Thursday, 19 July 2007

A New Offering - Hot off the Press!

Tatung are due to hit the market with what looks like a possible competitor for the Samsung Q1 Ultra.
It is affectionately known as the TTAB-T70A and looks pretty good...

Available in black or white.
It has an impressive spec as follows:
CPU VIA C7M @ 1.2GHz
Chipset VIA VX700
Hard Disk 1.8” HDD Options from 30GB or
Compact Flash Based Storage alternatives.
DDR-II Memory 512MB (Options up to 1GB)
Display 7.0” Wide TFT LCD Panel (LED Backlight)
800x480 Resolution
Resistive Touchscreen Input
Video Shared Video Memory up to 128MB
Audio Integral Speakers 2 x 0.5 W
Integral Microphone
Camera Integral 1.3 Mega Pixels
Security AuthenTec Slide type fingerprint sensor (Optional)
Operating System Options: Windows Xpe
Windows XP Pro
Networking Wireless LAN 802.11b/g
Wired LAN 10/100 Mbps (RJ-45 Connector)
Bluetooth v2.0 EDR
Expansion I/O PCMCIA CardBus type II Slot
SD Memory Slot
2 x USB 2.0 Ports
VGA Output (15pin female D-Connector)
Headphone Output Jack
Docking Connector
DC Input Jack
Front Panel Controls 1 x Power Button
4 x Hotkeys
Track Point 1 with Z-Axis Function
Front Panel Indicators 1 x Wireless Status
1 x Power/Charge Status.
1 x HDD Activity
Power Universal AC Adaptor 19V/65W (100~240V)
Rechargeable Li-ion Battery (14.8V@2600 mAh)
Battery runtime up to 4hrs
IP Rating IP53 (Front Bezel only)
Dimensions (W x H x D) 206 x 135 x 31mm
Weight 0.895kg with battery.
Operating Temperature +5°C ~ +35°C
Environmental EMC & Safety CE/FCC
Included Accessories TBC
Optional Accessories Kick Stand (Removable)
Docking Station providing:
1 x LAN
3 x USB 2.0 Ports,
1 x Serial
1 x DC-in
My thinking is that this, too, would present similar screen-size problems. However, it may not 'free the teacher' but I think this (and other similar devices) really do represent a glimpse of the future. Might this be the exercise book of 2010? Should we be looking to put devices like these into the hands of children? My feeling is to say 'yes' to both.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Back to the future.

The burgeoning UMPC field is such that today's awesome new device is tomorrow's old hat. To think that I was at the BETT show in January and struggled to find even a choice of devices illustrates how fast things are moving right now. I'm put in mind of the increasingly ubiquitous 'Shift Happens' presentation that is doing the rounds at the moment.
I was at a Mobile Learning event at Microsoft Campus in Reading last week which was 'mixed' in terms of value for me. Perhaps the most entertaining aspect was the presentation by a senior Microsoft representative elucidating the varied features and improvements inherent in Windows Mobile 6. Not entertaining, I hasten to add, for the content; but rather for the fact that the presentation completely bombed, crashed and died for technical reasons. Despite my obvious sympathy for anyone suffering technical problems whilst giving a techie presentation, there is something slightly smugly satisfying about this happening at Microsoft's supposed centre of excellence. A fact not missed by my neighbour who, on his Apple ibook, had a distinct ironic smile playing on his lips throughout.
Anyway, back to the future. Is it still UMPC? What about PDAa and EDAs? Well the answer is clearly 'That depends what you want it for'. There was much at the mobile learning event to persuade of the value of the PDA type device as a solution for the learner, but I'm interested in freeing the teacher.
I have to admit to a slight rise in pulse rate when I saw the latest offering from Samsung at the Microsoft event.

The Samsung Q1 Ultra

This has Qwerty keys on the housing that can be used relatively easily and make this device something that will definitely attract the PSP generation. Importantly, it also has cameras facing fore and aft (you'll remember how important this was to me) and is a fully functioning computer (also important). It is also extremely portable - more so than the Tatung M84A - and I gather that little rubberised bump-covers for the Q1 are now beginning to appear on e-bay.
HOWEVER, where the 7 inch screen and dinkiness of these little devices may appeal to the minimalists amongst us and will certainly turn on the teenagers, I mustn't forget the teachers and my original purpose. Because of this, the Tatung M84A is still winning. This is because of the perfect combination of mobility and screen size. I (and I suspect teachers) will want to be able to see a document page and easily read the text on it, whilst also using 20% of the display for the handwriting recognition/keyboard application. This is why 7 inches is too small and a PDA will never adequately solve the problem.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Release into the wild

Three devices have arrived and been sent out to schools.
To date, all my ideas have been 'in theory'. Now we'll see how they fare in the classroom. I'm going to provide a 'quick-start' face-to-face with the teachers. This will include a quick tour of the features (camera, audio recording, handwriting recognition) and how to get the software on - MS Office and MyScript Stylus (via network? Portable hard-drive? USB CDROM drive?). Also, a quick look at my e-portfolio/learning journey Powerpoint. I've also set up a UMPC community on the VLE for ongoing support/discussion/forum activity.
I am still very annoyed at the fact that Tatung didn't ship my device with XP Tablet edition, requiring me to buy handwriting recognition and rendering Onenote a shadow of its potential self. Now, of course, they are shipping the M84A with Tablet XP installed (at an additional cost) - too late for me.
I gather that the version of Blogger I'm using won't support Youtube video. This is a shame as I broke my Youtube duck with a bit of video taken with the Tatung and wanted to post it here. Not to worry, here's a link to it:

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

A Trip to the Seaside

I was recently lucky enough to be invited to speak at a conference in Sicily on Pen-based Learning Technologies. I knew that this would be an opportunity to meet with colleagues from around the world who shared an interest in such technology and it would also be a chance for the UMPC to potentially fraternise with some close relatives.

