Evernote Beta invites available

I’ve been meaning to write about Evernote’s relaunch, but have been too busy with other things of late. Anyway, if you want to see what Evernote is all about, the best place to go is Warner Crocker’s excellent InkShow over at gottabemobile.com.

I’ve used Evernote, on and off, on the Windows Tablet PC platform and found it to be quite useful. Well the guys at Evernote have totally redone the computer version of the product for Windows, added a Mac version, and built a really nice web version as well. The beauty of this note taking, image capturing platform is that all these instances can be synchronized…and accessed online.

Watch Warner’s InkShow to get a better handle on what Everote can do, or leave a comment here and I’ll send you an invitation to the beta. I have a limited number of invitations, so it’s first come first served.

My last Windows based computer

A few months back, I upgraded to a new convertible Tablet PC – the Lenovo X61T – replacing my workhorse tablet, the Toshiba M200. I had the M200 for three years, the longest that I’ve used any laptop. As the M200 approached the end of its useful life, I seriously considered migrating to a new Intel-based MacBook. The key factor that kept me from making the switch was the lack of inking capabilities on Macs. I wasn’t an early adopter of tablets, but by the time the M200 arrived, the technology was stable enough to be useful on a regular basis. The practicality and usefulness of a tablet led me to buy the Lenovo. Buying the Lenovo wasn’t a mistake, but choosing Windows Vista certainly was.

Before I slam Vista outright, I want to recognize how well Microsoft integrated the tablet interface into Vista. Inking is at the core of the operating system, best I can tell, as reflected in the omnipresent Tablet PC Input Panel. Inking definitely feels more natural in Vista than it did on XP. Unfortunately, the instability of Vista, along with odd behavioral issues have made Vista increasingly difficult to deal with. Quite a bit has already been written about Vista’s quirks, so I won’t devote much space to those issues here. However, I can categorize my disappointments with Vista in two key areas, productivity and stability.

First, productivity. Maybe it’s me, but I think most people assume full version upgrades of software should drive greater productivity by either adding a substantial set of new features or simplifying processes through better automation or functionality. Vista fails on all these fronts; in fact it feels more and more like a dot release of XP. To be sure there are a few features that have made me productive, but this has been offset by a loss of productivity on other features. All in all, I don’t see the vast improvement that was promised.

Second, stability. Stability has never been a calling card of Microsoft operating systems. With the release of Vista, Microsoft promised it’s most stable operating system ever. Here too, I don’t see the improvements. Instead Vista has introduced some of the most annoying things I’ve ever seen in an operating system. For example, when docking or undocking my Lenovo, both the laptop screen and the attached external monitor go through a random screen flicker/rotation sequence that varies everytime I dock/undock. Rumor has it that the service pack that Microsoft is due to release will resolve this…I’m not betting on it. In the last few days I’ve started to get random lockups while working on the Lenovo. That is an absolute non-starter for a workhorse PC that I rely on to do all of my work.

I’m seriously considering ‘downgrading’ the Lenovo back to XP. That isn’t an optimal solution, but XP has gone through two service pack releases, with another apparently on the way. Those patches did make XP more stable, and I’d rather wait for a similar set of patches to be released for Vista before returning to it. Vista’s Aero Glass look is slick, but that alone won’t keep me on a system that I can’t rely on.

I don’t plan to replace the Lenovo anytime soon, but I doubt that I’ll keep this machine for three years like the M200. I am nearly certain that my next machine will be one of those Intel powered Apple Macs. Yes, I know that Apple’s laptops have issues of their own, but the operating system has proven to be more reliable than Windows. There is the added attraction of running both OSs on the MacBooks, another nice feature. Now if Apple could bring some of that touch technology from the iPhone to their laptops, we’d have the optimal solution.

Nokia N800: Not really for the rest of us (yet)

In my quest to become totally platform agnostic and mobile, I decided to give the new Nokia N800 internet tablet a spin. The N800 is an interesting and hard to classify device manufactured by Nokia, purveyor of mobile phones. Dubbed an ‘internet tablet’, this second generation device is primarily aimed at the mobile user who is looking for a feature rich internet experience while on the go. The N800 is NOT a phone, it is also NOT (yet) a fully fledged PDA…but it has the potential to be both. Fitted with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities, the N800 can access the internet via Wi-Fi connections as well as through Bluetooth enabled phones. There have been several excellent reviews done on the device already (MoblieCrunch and Spicy Gadget Roll), instead of reiterating much of the same, I’ll suggest you read those posts to get a good perspective of the device’s strengths.

