Windows 7 Tablet PC, Kindle or iPad? The “why” behind the “buy”

The other day arrows,businessmen,choices,crossroads,decisions,directions,intersections,men,metaphors,Photographs,signs,silhouettesI mused about What to buy: an iPad or a Windows 7 Tablet PC? I offered a few suggestions, but wanted to provide more on the “why” behind the decisions.

I think that the challenge comes to whether or not you plan to just consume information and entertainment on a device and then those composing those ppt’s and documents for pdf’s – that’s where having a traditional keyboard whilst still having the access to the touch screen makes sense.

Lots of space has been dedicated to the debate, including this article over at PCWorld, Kindle vs. iPad, by Jon Brodkin of NetworkWorld.

Having used all three of these gadgets, I’ve come to the realization that, for me, two or three devices — not one — make sense when it comes to rich media. (Sad for my bank account, good for the device makers.) Increasingly the device I take everywhere is the phone. But this is about doing more than I do on my phone, and with enough screen real estate in front of me to make it more enjoyable and productive. (I hate doing mail for extended periods on the phone.) if I had to settle on one device, the choices isn’t obvious: it depends on what you intend to do with the device.

Here’s why:

For reading, the Kindle wins hands down. Use it and you’ll see after reading a few chapters that the Kindle’s electronic ink display is easy to read despite not having back lighting. Rarely to I read where light is a problem, and when I do, I have a book light or lamp in the area installed in the pre-Kindle days when I only read paper books. And my travel reading lights that I have from my airplane hopping days have come into their own once again. I like that the Kindle is easily configurable, has simple controls and accesses the Amazon Kindle store with ease: virtual airplane hanger of titles anywhere on the planet, wirelessly for free. Let me repeat that: Anywhere. For Free. No wireless fees for 3G, but free basic Internet access.

I don’t use the notes and mark up capabilities on the Kindle as much as I thought I would, but that may change as I have started reading more business documents and technical works that benefit from the virtual notes in the margin. I do wish that more of my trade and hobby magazines and local newspapers were available, but I think that will sort itself out. In those times when I want to ready the Times (Seattle, that is) I use the “experimental” web browser which works in a pinch.  

For portable work and play computing and browsing, my notebooks and Tablet PCs are the premiere choices. I like having access to my library of audio and video media that lives on my Windows 7 Media Center computers. I also like that I can access my all-you-can-eat buffet of music via my Zune Pass (and listen to a live stream, too), and video content via my Netflix subscription, YouTube and Hulu. With Windows 7 I can stream my media over the Internet to just about any another computer connected to the Internet. I get free Internet access at local hotspots via my wireless and broadband providers, and I find that I don’t miss not having always accessible Internet via 3G. (I admit that even purchased a 3G card for one of my notebooks when I absolutely have to have access via my mobile phone account.) I also have access to my Amazon Kindle books via the Windows reader from Amazon.

When I feel the need to email (often), blog (sometimes) or participate in some form of social media (more often than I should), the access to a keyboard on my Tablet PC is a welcome interface over a virtual on-screen keyboard. I also like that I can use all of the software that I use every day from productivity software like Microsoft Office to suites from Windows Live and other commercial software. I live in Outlook and OneNote, so having a touch interface combined with the efficiency of a keyboard is really powerful. So for me, this is the overall, versatile choice.

The interesting next step is the Apple iPad. I admit it: I have an iPhone, as well as several Windows Phones (lately using the HTC Fuze for productivity and the HTC Pure for day to day) and I use it. A lot. I used to get lots of grief at work for having all my Windows apps available via shortcut icons right on my desktop (which is usually a dark blue or black background). That approach doesn’t seem so silly now when you look at the UI found on today’s smartphones like the iPhone and Windows Phone, as well as the simple interface of Windows 7 Media Center PCs. If you’re just browsing the Web, playing games, reading mail and consuming the content in your iTunes library (I don’t use iTunes for media), then an iPad form factor is a good choice.