Sure enough, it was truly tablet-tastic with many a speaker extolling the vitues of tablet technologies for use by teacher and student alike. The little Tatung stirred some considerable interest, not least with a North American colleague who could envisage it being used in the field by vetinary students.

Microsoft Learning were also present and gave a practical workshop on how Onenote might be used in an educational setting with tablets etc (this was interesting). I moaned about how Onenote wouldn't work fully on my Tatung because of its apparent non-tablet status and there was an interesting solution suggested that has stretched my technical understanding somewhat. There may be a way to make it into a tablet apparently and this would involve downloading and installing the Microsoft SDK (software development kit) and then installing the XP Tablet Edition Operating System. I am yet to try this, watch this space.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Current musings.

So we've been together a while now and we're getting to know each others' quirks. I've got to say I'm still very happy but there are some issues that need to be aired.

First of all, we'll start with battery life. Now this was always going to be an issue which is why I felt it was a great idea to have the spare battery and charger. The idea here being that one battery charges while the other powers the device so that seamless battery operation is possible. However, the battery runs down on the device before the other one has fully charged. I put this to Tatung who advised employing as many power-saving strategies on the device as possible. So I dimmed the display down (using the handy thumb wheel - shame there isn't also a thumb wheel for volume), set the display settings to 1 minute before switching off the monitor etc. This extended the life (about 3 hours) slightly, but still it ran down too quickly. Ultimately, this shouldn't be a problem in the classroom as there will always be overnight charging that will get both batteries up to speed for the following day.

The blue-screen-of-death returned. It seems that there is indeed a problem specific to the Tatung devices and my workplace. We have honed it down to the wireless network card, which, if disabled, allows the device to work fine. As soon as it is enabled, the device blue-screens. This may well be due to the enormous RF transmitter on the roof. All this is slightly concerning in light of recent scare stories around the whole wifi, RF situation. If it kills my computer, what might it be doing to me. The only solution I have is to use a (purchased) wireless network card that fits into the PCMCIA slot on the device. Slightly irritating, this.

Now my biggest moan. Tatung don't consider this device to be a Tablet PC. Now this is bizarre as it so clearly is. As a consequence, it does not ship with Windows XP Tablet Edition Operating System installed. Instead, it just has regular XP. This is significant. Tablet Edition comes with built-in handwriting recognition (I would consider this essential on a device that has a stylus-based input). So the M84A has a stylus but no handwriting recognition. This problem urgently needed a resolution. It was suggested (by Tatung) that I try (28 day trial period) Myscript Stylus software. I've done this and I like the software. 28 days has passed and I now need to buy it but at £30 this is an additional cost to be considered. What's more, Microsoft Onenote will not work properly unless XPTE is installed - this is annoying. Tatung now tell me that they are preparing machines that will have XPTE pre-installed, but that I can't retro-activate my device. Disappointing.

On the subject of additional costs, potential purchasers might also need to consider the cost of a USB mouse, keyboard and CDROM drive (for the installation of software), although the latter may not be necessary if software is installable via a network/server (which may be the case in a school).

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Doubt creeps in

What am I doing? Have I made a monster? I wanted to free the teacher from the post-it. Have I just shifted the manacles onto electronic post-its? Having read some very impassioned and heartfelt posts on Debbie Hepplewhite's thread on the TES Early Years Forum and an article for the Guardian by Ted Wragg some worrying questions are arising in my head.
Don't get me wrong, I am a firm believer in assessment for learning and practice being informed by quality observations of children whilst learning. However, if there is an obsession with making observations and recording, then there is a danger that the skills of the excellent practitioner will be buried under a wave of over-observation. Shouldn't practitioners be spending their time doing what they do best and what is best for children - teaching, engaging, facilitating? Would the hand-held PC only serve to keep practitioners from doing what they do best?
Many of the teachers I've spoken to recently seem more concerned with the 'e-profile' as opposed to the 'e-portfolio' idea as outlined below. I think the distinction is that the e-portfolio idea is more about a record of a learning journey, reporting to parents, and, to a certain extent, evidence gathering. This, in itself, is not lacking in value. I could imagine what a wonderful 'document' this portfolio/record of learning might be once a student reaches the end of formal education. Imagine presenting relevant parts of it at a job interview for instance.
The e-profile, on the other hand, is seen by many practitioners as a once-termly chore, to be completed whilst sifting through a mass of evidence. The message I am getting is that what people are looking for is some sort of application that will allow e-profile updates 'on the hoof'. I'm not sure such a thing exists, but have contacted Target Tracker to find out more about their product.
I also spoke to a Headteacher of a Primary school today who is a big fan of Microsoft Excel for number-crunching purposes. Might some sort of Excel-based system be part of the solution? Might there be a need to somehow synchronise applications like Onenote with e-profile software? How?
Questions, questions...


And so it arrived. With the blog in mind, I unboxed methodically, savouring each boxed, plastic-bagged, twist-tied component. This is what you get for your £770:

Ready to go!

Spare battery.

Battery charger.

Rubberised bump-cover and harness.

Smart zip-up wallet in which to carry it round.

Power leads and VGA adapter (to plug in to a projector or additional monitor).

Here it is, the M84A

Rock and roll!

And here it all is. Ready to play!

Will it work in the office? Will I get a blue-screen of death?
Seems good to go at home. Satisfyingly speedy performance. Straight onto the internet via wireless without a hitch.
Very excited.