Web Tablets: This Year's Model

Every few years I purchase a new "Web tablet" device for personal use. This is not yet a recognized category of product (although some call it an "Internet tablet"), so let me define it first. A Web tablet is a device that fits between the smartphone and notebook form factors - it's larger than the former and won't fit in most pockets (although it would in many purses), but smaller than the latter and isn't (usually, anyway; see below) running Windows. It's designed first and foremost for quick-and-not-at-all-dirty Web and e-mail access, and many of these have also attracted a good deal of attention from the LINUX community as well for all kinds of applications as well as general use. Pricing is typically in the US$300-$400 range.

My first foray into this space was via the groundbreaking Nokia 770 about three years ago. The 770 is now woefully out of date, but updated and otherwise new software for it (and the others in the family; see below) remains available at the Nokia developer site, Maemo.org. I saw only marginal value in upgrading to the Nokia N800, but the much-improved N810 was definitely on the list for this year's model. This unit has a slide-out keyboard, a design now used on many cell phones, and a much-improved browser. The physical keyboard is a requirement for me, as are a memory-card slot and a removable battery. The iPhone thus did not make the cut - a fine product for many, but not for me. The screen is too small regardless.

I also looked at the Palm TX and the Apple iPod Touch. Neither of these have browsers that are really as capable, as, say, Firefox, and clearly have primary applications of personal organization and personal entertainment, respectively. And I have to say that I've become much more interested in LINUX in recent months, and decided that a LINUX platform would ultimately serve me best. For example, I want to be able to use this device for VNC and other functions - in short, much as I'd use a notebook, but smaller, and not running Windows, but with similar capabilities. The availability of the OpenOffice.org package is a plus, although I'm not anticipating using it a lot at present. It's just nice to know it's there if I need it. And, since I don't need something that I can fit in my pocket, a larger screen and keyboard were key drivers. So, a micro-notebook form factor it is.

(Drum roll here) So, I went with the Asus Eee PC, the 4GB Surf model without the camera. But a few words about the runner up, the Everex Cloudbook - pretty much the same thing, but it has a 30 GB hard drive (which I didn't want, as I'm a Web services/network guy) and was $50 more. Also, at the time, it was only available at Walmart.com, and I had a philosophical problem with buy a high-tech product from them. Laundry bins, sure. Computers? No, at least for now. Anyway, my initial reaction to the Eee is more than positive and I'm going to spend a day configuring and exploring it shortly.

In the meantime, there's a lot of good information available at eeeuser.com. And, BTW, I bought mine at Newegg.com, which is now the source of most of the products I buy. Good prices, excellent service, and no complaints from me. And, as I hinted above, the Eee will run Windows XP, but why bother?

Anyway, that's enough for now, but I plan in the near future on getting the Eee to work with the USB connection on my Motorola Q to have a go-most-places, big-screen e-mail/Web system that works when there's no Wi-Fi available. I plan on giving presentations via the VGA port. And, who knows, this Web tablet just might replace my notebooks in the majority of applications I need a mobile computer for.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

IT Salary Survey: The results are in