Archive for May, 2006

TabletKiosk sends recovery DVD, stand, and T-shirt

Wednesday, May 31st, 2006

Late last week, I ordered a car charger from TabletKiosk for use with my eo. The package came today and, in addition to the charger, it contained a second box with a few extra items that TabletKiosk will apparently be sending to everyone that bought the first batch of units.

The package contained the Windows XP Tablet Edition recovery DVD, a plastic stand that was described in the manual for the eo, but not included in the original box, and a t-shirt with the TabletKiosk logo on the front and the eo logo on the back. Note that the t-shirt is an XL size.

While I had expected that the recovery DVD would eventually be sent, I was surprised and pleased by the inclusion of the other two items. The t-shirt, in particular, was a very nice surprise.

After the break, here are some photos of the items. Sorry that the shirt was still a bit wrinkled from shipment when I took the pictures. (more…)

Update on eo Battery Life Issue

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

Yesterday, TabletKiosk sent out a notice to all of the purchasers of the first batch of eos announcing a voluntary recall in order to install a hardware fix that should improve battery life. They have indicated that they found a faulty component that was causing a significant portion of the excess power drain on the units.

The email stated that the units will need to be sent back to TabletKiosk for the repair and that they will be shipped back within 72 hours of receipt at their facility. The email provided contact information to request return shipping instructions. I sent them a request for those instructions yesterday, but have not received a reply yet at the time of this writing. It was unclear from the email whether they would cover the cost of return shipping or if that will be the owner’s responsibility.

In addition to offering to repair the devices, the email also offered a 25% discount off the purchase of any one eo accessory purchased before the end of July. I requested that they apply the discount towards my pre-order for the extended battery.

While I’m not that happy about having to do without my eo for a few days, I am glad that they found a cause for the problem and that they are offering to correct the existing units. With the battery life improved, the eo will be a substantially better and more useful device. It is expected that any units shipped going forward will already have the hardware fix installed, which makes it much easier for me to now recommend the eo to people who believe its feature set will meet their needs. (more…)

eo Battery Life Issue

Saturday, May 20th, 2006

Anyone who has followed discussions of the TabletKiosk eo v7110 in various forums or blogs should know by now that there is a fair amount of controversy surrounding the device. The primary issue is that the originally advertised battery life (with the included 3-cell battery) was over 2.5 hours, but the reality is that the eo cannot manage more than 90 minutes or so under normal use. Even with pretty much everything (including the screen) disabled, testing has generally shown an upper limit of about 2 hours.

The issue is well documented on other sites and has been publicly acknowledged by TabletKiosk as well. Over the course of last week, requests sent to their technical support department (I opened a ticket with them myself) met with fairly terse, stock responses acknowledging their awareness of the issue and that they were working on finding solutions. On Friday, they sent a mass email to all eo owners once again stating that they were working on the issue and extending the no-penalty return period for purchases up to 30-days instead of the usual 15. Right now, there is a lot of discussion online among early adopters about whether or not each of us plan to keep our system or make use of this return policy.

Many are pondering whether TabletKiosk knew about the problem before they shipped or not. I have worked either with or in technology quality assurance groups for much of my career and I know that QA can sometimes take a back seat to marketing-driven deadlines. It really looks to me like TabletKiosk was pretty focused on being able to issue that press release announcing that they had the first UMPC available in the US market and that probably resulted in a rush to shipping. They also were likely influenced some by the rather excited and somewhat impatient pre-order customers (including me) who were really making it known that we wanted to get our orders as soon as possible

We do know that the shipment of the first batch was delayed by a little over a week after they discovered that a large percentage were defective due to a case molding problem. At first, it might seem that the extra time spent verifying that the remaining units were ready to ship should have increased the chance of them identifying the battery life issue; the opposite may very well be true. The need to identify and certify the units that did not have the show-stopper defect could easily have caused a large percentage of basic functionality testing to be set aside. With the impending shipment of the Samsung Q1 greatly threatening the ability to issue that “first to market” press release, serious measurements and testing of the battery life may simply have been set aside. (more…)

E3 and the UMPC

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

Last week, I attended the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) at the Los Angeles Convention Center. This is the large annual trade show for the video and computer game industry. I had that after the show I would be able to write an article for this site describing the ways in which the UMPC was represented at the exhibits. Unfortunately, instead I am left only with the opportunity to write a lament about its absence.

Of course, I am very well aware that the UMPC is not being particularly promoted as a gaming device and that there are, in fact, some significant technical impediments to running a large percentage of Windows-based games on them. The first generation devices do not really have suitable specifications for many modern games, particularly in the video/graphics hardware. In many cases, PC games are also very difficult, if not impossible, to play without a keyboard.

Even with these limitations, though, some games really do work well on a UMPC and it is a safe bet that most UMPC owners will at least occasionally use them for games. Microsoft should be working harder to identify games that do work well on a UMPC and get that information out in front of current and potential owners. Some sort of an official certification program for games (and all other software, for that matter) would be a very smart move and E3 really would have been a great place to promote such a concept.

