CES in brief: Tablets galore

500x_sideview_hp_slate.jpg Microsoft and HP announced a "Slate PC." It looks pretty cool, with a big touchscreen and svelte design, and the specs suggest an ability to perform. And yet it has a plain air about it: it runs Windows 7, has an enormous bezel, and is a bit chunky. Windows 7 on a tablet?
Indeed, the spectacle of Ballmer's effusive keynote fades to sinister string music as the intrepid tech press realizes that Microsoft just rebadged old news with the name of an Apple rumor. Then again, in the absence of iSlate fever, Microsoft could have called it something like "High Performance Ultra Mobile Multimedia Presentation Platform" or "Zing." So count your blessings. Perhaps capacitative touch and better specs will make all the difference. [Gizmodo and Daring Fireball] sony-dash_small.jpg Sony's 7" Dash tablet is even chunkier, but that's OK, because it's a new Chumby! As such, it's designed to lounge around at home (there's no battery) as an alarm clock-cum-webTV thingy, not replace a netbook or do much in the way of computer powerhousing. It enters the fray with the original Chumby's open-source software and many existing widgets and apps--but better hardware and an impulse-buy $200 price tag. [Crunchgear] kodak-2010107-600-01.jpg Kodak's super-slim Slice camera, shot here by Engadget's Tim Stevens, has a 3.5" touchscreen display and looks no thicker than an iPod Touch. But the promise of 14MP images suggests either great new technology or more visual noise than a firework factory explosion. Nvidia has its own tablet concept: Android, 1080p playback, no fancy design. dsc00371.jpg Motorola's Backflip runs Android, too, but is a cellphone with a big qwerty keyboard. The most exciting thing about it is the way it opens up: screen and keyboard on the *outside* of the clamshell. This means that it opens completely flat, like a tablet, but can be set on a table (in an inverted 'V') for video and alarm clock use. [Gadget Lab. Photo: Priya Ganapati] displaymedia.ashx.png Sony's Bloggie camcorder [Telegraph] is a Flip-like HD pocket camcorder with 1080p recording, a swiveling lends and image stabilization. Alas, no external mic jack, such as Kodak's supreme Zi8 offers. It also announced 13 nearly-identical standard camcorders [Gizmodo]. It's interesting to see the behemoth's two sides in action: one sharply-named and interesting item buried in a swathe of branding business-as-usual, right down to a product list that has all the panache of an industrial adhesives catalog. Make mine the DX-CX150-500N! thumb160x_vpc-cs1_wlogo.jpg Sanyo's pistol-grip Xacti camcorders got an awful lot smaller, offering 1080p recording with a 35mm "wide angle" lens in a form that'll actually fit in your pocket (unlike the otherwise excellent SD1010/2000). It's wafer thin! [Slashgear] sonylaptopz.jpg Sony's F-series laptop is big and heavy, with a 16.4" 16:9 display, Blu-ray and an i7 processor; the 13.3" Y-series is like the Macbook, but $200 cheaper; and the Z-series (pictured) looks like a larger version of the T/TT/TZ models of yore, with a light weigh-in, 13" display, 3G internet, and SSD-only storage. Cuter is the new W, a low-end netbook with a high-end price. [Gizmodo] IdeaPad_Hybrid_05_copy_610x543.jpg Lenovo's U1 touchscreen tablet runs android and clips into a keyboard to become a netbook. [JKKMobile] Sprint's Overdrive is a Mifi-like portable router, but this time using WiMax instead of standard 3G wireless internet. Great if you live in downtown Baltimore. [Engadget]


  1. you know that windows 7 was designed from the beginning with tablets in mind, yes? (apparently no, actually.)

  2. Tablets are slates now. It’s because beards are back in fashion, you know, Charlie Heston as Moses trumps Mr. Slate from the Jetsons.

