Friday, December 31, 2010

Screen Size–usability vs portability


I’m privileged to have in my possession at the moment tablets ranging in size from 5” – 12.1” with all types of digitizers and touch screen technologies.  With tablets, the size of the device is basically the size of the screen. With each increase in screen size, you get a more usable device at the cost of how easily it can be carried around.  I find each one of these sizes offers an interesting compromise making it uniquely suited to certain types of usage. 


While to most people, this is a crazy big phone, to me it’s the smallest tablet I have.  It’s the biggest screen that will still slip into my back pocket (not that I would keep a phone there, I’d likely sit on it. I’m a girl; it goes in a purse).  While I can write on it with the Targus stylus, I don’t.  It’s running Android, so the selection of handwriting apps is small and doesn’t sync with the other places I keep notes.  The Streak is my reader – google reader, email, Tweetdeck, nook, bible.  5” is perfect for holding up in one hand and reading.  So much so, that I sold the actual nook and just read on the Streak now.  Angry Birds is also pretty nice on a 5” screen.


This is a relatively new addition to the collection, so I haven’t had as much time to test it in the scenarios I think it’s perfect for, but I think 7” might be my new favorite.  I can hold it in one hand in portrait mode, and it’s light enough that it’s not too heavy in just one hand.  With the OS upgraded to Windows 7, the inking is actually very smooth.  At first, I was put off by the glossier (than the Archos 9) screen, but it turns out that it’s a really nice surface for writing on.  This machine also has a really nice set of built in speakers, making it just as good for watching a video as it is for jotting down notes in OneNote.  While too big to be pocketable, it’s small enough to fit in any purse I have.  The only real drawback is the thickness.  If only this thing were as thin as the Archos. 


This has been my portable notepad until the Viliv came in and took over.  While both have the same resolution (1024x600), 9” feels like a ton more writing space.  Unfortunately, that can actually be a bit more awkward as it means the bezel is farther away.  On the resistive screens, you actually want to be close to an edge to rest your hand on it.  It’s significantly thinner than the Viliv, making writing on a table much more comfortable.  It’s also just small enough that I can still hold it in one hand in portrait mode, but the weight is a bit more bothersome on this device.  The size is also just too big for a few of my bags.  Bonus points for the built in kickstand.


Oh the iPad.  Too small for music and too big for reading.  The capacitive screen works great with the stylus, but I haven’t yet found an app that integrates with my workflow.  That relegates the iPad to more of an entertainment niche, which it’s just a little too big for.  My husband keeps threatening to get into app development, so it stays.


Old faithful, the tc1100 is still one of the smallest form factors you can get with an active Wacom digitizer.  The 4:3 aspect ratio is good for reading, and it’s just bigger than the iPad by enough for sheet music to start to be readable.  However, it’s only fits in the few bags I got specifically for bigger devices, and has to be held in the arm, not the hand.  It’s pretty light for what it is though, and the weight doesn’t feel bad when you’re using it.  The active Wacom digitizer is just a joy to use, and the thinness makes it great for writing on a table.  While not really powerful enough for much video watching, it’s plenty good as a internet browser and notepad.


I’m evaluating a bModo 12G, and I’m really liking the combination of the 11.6” screen with the 1366x768 resolution.  The extra pixels make it so much more usable without feeling cramped or restricted, like I do on the tc1100 or smaller screens.  It’s thinner and lighter than the tc1100 and small enough for more bags, but still too big for about half of them.  It’s the length of the widescreen that prevents it from fitting places, but that length also makes movies look great.  The capacitive screen is harder to ink on, but the keyboard is much easier to use.  After just a few days with it, I’ve gotten pretty fast just working with the on screen keyboard and have never felt the need to plug in an external one.  The weight is just too much for wanting to read a book, but fine for some couch surfing when propped up on the legs.


This is a convertible tablet, so it qualifies more as a full fledged laptop.  In fact, it spends a lot of time on my desk in laptop mode.  It also spends a fair bit of time in the studio in slate mode being my notetaker, SmartMusic playback, and sheet music display.  It’s a little thicker, making writing on a table more awkward, and the weight makes holding it for longer periods more difficult.  The active digitizer on this one is even better than on the tc1100, making this my best writing device by far.  The problem is, it’s a laptop, and only fits in bags I specifically got for it.  It’s a great computer, and it gets treated as more of a computer than a grab and go writing pad. 

So, there you have it.  Each one is really good at being a specific type of device.  The Streak is a great reader.  The Viliv is a great handheld notepad, but thick.  The Archos has a bigger writing surface, but fits less places because of it.  The iPad is awkwardly too big and too small at the same time, but it’s the only thing that runs the apps it runs and the battery life is stellar.  The tc1100 is a thin and light Wacom tablet.  The bModo is a fabulous screen in a thin package, but too big to be handheld.  The 2730p is my main workhorse.  I like them all.  Now I just have to pick one to take to CES.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Setting up an iMac for the in-laws

Actually, they already had it set up, but my father in law was waiting for me to help him learn how to do some stuff with it. Remembering back to my short time at the Apple store, I dragged the iLife app demos out of my memory to prepare for the kinds of things I thought he would want to do. As it turns out, I was about 5 steps ahead of what really needed to happen.

