Tags: tablet pc

Windows 8, LE1700, Surface and other tablet thoughts

As regular readers will know I'm a long-time Tablet PC user - my most recent purchase however was years back. That was an old Motion LE1700. One of the early ones, with a 1.2Ghz Core Solo processor. I've held off since, as low-resolution screens have dominated the market, and I don't see the point in upgrading to downgrade my screen.

Launched early 2006 it originally shipped with Windows XP Tablet Edition. But I promptly upgraded it to Windows Vista. There were two major improvements it brought, first was the ability of the handwriting recognition engine to learn, the second was pen flicks - probably the single most important innovation for making Tablet PC use faster and easier.

Instead of grabbing the scroll bar, or using the D-pad - which isn't always under your thumb or fingers you could just flick a page up and down, and it would scroll, flicking left and right would move forward and backwards. This worked across Explorer, Internet Explorer heck pretty much everything. You could even set it to use diagonal flicks to do things like copy, paste, delete etc.

Windows 7 brought some performance improvements, but it was clear the Windows and IE teams were no longer interested in focusing on these active-digitiser based tablets, despite me hassling the IE team for years, pen flicks were never fixed in Internet Explorer, they've been broken in three major versions now. Other browsers never properly supported the input panel, and/or pen flicks so were difficult to use compared to Windows Vista and IE7.

Windows 8 continues that tradition - and makes it worse in some regards. You no longer get a hovering input panel when the pen is focused on a field to enter text, you need to manually open the keyboard. Like Windows XP pre-SP2. Nasty. However in the new modern environment you always have a keyboard open up. Sweet. Now if only that worked on the desktop.

Other than the tablet features of Windows retreating - making using Windows 8 on the desktop in many ways like the original Tablet Edition of Windows. Windows 8 actually runs quite well. The new modern-environment largely works OK, bar having to use the scroll bars to scroll around rather than flicking - there's a few performance issues with some of the games but it is quite useable. More so than Windows 7 was in my opinion.

There's a few other issues with Windows 8 - Internet Explorer renders text in a sort of half-assed approach, rather than proper ClearType. I don't think it is using sub-pixel positioning, in the desktop or modern environments. This makes some fonts, especially ones designed for ClearType like Segoe look pretty bad. You might argue that's less important since screens are finally starting to increase in DPI - but tell that to my desktop screens - that aren't, and have maxed out the resolution of DVI/HDMI.

The earlier issues I've mentioned like a pegged-CPU in the earlier builds are now fixed - at least after connecting to Windows Update.

But I'm still at two minds what to do. The plan is to buy an ARM based Surface when they're available in October, as a stop-gap as they're pretty low-resolution and don't have an active-digitiser. Then an x86-64 one when they're available 3 months later. The x86-64 ones have 1920x1080 screens, so will do my fine on the resolution front and they have a pen for the times when I don't want to get the screen grubby.

Do I wanna go back to Windows Vista on the LE1700? Undoubtedly the best old-school Tablet PC OS? Or buy Windows 8 since it'll be dirt cheap and leave that on there.

Hrmmm.

Windows "8" on an old school Tablet PC

Long term readers will know I've long been a fan of the Tablet PC. Having owned two and certainly would have owned a few more if the budget had been more favourable. My first was a Toshiba Portege M200, and my most recent has been a Motion Computing LE1700. Windows XP SP2 was really great at making a PC usable with a pen. Windows Vista took that a step further and really developed a lot of the things we take for granted today, a handwriting recognition engine that learns and of course pen flicks. Enabling you to make quick gestures to scroll up and down a page, or navigate back and forward, among others.

Windows 7 however - bar slightly better performance on low end systems - took a massive step backwards with Internet Explorer 8. Pen flicks which by then we had all grown to love broke, badly. Scrolling up and down just didn't work in IE8 when using standards modes, that remained the case with IE9 despite me almost constantly hassling the IE team over it. You had to move over and grab the scroll bar. Urrggh.

Now however with the "touch-first" focus on Windows 8. I'm pleased to say pen flicks work properly in Internet Explorer 10, and it has really brought new life back to my LE1700. Unfortunately neither of my tablets support hardware accelerated graphics in Internet Explorer - so many of the Metro style apps run with near-unusable performance if they run at all, the LE1700 only has an Intel 845 which only ever supported WDDM 1.0. But at least we've got a browser that works properly again on Tablets (before Firefox or Chrome fanboys start, neither of those have ever worked properly on Tablets).