Then there’s Windows. I can’t wait for the crop of new slates that will run Windows 7 and the new crop of Windows Embeded consumer devices. As Paul Thurrott covered in his blog post about Microsoft-powered tablets and slates “Microsoft will focus on Windows Embedded 7for mainstream tablets (which I take to mean “iPad-like” tablets) and Windows 7 for premium tablets (i.e. actual Tablet PCs).” Engadget covered the round of Windows Embedded Compact 7 (that’s a mouthfu) devices at Computex and wrote about Microsoft’s plans for Windows Embedded Compact 7at Computex. Devices like the ExoPC Slate featured here on shows the ExoPC Slate with Windows 7 with an 11.6-inch, high definition touch screen, 2GB of memory and a good sized slid state drive (SSD). Very nice. 

So, if you want the best digital reading experience, the Kindle is probably your best bet. But if you want only one device and enjoy multiple diversions – reading, Web browsing, movies and games – the iPad is the better fit.

  • Composition and main utility, productivity device: Tablet PC
  • Reading main device: Kindle.
  • Hanging around, consumer of media: still Tablet PC (given my library of media on my Windows 7 Media Centre PC and ZunePass content). If you can’t wait for a Windows slate and have a disc full of Apple iTunes content, then the iPad is a current choice. 


Tags: shopping, RSS, Microsoft, New PC, articles, blogs, Microsoft, Windows 7, Tablet PC, iPad.

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Updated tips on buying a new PC

IMGP1554-smWith a nod to my previous post with tips on buying a new PC, I thought that it’s time to update the advice (just in time for “grads & dads”).

As I posted on Twitter today, PC Magazine provides an update to their regular feature on How to buy a laptop by Cisco Cheng. This follows the helpful hints that Joel Santo Domingo over at PC Magazine published in his article last fall, How to Buy a Back-to-School PC, covering what you should consider when shopping for a new PC for back to school or for you home.

Back in April, Walt Mossberg offered his own take on the spring PC buyer’s guide, “a quick cheat sheet that tries to clarify some of the issues to make shopping easier.” (A little one-sided in favour of Apple machines, and not as comprehensive a guide as some people may want. So I thought that I should update a prior post, “What kind of a computer should I buy?”, which included suggestions from Tony Hoffman of PC Magazine:

“As per my previous Tweet, I recently updated my answer to a popular question around this time of year: “What kind of a computer should I buy?”  I noted that there is something for everyone, at all price points.  It seems that new PCs are high on many people’s holiday shopping lists, and the price:performance is better than ever before.

“This week, Tony Hoffman from PC Magazine has posted a timely article on How to Buy a Bargain Laptop.

“Everyone likes a good bargain—the trick is distinguishing what’s truly a worthwhile deal from something you may regret after you’ve used it a while. We define bargain laptops as ones costing $1,000 or less, though you can find great deals at any price. These days, with retailers going the extra mile in an attempt to boost flagging sales, laptops that might otherwise be out of reach for the frugal shopper have been descending into the affordable zone. Here we’ll look at what you should be able to get for $1,000 or less.”

Notebook PCs under $1,000

For under $1,000, you can get a very nice 15″ laptop with Core 2 Duo, 4GB, 320GB & DVD Burner (after current discounts).  Or even better if you’re looking for a desktop replacement with a bigger screen, I found a 17″ (1440 x 900 resolution) notebook with an Intel Core 2 Duo T5800, 3GB memory, 320GB SATA Hard Drive, Intel 4500MHD Graphics, 802.11g wireless, 8X Slot Load CD / Dual Layer DVD+/-R Drive, 2.0M webcam, 9 cell battery, all running on Windows Vista Home Premium Edition SP1.  (Dec 17, 2008)

“Very nice when you consider a year ago the same amount got you a 17″ widescreen with a Core Duo Processor (T2350), 2 GB of memory, 120GB hard drive and DVD SuperMulti drive. Ouch.”

Double ouch: today that same $1K (actually, under $700) will get you a slim notebook like the HP Pavilion dv6t with an Intel Core i3-350M Dual Core (2.26GHz, 3MB L2 Cache) or AMD Turion II Dual-Core Mobile P520 (2.3GHz, 2MB L2 Cache), 4GB SDRAM, a wide screen 15.6″ WLED LCD, 500GB Hard Drive, DVD+/-RW optical drive, Wireless-N, Bluetooth Module and an on-board camera. Again, nearly twice the notebook PC from last fall, and I didn’t look very hard for any big discounts, but I’m sure that you’ll see plenty as people look for graduation gifts and PCs to take on vacation.

