Tablets in the workplace: not so fast

I sucked it up this week and hit the road with only my iPad, leaving the four-pound ThinkPad (T410s) on my desk for the first time. I resolved to be productive using my HTC EVO as a 4G (Sprint/Clear) hotspot and work out of the cloud via Google Docs and Gmail. The cloud part is easy – I’ve been there for two years. The hardware failed.

So I’d grade the experiment a C –

What worked:

  • My briefcase was lighter and I didn’t have the usual worries about cracking a screen. Lighter is good as years of backpacking and shoulder strapping a laptop around has trashed my right shoulder.
  • I generally had decent access to my files
  • The Sprint/Clear 4G is decent as long as I’m in a major airport or urban center
  • It was much easier to roam around an office with an iPad, with instant on and off and constant connectivity as long as the phone was in my pocket

What failed:

  • The iPad is horrible for typing — on screen keyboards are an ergonomic disaster. I was tempted — for a few minutes — to seek out a local Apple Store and invest in an external $69 keyboard, but thought  better of it.
  • Note taking on an iPad is a miserable experience and I suspect one looks like a douchebag when one tries to. See Mark Cahill’s comment regarding a wave of iPads in meetings that have reverted to good old laptops.
  • Google Docs are barely usable on an iPad (see previous post on why my next tablet will be Android-based). The Google app for iPad presents a mobile, stripped down version, with none of the essential tools such as the ability to download documents to the device and then send them as attachments via Gmail, or share them through the usual Google Docs collaboration capabilities
  • I was able to “free” docs and share them by resorting to the QuickOffice Connect Mobile Suite, using that to access Google Docs, and then mailing stuff to people from within QuickOffice. It felt very kludgey.

Bottom line: I’m going to buy a ThinkPad X120e for $500 and go ultraportable. The first ThinkPad “netbook” — the X100 — was terribly under powered with some weak AMD Atom-like wannabe processor knock-off. I’m banking (need to check the reviews) that the processor refresh in the newly introduced X120e will make it a half-way decent cloud PC for road work. I’ll park the T410s on the home office desk, continue to love its classic ThinkPad keyboard, but use the X120e as my grab-and-go and save a pound of weight in the bag. Yes, I am tempted to go with a new MacAir — but the price tag stinks at $999 for 64 gb and I am not ready to completely bail out to the goofy but-oh-so-chic world of the Apple OS.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

10 thoughts on “Tablets in the workplace: not so fast”

  1. Dave,

    Think you mean X100e vs T100…?

    The X120e seems like a good interrim solution for you. How about the X series convertable tablets? Never really struck a chord with you? I’m still on my aging X60T, and it survived a crash to the asphalt getting out of my car yesterday. Some road rash on the corners, but it sprang to life – IPS 4:3 LCD still working like a champ.

    In a bout of insanity a week ago, I came across a W700ds and decided to take that on as a personal workstation. I’m having it imaged and will try lugging it around for a while. With spreadsheets, power point, the forums, twitter and all the rest open all the time I need more horsepower and screen real estate. It’s total overkill, but it will be an interesting experiment and will most likely lead me to value the next sensible system I decide to carry around.

    Keep us up to date. Inquiring minds you know…


  2. It’s the X120e and its predecessor the X100e. The X100e’s problem was horrendous battery life, which the X120e purports to fix. The performance should not improve much, but at netbook-levels it shouldn’t need to as long as you stuff plenty of RAM in it and are patient.

    Judging by LaptopMag’s reviews, the X120e fixes things mostly. Battery life is a realistic 6 hours and performance is up. Heat buildup is still a bit of an issue and it seems the initial drivers lack Flash video acceleration, which is a problem for any netbook-class machine.

    Good to see you blogging on things other than flagellation 😉

  3. durrr…. thanks, indeed, I meant the X120e. The first rev was pretty weak — I took it to Italy on vacation and it croaked along trying to handle Notes, and other corporate tasks. Imaging — like Flickr? Forget about it.

    But I loved the form factor. The sucker is little, well designed, I even put up with the island-key board.

    Ideal PC at this point? A netbook form factor – okay an 11″ clamshell — running Chrome or Android. I think Windows has too much baggage for the AMD and atom processors.

    Basically I need a browser with a great keyboard. I’d never consider installing any app other thank … I dunno, iTunes. Google apps are all I want.

    And flagellation is good — pain is weakness leaving the body

  4. interesting, and do keep us posted. I hope you’re wrong – I’m typing this from a Xoom, in fact – because the laptop form factor just isn’t working for me anymore.

    but I’ve heard a lot of experiences just like yours, so I’m curious as to how this little experiment will play out.

  5. A couple of our folks tried those cases with the built in keyboard. They were the last to stop carrying them into meetings.

    I brought an x201 into one meeting and everyone (our IT has us locked in the 7th level of Dell) had laptop envy. I’m looking at a pair of x120e’s for my Mom and the family.

  6. Stephen – let me know how the Xoom works out — I have not tried to be Googly on an android tablet so the experience may be utterly different. I guess it remains to be seen how close Google can come to replicating a full browser experience with their tools on mobile devices. Crack that and I can live with the lack of a keyboard for brief trips or ad hoc office use.

    Still thinking X120 or the Mac Air.

  7. Go Mac. I am (long story I’ll tell you about at a latter time). The X120 is underpowered for Win 7; The Mac Air works like a Charm; I’m getting either that or the 13” pro.

    The only downside for the Air is that the thing still heats up quite a bit, but not as much as gen 1.

  8. I also meant to mention that I’ve heard nothing but praise for the new MacBook Air. Had a friend who switched from ThinkPad to Mac and ended up with a new MBA, perfect for his needs.

  9. David,
    Why not consider an X201s or the new X220? The X201s is still available on eBay and is about the same weight as the X120e with the full size keyboard (and in the case of the X201s a higher resolution display or in the case of the X220 the same resolution but in a tad larger screen).

    Put an SSD (e.g. Intel X25-m 160 GB) in either of these units for really great performance.

    Also consider getting the new Verizon 4G LTE using the LG modem. It reverts to 3G when not available and is really zippy.

  10. Thanks David — I am pretty happy with the T410s — it’s light enough to lug around. I’ve been looking at the X120 but distrust the processor power. So … I think I foresee myself with the 14″ thinkpad and the first rev of the iPad and an HTC EVO for devices for the balance of the year.

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