Choosing an ultra-portable companion: Shifting through tablets

Fresno, California. That’s where I’ll be heading this August. And that’s why I’ve been scouring high and low for the ultra-portable device that will be my companion for at least the next 3 years or so. Because I’m a long term planner, my hunt has been on-going since January (sometime near CES)… and after reading up on various devices and platforms, countless comparisons and obligatory “waiting for the latest”, I think I have finally made up my mind.

The first thing I did was strike phones off my consideration list: yes, I’m looking at you, smartphones (including the iPhone 4) and superphones (like the HTC Evo and Samsung Galaxy S aka Epic 4G). Not that I’ve got anything against them – I’ve been using smartphones for ages and will be getting something decent (or nice, if my wallet approves) when I arrive – but as my experience with them proves, I’m going to need a screen bigger than a mere 3.5 or 4.3 inches if I want to stay productive.

Exactly what will I be doing with my future device to need a bigger screen? Well I’m going to be using it on a daily basis for web surfing, RSS reading, working on documents, “socializing”/connecting with people and of course for some music and entertainment. Of course, any additional features and functionality like large internal memory or a physical keyboard would be most welcome.

I also plan on attending a convention or two, or more, next year (I currently have my sights set on going to CES 2011, PMA 2011 and the annual HP Workstation Convention, all for the first time – so anyone with invitations or press passes, do drop me an email šŸ™‚ ). Add that with some potentially long days out on my daily schedule (I’d rather not carry around a charger if I can help it) and the occasional unpredictable day where I’m suddenly away from home longer than I would like, and you end up with long battery life being almost compulsory.

How long is ‘long battery life’ for me? At least four to five hours of pure usage, preferably more. Take a look at all those requirements of mine and I’m sure many of you would say “go look for a tablet”…. Which was exactly what I did. I went looking at the available options in the land of tablets and slates (fortunately for me, 2010 happens to be the year of the tablet/slate, with manufacturers all coming out with their respective offerings).

At the time, the HP Slate seemed like a fairly viable option… Until all this news about HP acquiring Palm for $1.2b and uncertainty and speculation HP was dumping the Windows-powered Slate for a new HP Slate design with HP-Palm Web OS running the show. The HP Slate remains unreleased, and by the looks of it, we won’t be seeing it until fall or holiday 2010. But no, I need it now… waiting is not an option.

Come to think of it, I now wonder how well Windows 7 would run on a tablet form-factor device, powered by Intel Atom and components from your typical netbook. Stability and ease of use are my primary concerns – even a “touch optimized” Windows 7 would be questionable when used on a pure touchscreen device as Win 7’s primary methods of input are meant to be a mouse and keyboard. Also, Windows 7 is awesome when used on a real system but might run a little slow and/or hot on a slim, fanless, Atom-powered device. I’m confident that Windows Phone 7 will be more adept and suitable for use on tablet-style devices, but it isn’t coming out until fall 2010 and manufacturers are currently focusing on putting Windows Phone 7 on phones first.

Me thinks a virtual keyboard on a 5 inch screen can be a little challenging for long periods of typing

Then there’s the Dell Streak: the 5 inch version appears to be shipping now but it’s a bit on the small side if I use it to create documents or do anything that involves typing on a virtual keyboard for extended periods of time. Dell is planning to make larger versions of the Streak but they won’t be coming out until the end of this year or next. I wonder if HP would have something better to compete by then…

In the previous months, I definitely considered an Android OS backed tablet but if you’re used to using high resolution screens like me, you’d want to wait until Android 3.0 AKA Gingerbread which supports large, high-res screens (up to 1366 x 768) comes out. Less than a few weeks ago, there was a lot of chatter about a Blackberry tablet but like Windows Phone 7, Android OS 3.0 and larger sized Dell Streaks, it is said to only make an appearance later this year. Even then I don’t think it’ll be ready for primetime yet as app development would take at least another few weeks.

So much for getting a tablet to be my daily mobile companion, huh? By this time I sorta figured perhaps it was time to look elsewhere…

Check out my next article of this series: Choosing an ultra-portable companion: Looking at the iPad

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