Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Thinkpad Tablet - The Actual Review (part 2): Interaction with the device

This series of reviews will focus on a single aspect per part. The final part will sum up what I think. In this second part the focus is on interaction with the device

  • One very useful feature which Android systems have got working magically is widgets.  Widgets rock!  Information which is instantly viewable with minimal input from the user.  All you have to do is turn on (or wake up) the device and the widget tells you all that you need to know.  Weather, email, social media snippets, etc.  This is an area which is severely lacking in Apple devices.  I would love to have widgets on my iPad.
  • The screen/display is great.  Super clear and crisp.  Good colour balance and photos look fantastic.
  • The pressure sensitive stylus input is unique and fun.  It takes a while to adjust to but opens up some great possibilities.  View the video above to get a sense of what the stylus can do.  I have an artist friend who sent me a sketch he made using his Thinkpad Tablet and I think it's great that a more analogue creative process can be achieved with a digital tablet (and yes, for tech geeks out there, I know that it's not really analogue, but the technology will improve so that you can't tell the difference for most purposes)

  • This might sound minor, but it's actually quite a pain.  I found the scrolling/swiping just a tiny bit laggy and unresponsive at times.   It feels just a hair off which really bugs me but I guess you would adjust to this over a longer period of use.  Would this be a problem for students (or even the average teacher)?  I don't know for sure.  I'm not even prepared to guess. 
  • Menus are not quite as intuitive as I would like.  As I get older, I want things to work perfectly.  I don't want to have to try three or more different things before I find the right way.  For many teachers they just want the tool to work without having to learn how to use it too much.  This is something that most manufacturers and software designers severely under-appreciate.  It's even worth sacrificing a little speed, functionality, and security to have a better experience in this area. 
  • The Android colour scheme is rather dark which works against my style of creativity. I prefer less severe and more vibrant colours. This might be able to be changed in the themes (I couldn't work it out), or if something like a super-AMOLED display is used in future it wouldn't matter.  I've used my wife's Samsung Galaxy Nexus and even the dark colours on the display seem bright somehow.
  • I think that the stylus (sorry, digitizer pen) should have a softer tip, or at least the option of a softer tip.  This would be more intuitive and feel less like you're hitting the computer.  The artistic users of the pen would appreciate it and those jotting notes would enjoy the use of it a whole lot more.  The hardness is certainly rugged though, and gives you confidence in the durability and scratch-resistance of the screen.
  • Another digitizer issue is that the button is of little to no use.  From what I can tell, there were no actual functions which could be performed, though I've read that it can be used as a right-clicker or to select text.  Both of these functions can be completed using a long-press in any case.

A final comment on the interaction with the device
It's actually quite hard to be overly negative towards the Thinkpad Tablet.  Each design feature has been deliberately decided upon for a particular use and it's really up to the user, who will invest in one, whether they want to use it in that way.  

For most educational uses these negatives don't really matter.  The only two are the lagginess (which is perhaps a consequence of trying to be too cutting edge with extra features) and the difficult to learn menus and processes, both of which are more an Android issue than a Thinkpad specific issue.  And remember, I'm an Android fan saying that, so it's not a matter of laziness in learning something new which is potentially more adaptable.

The positive features of widgets and the fun stylus stand out above all of the negatives anyway, and those are the main (and lasting) interaction features which stay with you.

NEXT TIME: I'll look at apps which I've used and are available, and some which I would like to have but are not available just yet.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Thinkpad Tablet - The Actual Review (part 1): Physical form and construction

This series of reviews will focus on a single aspect per part.  The final part will sum up what I think.  In this first part the focus is on physical form and construction.

  • The Thinkpad Tablet seems indestructible but not chunky.  When you hold it, it feels solid but at the same time it is sleek enough not to feel like a clunky, chunky, brick.  And by all accounts, it is indestructible or, at least, designed to withstand more than any normal range of destruction.
  • It looks good.  Business, black, characteristic red spot on the digitiser (stylus) and it feels comfortable in the hand.
  • There is a USB port!  Amongst other useful connection sockets, the USB port stands out as a very useful addition.  While the world is slowly moving to less of the physical connections that come with plugging things in, that wireless world is not quite here yet.  In perhaps 5 to 10 years time, when data can be stored and transmitted in huge quantities via the Internet, there will be a sharp drop off in external hard drives and USB storage, but until then, USB is still the common format of choice for physical file transfer.
  • The mini HDMI (and other standard ports) are also great.  This is even more true for an education setting where it is helpful to be able to connect your device to projection or TV systems to share media with your class.  An HDMI to VGA adapter would be necessary in most cases (since schools have VGA cable connections to most projectors) but that is the price of being cutting edge, as the Thinkpad Tablet certainly is.  Being able to connect a standard SIM card is also a bonus (for the 3G model) as you can connect on the go, between wireless networks - great for working on the train or bus on your way to the office.
  • My colleagues to whom I showed the Thinkpad Tablet felt that no extra case is necessary which is very unlike most tablets.  If you take the iPad as en example, the first thing most people do is to buy a case to go with it!  The Thinkpad Tablet is certainly secure enough without a case, though for style or convenience a keyboard folio is a good option in my opinion.
  • I found the screen width great for viewing complete web pages.  While the tablet feels a little narrow, in the landscape position, this is something that I could get used to.  As a notebook in the portrait position, I'm not a fan.
  • Good battery life seems fine for all day use.  I didn't notice any sharp drops in the indicator which seems fairly well calibrated to the actual charge remaining.
  • The buttons on the front face seem unnecessary as they are never used, at least not by me!  I found that I only used the volume buttons and the on/off/wake/sleep button.  
  • For typical use, I don't think this device was made to be used while docked.  It is too narrow when vertical and feels a bit odd to view because of this.  An extra inch to inch and a half would go down well.  That's not really a problem though, because it is designed as a mobile device of course.
  • In landscape, the already small height is cut off even further by the menus.  This is also something that a regular user is likely to adjust to, but it's nicer to have something feel right straight from the word go.
As a recent iPad user, despite my former resistance, I thought it would be interesting to throw in a small comparison with my iPad 2.  It's important to note that the Thinkpad Tablet is aiming to accomplish some things which the iPad doesn't, and vice versa.  