For just a little more (under $1,500 SRP before discounts), consider the HP Envy, complete with a new processor, 4GB of memory and even solid state drives in a very sleek package, or the slim beauties from Dell, the Adamo XPS, and Sony’s VAIO Z.

Below are a few of the choices from PC Magazine’s recent How to buy a laptop article…

  • Asus UL50VF-A1: a nice 15″ laptop with two Nvidia GPUs, great battery life in a sleek and light package.
  • Lenovo IdeaPad Y460: a nice 14″ all around multimedia laptop with nice design and hardware specs to match
  • Also consider models from Dell, including the value priced Dell Inspiron 14 and the Dell Studio 15.
  • Sony VAIO VPC-Z116GXS: this slick machine comes complete with the latest Intel Core i5 processor, and solid state drives that make it one of the most powerful ultraportables you can find today.

Notebook and Netbook PCs under $500

As I noted, you can get a great computer these days for far less than $1,000 depending upon your use.  As I said in my previous post…

“For under $500 at one of the big box office stores (on sale or after rebates), you can find a name-brand notebook with a 15.4-inch screen with (as I concur with many of my associates) a decent 1280×800 resolution, Intel Pentium Dual Core T3200, 120GB HDD, 2GB of memory, six cell battery, Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100, 802.11b/g wireless and a CD/DVD Burner running Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic (splurge and get Windows Vista Home Premium for a few dollars). 

“For many general computer applications (surfing the ‘net, writing term papers, listening to music and watching DVDs, streaming video from Netflix) this would fit the bill. And more.

“This tops the 1.73GHz Dual-Core processor (T2080), half GB of memory, an 80GB drive and a double layer DVD Burner with Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic I noted last year for the same amount.”  (Dec 17, 2008)

$500? I’m dating myself.

Today you can get a very good computer under $500 – sometimes under $400 – that includes just about twice as much computer as you  were able to get less than a year ago. I found one name brand OEM model with Windows 7 Home Premium, an Intel dual core T4400 (2.2 GHz, 800MHz FSB), 4GB of Memory, 320GB  SATA Hard Drive, 15.6″ WLED screen, 8X DVD+/-RW optical drive, Wireless-G Networking, on-board camera and more…  That’s twice the RAM, twice the hard drive, and a more powerful processor than the computer I saw similarly priced late last fall.  And if you shop around using one of the price comparison, daily deal or coupon sites, you can find PCs with similar specs for even less.

Even consider the current crop of excellent mini laptops, like the HP Mini 311 or crop of new mini notebooks that arrived with Windows 7. That’s what we did: we found a great deal on netbooks from HP and Toshiba, and the mid-range and very light HP DM3 notebook PC (with incredible battery life). There are great netbook choices from almost every manufacturer, including ASUS, Acer, Dell, Lenovo, MSI, HP, Samsung, Toshiba and Sony to name a few. Check out the netbook reviews on sites such as PC Magazine and PC World.

Home Desktop PCs

When you have a home office or homework area dedicated to a computer, LCD screen and a printer, I prefer a dedicated machine. For the most part, given our more mobile lifestyles (even just moving from room to room in your home), you may consider a notebook form factor for your next home PC purchase. But incredible deals can be found on home desktop PCs: last year we added a new desktop PC at home with amazing specs for just about $600 that a year ago cost more than $1,200. 

Today a PC with similar (if not better!) features and functionality can be found for under $400. You can also find great deals on mainstream desktop PCs for the home for under $300, especially inexpensive if you have an existing monitor.I also like the small, compact form factor desktop PCs from Dell (like the very sleek Dell Zinio HD – great for a home media center with Windows 7), HP, Lenovo, Acer and ASUS. For media playback in the family room, I like the new ASUS Eee Box PCs which has on-board HDMI and a small form factor that attaches to the back of your HDTV VESA mount. 

Personally, I prefer all-in-one designs like HP’s Touchsmart (on my desk at home), Lenovo IdeaCenters, MSI and others. If you’re kids use Macs at school, consider an Apple iMac. With so many models to choose from, you’ll likely find a great PC that meets your needs and price point.

