive at New Egg's only money!

  4. thanks i had no idea where to get one everywhere i look its like 200 dollars

  5. Hmmm. You should be able to do it for about $100 (Lite-On drive and AMS enclosure)

    ...but make sure it's okay with "The Man." <g>

  6. Scott, you are right that the convertible can help those less ready to make such a drastic jump. Crutches aren't always bad things. They only become bad when they keep people from developing the strength they need to develop. I'm keeping my eye on the TC4200. Its light weight and small size (it is barely larger than the TC1100) are some strong arguments for it.

    Still, I think the true slate mode is the way to go. I so rarely use the keyboard that it is wasted weight and space. (Besides, who ever saw Captain Kirk using a keyboard? He always just took the slate from the ensign and wrote on it.) Even now I am on a docking station keyboard. Now that is the way to go. Full size keyboard, real mouse, extended desktop. What's not to love?

    Rick, all you have to do is convince mom and dad to foot the bill... ;)

  7. I totally agree that slates are the way to go (after all, I just purchased one).

    Another one of the reasons for my interest in convertibles is that it keeps the number of items that students can misplace at home and/or school down. It also reduces the number of items students would have to haul back and forth.

    …but keyboards and (optical) mice are getting pretty cheap and having a set at home and school might not cost that much more….

    I also totally agree with your last paragraph (full size keyboard etc).

    Cost certainly isn't any reason to choose a convertible over a slate, as playing with the HP configurator shows). I don't know, maybe I'm aiming too low with my audience....

    Gosh, I’m arguing with myself and losing! “No you’re not!” “Yes I am!” “You two shut up and let him type!”

    (sorry…it’s Friday)

  8. Check out the interview with HP's Ben Thacker on tabletpcbuzz ...very, very nice!