There is no question that the iPad looks nicer from a cosmetic point of view, with the buttons feeling better and more usable, and it is thinner.  However, the Thinkpad Tablet is by far the more reliable bet if you want a tablet to last in a school bag or playground.  Also, as soon as you put a case on the iPad - absolutely necessary for most people - then you have lost the good looks.  The iPad also fails the connectivity test as there is no way to expand your physical memory or connect to USB peripherals.

That's all for now, next time I'll look at interaction with the device in a bit of detail.

I was hoping to write these as a short series of reviews in the week or so following my demo of the Thinkpad, but busy home life with the new baby is taking more time than I expected.  I'm also writing this review in a bit more depth than I planned to.  At least the process is thoroughly enjoyable, and hopefully this extended review will be useful for educational facilities considering the mass roll out of tablet devices in their school.  

Sunday, April 1, 2012

This is the week! (or not...)

Well, my baby daughter came on time so that's one of the two arriving when expected!

I've been in contact with the suppliers of the demo model Thinkpad Tablet and they've assured me that this is the week when one comes to me. Unfortunately, two of the four weeks for which I have it will be school holidays. This means less education testing and more home testing. I guess that could be an advantage but not for Lenovo so much as me.

Fingers crossed, I get it before Easter!

[update: it didn't arrive...  waning enthusiasm for this little project now.  Instead focusing on my other new little project: parenting a 3 week old daughter :-)  If the Thinkpad Tablet ever turns up I'll do a review]

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rugged Tablet Devices, Paintball, Shenanigans, and a Date

Let's start with the date first.  Or more specifically the week.  In about two weeks, coinciding with the arrival of my new daughter, I will have a Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet to trial.  It is arriving in the post which is somewhat different to how new children usually turn up.  The anticipation has come and gone and is now back again.  It went because of a miscommunication that saw me lost in the system for about a month!  Thank goodness I'm proactive enough to get the ball rolling again.  And with my excitement comes a new blog post to keep the hype and excitement building!

As previously covered, the Lenovo range is rugged and durable, with the Thinkpad Tablet included in that.  I have seen many cell phones with broken screens but have never seen a tablet device with one.  Most of the pictures on the Internet are of tablets with apps to show a fake broken screen.  I've never understood that one...

Despite a lack of experience of broken screens, I'm pretty sure it happens from time to time.  I'm pretty sure the cheaper ones are more likely to break in other ways too.  So what would break a tablet?  A few solid impacts?  How about paintball gunfire?  Check out the video below where a couple of professional "crazy men" put the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet to just these tests:


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Testing the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet (video)

Indestructible portable computing devices are what is needed for our schools.  Enter the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet...

I watched this and thought it was incredible.  My first touch screen phone had a cracked screen after only a month or so.  And that was a Hummer branded phone!

Technology has come a long way since then and there really are products of which we can be confident in their ability to endure hardship!  Check this out:

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Tech doesn't automatically improve outcomes

It is always important to note that technology can be used wisely and it can be used foolishly.  This is why merely throwing money, technology, or anything passive, at a problem doesn't automatically work.

I am hoping to find some great ways to use a Thinkpad Tablet to improve my teaching by considering the problems that I face without such technology.  Any roll out of new tech into schools/education needs to start from the problem before jumping straight to the solution (which might end up creating more of a problem anyway!)

If there was one thing I could do to seriously improve my students' ability to achieve, it would be to give them more time with me in a one on one situation.  I think that the Thinkpad Tablet can help me do this without increasing my time with students in a "real world time" sense.  The chief way I can do this is through making freely available a wide range of videos of my explanations and descriptions from class.  If everything I do in class is available and easy to find, then my students can use this rewindable version of me to have more personal time than I can possibly give for real.

As long as I am recording these explanations and demonstrations in a context that is familiar to them, my students will be able to engage with the videos effectively, i.e. they have to come from things they are learning (and need to learn) so it's no good if they watch a video of an MIT professor talking about the same thing we are learning but at a higher level and using different notation or contexts that are unfamiliar to my students.  Irrelevance is always the danger of any teacher or presenter and this can come in varying degrees.  The closer I can be to delivering exactly what they need, the better the outcome.

Some screen capture software lined up to have a go with:
Screencast Video Recorder Demo - Apps on Android Market
Z-ScreenRecorder - Apps on Android Market