And through July 30, be sure to use Bing Cashback to save even more money.

Additional articles:

A note on extended warranties and insurance: As you’ll find, many new computers come with a one-year manufacturer’s warranty; some models from Asus come with standard two-year warranties, also found on purchases at big-box retailers like Costco (which offers the Costco Concierge Warranty on many home electronics). As I noted on Twitter, thanks to American Express’ Extended Warranty (which they call “buyer’s assurance”) one of our notebook PCs was completely covered long after the initial one year warranty expired.

And accidents do happen: in order to ensure that your new toy is fully covered, also consider comprehensive insurance from a provider like Safeware Insurance: they’ve been around for a long time and offer affordable, comprehensive insurance covering your device from theft, and accidental damage.

More info: Upgrade or buy a new one? Suggestions from the Seattle Times

Tags: shopping, RSS, Microsoft, New PC, articles, blogs, Microsoft, Windows 7.

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New Tablets, Slates, and Pads: oh, my. 2010 will be an interesting, touch-fueled year.

imageToday’s been a busy day, what with work and getting pinged with the press on the new tablet products coming from Silicon Valley, as noted here with an inside look at the HP Slate (the model that made its debut at CES). None other than HP’s CTO Phil McKinney shows off the the Slate in a "History of Innovation" in his latest blog post on HP’s The Next Bench blog.

Oh, yes, and there is the new Apple iPad, too. More info on the new Apple iPad via Bing here. There are some choice updates from people and press in attendance at the event today in San Francisco in my twitter feed.

imageA comment on design, timely especially since I was referencing the incomparable Bill Buxton today in a presentation.

There’s an interesting similarity to the bezel design on these two devices, both somewhat different from the approach seen on other touch tablets (‘though reminiscent of of the iPhone). As I noted on Twitter, the ASUS Eee PC T91MT makes more sense (or costs fewer cents?) given that you have the choice of using the keyboard or not. Having the option is nice, as I found when I made the case for a Revitalized Notebook (aka getting more from computers currently gathering dust). This was when I updated my Toshiba M200 with Windows 7.

imageAlthough I like the tablet functions, it’s certainly nice to have the keyboard input option. With the new touch enabled PCs like the ASUS above (and even my home desktop, the HP Touchsmart 2), the ability to move between typing and touch become second nature after a while.  And if you have a portable form factor like the ASUS or even the HP (with optional dock, I’m guessing, as we saw originally on the 2004 release of the HP Compaq TC1100) the slate design works well overall for consuming media.

Interesting to note: Amazon’s taken no time to respond on its web site with this promo for the Kindle on the home page, touting the free wireless and no need for a wireless contract…

But should you get a tablet, or slat, or pad? That depends. More on that later…

Tags: gadgets, Amazon, CES 2010, CES, Kindle, Microsoft, tablet, Tablet PC, Windows 7.

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Our new Microsoft Signature PC arrives, and I like what wasn’t included in the shipment

IMG_3871As noted on Twitter, even Microsoft employees use the MicrosoftStore, especially when there’s a sale on some of the latest PCs around. Needing to replace an older model (tried and true) Sony Vaio that is headed to the repair shop, I ordered a new PC from the Microsoft Store last week, a new HP Pavilion DM3-1044nr Entertainment Notebook PC.

Models available from several different computer vendors are available at the Store, each featured as a “Microsoft Signature PC, designed to help you get your new computer up and running more quickly and easily than ever before.”

What the heck is that?

Well, Tom’s Hardware said that the Microsoft Signature PCs “could be a step towards stomping out crapware – which we’re all in favour of.”

“Would you believe that it’s Microsoft’s own “Signature PCs” that are the ones most clean from the crapware? According to TechFlash, a certain line of PCs sold at the just-launched Microsoft Store in Scottsdale, AZ do away with the annoying pre-installed software and instead come with full versions of Windows Live services, Silverlight, Zune software and some of Adobe’s popular online software. While some of that software could be debated as unwanted crapware, it’s still a world of difference from the typical computer that one would buy from a large retailer.”

Here are a few pictures of the OOBE (Out Of Box Experience) with the just-received new PC… you’ll note the shiny stocker that enveloped the HP, and perhaps be as shocked as I was when I turned on the PC and happily found (gasp) no desktop full of pre-installed software.