One of the main reasons why it was disappointing that UMPCs were missing was that this year’s exhibits paid quite a bit of attention to portable and casual gaming. Of course, as expected, there were enormous booths dedicated to elaborate, cutting-edge games with realistic graphics running on state-of-the-art desktop PCs and game consoles. What was less expected was the amount of space dedicated to casual games designed to be compatible with lower-horsepower systems and for being easy and fairly quick to play. A UMPC really is a pretty ideal device for playing this sort of game.

Casual games took up a portion of the booth space from many of the major game manufacturers, while other companies that specialize in casual games even had large booths of their own. These games were frequently shown not only on PCs and/or game consoles, but also on cell phones and other hand-held devices. This indicated the desirability of playing these types of games on the go. Had the PC versions of some of these games been shown on UMPCs instead of desktop systems, it could have made quite an impression.

I believe it is primarily Microsoft that really missed the boat here. Not only did they fail to work with casual game developers to get them to use UMPCs to show off their products, they didn’t even bother to use them in their own booth! As would be expected, Microsoft had one of the largest and most prominent booths at the show, with the bulk of the space dedicated to showing off the XBOX 360 as well as high-end Windows-based gaming. In the back, center portion of the booth, though, they did have a section dedicated to showing off “Microsoft Casual Gaming”, with an emphasis on the availability of these games through MSN. With Microsoft as the primary driver of the UMPC concept, I was amazed to find that they were showing these games on desktop PCs and cell phones (presumably running Windows Mobile), but there was not a UMPC in sight.

One of the games being featured on the desktop computers at Microsoft’s booth was a puzzle game called Hexic. As part of the promotion of the casual gaming concept, they were handing out gift cards to show attendees with a free registration code for the game. Since I had the card for a free copy of that game, I downloaded a copy to my eo after I got home and gave it a try. The game works extremely well on the UMPC and I’ve actually enjoyed spending some time playing it. The graphics and sound are well within the capabilities of the eo and the game is completely playable using either the touch-screen or the eo’s pointer-stick. This certainly could have been demonstrated on a UMPC very effectively.

As a final note, I will mention that the only UMPC that I actually saw at the show was the one that I brought along myself. The food court areas and lobby were equipped with free wi-fi in order to allow show attendees to use portable devices to check email or surf the web during breaks from the show. At one point, I found a table in a coffee shop and used my eo to read and respond to a few emails that had come in while I was at the show. During this time, I did attract some attention from people who came up and asked me about the device. Wouldn’t it have been great if those attendees had instead been seeing and playing with UMPCs at the Microsoft booth or other exhibits?

Music on the eo

Friday, May 12th, 2006

Over the last few days, one ways that I have been using my eo has been as an audio player while at work. The large storage capacity, network connectivity, and ubiquitious compatibility with file formats makes it a pretty much ideal portable digital audio player for use on an office desktop or other location where you don’t really need a pocket-sized device.

One of the biggest problems plaguing most portable digital music players is the fact that the industry has yet to standardize the file formats or, particularly, digital rights management schemes being used. Music purchased from online stores generally will only work on certain brands of portable players. For example, without additional conversion (usually involving loss of quality) an iPod can only play music purchased from iTunes, which itself won’t generally play on other brands of players.

Out of pure business necessity, every format and DRM scheme is compatible with Windows XP. That makes a UMPC into a universal portable music player. All you have to do is download and install the software that is required for playing whatever music you want to play. It is a bit of an irritant having to install a bunch of different music players on the device in order to get the widest compatibility, but it is certainly preferable to not being able to play some types of music at all.

The first music player that I installed on my eo (other than Windows Media Player, which comes with it) was Apple’s iTunes. Its online store has the best selection and it also has an exceptionally good podcast manager. Most importantly, since I have a Creative Labs portable player instead of an iPod, music purchased from iTunes wasn’t previously available to me on the go. (more…)

TabletKiosk eo v7110 – First Impressions

Sunday, May 7th, 2006

I received my TabletKiosk eo v7110 UMPC yesterday and have since been working to get the device configured as well as generally becoming familiar with it. This definitely shouldn’t be considered to be a full review as my experience thus far is rather limited, but I am going to share some first impressions in several key areas.

Design and form factor

The eo is a very well designed device with a layout that makes it quite comfortable to use. The buttons and pointer control stick are extremely well positioned for comfortable access while holding the eo in both hands. The surface is smooth and well-rounded and the unit feels very solidly built without being excessively heavy.

The one fairly significant issue with comfortable handling of the device is that it gets quite a bit warmer than I would have liked during operation. When plugged in to the charger, it gets downright hot. Even when running on the battery, it still gets quite warm. It isn’t so hot that it isn’t useable, but I did find that it puts off enough heat that I probably won’t want to use it for very long in a non air-conditioned environment and I suspect I’ll want to use it on a tabletop whenever feasible. (more…)

Thoughts on Ultra Mobile PCs

Friday, May 5th, 2006

Originally published 3/12/06 on Bigbeaks Blog

This week, Microsoft and Intel formally announced their new design for what they call Ultra Mobile PCs (UMPC). This was the project that Microsoft had semi-mysteriously hyped under the code name “Origami” via a teaser site. These devices, which will ship later this spring, are essentially oversized PDAs running the full version of Windows XP (and eventually Windows Vista) instead of a mobile OS like Windows Mobile or Palm OS.