  3. Is there something wrong with windows 7 on a tablet? Is that magically worse than android/linux/os x?

  4. Any ‘full size’ operating system UI, be it Windows, OSX, GNOME or whatever, sucks on tablets. Just pick up a UMPC or MID and see how far you get without a stylus.

    1. I wasn’t aware windows 7 was a UI. Is it not possible to skin the latest version of windows? or to put a different UI on top?

  5. Windows 7 has a “mobile” version that is quite lite, in addition this isn’t an ultra slip tablet so even a full version of 7 should run fine.

  6. I understand that a bezel might not be aesthetically pleasing, but it my be useful to actually hold the device without accidentally interacting with the touchscreen.

  7. 1. I am not a “fanboy” of any platform, Apple, MS or Linux.
    2. I have Windows and Linux on my PC. I don’t yet own an Apple, but will probably get one soon, b/c I’m going to write an App.
    3. My (brilliant) friend with a EE degree, who is *incredibly* critical of MS, has recently installed Windows 7 on both his computers, and has had good experiences with them so far. If he *hated* it, I assure you that he would have told me by now. (!)
    4. For what it’s worth, I have a B.S. in Physics and an MS in Computer Science, so I am “somewhat” knowledgeable about technology.

  8. The HP tablet slate thingy reminds me a great deal of the iPhone in appearance, so it’s amusing to me (as an Apple fanboy) that the iPhone was fawned all over for it’s appearance when it first came out, yet a different device with a similar appearance can be labeled “plain”. I’m kinda liking the new doodads from Lenovo, though.

  9. The Sony one looks cool but the HP looks like they’ve had it locked away since 1995. DULLLLLLLLLLLL

  10. It’s not the just the lite-ness that’s important — its the fact that the windowing widgetry is inappropriate for touch. All those market-failure UMPCs and MIDs you see, the killer is always the lack of connection one has to whatever you’re trying to do with it. Between you and the capabilities of the machine is a user interface clearly not designed for touching, but rather mousing.

    The traditional solution to this is to create interface applications that live on top of Windows. The problem there, however (apart from their own quality problems, and they’re often dreadfully bad pieces of software) is that they’re glorified launchers. The programs they lead to are themselves inappropriate for touchscreen use. Origami and so on never flowered into a healthy market for touch-friendly Windows apps. So here we are again, with pretty demos, but no real hint of how it could work as an software ecosystem.

    When it comes to tablets, Microsoft has always been in the business of imagining a perfect consumer whose critical interest is “this tablet works with all my windows software.” It then creates a brand around whatever marginally-performing hardware concept its partners are working on, and leaves it mostly up to them to make the UI tolerable. You could say they’re confusing IT managers’ concerns for those of the general public, but it really comes down to this: Microsoft made a decision long ago that it didn’t need to make a specific cut of Windows for ultra-mobile devices, and is stuck with its eternally recurring fantasy that others’ hardware and software will somehow fill the gap. Remember Windows CE? Microsoft turned it into Windows Mobile and then let it wither on the vine. It’s sad!

    Naturally, I think it’ll be a grave mistake if Apple’s tablet runs ‘full’ OSX, at least without a completely integrated touchscreen interface and iPhone-like application development guidelines for touchscreen apps. Isn’t that obvious, though?

  11. I know this is a minor nitpick, but I can’t help myself: 35mm is “wide angle”? Yes, I know that some technical definitions say that anything wider than 50 is “wide”. However, given that no digital camera or camcorder has its widest setting above 50mm, it seems misleading to call a 35mm lens “wide angle” as if that’s an exceptional feature. Personally, to me anything above 28 (as the widest setting) isn’t satisfyingly wide. I hated it when most digital cameras had their widest focal length around 40mm, then more cameras started to come out that zoomed out to 28mm (and some of these were, and are, advertised as “28mm wide-angle lens”), and then a bunch came out that even go to 24mm or wider (and I got me one of those). I also have a 12-24mm lens for my full-frame SLR, and *that* is wide! 35mm isn’t comparable to that, it can only see about 1/9th as much. To call 35mm “wide angle” diminishes the meaning of the term. So just because a manufacturer calls something “wide angle”, you don’t necessarily have to pass that on. (I would have described this Sanyo camcorder saying it “zooms out to 35mm, which the manufacturer amusingly calls ‘wide angle’…”).

