Why I like the tablet form factor

This post is a response to a conversation I’ve been having on Twitter. People ask me why I’m interested in getting a tablet (or slate, if you prefer) PC.

First, let me be clear. I’m not trying to sell anyone else on this form factor. I’m saying I personally like the tablet profile, and here’s why.

I surf the web. I know that term is now considered obsolete but it really describes what I do. When I’m sitting at my desk staring at a computer, I’ve got a bunch of tabs open to various web pages. I have a twitter client running. I have an IM client running. I’ve got email notifications popping up. My RSS feed is filling. I flit from place to place, skimming lots of different content. I’ll read a paragraph or two of a page, then be distracted by something else and later go back to ingest another ‘graph or two. “Surfing” definitely describes what I’m doing. I do very little “deep reading” on my traditional computers.

When I use a tablet, I don’t work in the same way. My current tablet (that I just got for Christmas) is the Asus EEE T91MT. It’s a netbook with a touch screen that folds back into a tablet format.

When I use it as a tablet, I tend to run a web browser with 1 – 2 tabs open (generally my Instapaper listing or articles to read and the current article I’m reading) or I run some e-book software. I focus on one thing. Part of that is a limitation of the netbook hardware. It’s got 1 gig of ram and an Atom processor…it can’t handle running a bunch of software all at once. But part of it is the experience of the tablet.

When I sit at a computer I’m reading the screen from 18″ or so away. I’m reading text that’s on an object. I also see my keyboard and the window behind the monitor and all kinds of other things. Even if I don’t run a lot of different software, I have a lot of distractions and I’m easily distracted by nature.

When I lay on the couch (or in bed) with the tablet I’m holding it 9-12 inches from my eyes. I see the content on the screen. Essentially it’s like reading a book or a magazine. What you’re reading pretty much fills your field of view. That keeps me focused on one thing, and I get a lot more out of what I’m reading. I read more deeply. I retain more. I finish articles all in one swoop.

The tablet form factor also means I can read more comfortably. I can shift around, move it closer or farther way. Lay on my side with the tablet laying on the bed next to me, or lay on my back with it resting on my chest like a book. It doesn’t get hot and it doesn’t have a keyboard jutting out of the screen (I know some folks balance a netbook on their chest…for my old eyes, that’s going to put the screen too far away unless the front of the keyboard is touching my teeth). Now the T91 is a little thicker and a little heavier than I’d like it to be, which is why I’m looking forward to a ‘true’ slate PC at some point in the not so distant future.

Werit mentioned that he could do all that I want to do with his Droid, and I agree. But for me the Droid is just a bit too small. I can hold it sideways to get an 800 pixel wide screen that displays the main column of most web pages, but then the depth of the page is so short that I’m constantly scrolling. For ebooks, I’m constantly paging and that kind of breaks up the cadence of reading. I just need something a tad bigger than the Droid’s screen for my personal comfort. (But don’t get me wrong, I have e-book software on my Droid and will happily read from it when I’m out and about and have some time on my hands…it’s an awesome phone.)

People say tablets are too big to lug around and I agree. I don’t want one to carry around with me. I just want one to take to the couch or to bed for when I want to catch up on reading some web content (or ebooks) that I really want to relax and enjoy; not skim through.

So those are my reasons…they’re hard to convey 140 characters at a time. 🙂

Why I love Twitter (and the internet in general)

Every so often I run into someone who snorts dismissively at my use of Twitter (follow me here). Today is a perfect example of why I value the service as much as I do.

First, there was that crash landing of a US Airways jet this afternoon. It first came to my attention via Twitter, and I was able to watch the story develop. In retrospect that seems a little macabre, but the point is, a breaking news story came to my attention first via Twitter (and I heard about it before anyone else in my office did via traditional news alerts). Of course, knowing about that crash as it was happening wasn’t all that important in the long run — I could easily have read about it later.

But for another example, I was at my computer tonight when @MarsRovers sent out a tweet: “Live on Ustream, 10pm ET: Rover Principal investigator Steve Squyres will give a one hour talk on the rover”.  I’m a big space fan so I jumped over to Ustream and was able to catch most of the talk (which was fabulous). Since it was live, had I not heard about it via the immediacy of Twitter, I would’ve missed out.

I’ll grant you that there’s a lot of noise on Twitter, but sifting through people you follow cleans that up a lot. I will “test-Follow” almost anyone. If they do nothing but send out updates about what they have for breakfast, then I drop them. Simple as that. It seems silly to me to discard a whole communications system just because some channels aren’t worth listening to. There’s some story about babies and bathwater that springs to mind…


I can’t in all honesty say that Eureka (Tuesday nights, Sci-Fi Channel) is a great show. But it’s just silly and geeky enough that I really enjoy it.

Running up to last Tuesday’s season opener, there was a campaign sponsored by Degree For Men, promoting Eureka via a bunch of crazy “new inventions” that might have been created by the denizens of the show. They were actually pretty amusing and had strong branding from both show and deodorant.

Now, in the past I’ve griped loudly about product placements in television shows. Smallville, for instance, is notorious for this, with some really cringe-worthy placements over the years. But a lot of shows do it. So when I was watching the first new Eureka of the new season, and the crew was walking through a room filled with boxes with “Degree for Men” labels plastered on the outside, I was drawing breath for a total, full-on rant about how horrible it was. And at that moment, main character Sheriff Carter pointed at the boxes and said “What’s all this?” and the new head of the research lab said brightly “Oh! It’s our first sponsor. It’s very exciting!!” and all the rant went out of me and I found myself laughing out loud. I mean, if you’re going to do a product placement, that seemed like the way to do it. It was funny, and broke the ‘4th wall’ enough to offer viewers a wink and a nod. Yeah, they know we hate this stuff, but they gotta pay the bills.

One other neat Eureka note. They had a banner advertising the Twitter account: http://www.twitter.com/_S_A_R_A_H_. What’s fun is that whomever is monitoring that account is answering in the personal of the show’s “Smart House” SARAH. Pretty funny stuff, and another nice nod to us geeks who enjoy the show.