Like existing PDAs, these devices will use a touch screen with either no keyboard or a thumb keyboard. They will use memory cards as their primary removable storage and miniature hard drives (like the ones found in digital music players) for internal storage. Data transfer and software installation will likely be accomplished primarily via synchronization with a primary PC or over the Internet instead of through optical discs. The first devices are expected to include both wi-fi and Bluetooth for communications. The biggest advantages over existing PDAs are expected to be a larger, higher-resolution screen and, of course, the ability to run regular PC applications.

While this is unquestionably an interesting new product category, the obvious question that is widely being asked is whether or not there is actually going to be much of a market for these devices.. As I look at the description of these units, I realize that I’m likely right in the core target audience for these devices. My instinct is that I probably will own one of these within the next year or so, although there are enough unanswered questions leaving me with doubts that the first-generation models will meet my needs.

As is frequently the case with new product lines from Microsoft, the UMPC concept isn’t entirely original, although their backing and promotion should stimulate substantial growth in this type of product. A couple other companies have already put out tiny miniature-laptops that run the full version of Windows, although not with too much success. Microsoft’s own design is really a progression from the previous Tablet-PC version of the OS. In addition, my own experience with PDAs over the last few years tells me that this is basically the direction that non-cellular handhelds have already been heading.

Over the last few years, I have been steadily upgrading my portable electronic devices, moving towards carrying around as much computing power as possible. I have moved well beyond the standard organizer features of a PDA and now use it extensively for email and web browsing, audio and video playback, document creation, viewing and storage, and even in-car navigation. I currently have Palm’s Lifedrive, which includes a 4GB hard drive as well as a large (for a PDA) 320×480 resolution screen and built-in wi-fi and Bluetooth. This is my 5th PDA, with each successive upgrade having moved me closer to having the capabilities of a PC in a truly portable device. (more…)

Palm’s Future Mobile Managers and the UMPC

Friday, May 5th, 2006

Originally published 3/21/06 on Bigbeaks Blog

Since the recent announcement of Microsoft’s new standards and software for what they call an Ultra-mobile PC (UMPC), which I discussed in an earlier post, there has been a fair amount of speculation in the online Palm OS user community about what this means for the future of the Mobile Manager line. I touched on this topic a bit in my previous essay, but I thought the subject deserved a more lengthy discussion.

A recent editorial by Ed Hardy at 1src.com focused quite a bit on steps that Palm could take to make the Mobile Manager line more of a direct alternative to a UMPC. I think he is largely coming at this from the wrong angle. Instead of focusing on how to compete with the UMPC as a PDA, I think that Palm needs to understand that Microsoft’s announcement essentially validates the whole concept that Palm introduced with the Mobile Managers. Instead of trying to present the LifeDrive and its successors as alternatives to the UMPC, Palm should work to help the public understand that they are versions of the same idea. If Palm intends to continue with the Mobile Manager line, within a year or so I would expect them to be able to do essentially anything that a UMPC can do.

In the short term, I do think Palm is reasonably well positioned to bill the LifeDrive as a stepping stone to a more full-featured UMPC or future Mobile Manager. Current reports are indicating that the first round of UMPCs to come out will likely be priced around $1,000 or higher. With the LifeDrive’s recent price reduction to $400 suggested retail, it clearly is a substantially lower priced option. If the price reduction is foretelling an upcoming LifeDrive-2 that will offer increased storage and, hopefully, improved performance and stability with a cost that is still around half the price of the early UMPCs, they should find that there is still a market for the product, at least for another year or so. I think the key will be not to promote the devices as a more capable option than a UMPC, but instead as a way to get much of the power of a UMPC in a less-expensive and smaller package.

It is very likely that the second-generation UMPC models will see the prices coming down substantially. Based on the goals that Microsoft has discussed, it appears likely that the price gap between the current price category for the Mobile Managers and the expected pricing for the next UMPCs will be much smaller. I think it is pretty clear that any device running the current Palm OS Garnett is likely to be so substantially reduced in capability compared to a UMPC running a full version of Windows (likely Windows Vista in the second-generation models), that the extra cost of the UMPC will be pretty easy for most people looking for this kind of device to justify.

(more…)

Introductory Post

Friday, May 5th, 2006

As an early adopter for Microsoft’s ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) concept, I know that I’m going to have a lot to say about the devices. That is why I decided to create a separate blog for my posts about UMPCs instead of simply continuing to post all my thoughts on the subject on my primary blog.

My previous posts to my regular blog (which I will re-post on this blog) were somewhat skeptical about whether or not I would decide to purchase a first-generation UMPC for myself. After learning more about the devices, and generally letting my gadget obsession get the better of me, I decided to pre-order a TabletKiosk eo v7110. The tracking information from FedEx indicates that I should expect delivery today!

Over the weekend, I will publish my initial impressions as I become familiar with my new toy.