Lifekludging a UMPC

April 21st, 2007 | by dnw |

Lifekludging a UMPC

Dave drives an eo

Previously I have reviewed and offered my thoughts on Tablet PCs, one being a slate [Sahara Slate] and the other [Acer C200] having a keyboard with touch screen.

While the tablet experience really highlighted some advantages for myself and the way I could interact with them, the issue for me with these previous devices was primarily that they were physically too large.

[Dave driving the eo]

If you’re new to Lifekludger, you’ll not be aware that I have a disability and use a mouth-stick to operate computers, well, just about everything. For that reason, the size and physical layout of a machine is paramount over issues like speed, weight, ports, brand.

So, seeing as how my previous experiences with Tablet PC whetted my appetite, yet I found the devices not quite the right mix of size and layout needed, being on the large size, I was always keeping an eye on  the origami project which we now know as UMPC and what it’s form factor would bring for me.

Thanks to my mate Hugo Ortega from Tegatech, who graciously loaned me one to try, I managed to answer some of those long standing musings. So I offer here my experiences and thoughts on the UMPC from a Lifekludger’s perspective.

The UMPC loaned was a TabletKiosk eo UMPC i7210 1024/60 I’ll spare you the gory details that you can read on the site and other reviews.

Mine’s smaller than yours

Just because we are chasing nanobot dreams, smaller isn’t always better. And just because I found the slate and other tablets big, it doesn’t automatically follow that the UMPC is an ideal fit just because it’s smaller. In terms of size, it sits neatly between my pda and a notebook tablet. I certainly found it easier to reach all parts of the screen without uneasy stretching of my neck.

The layout generally worked for me and I could even reach my stick up on the top edge to power it up. So the size matters, it’s just not everything.

I found the screen real estate a bit limiting and couldn’t get used to a scrolling screen so left the resolution at the 800×640.

The little mouse controller on the front of the device was good, a lot better to use than a ‘tip’ type joystick. Responsive and swift yet able to use accurately. As I can’t use my hands and don’t hold the device, the mouse buttons being on the opposite side I obviously found odd, but no more than anybody actually using their hands would find it with them both on the one side.  The only reason I mention it is that while the mouse controller is excellent, I found myself wanting to press the round pad in to mouse-click, which of course it doesn’t, but had me wondering why not.

The Angle of the ….

Along with layout, positioning is extremely important for me. To that end I found the included stand which holds the eo while offering ports for an external monitor, USB, Network and power, a god send. The angle was just right so I could reach to the top and bottom of the screen easily while seeing it clearly.

[stand is great, good stick angle]

I tested the device laying flat on the desk and while I could reach the screen it was unusable that way for me as the screen was on too great an angle to view it clearly.

[can’t see on flat]

Not mobile but connected

I know that these UMPC devices are geared primarily to the mobile user, where portability with power are required. Yet mobility isn’t really an issue for me and while I need to be able to easily take such a device to different places, my reliance on specific placement to be able to use any device means things like weight and battery life are less of an issue. 

Connection is always important in these devices and while I had the device I had the usual play with the connections provided. It found my wireless network at work and at home flawlessly and I just had to take the opportunity to try out being geeky with a VNC connection to my Mac and see how a Mac with touch interface would seem. And I even ran Second Life on the eo, though not having a keyboard proved problematic :)

I also thought the inbuilt camera was good and even took a shot of how I look to the eo!

[staring back]

The BlueTooth found my various devices laying around and while I couldn’t get to use the 3G network service on my Dopod810, this was due to lack of time and my unfamiliarity with my new 810 more than anything lacking on the eo. I see Hugo uses his UMPCs with his Dopod 838 so isn’t an issue.

Flat out, like a lizard drinking

One of the first thoughts I had when I first saw the UMPC form factor was I could use it in bed. I access a computer from bed as I sometimes spend longer than usual or desired there and need a way to stay in touch and keep up with work while there – ‘Horizontal HQ‘ I call it!

After trying the eo and seeing the angles and positioning that is needed for me to operate it, to use it as a stand alone device wouldn’t fit what I need for that situation.

I did have a further idea that maybe I could use it as an input panel and even tried it, but the need to point one place and look another proved an odd combination that I just couldn’t use. Which is exactly the reason why a standard digitizing input pad like a wacom wouldn’t work for me either. There’s a difference when you can move your hand independently without actually looking at it – something I cannot do with my mouthstick.

[test as input device – I can’t use it in bed]

Freedom.. but not as in mobility

One of the things I experienced using a touch style computer UI was an uncanny sense of getting a bit of my lost freedom back. This is evident in two tools in particular for me, InkArt and the Snipping tool.

If you don’t realise how much of an impact a pen or pencil, (as in the physical, long sticks you hold in your hand and write with) has made on human expression, try living one single day without using one. Now multiply that by 365 and then by 25 and try it. That’s how long it’s been without being able to hold a pen and write. Now, I do hold a pen in my mouth and write but it’s limiting. The ability to scribble is just so freeing.

And being able to use InkArt to use brushes and colour and just ‘play’ with design, and do it all on my own, is something incredible. Not that I’m any Roy, but gee it’s a bit of plain freedom that I like.

[lifekludger freedom]

The Snipping tool I love too as fundamentally it’s another non-typing way to take notes of things and capture ideas. As, to quote from The Castle, I’m “an ideas man”.

[snip snip woodchip]

It looks like this

Bringing that freedom of drawing over into a work context, I find I’m increasingly needing to express to colleagues at work concepts and ideas and how I see projects we are working on should hang together. I’m limited in expressig these to using some app to draw objects like Visio or Powerpoint whereas a sketch on a whiteboard’s what I really need to be able to do.

I saw the potential of a touch device, and demonstrated it using the eo, of using it as a whiteboard substitute for me to convey drawings and such to others. The concept you can see here, was to attach a seperate monitor facing those I wish to outline to and drawing on the Tablet.

[a lifekludger electronic whiteboard]

This is real world productivity stuff for me and adds to the arsenal of why I’d benefit from using a device with touch ability.

Toughen up sunshine

I was taken with the idea that a UMPC could be a good platform as a augmentative and alternative communication device. I’d seen ruggedized versions of tablets being used in this way and seeing the TufTab version of the eo released cementged the idea. So while I had the eo I contacted a colleague at the local rehabilitation engineering facility and arranged for them to get their hands on the eo.

This gave them a chance to check out build quality and issues that are of particular interest in those applications such as speaker output volume.

When all is said and done

I was very pleased to get the chance to spend time with the eo UMPC.  The experience solidified some postive aspects of the use of touch devices and especially how the resistive type works for me. I don’t rest my hand on the screen so it’s a better solution for me.

The UMPC for factor seems just right in terms of reachability for me. It is however too small for my required application in my particular situation – at least in a touch only with no keyboard format. I am not able to just grab a device, so I would need a single machine that I could use all the time, which means looking at something with a keyboard AND touch, yet small enough to be reachable.

So, my next goal will be to focus on something akin to the new UMPC devices being released with keyboards, like the Shift, Asus T83, or, even better, a slightly larger convertible device, like the Fujitsu Lifebook.

Anyone able to give the lifekludger a hand in fulfilling that next goal, I’d love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, keep on kludging!


[More snapshots

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