At first, he sat in front of the machine, and I in the chair next to him, and he almost formed a question a few times. Then he looked at the screen and just asked me to just show him what kinds of things he could do. Oh, the general OSX demo, that was probably still in my memory somewhere. As I was trying to think of where to start, he did finally come up with a specific question. It was nothing I had anticipated, but makes perfect sense as a top priority in his case. He had been a Windows user for years for work, and has been preparing family taxes with Turbo Tax since 2005. He had those files, and many other family financials backed up onto a USB stick. He wanted to know where to put them. That's right, the file structure and Finder were different enough from what he was used to that he wasn't sure where he should put the files. After introducing him to the concept of the Home folder, I showed him where his Documents lived, and how to get there from the dock or the Finder. We went through the different views the Finder offers and settled on columns so he would know where he was. I showed him how right clicking still gave the option to create a new folder so he could go about organizing the files. We decided to move the files from the stick into a temporary pre-sorting folder on the desktop so he wouldn't miss anything and could come back to the sorting later.

The rest of the afternoon was spent tackling the Alaska pictures. Between the two of them, they had about a million photos on two different digital cameras that they were deathly afraid transferring wrong and losing. The first camera was a Kodak. Easy Share may be great if you want to deal with that software, but when you have iPhoto, why on earth would you want to use Kodak's proprietary mess? Oh, because Kodak cameras won't mount as a drive, that's why. But we weren't playing that game, oh no. This is a new iMac, with a SD card slot (thank you Apple, you have no idea how you just saved Christmas). So out came the card, and into the iMac it went. iPhoto then had no problem importing directly off the SD card. After a short discussion of how photos are organized into events, we went into full screen slideshow mode. Just in case you've forgotten how a slideshow runs in the hands of the master of the house, we then got to discuss every single photo as he clicked through them and continued to marvel at how great they looked on the iMac's screen. Rinse and repeat with mother in law's camera, and that ate up the afternoon.

The final task of this trip was to drag them kicking and screaming into the digital music revolution. Father in law had gotten Mother in law an iPod for Christmas. Once we found this out, we went and got them an iPod speaker dock for Christmas. She's a librarian and they're both always listening to books on CD. She frequently also gets the little overdrive mp3 players the library checks out, with a single audio book on it. He prefers the CDs, but complains about ones that aren't split into enough tracks, as the tracks then end up too long and it's hard to pick up where you left off if you stop in the middle of a track. We thought the iPod was a brilliant solution, because we know how they work. We tried to explain downloading audible books from iTunes or the library's website (which actually turned out to be ridiculously over complicated, but that’s a rant for another post), ripping CDs to the iPod, the magic of having all your music and books all the time in one little device, but to no avail. They couldn't imagine a world without CDs. We managed to get them used to the idea of using the speaker dock for the kitchen, so he wanted to move the old CD boombox up to the office to listen to the books. You know, the same office the iMac is in. We tried to explain the awesomeness to just using the iMac to listen (or ripping to iTunes first), but he wasn't convinced. That is, until he took a CD up, stuck it in the computer, and we started talking about how iTunes works. When I showed him that you can click anywhere in the playback progress bar to go to anywhere in the track, I think I blew his mind. That was the most excited he had been about anything we had showed him up to that point.

It was a good reminder that what's important to those of us who use computers all the time might not matter at all to the "average user" and that the "average user" may surprise us when we find out what is really important to them. But, with all the new hardware I'm seeing, it can be easy to take for granted how many neat and useful little things computers can do. I know how they work, so there's not much magic or mystery. New features are hardly ever revolutionary, it's just slightly faster stuff packed into slightly smaller or sleeker boxes. Watching someone be so excited over playback control on a CD rekindled a lot of the excitement in me. I'm really looking forward to seeing what's being shown at CES, and hoping I can remember what this might look like to an "average user."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

bmodo at breakfast

Morning coffee and all the news you could want wrapped up in a neat little package called google reader. As my father-in-law's newspaper sprawls all over the kitchen table with news of only the local area, I have all the news I want, in a much more compact space. The nice thing about the tablet is that it sits flat on the table, just like the newspaper, so there is no visual barrier between any of us.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

On the road with the bModo 12G

I'm posting this from the bModo tablet while we drive between my parents' house and my husband's parents.  I thought it would be a nice test of the bModo's mobility options.  I have been using the main tools that set this tablet apart from so many others - GPS and 3G.  I may not have been able to get a GPS signal indoors, but now that I'm out in a car (being a passenger, not driving) it connected quickly and was able to send data to google maps.  I'm also connected to the 3G network via the SIM pulled from my phone, which is how I'm posting this.  I've typed the whole thing in with the Windows on screen keyboard, which is getting more and more comfortable as I get used to it.  I may just be typing using a few fingers, but it's fast enough to not be frustrating.

