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Why I Don't Have a Tablet PC

Thursday 15 April, 2004, 03:03 PM

I keep reading articles full of enthusiasm for Tablet PCs. For example, James Avery has recently bought one and quotes Julia Lerman's blog saying why not get a Tablet PC?

I thought I'd respond to Julia's question by answering, instead of using the currently rather popular technique of going out and buying one. So, why not get a Tablet PC?

I went to a Microsoft shindig in London earlier this year, and there was a Tablet PC stand there. In the morning they were getting people to fill in questionnaires on Tablet PCs. I realise that's ambiguous - it's not clear whether this means that the questionnaire subject matter was Table PCs, or whether Tablet PCs were being used as the input devices. The answer is: both - so strictly speaking we were filling in questionnaires on Tablet PCs on Tablet PCs...

I'm guessing that part of the idea here was to get us enthusiastic about the idea of using a Tablet PC. Sadly it failed pretty badly - previously I thought I was unlikely to get a Tablet PC, but after having used one to fill in a questionnaire, I'm now extremely unlikely to get one.

Why? I find them almost unusable. They suffer from exactly the same problem as my Pocket PC: I find pen input really inconvenient. I find it much harder to hit small targets like checkboxes or radio buttons with a pen. (Although I think my accuracy with a mouse may be above average, partly because I'm in that minority that prefers to turn mouse acceleration off. Mainly because it drastically improves my accuracy...) Also, while the pen-based text input is all very nice when it works, it's unbelievably frustrating when it doesn't, which is about one word in ten for my writing. I had heard that Tablet PCs have a better UI for corrections than my (1.5 year old) Pocket PC, but this was not in evidence on the ones I was using at the show.

But maybe it's just me. I also find touchpads on laptops almost unusable. It's a similar story with graphics tablets - I actually find it harder to draw with a graphics tablet than a mouse. And I can type so much faster than I can write. I've found with my Pocket PC that once misrecognised text is taken into account, I can get text into the device far faster with the onscreen keyboard than I can with text recognition. ('Far faster' is relative here - either way, it's horribly slow compared to using a keyboard. And even when the ink text input doesn't slow me up by failing to recognise the same word five times in a row, it's still far slower than typing.)

In short, it's every bit as inconvenient to use as my Pocket PC, but a whole lot bigger. And the only reason I have a Pocket PC is because it's small...

So that's why I'm in no hurry to get a Tablet PC.

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