My Experience

I’ve had my N800 for three weeks now, and have used it in many locations, including at home, at my office, and on the road at airports, hotels, and nearly everywhere in between. Three weeks is not an awfully long time to run a comprehensive test of a new ‘category creator’ device, but I’m pretty comfortable in saying that the N800 is a wonderfully built device that isn’t really for the rest of us, yet. Don’t get me wrong, I do think that Nokia is on to something here. I just think that they are a generation, or two, away from achieving mass appeal for the internet tablet genre.

What works

Nokia has built a rock solid, elegant device in the N800. Having learned from its predecessor, the N770, Nokia polished not only the look of the N800, but also improved the usability of the form factor by adding touches like the integrated stand and a much improved stylus. The addition of a built in, rotating, camera has made possible to have a mobile video messaging tool right in your pocket. Speaking of pockets, the device is reasonably small, certainly bigger than my Treo 700p, but it can fit in a coat pocket or a pair of cargo pants with ease. Besides for improving the form factor, Nokia also integrated stereo speakers that are surprisingly good. After retracting the camera and stand, the only protrusions on the outer shell are four small buttons on the top of the unit. Three of these buttons are squarely focused on the browsing experience. While web surfing, you can expand the built-in Opera browser to full screen mode, and further zoom in or out on a page with these buttons. Other applications, like the music player, take advantage of these buttons for volume control. A fourth button is the power on-off switch. The N800 is an ‘instant on’ device, which makes it incredibly useful when you’re on the go.

The built in software, for the most part, works quite well. Being a connected device, the most important software elements are the ones that let you connect without hassle. The N800’s Wi-Fi connection software works very well, connecting you to trusted Wi-Fi locations almost the instant you turn the device on. Bluetooth connections to my cell phone also were quick. There are several core applications pre-loaded on the system that also are nicely designed. A simple RSS feed reader does the job, as does a media player that can stream music from the web. There is also an email client included that provides pop3 or IMAP access to email. Chat is another core function that Nokia delivers out of the box. Using either Google Talk or Jabber, you can chat with friends in a standard text mode, or with the feature rich video and sound mode. Both modes work as advertised. As I mentioned above, Nokia chose to go with the Opera browser for this unit. Opera is functional, however it doesn’t work with many popular websites (I’ll discuss that in the next section).

Along with the online applications mentioned above, Nokia also ships several offline utilities, a very basic contacts manager, a calculator, a world clock, a note taking application, a simple sketching tool, and a PDF document reader (there are several games as well). These applications are simple, arguably too simple, for extensive use.

What doesn’t work

While there is a lot to like about this device, there are enough frustrations with it that I can’t find myself using it all that often. First, and this is a problem for us left handed people, the control buttons are clearly positioned for right handed users. The natural way to interact with the tablet is to hold a stylus in your right hand (to type or point on the screen) and use your left hand to click the navigation buttons while holding the tablet. The device buttons are on the left side of the N800, which is a natural configuration for right handers…not so much for us lefties. Given the landscape style layout of the N800, I’m really not sure what Nokia could have done to remedy this problem, but it does make it difficult to use for an extended period of time. I suspect this design consideration would have forced Nokia into a portrait layout, much like the Palm or Microsoft PocketPC devices. By going to a portrait layout, Nokia would have compromised browsing usability – the key functionality of the device. I’m not sure how much of a hindrance this will be for wide user adoption, but it certainly makes it more difficult to use for left handers.

Second, Opera (or the current version of Opera on the N800) is awfully buggy. Ok, it may not be that Opera is buggy, rather many of the websites that I visit on a regular basis do not behave well with Opera. There are some sites, most notably Google Calendar (and Google Docs & Spreadsheets), that just do not work with Opera. There are other sites that cause unpredictable lockups and other behavior when accessed via Opera. When I first got the N800 I was particularly excited about being able to access my deployment of SugarCRM on the fly. Unfortunately, Sugar tends to gum-up the browser to the point that Opera locks up. Based on a recent interview with the head of Nokia’s N800 software effort, Opera compatibility issues will be addressed sometime this year. Let’s hope they expand compatibility to include the major Ajax/Lazlo centric websites that we’re becoming more reliant on. The real fix would be to move over to a Firefox (Mozilla) based browser.

