Some notes about my TabletPC

Here are some short comments both on the Toshiba Portégé M200 (as a piece of hardware) and on the TabletPC concept in general (software etc.). Note that these comments reflect nothing but my very personal opinion.


– Overall performance is nice (Pentium M 1.6 GHz, 768 MB RAM, GeForce FX Go5200 32 MB).

– The Geforce is sufficiently fast for playing low-resolution games (I’d say up to 1024×768 pixels) with rather poor texturing. It’s clearly not sufficient for playing current games with excessive use of textures (remember it only has 32 MB of memory).

– The keyboard layout is very unusual and plain stupid, particularly for CS/IT professionals (e.g. []{} are not indicated and placed wrongly, <> are in the wrong places, home/end are placed in the upper right corner, barely usable, windows keys are in the upper right corner too – silly). Grossly negligent.

– The lower part of the notebook (the keyboard) is a bit thick for my taste (coming from a thin, nice Sony Vaio N505X). Typing is tedious and bad for the wrists. [update 20040617: Meanwhile, I’ve managed to get accustomed to it]

– The screen is disappointing. It’s a high-res screen with 1400×1050 pixels. That’s nice. It’s bright and I can even read it in sunny environments. That’s nice too. The bad thing is the very low contrast and the distortion which is probably caused by the special screen coating (makes the screen feel rough to improve the “paper feeling” when writing on the screen using the pen). The distortion drives me crazy and my eyes start burning after a very short time (this never happened with any other LCD screen I’ve used so far). I’ve tested it both with and without glasses. It’s always bad, but particularly harmful for people wearing glasses. Be warned! [update 20040617: Meanwhile, I’ve managed to get accustomed to it]

– The touchpad is a bit too small (and therefore inaccurate) for a 1400×1050 screen resolution

– The rest of the HW (as far as tested) meets my expectations (= is okay)

The thing I’m asking myself: Why is it so hard to build an ergonomically good convertible TabletPC or notebook device?


– Pen input recognition is pretty amazing from a programer’s perspective (that’s perhaps where all the “wows” come from) but clearly disappointing and insufficient from a real-world user’s view. It’s slow (if you decrease the delay the recognition rate drops rapidly). The input recognition rate is (for my hand-writing, which isn’t neither particularly nice nor ugly) correct in about 95% of the letters. This rate drops to about 30% when entering URLs, mixed character/number words, special characters and in mixed, multi-language environments (which might be seldom in the US, but very common for us Europeans and particularly Swiss people). It’s totally unusable for entering passwords and such. Some of the problems are probably due to missing learning/adjustment capabilities (MS obviously chose a dictionary based approach instead). [20040617: this is no longer true for XP SP2 RC2 (Lonestar) where handwriting recognition and overall ergonomics are much better]

– Pen input requires too many clicks and is a painful experience overall. Lonestar allegedly will address some of the issues, but as far as I can judge from the video cap, it still won’t do a decent job (pen input is still too complicated and inconvenient for being an alternative to keyboard input). After using Windows XP TabletPC Edition for a while I have to conclude, that this is basically just a regular Windows XP with an “Inking” add-on. It’s not really designed for tablet use and pen input (even in Lonestar, you can’t just start writing inside a text field – that’s how it should be done actually). Clicking on regular Windows icons is as difficult as choosing the right menu entry. Both are too difficult and not very handy. I wonder how Apple or Palm would approach such a task.

– Windows XP TabletPC Edition has a nasty bug that prevented me from calibrating speech recognition (it displayed little squares instead of a readable font)

– When entering user credentials at the login screen, people can observe (thanks to the virtual keyboard displayed on the screen) when shift is being pressed. That’s a potential security weakness.

– For me, the use of the pen can be reduced to painting and designing (therefore, it’s pretty handy, much more convenient than using a regular mouse)

[20040617: entry appropriately updated. see also the follow-up article on XP SP2 RC2]