October 8, 2010

932 words 5 mins read

iPad vs Windows Pad (Dell XT2)

We’re trying to standardize onto Ubuntu at work and we need hardware that works really, really well.  One thing that I thought might be nice to have in the office was the Dell XT2 tablets.  Not that I expect everyone to have one, but I thought there might be at least a handful of users that would appreciate them.  Especially those at the office that use iPads (albeit there are only a couple).  Yesterday, we got in the XT2 for evaluation and I excitedly started carrying it around with me (I’ve always, always, always wanted a tablet).  I’ve not had time to put Ubuntu on the machine, but I thought that the comparison to the iPad might be interesting.

A direct comparison of the iPad to the XT2 simply isn’t possible; it’s Apples to Blueberries (pun intended, of course).  Where the iPad is a tablet iPhone, the XT2 is an ultra-light laptop that converts into a tablet.  The XT2 is a good deal faster than the iPad, with an honest-to-god keyboard.  Each one has its pros and cons (especially compared to each other). What I’m really interested in comparing though, is the basic tablet functionality.

When you swivel the XT2 around and lay the screen down into Tablet mode, it switches orientation.  It isn’t as quick or smooth as the iPads transition, but it is acceptably quick — though faster would be nicer.  In tablet mode, the keyboard is inaccessible (obviously), which enables you to use the screen as your input device.  It is touch sensitive to both a stylus (which the machine has a holster for), for detailed work, and to your fingers.  The screen is hardware multi-touch compatible (up to 4 locations), but I’ve been unable to test that due to not having any software that supports multi-touch.

Since you’re stuck without a keyboard, you need some manner with which to input text into various windows.  Windows 7 provides you a fun little softkeyboard — much in the same style as you get on the iPad.  There are a few key differences (no pun intended).  First off the keyboard doesn’t appear by default in Windows, if you click on a text field, a little keyboard icon pops up — which you can click on and it will bring up your keyboard.  This keyboard also has an OCR “scribble” mode, by that I mean you can write with the stylus (or finger) and it will convert what you write into proper text.  It works OK, but not great (Editor’s note: Jon and I have horrible handwriting, so “OK” might be decent for those of you that write all pretty-like).  It has a built in spell check while OCR’ing and it tends to translate non-standard words oddly.  As for the keyboard itself, it is also “OK”.  By default it floats, but you can have it dock at the top or bottom of the screen.  Only problem is that there is too much wasted space and the keys aren’t big enough.  It works though for short entries, if you need any more — use the real keyboard.

When it comes to doing something like taking notes or making a quick sketch, the XT2 is far superior to iPad.  I’ve actually spent the $0.99 to buy sketch applications on the iPad, but you’re still using your finger.  There is really no way to compare writing with your finger against writing with a pen — pen wins hand down.  The stylus is similar in design to Wacom tablets/pens in the fact that it has a “hover” compatibility and on pen buttons.  The system knows when (and where) you are near the screen, but not pressing.  It also has two buttons on the stylus to operate things like eraser, or right click — but does not have an actual erase (as Wacoms do).

One thing I love is how there are some minor differences between the stylus and the finger presses.  From what I’ve noticed, they work the same.  There is one key difference though, if you touch the screen and drag with your finger, it’s like dragging on the iPad (or iPhone, or Nexus One) — you scroll.  It is a simple little piece but it makes me so happy — especially when showing my screen to other people.  When you use the stylus, it operates exactly like the mouse and you need to grab a scroll bar.  There’s nothing to stop you from using both!

In terms of gestures, I’ve only found support for the most basic gestures in Windows 7.  You can swipe left, right, up, and down.  Left and right simply go back and forward.  Up and down must be programmed.  So far that I’ve seen (after 24 hours of “futzing”) there isn’t any standard use of multi-touch gestures.  OSX definitely has a massive leg up in this respect.  I’ve read the details of the multitouch “language” in Ubuntu, and I’m looking forward to seeing how theirs works out.

I’ll do a more in-depth review of the XT2 hardware later.  Right now I’m quite enthralled with the device.  It isn’t quite fast enough to serve as my primary/all purpose computer, but more than sufficient to replace the iPad as my daily carrier.  Having a keyboard just makes my life so much easier.  I don’t want to punch out long emails while on BART, but when I need to (which is becoming more regular), the iPad just kills me.  Plus, having a REAL computer with a REAL operating system (Windows or Ubuntu, I’ll take either) is so much nicer than mono-tasking iPad world.