       IMG_3870 IMG_3879

For me, this was a bonus: I use Windows Live apps, Silverlight and the Zune service, so all of these were welcomed. All in all, I was up and running much faster than ever before, not having to de-install a bunch of unwanted software, add-ins, tool bars or applets. In some instances, the applications are nice value ads, sometimes not. YMMV.

So far I’ve found the new HP to be snappy, responsive and rick-solid rock-solid, similar to that I’d read in several reviews in the likes of PC Magazine and here on Wired. I haven’t put the reported long life battery to the test yet, but all indicators will be that it may survive some of my older mobile phones and powerful enough to run most demands that our household will likely throw at it.

(updated thanks to Michael Sainz today, 012310 😉

Tags: Microsoft Store, Signature PC, twitter, Microsoft, Windows 7.

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Netbooks, Live Cashback and rebates: helping the economy one gadget at a time

I have entered the small notebook PC club, ‘though I’m reminded of the infamous quotes by Groucho Marx on club membership.

As I Tweeted, I use a number of different technologies at home and at the office: various types of computers, devices and gadgets. Over the holiday weekend I did some research and decided that the next addition to our computer archive at home should be a small notebook PC, ever since Steven and Jon started talking more and more about them (such as here on arstechnica, along with Win7 references). 

There’s been a bunch written about netbooks and Windows 7, and I thought that finding a small notebook PC today with Windows Vista would likely allow me to migrate to Windows 7 when it’s released.  Given the messaging at WinHEC, where it was noted that “a lite version of Windows 7 will run on 1GB of memory and 16GB of (solid-state drive) storage.” 

Now throw in the momentum around Black Friday shopping and the need to have a small, portable computer at home to handle those nagging chores around the house when you’re not in a home office and a seed was planted.  (Really, I was sold whilst lugging my PC on the plane again: you’d certainly rather take something small and lite on a family trip or when running the kids out and about to their various kid events, but would rather not take your desktop replacement notebook computer.

Answer: a new, small notebook PCs.

So, I began my research which was quickly summarized in a post today from Rob Pegoraro, the Washington Post’s tech guru in his article “Tiny PCs, Full-Size Problems.”

That title didn’t sound promising.

Pegoraro provides some advice for considering an ultralight laptop.

“If you’re buying a netbook as your sole computer, knowing that you’ll only use it on the Web, Acer offers the best bet for now. If, however, you’re buying it as a third or fourth computer and are willing to tweak it to fit your own needs, look at the MSI.

“But it might be better to wait. If these manufacturers have the good sense to steal each other’s best ideas, we should see significantly better choices before long.”

But who wants to wait?  The economy is in trouble, people aren’t spending and inventory is sitting on store shelves.  And with the sales, rebates and promotions (particularly the Live Cashback deals that kicked off last week aside from the press reports), it should be a good time to buy a new computer, particularly with Windows Vista SP1 pre-installed.  (Note: I can attest to the success of Live Cashback, ‘though I did run into one problem which the Live Customer Service team handled quickly via email to my non-Microsoft account… more on that later. Although at a peak of 30% cashback on eBay, it’s now down to 15%.)

I had somewhat decided on the HP 2133 Mini PC, thanks in part to the recommendations of friends and the helpful information of the community.

imageThen came the message from my friend, Joel, alerting me to an amazing deal on Tiger Direct that has the HP 2133 with 1.6GHz proc, 2GB of memory and 120GB HDD with Windows Vista Business for $399 after HP rebate (that should be enough of a guarantee that the rebate will be fulfilled)Tiger Direct deal

Then take off another $50 to end up at roughly $350, after a 10% Live Cashback discount I found through Live Search.

Clicking thru the offer takes you to the Tiger Direct site (which shares inventory and systems with the revamped CompUSA as noted here).

After my purchase, I checked my email associated with my Cashback account: I found that I’ll get my cashback in 60 days.  Which comes from Microsoft, so I expect that I’ll get that, too.

More on why I decided on the HP 2133 tomorrow, and a report when it arrives, ETA sometime next week.

Tags: Microsoft, netbook, HP

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