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).