I've got one of the lower-end original LE1700s, Core Solo @ 1.2Ghz w/ 2GB of RAM. But it has the higher resolution 1440x1050 screen. Day to day operations work great, like they did on Windows 7. Start up time is much faster and having a picture password is a welcome improvement, and in many ways works faster than the finger-print reader.

However out of the box I ran into an issue where the CPU was being pegged at 100% by NT Kernel & System, which I successfully tracked down to be an issue with the "Standard Enhanced PCI to USB Host" driver - which I've now disabled. The classic desktop stuff works as great as it ever has, and better in many ways. Not having to go all the way down into a corner to get at the Start menu is a nice feature since my pen lives in my right hand often at the right-side of the screen.

There are consistency issues and general usability issues with the new Metro UI however. It isn't possibly to scroll the Start screen by dragging with the pen at all, nor by flicking the pen. In fact flicking left and right actually moves the currently selected tile. You have to use the scroll-bar instead. Kind of annoying, but then some applications behave differently, some you can click and drag, while others you can hold the right-button to bring up the scroll functionality, and some you just can't seem to move at all without the arrow keys or page up or page down. This is an area I hope they'll be looking at. As it is kind of a breaking deal if you're using an active-digitiser based tablet, although I understand that isn't exactly the key market they're after any more.

Hands on review with Apple's iPad

So I've managed to sit down and use Apple's attempted copy of a Tablet PC for half an hour or so. Dubbed the iPad, the model number on the back reads TC1100, with a manufacturing date in 2003. Hmmm weird. Moving along.

HP TC1100

So what have we got in this machine? It comes with a 1Ghz processor (ouch Catherine's HTC HD2 mobile phone has a 1Ghz processor) and sports a 4:3 (no widescreen in this day and age, not good for media watching) that has a resolution of 1024x768. Kind of lacking considering I'm used to Tablet PCs with 1440x1050, really the minimum in my opinion as that way browsing the web isn't annoying in portrait mode as you've got over 1024 pixels in width.

The machine in question runs Windows XP Tablet Edition, possibly a bit of a strange choice for Apple, again in this day and age one would really hope for Windows Vista or Windows 7. It does however sport a proper Wacom digitiser now, unlike HP *coughs* last model which required one of those weird battery powered pens.

All in all, in this day and age (again), this machine seems a bit lacking. Back in 2004 or 2005 it was pretty much cutting edge for a slate Tablet PC. Releasing something like this in 2010, with those sorts of specifications, with the an unknown amount of RAM, and no doubt less than HP's TC1100 shown above, essentially nothing more than a giant iPhone (without the telephone), a strange sort of Tablet PC that you can't use for note-taking, or handwriting on, or drawing in Photoshop (not that it can even run Photoshop of course) with an old 4:3 screen when its being marketed as something to watch TV or films on, with it being locked into a single store, not capable of running anything other than software approved by the manufacturer with a bezel that fat is frankly more of an iDud.

I prefer the look of HP's latest slate Tablet PC:

Not only does it actually look good. It's a proper computer, that runs a normal operating system, in this case Windows 7 so you can do everything you can on a normal computer. You can take your existing PC applications and put them on this little beauty.

Personally I'll be keeping my Motion LE1700 for a while, and then maybe I'll look at MSI's dual-screen netbook when its released.

Apple fanboys comment on Microsoft's "Courier" Tablet PC

The guys over at Macworld seem to think Microsoft have fallen into some kind of trap because they're experimenting with new Tablet PC form factors.

All right, Microsoft, we get it: you?re taking on Apple on every front. You?ve rolled out a touch-screen media player. You?ve taken pot shots at Cupertino?s laptop line. You?re opening up your own retail stores, with staff that may or may not be poached from Apple?s. But launching your own mythical tablet device? You?ve fallen right into the trap.

What trap?

That?s not to say Courier couldn?t be cool, but I couldn?t shake the feeling of déjà vu. Courier looks like yet another attempt in the vein of Microsoft Surface and the Tablet PC, both of which gained about as much traction as fried eggs on Teflon. Redmond?s attempts to reinvent the way we interact with information have repeatedly slipped on the banana peel of actual usability.