    1. @#13, what else would you call a 35mm lens? It’s certainly not normal and it’s certainly not long. That leaves wide.

      For the intended purpose, you wouldn’t want a lens that overly distorts the image but you want to capture as wide a view as possible. From this pov 35mm seems reasonable to me; 28mm may be acceptable: anything shorter would be absurd imo.

      1. @#13, Oh, just reaslised this is a camcorder, not a touchbook. I kinda see where you’re coming from now. I would still put 35mm at wide though, albeit marginally.

  12. Good point on the 35mm marketing jibber jabber I mindlessly echoed. I’ve put it in quotes.

  13. …and yet none of these offerings (most likely including Apple’s) will not offer pressure sensitivity or a stylus. Ignoring what seems to be a totally obvious market for these things – digital artists (a type of user that Apple has always had success in rounding up)

    The Wacom Cintiq needs the competition!

    1. If the rumored apple tablet has a stylus and wacom-like capabilities that would be cool. If it can work seamlessly with a desktop/laptop as a second or third screen AND an input device, that might be exciting. The other thing I would love to see is a display that is both oled and e-ink (if its even possible to layer one ontop of the other).

  14. benher is right,

    The only way i’m buying a “slate” is if it has some sort of pressure sensitivity for drawing. One would think this would be a no brainer.

    1. The only way i’m buying a “slate” is if it has some sort of pressure sensitivity for drawing. One would think this would be a no brainer.

      If the Apple slate can also replace a wacom cintiq tablet and work with your other Macs as such, it will be a very desired purchase by me and many udders. It would be great to walk around an office/house with the power of a Mac Pro in a tablet that’s communicating with Wifi n.

      cintiq info: http://www.wacom.com/cintiq/

  15. idk… A tablet that runs windows 7 seems like a pretty sweet idea. So, I can run the software I already use? I dont need to find some crap app from an app store? It acts like a pc? meaning I can, heh, run emulators on it… read books on it… oh… and the best thing? ITS NOT APPLE?

    MS has their own DRM management issues… but Apple is the mother forking antichrist when it comes to DRM crap. And shouldnt MS ride some of the crapple wake… since MS has been talking about a tablet PC for more than 10 years?

  16. A tablet version of winXP? Hell, there was one for win3.1 ! IIRC it was called something really imaginative like “Windows for Pen Computing 3.1”. That was back in the days of the *first* tablet machines such as the Momenta, Active Book and PenPoint from Go. Which was not 10 years ago but rather 20. And two of those three devices were Smalltalk based.

  17. Tablets kinda intrigue me, but I have to confess that I tend to think that they may turn out *extremely* marginal. Aren’t smart-phones (of any flavour) likely to be the mobile touch-screen computing device that (continues) to find the most users?

  18. Of all the above I’d fly with the Lenovo model (plus some spec changes but oh well). True, the tablet part on its own does not run Windows but a version of Linux but that should be more than enough for tablet uses. This detachable screen that can also be used as a normal laptop, although simple as an idea is the most practical solution giving best of both worlds without (in the end) buying 2 machines (tablet + laptop) for similar uses. Why doesn’t anyone praise Lenovo for innovation while Apple gets ZOMG JEZUS TABLET for anything they make, however unoriginal or gimmicky?

    I’m waiting for the Apple event on the 26th, if they do deliver a tablet it would be interesting to see what (if anything) innovative details it will have. I’m guessing content offers and the Apple logo on a version of OSX should be enough for the fanboys to immediately buy one, but will the rest of the world follow?

