Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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  March 2008, Week 4

BONANZA

We have some really good stuff this week: a super thin graphics tablet and a teeny-tiny computer. Let’s kick off with the tiny computer: 

We were charmed by a new miniature computer from Asus. It has a full keyboard (if only we had miniature fingers), built-in wireless connectivity, an Ethernet port, serial port and three USB ports. It’s 6 x 9 inches and weighs justeee PC two pounds. That’s with the battery, so if you run it off the charger instead, it’s just a little over a pound. 

The oddly named “Asus Eee PC” comes with the Linux operating system. This is the best Linux implementation we've seen and we like it better than Windows.   (For those now frowning in disappointment, future versions of the Asus will come with Windows XP.)  

The choice of operating systems affects the price. Most computers of the Asus size and complexity cost over $1,000 but you can get this one with the Linux system for $300. Computers that use Microsoft operating systems have to pay licensing fees and that raises their price. A major cost saving for the “Asus Eee PC” results from its having no disk drive. Instead, the small computer uses flash memory cards and the cheapest version comes with 2 GB. This is expensive storage, of course, but getting cheaper almost by the month, and flash memory makes the computer more durable. Eight and sixteen gigabyte cards are currently available for less than $100. Alternatively, you could plug an external CD/DVD drive into one of the USB ports. 

This small computer seems more than adequate for most users while traveling and its small keyboard might be just perfect as a regular computer for children and people with delicate hands. With those users in mind, the Asus was drop-tested from desk height onto a hard floor and lived to tell about it. Battery life is 2.8 hours, not as good as the 5 hours we get with our expensive Sony Vaio, but pretty good for the price.  

The Asus comes with 40 built-in applications, including the free Open Office, which is like Microsoft Office, having almost all the same features. There are a number of educational games, a paint program, and built-in speakers and microphone. We tuned in the “Beethoven Only” channel over the Internet and the sound quality was fine. We tried typing a page and printing it with our Canon inkjet; the Asus with its Linux operating system had no problem running the printer. Should there be a problem with a printer, you can download new drivers over the Internet.  

The only serious problem we had using the Asus was the touch pad that substitutes for a mouse.  In general, we hate these things. We recommend that users get a miniature optical mouse, like ones offered by Belkin, Logitech or Kensington. They typically cost less than $20 and you will save a ton on psychiatrist bills.  

If you get a new version of the Asus that uses Windows XP, (coming out later this year), or you install XP over the Linux system yourself, you can overcome the storage limitations imposed by the use of flash instead of disk drives by adding some Mojo. We wrote about this late last year. Mojo is free software you can get from MojoPac.com  and it can be loaded onto any flash drive. Once loaded you can then load in any programs you use on your desktop or laptop computer and use those same programs on another computer simply by plugging the Mojo drive into their USB port.  

Learn to Draw, and Write 

We got our eager hands on a CyberTablet Z12 from Adesso (adesso.com). It works with any PC or Mac and sells for $122, which is around the midpoint for such tablets. You can write notes, draw highly defined pictures, edit photos and use it to add your signature to email and documents.  

What amazes us is how advanced these tablets have become. The $122 price is less than the first clunky 4 x 5 inch low resolution tablets we reviewed 25 Adesso Z12years ago. But the CyberTablet Z12 has a 10 x 6.25 inch drawing surface and is only a third of an inch thick. It can record hand-writing and drawing with resolution as tight as two thousand lines to the inch. If you’re an artist with a steady hand, the screen is pressure sensitive and the thickness of your line can change in response to more than a thousand levels of pressure. 

Using the supplied software or Vista's built-in features, the system will convert hand written notes to regular typed text. You can write numbers directly into an Excel spreadsheet, for example, and you can send handwritten notes and numbers directly through Microsoft Outloook. Click a button to send handwriting and drawings through email.  

Clearly marked hot spots on the tablet are dedicated to common word processing functions like cut, copy and paste and another 25 hot spots can be used to hold any other macro functions – opening other programs, word processing, pasting in so-called “boiler-plate” text, etc.  

Our Z12 tablet came with software for creating macros and editing notes, as well as a copy of Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 5. This last is great for editing photos or drawings, especially for “masking.” Masking means taking any part of a picture, like a person’s face or figure, and moving it to another part or even to another photo. This is usually done by carefully outlining the object using a mouse pointer, but this offers nowhere near the control that you can get with a pen and tablet.  


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