I don't know how often I really "need" access to these kinds of tools (3G on a full Windows based tablet), but it sure is nice to have right now.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Inking on the bModo 12G vs iPad

After the pretty terrible performance of the targus capacitive stylus on the ctl 2go pad, and other poor reviews of capacitive styluses on Windows 7 tablets, I wasn't too hopeful.  But I like to try everything, just to see.  Imagine my surprise when it actually worked!  It's certainly nowhere near the smooth accuracy of an active digitizer, and it's a little bit rougher than the iPad, but it works.  It works well enough that the TIP can convert to text and both Journal and OneNote can index my handwriting well enough to accurately search through it.

SmartMusic on the bModo 12G

This is why I need Windows 7 on my tablets.

Full review of the bModo 12G

The full review is posted at tabletpcbuzz


The tl:dr version: It’s a good all around machine.  Best of the new wave of Windows 7 based capacitive screened tablets I’ve seen so far.  It’s performs well as an entertainment tablet due to the high res screen.  It performs well as a work tablet due to the built in 3G and the fact that this one actually works with my capacitive stylus, so I can effectively ink in OneNote.  It’s thin and light for it’s screen size so it’s easy to carry. 

I’ve been granted some extended time with the review unit, so I’m going to fill it up with sheet music and see how it works as a music tablet (I just got SmartMusic installed).  At 11.6” it’s only a little smaller than the 12.1” HP 2730p I normally use, and it’s much thinner and lighter. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

bModo takes on the media booth

Originally uploaded by violajack

Well, actually, the bModo took on the Christmas play, which is way more than just the media booth. There were 5 screens on set, each controlled by a computer, run by 3 people. I had two to run myself, and the bModo is sitting between them, displaying the script in OneNote. Most of the markup was done with the Archos 9 before I got the bModo, but by keeping the notebooks on the web, it was a simple matter of installing Office on the bModo and connecting to those notebooks. I was able to ink in changes with either my capacitive Targus stylus or my finger. The tablet held up through two dress rehearsals, two shows last night, and three more today. After 3 hour long runs this morning, it was telling me I still had nearly two hours of battery life left.

The general consensus among those who saw the set up (specifically, what I can do to uploaded PDFs in OneNote) was that this is way better than an iPad. I have to agree.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Posting from the Chromebook Cr-48

After figuring I wasn't going to get picked for the pilot program, I came home to a box last night.  Oh yeah, I got picked to get a chromebook!  As per the pilot program instructions, I will be trying to use it as my primary computer as much as I can.  Unfortunately, right now, my two main studio tasks can't be done in a browser just yet (OneNote and SmartMusic).  However, about 95% of everything else I do can be done in chrome.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Zoom Q3HD


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The HD version of the Zoom Q3 is now shipping.  I have the older SD version and use it all the time in my studio.  The kids really enjoy watching themselves (as long as you get them used to it when they’re young enough).  Teens will grudgingly watch, but still learn a lot.  It’s also graduation season, so we’ve been doing a lot of graduation recordings with SmartMusic providing the accompaniment for pieces that need it.  It does a great job of capturing high quality audio and enough video to be useful.  For my uses, I don’t think the bump up to 720p video would be necessary, but if you want to play back on a tv, those extra pixels could come in handy.  Sadly, the Q3HD suffers from the same lack of fine control over audio levels.  Your only level control is to capture “high”, “low”, or “auto”.  Luckily, “low” is perfect for getting a strong signal from a solo kid in the studio.  Sometimes I have to switch it to “high” if there is a full accompaniment track or more than one of us playing.  It would be nice to have a slider for finer in between controlling of the level however.  Maybe the next version….

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Klaus Christian Grumpelt Violin

2010-12-02 11.46.07

It’s back to the old-school music technology today.  As it turns out, a friend of a friend is a German violin maker.  And he was in town with instruments!  He’s already sold instruments in New York and Chicago, and was looking to make some connections here in the Bay Area.  He left one instrument with a local shop on consignment but really wanted to get his instruments into the hands of teachers to more directly get to the advancing students looking for this step up.  I will have one of his violins for the next 6 months to play with and show off. 

Oddly enough, this instrument is actually younger than my TC1100 tablet.  It was made in 2006 in Hamburg.  It hasn’t been played in a while and has some old strings on it.  Klaus recommended Evah Pirazzis for it, and while I don’t like them on my viola at all, I can see how this violin could benefit from that set.  I’ll probably switch out the strings and give it a good few weeks of playing in to really form opinions, but I’ve enjoyed the few hours I’ve already had with it. 

It’s a real treat to get an instrument directly from the maker.  For one thing, it’s nice to know the fine art of violin making is still alive and well.  For another, even luthiers working full time on producing new instruments only complete about half a dozen every year.  Klaus has spent a lot of his time recently restoring instruments and making a double bass, which is a much longer term project than a violin, so his current stock of personal instruments is small.  It’s a real privilege to have one entrusted to me for the next 6 months, and quite a treat to get to sit down with Klaus to chat and get to know the violin.