Archive for July, 2006

Are UMPCs Safe for Kids and Teens?

Monday, July 17th, 2006

Following the press coverage and discussions of the UMPC, one topic that is brought up pretty frequently is how useful these devices could be for students. The emphasis on these discussions is usually on the note-taking features of the Tablet PC operating system. The portability of the UMPC makes it seem rather optimal for carrying to and from school and from class to class. Microsoft even offers a free education pack for Tablet PCs that provides a number of useful tools for students. This can be downloaded from Microsoft’s website and even comes pre-installed on the TabletKiosk eo.

Anyone who follows the news is likely at least somewhat aware of the many recent stories about the dangers that kids face on the Internet. While the Internet has opened up a whole new world of both learning and socialization for kids, it also has introduced significant dangers ranging from targeted marketing to easy access to inappropriate (even pornographic) content all the way up to the risk of contact with child predators. Social networking sites like MySpace.com have become immensely popular with the younger population, making these sites particularly attractive targets.

Child safety online is a topic that I have taken a lot of interest in, both as the father of a toddler that I realize will grow up with the Internet as a key part of his life and also as a software engineer that has spent a large portion of my career working on online products largely targeted to younger audiences. PC Magazine recently published an excellent article entitled Do you Know Where Your Child Is Clicking? In this article, they outlined how quickly and easily a great deal of personal information about a child can be obtained simply by following up on information in personal web pages and online profiles that may initially seem to be very vague. Even kids and teens that seem to be generally cautious could still be setting themselves up for exploitation, thus requiring a great deal of parental vigilance and oversight of the young person’s online activities.

A primary recommendation in this article, which I have found to be consistent in most articles of this type, is for parents to not to give privacy while their children are using the Internet. Kids and teens should instead only use connected computers that are kept in a common area of the home where the parents or other family members are likely to be present. It also is recommended that the parents maintain primary control over the computers, including full administrative rights. These goals strongly conflict with the personal and portable focus of current UMPCs.

Connectivity is generally considered to be one of the primary functions of a UMPC. Wi-fi, Bluetooth, and/or cellular networking have been standard, built-in features of nearly every UMPC so far. The only significant exception has been the DualCor and its expected lack of built-in connectivity has been its most widely-mentioned criticism, leading DualCor to heavily emphasize the availability of add-on cards. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if a wi-fi and/or Bluetooth add-on card is standard in the box, once these units are released. (more…)

Report and Reflections After eo Recall

Tuesday, July 4th, 2006

Last week, I sent my eo in for the recall service intended to improve the battery life. Although TabletKiosk had initially stated that they simply would be replacing a defective part, by the time they actually started performing the recall service they had decided to simply transfer the hard drive, memory (if expanded), and back panel (with the serial number and Windows activation number), to an otherwise completely new unit.

I was very pleased with TabletKiosk’s flexibility and efficiency handling the recall. After getting the initial return authorization, I exchanged periodic emails with them until they confirmed that they had everything in stock for performing the recall work. This let me avoid sending it back before they were ready to quickly turn it around. Once they were ready, my desktop PC had gone in for repairs and I didn’t really want to be without my eo. TabletKiosk was very accommodating, immediately agreeing to hold the replacement unit until my other system was repaired.

Once I did send it back, the turn-around was about as fast as it possibly could be. I sent it back via UPS next-day delivery on Tuesday. On Wednesday afternoon, I got an email with the tracking number for the return shipment even before the tracking showed my shipment as delivered. TabletKiosk was so fast that they were able to complete the transfer and ship the unit back to me before UPS could update the tracking data on their website. I had my replacement eo by 1pm on Thursday.

The new eo works pretty much as expected. The battery life is definitely improved, with about 2 hours of use now readily achievable under normal use. This still isn’t stellar, and is still less than the 2.5 hours originally advertised, but it is a definite improvement and it absolutely improves the usability of the eo. Once the extended battery becomes available in a couple weeks, I honestly think that the battery life will be sufficient for pretty much all my needs.

Otherwise, the new eo seems pretty much identical to the previous one. I have seen some reports that the heat dissipation has been improved in the replacements, but I can’t really say that I have noticed much improvement. The device still gets pretty warm, mainly over the vent on the left side. It never had been overly bad on my eo, though, so it is definitely possible that mine simply was not as bad as some of the others from the first shipped batch.

While any recall is inconvenient, now that this one has been completed I can honestly say that it was a pretty painless experience. By transferring the hard drive from the old unit to the new one, no data was lost and there was no need to re-install anything or to do any restoration from backups. TabletKiosk’s efficiency resulted in me only being without my eo for almost exactly 48-hours, which is an exceptionally short time for a mail-in recall.

Of course, TabletKiosk certainly should have been aware of the battery life issues prior to shipping the first batch of devices and should have at least notified buyers ahead of time with the option to complete the order at that time or not. Even with the battery life issues, I have gotten nearly 2-months of good use out of my eo, thus I am glad that they didn’t delay shipping the product for this issue. I simply feel that being more up-front about the issue might have given them better publicity and, possibly, reduced the overall cost of the recall.

Based on the relatively few people reporting on the recall online, I suspect that they ended up with a lot of returns for refunds. The only other blogger that I have seen reporting experiences with the recall is CTitanic from Ultra Mobile PCs Tips. While I’m sure there were some other eo buyers that kept their unit but don’t participate in the online UMPC community, I do think this suggests that the percentage that didn’t return their systems was likely pretty low. I still think the eo is an excellent device and, after the recall, it now is very competitive with the Samsung Q1 and other similar devices in this class. I really hope that the recall hasn’t tainted the overall reputation of TabletKiosk or the eo and that it ends up selling well.