Third, and has been extensively written about, many flash enabled sites – including YouTube – grind the N800 to a halt. From what I gather this may just be an issue of optimizing Flash for the N800, so this may be fixed in short order.

Fourth, I know that the N800 is not really a PDA/Smartphone, but the inability to synchronize my key contacts, calendar, and task information makes this device much less useful that I expected. Dr. Ari Jaaski heads up the Nokia software effort and is quick to point out that the core concept of an internet tablet is to have access to online applications, and not necessarily for extensive offline use. In a totally connected world, I would agree to this premise. We are however, not yet in a totally connected world. Given the modest battery life, 3-4 hours while connected, total online dependence on this device is anyway impractical. Also, with limited pocket space and a need to have access to key information, the device needs to have solid PIM capabilities if I’m going to carry it around all day.

Finally, the lack of a built-in keyboard really makes extended text entry difficult on the N800. Like others, I have had success using my Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard to craft lengthy emails on the device, but trying to thumb in more than an sentence or two on the on-screen keyboard is not easy, nor is it accurate. I think this is inherently a problem of keyboards that lack tactile feel. To be sure, the touch screen itself is not to blame here, it is as responsive as you’d want it to be on a device like this. It is just awkward to use on a regular basis. By the way, I think will be the biggest issue with Apple’s iPhone too. Nokia may have built a better device if they had incorporated a slide down keyboard. Given the ‘bump’ on the backside that accommodates the camera and stylus, adding incremental depth to the unit by adding a slide down keyboard would have made it much more useful.

Open standards will transform this device

Arguably the best decision that Nokia made while designing the internet tablet platform was to build it on open standards, not on some locked (Apple iPhone) or proprietary system. Nokia could have crippled adoption of this device had it chosen its own Symbian platform. By choosing Linux, Nokia has tapped into a strong developer base that already is cranking out some great software. Nokia has clearly made a commitment to this platform, and I’m sure that the developer base will take the platform’s functionality far beyond what Nokia has envisioned. As I mentioned before, I hope this means that we’ll see a solid PIM and Firefox sometime soon for the device.

Final thoughts

The N800 reminds me of two other devices I’ve used in the past. The first was the original PalmPilot. I bought one of those within a month of its release and could immediately tell that it would be a transformational device. Palm, in all of its incarnations, nurtured a developer base that helped Palm change the future of mobile computing. Palm’s hardware was simple, and operating system easy to design for. Both of those factors made for a killer combination. It has gotten stale of late, but the PalmOS still remains a juggernaut in the Smartphone world. The N800 has the ingredients of being a truly transformational device, too.

The other device I’m reminded of is the Sharp Zaurus. Like this Nokia, the Zaurus platform was designed with a Linux core. Like the N800, the Zaurus had a solid group of early-adopter developers designing useful applications. Hopefully, unlike Sharp with the Zaurus, Nokia’s internet tablet platform will continue to grow and prosper in a manner that resembles Palm’s trajectory, not the now-discontinued Zaurus.

In the end, I’m not sure that the N800 will be a ‘runaway’ success. I don’t even think that Nokia expects it to be a runaway success. All that Nokia needs to do is to nurture the developer community, much like Palm, and continue to update the hardware with things like better battery life and a real keyboard option. Until the Microsoft UMPC based systems shrink in size, Nokia will have the internet tablet space to itself. With the rapid expansion of ubiquitous internet connectivity, the internet tablet, or computer, concept is here to stay.

Not a lot of killer buzz coming out of CES yet

I know, the show has just started, but I have yet to see any ‘killer’ gadget emerge from CES 2007. Engadget, as usual, is all over CES, but a lot of other bloggers are swarming Las Vegas too. Gottabemobile.com reports on the OQO 02, the nicely updated ultra compact computer by OQO. It looks impressive, given that it has built-in WAN (Sprint EV-DO) capability, and a bunch of other refinements. It is, however, still very expensive at $2,000 a pop. Closer to $1,000 and I’d really be interested.