  19. In support of Beschizza:

    Windows 7 may or may not be a good tablet OS SOMEDAY, but during last night’s demo, it was quite clearly NOT — Ballmer could not hit the teeny-tiny button to get the video to play.

    And merely “skinning” the OS by making the buttons bigger is a weak solution.

    Look at what Apple did with iPhone UI:
    • Mobile Safari almost magically figures out which URL you intended to click, even when the text link is like 7×10 pixels and your thumb is like 50×50 pixels;
    • Many other interactions REMOVED the buttons entirely — you tap a movie to make it play, and tap it again to make it pause.

    Not to say that by the time any HP tablet actually does ship, it won’t have a better UI. Maybe Microsoft has a small team with free reign to design an actually-pleasant UI. Stranger things have happened.

    But even if Microsoft does, as soon as you launch a program that was not specifically rewritten for touch — and you know 99% won’t — it will either:
    • Have teeny-tiny, unusable buttons, as last night showed, or
    • Look horrid, with oversized buttons covering up parts of the window you probably care about.

    In other words, look forward to carrying a bluetooth mouse to use with your Windows tablet.

    And, in interest of equal-opportunity slagging: Apple’s approach will probably be to prevent existing Mac software from running on a slate unless it’s rewritten.

  20. “OLED + eInk” — No, you can’t layer OLED and eInk, they are both opaque.

    But check out PixelQi.com for the “next best thing”:

    My pals at PixelQi has a screen which has two modes:
    • Backlight off, it’s just like eInk:
    – pretty dang close to eInk appearance
    – fully readable both in bright sunlight and in an armchair at night
    – more shades of gray than eInk, high DPI
    – 99%+ as energy-efficient as eInk

    • Backlight on, same as LCD:
    – full color, full speed video playback
    – slightly less power consumption than typical LCD panels since they use LED backlights.

    Obviously, the problem with such a display is that it’s not made in a zillion factories and sold like a commodity, yet. Chances are good, however, that there will be commercial “slate” computers using PixelQi displays for sale this spring.

    (Yes, they are my pals. No, this is not a paid endorsement. Go watch their videos comparing the screens, and you’ll see I’m not exaggerating. Also, this is an improved version of the screen on the One Laptop Per Child computer.)

  21. I’ve used Tablet PCs since the Windows XP Tablet Edition. The XP Edition was pretty good, Vista was even better and Win 7 is really awesome.
    Pair Win 7 with Microsoft Onenote and you have an incredible experience.
    UMPCs (which are just small under-powered tablets) really don’t showcase the Tablet PC functionality well. Shame.
    There is a wide variety of Tablets, mostly in clam-shell convertable form (looks like a regular laptop but the screen can swivel to tranform into a slate form-factor).
    With the convertabled you really do have the best of both worlds. Slates are great for browsing/reading, clamshell gives you the laptop experience.

    The big problem I see is how to implement touch on a tablet. Fingers don’t do so well though the Apple iPhone pulls it off pretty good. The Tablet pen is neat in that the screen responds to presure. Press harder for thicker, darker lines. Press light for thiner lighter lines. Turn the pen on its end and you can erase ink strokes.

    If you haven’t seen a Tablet go check it out. Look for one running Onenote. You will be surprised.

  22. If the sony dash tablet allows you to browse a bit (gmail, calender) and access the bbc iplayer for radio – i’ll buy it right now.

    But I think it’s app based, right?

  23. My favorite new device along these lines so far is the enTourage eDGe (http://www.entourageedge.com/devices/entourage-edge.html) It’s basically both an e-reader and a netbook in a single dual-screen device.

    I plan on buying it if I don’t find anything better in the next month or so. The ability to read and annotate books, play audio and video, and so much more on an android-based device with decent battery life almost sounds too good to be true. The dual screens is a bit odd, but hopefully will turn out to increase productivity. I really hope it’s not, because the eDGe is what I’ve been hoping for in a mobile device for as long as I can remember.

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