I Want a Tablet PC

My post-warranty laptop died a few months ago (motherboard problem...long story) and I am now stuck using my mother's ancient Compaq. This is a problem. See, I'm a techie and techies don't have/want/use crappy laptops. Actually, wait...let me clarify: this laptop is not really "crappy", it's just old. It's large, heavy, has an old keyboard, no built-in wireless adapter (it's pre-Centrino), a slow (4,800 RMP!) 30GB hard drive, a non-functional optical drive, an old model touchpad (i.e. less responsive), hard-to-press function keys (the ones that adjust volume, etc.), a dying battery, and an incredibly heavy power adapter. On the other hand, it has a great display and good quality JBL speakers. Oh, and it works. Unlike my old laptop. Anyway, so it's old which, in laptop terms (particularly to a techie) means that it's crappy. Actually, even if I wasn't a techie, having to move to anything older is, well, a bit of a pain.

So, while taking a break after today's final exam and before studying for tomorrow's, I am looking up laptops (or notebooks, as they are also called...though mine have never been small and light enough to warrant my calling them anything different!). I am also making a wish-list short-list of the ones I want to buy, the result of which is this blog post.

Now, choosing the right laptop is very difficult (it depends on what you want to do with it and how much you can afford). Fortunately, I already know what type of laptop I want to buy -- a convertible notebook/tablet -- so this makes my life a little easier. A convertible laptop, by the way, is a laptop that can switch between being a regular notebook and a tablet PC. You do this by twisting its display around and laying that flat on the keyboard, and then using a digitizer pen to write/draw on the screen itself. (Check out the sexy Toshiba Portege R400 for a demonstration. Click "Product Tour" in the Additional Information menu to access the Flash demo.)


I want this type of laptop for a number of reasons. First, they're really small and light (they get listed in the ultraportables category) and, thanks to my constant travelling -- 30-40 minutes (one way) walking and then taking a tram between home and university every single day -- I really could do with something this small and light. I was already a little tired of lugging my old laptop around and this "new" one one just makes things worse. The downside to getting a convertible, of course, is that they're rather small, with screens measuring only 12.1 inches diagonally. (That means the screen is about the size of an A4 page, by the way.) But that's okay. I am more than ready to sacrifice loss in screen size over loss in weight!

Second, I have come realize that I don't want a laptop to be my primary computer. Very few laptops laptop are able to run all the high-end games and multimedia applications (graphics, video, and audio) that I want to run. And the ones that do run them either run just one of the two (high-end MacBook Pros will run the multimedia applications but not the games, for example) or are not really "laptops" but "portable desktops" (like the high-end Alienware or Voodoo series that are designed for serious gaming enthusiasts). As a result, I am no longer looking for a laptop that is a jack of all trades machine (i.e. used for work, travel, and fun).
My overall game plan, by the way, is to first buy a laptop that I can use for work, travel, and most high-end applications and games, and then buy a desktop that I can use at home for games and multimedia. Later, I will get an Apple desktop for my music studio and a regular desktop (running Linux) which I will use as my very own file, print, web, proxy, database, security, gateway server. Hey, one can dream, right? :)

Anyway: Third, convertibles are really cool. They're incredibly useful, particularly since I am a student again and taking lecture notes on my laptop would make my life significantly easier. I take very detailed notes but I can't take them on my laptop for all my courses because some of them have too many diagrams involved (try learning macroeconomics without using diagrams!). I could, of course, draw all the diagrams in Microsoft Word (which is what I use for taking notes) but there's just never enough time to do that. As it is, Word isn't the best for drawing diagrams and pictures (I prefer Visio). Also, convertibles are incredibly cool in themselves: I mean, being able to flip your screen over and write on it with a pen is just...whoa!

The Wish List

Anyway, coming back to the point of this post: my next laptop will be a convertible tablet PC. So let it be written, so let it be done. In fact, I have already short listed my favourites in this category (in order or preference, with most of the bells and whistles included in the price):

  1. Lenovo's ThinkPad X60 (IBM/US version) which costs about US$2,500 and is really quite awesome except that it has only a TrackPoint mouse (i.e. the button mouse in the middle of the keyboard) which is something I am not used to using.

  2. Fujitsu's LifeBook T4215 (US version) which costs about US$2,700 and is a really good overall system.

  3. Toshiba's Portege R400 (Australian Version) which costs about US$2,900 and is (maybe) not as good technically, but is stylistically cooler than the others.

There are a few others too -- like Gateway's E155C and HP's upcoming Pavilion tx100 -- but they're not all that great (or quite what I want). If you're interested in finding more about convertible tablets, by the way, check out PC Magazine's listing of Tablet PCs (sort by Editor's rating to make your life easier) and Laptop Magazine's article "Tablet PCs on the Move". And if you're really interested in tablet PCs, check out GottaBeMobile.com which has full "InkShows" (video shows) on the ThinkPad X60, LifeBook T4215, and the Portege R400 (each has move than one video, by the way; most cool).

Of course, each of my top three can be further upgraded (more RAM, faster processor, faster, larger hard drive, optical drive, better dock, etc.) so, in the end, it's probably not all about specs. However, most of this talk is moot since I can't afford to buy any of these for, well, quite a while yet anyway. But, I will buy one eventually! I just hope it's sooner rather than later and, just in case, I want to be prepared :)