Nobody expected the Surface to gain "traction", it costs $10,000. The point is its out there so people can start thinking about the technology.

As for the Tablet PC, if that doesn't have traction than neither does the Macintosh. I haven't seen any figures lately but in 2007 the Tablet PC doubled its marketshare over 2006, to about 7% of mobile computer sales, this has been trending upwards since their release. That's much larger than the marketshare of the Macintosh.

Of course when Apple bring out their mythical tablet, the same one the Apple fanboys have been gushing over all year, suddenly tablet computers will be awesome. Until then, the fanboys will just knock anything to do with Microsoft, good or not.

Courier - Microsoft's next-generation Tablet

Gizmodo has the scoop on Microsoft's new tablet device, currently codenamed "Courier"

Looks pretty good. I've been wanting a Tablet the size of a 9 inch netbook for a while, yet the Gigabyte M12 and other similar devices were either too expensive for what they were, or underpowered, a Dell Mini 9 with a convertable screen, with a Wacom behind it would be awesome, but it seems we've had to put up with dumb-touch screens. My 12 inch Motion is pretty big to just stick in a bag. This "Courier" device features two 7 inch screens. So its footprint folded up should be smaller still, yet with much more screen real estate when you get it out.

This is also rumoured to be the project that J Allard has been working on since he left the Zune a while back. While some may see that as a good sign - I don't. J Allard's involvement with the Zune saw it not work with Windows Media Player and other PlaysForSure devices, and embrace a much more closed model, aka iPod. Which is a bad thing.

This machine needs to run Windows. Hopefully it'll go the same sort of route as Origami, those super-expensive chunky netbook sized Tablets from a few years back. Which ran Windows, but had the Origami UI on top. The browser shown in the video below looks quite like the Origami wrapper around IE.

It also works with both touch and a stylus, hopefully they won't cheap out and will use a Wacom style tablet, being able to hover above the screen is something you just can't make up for with regular touch, plus you could disable the capacitive touch screen whenever the stylus is within range of the screen, so your hand resting on it wouldn't be recoginised, which you couldn't do with a dumb-stylus.

The device is in the late-prototype stage, so hopefully next year we'll see some more firm details on it.

nVidia you're a joke

I will not be buying, nor recommending that anybody buys any more products from this company.

No doubt many of my readers are aware of my long running battles with the GeForce 5 series on Windows Vista, which eventually made me so fed up I blew £1600 on a new Tablet PC (without any nVidia junk in I might add). nVidia right up to the launch of Windows Vista said they would support the GeForce 5 series on Windows Vista. Then around launch time they quietly retract and say it is no longer supported.

Now these guys have hit me again, with the nForce3 chipset. Unsurprisingly they pulled the exact same stunt, saying all through development and right up to launch that they will support Windows Vista, and then a month after launch, they pull all statements of support from their website. What a joke.

So anyway as I saw Socket 939 dual core chips were going pretty cheap so I replaced the Athlon 64 3200+ in one of my machines with a Athlon 64 X2 4200+, not only would it be a bit faster, with a Manchester core dual channel memory would work too, bargain. Everything worked fine until I arrived on the desktop, noticing the video card was in 2D basic mode. Windows was kind enough to inform me that where was a problem with the hardware and it couldn't start the drivers for my Radeon X850XT.

So I try a few things with no luck and then hit Google. It seems that the nForce3 doesn't work with ATI graphics cards in the AGP slot when using a dual core CPU. Great. So I disable one of the cores and everything works fine. Now this issue goes back to the launch on Windows Vista, the Socket 939 chipsets of the time all used a hack to get dual core CPUs to work, they'd remap the memory address of the AGP card into PCI, this is how they function on Windows XP. SiS and VIA both addressed the problem on their same-generation chipsets within a couple of weeks of the launch of Windows Vista by releasing an updated AGP driver.

Not nVidia though, they recommend you buy an nVidia graphics card or upgrade your motherboard! What a rip, worse still is their lack of support isn't advertised anywhere, boards with nForce3 chipsets are sold claiming compatibility for Windows Vista.

nVidia, get your act together release a damn AGP driver which works properly. No other company kills support for their products so quickly.

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