Also on the portable front, SlingMedia is revving up a release of its software for Slingbox access via the Palm 700p. JkontheRun contributor Kevin Tofel has the low-down here. The Slingbox is a great little device that allows you to place shift your television viewing. By place shifting, I mean you can watch whatever the Slingbox is hooked up to from a location that is physically distant from the location of the Sling. With the addition of a Palm client, I’ll be able to watch television from our DirecTV connection anywhere the Palm can pull down an EV-DO connection. Nice.

Michael Gartnberg of Jupiter Research explains CES 2007 nicely in his post:

The big theme at CES is integration and not convergence

This year, it’s all about how to integrate the diversity of devices that consumers are using into a whole that allows for the information and content they want to flow seamlessly from device to device.

One of these days I’ll find the time to make it to a CES. Until then, I’ll just rely on the great blogging that’s going on in Sin-City!

Is Dell finally ready to build a TabletPC?

The guys over at gottabemobile received some interesting correspondence from a reader.  According to the reader, Dell sees the education market at the point of entry for a tablet, and that one may be on its way in late spring of 2007.   Now that Microsoft is packaging tablet technology into Vista, only the hardware part of the equation remains.  Here’s an interesting quote from the article: 

They said Michael Dell was very much against the tablet. Over time though he realized the tablet was a gateway into the school for other vendors.

Source: GottaBeMobile.com – A Dell Tablet PC coming this spring? – Your Tablet PC and Ultra-Mobile PC news source

One of the reasons why Microsoft OneNote 2007 is a mission critical application

Chris Pratley, now the Group Manager for Office Authoring Services (which includes OneNote, Word, and Publisher) has posted an excellent entry on his blog on how OneNote notebooks can be synchronized across multiple computers. OneNote, for those of you who haven’t seen it before, is Microsoft’s omnipresent data capture tool. Simply put, OneNote is a collection of notebooks that you can use to store your quick notes, screen captures, audio recordings, and more. OneNote carries was one of the first, and still most robust, ink enabled applications that has been built. In it’s latest incarnation, which is now in public beta, Pratley’s team has added a notebook synchronizing features. With this ability to sync, you can capture notes just about anywhere, and snychronize the captured stuff with all other locations. Pretty simple, elegant and sweet!

It’ll cost you $2,000 for a Samsung UMPC….what??

My pal Marc Perton writes over at Engadget that Samsung is going to sell their UMPC for approximately $2,000 in Korean. What!?!? This thing was supposed to be a sub-$500 machine! Ok, so Samsung will include a bunch of accessories for that price, but lets be realistic here. Can you imagine plopping down that kind of cash and not get a full fledged tablet PC?

UPDATE:  Engadget issued an update in which Samsung claims the actual price in the US will be closer to $700.  Also, it looks like Samsung will release this on May 1 at a launch party in the Bay Area.

Rob Bushway does a video review of the Gateway convertible notebook

The Aircraft carrier of Tablet PCs, Gateway’s M280 is probably one of the most reasonably priced ink ready laptops available today.  I first got a glimpse of this behemouth when I saw Marc Orchant‘s Gateway late last year.  It is certainly a big, powerful tablet.  I don’t know if I’d ever go for it, but in case you are interested, Rob Bushway, over at gottabemobile.com has done an excellent video review.  You might want to take a look here.

So, that’s how Bill Gates works

Bill Gates in the OfficeIt is safe to assume that Bill G. would have a technologically advanced work environment, but still is cool to read and see what his office looks like in the recent issue of Fortune (here).  As you’d expect, the article is chock-full of Microsoftie stuff, from Outlook to Sharepoint, and from a Tri-screen mega desktop to his trusty Tablet PC.  What I found most interesting about his setup is how similar it is to mine.  In the two years since I made the switch to a TabletPC, I’ve become a convert to the idea that we can function in a nearly paperless environment.  My Toshiba M200 is the workhorse of my setup, giving me the power of a laptop, with the agility of a tablet.  Like Bill, OneNote is a central part of my day.  My notes all go there, with rare exception.  OneNote has become an even greater part of my core application set with OneNote 2007–beta (I’m beta testing the Microsoft Office 2007 suite).  Bill’s article doesn’t say how he synchronizes his computers, but for me Foldershare has become the gold standard; I’m now always in synch with my office and home desktops, and my Tablet PC.  Given the chance, I think many business users today would switch to this approach, but Tablet PCs have not made major inroads in the corporate culture.  Of course, I don’t expect anybody but a big time executive having the monitor array that Bill incorporates into his workday!