Toshiba Encore Write 2 – Great Tablet, or the Greatest Tablet?

The Toshiba Encore Write 2

The Toshiba Encore Write 2

I’ve been using the TEW2 (Toshiba Encore Write 2) for about a month now, I bought it the day it was announced at CES from the Microsoft Online store. I have kind of a fixation on pen/tablet PC’s that goes back to the Newton. I like to doodle, draw, take handwritten notes and sketch diagrams–I guess I just tend to think visually and that helps me. So I’ve had just about every kind of tablet PC with a stylus/pen there is. Some examples:

  • Apple Newton
  • Palm Pilot (several iterations)
  • Compaq iPAQ (several)
  • Compaq Concerto
  • Clio (CE based flip around thing)
  • Acer T100 (I think that was the model, Tablet PC/XP) Used this way passed it’s time.

Then a long, sorry drought descended as the world decided we didn’t need tablets or pens. I used paper. There was that momentary flash of desire when the Courier rumors abound, but that got killed. Then again the Surface Mini rumors. Killed again. Samsung Note series? Meh. I don’t really like Android and the ‘feel’ was just wrong on the tablets and phones. My iPad with a capacitive stylus? Terrible. Great fun consumption device, not suited for any kind of work.

My ideal was always a digital pad of paper–connected to everything I do, cataloging my thoughts as I had them. A true companion device. I decided the practical size was really around 8″, with a ‘real’ pen, good weight, solid, active digitizer. Strangely this was the goal of the very first device I tried, the Newton. It was indeed ahead of it’s time. I used a Surface Pro 1 & 2 with the pen, trying to make this the device of my long term dreams. Both are great PCs, but they are not the digital companion device I wanted. They’re fantastic tablets but just too big. Same with Surface Pro 3–although I may break down and get one of those soon. But it’s big, for big things and big apps. I wanted a ‘grab and go’ machine that ties into all my data and devices without the need for a whole PC.

I think I found it now. The TEW2 is just about perfect for my hardware needs in this space. It’s light (enough), good heavy feel pen, active digitizer, nice screen, fast (enough), nicely spec’d with 64GB storage, and all around great 8″ Windows tablet. And that pen! Oh the pen! It’s really good. It makes OneNote truly a useful tool, syncs my data and notes to the cloud and various other machines, and serves as my digital pad of paper. It’s a fantastic device and worth every penny of the $349 (a bit high for a Windows tablet, but totally worth it). This device is my main driver when away from my desk. I take notes in meetings, use it ask a sketchpad, doodle at my desk, even use it to take notes on phone calls sitting with right in front of my main desktop. It’s great and if you’re a pen fan, go get one RIGHT NOW!

So what needs to be done to make this even more useful? Software. Apps. Again. Windows has excellent pen support in minor ways for pen, but this needs a lot of development. Software and apps need to be written for the pen user to make it a true digital assistant. Someone should go back and look at those Courier concept videos for ideas. Here’s what I’d love in the short term for apps:

  • A ‘Smart’ sketchpad–When the Tablet PC era was in full swing, Corel made something called ‘Grafigo’, a smart sketch pad that did shape correction and easy controls for illustration. I’d love smart shape correction inside OneNote.
  • Pen support in email–yes, I know that Outlook supports the pen (kind of) as do all the desktop apps. I’m done with those on the tablet. I want real, universal/Metro style apps now. I want to easily dash off a handwritten note in email.
  • Sketch/whiteboard projection app. I want a digital whiteboard that I can throw around the room, up on the wall, share, etc. I think some kind of integration with the coming Surface Hub would be awesome (more thoughts on Surface Hub to come).
  • Courier–someoneĀ on the Microsoft OneNote team should go back and look at the Courier concept videos for ideas on more useful functions to bring in. The clipping, dragging, note features in this were really useful.

So the Toshiba Encore Write 2 is about the best I’ve tried so far in my long quest for the perfect digital paper. It’s a great device that I think represents a new breed of devices with pens. Hopefully with the success of the Surface Pro 3 we’ll start seeing more pen-optimized apps that do more. And for those that have never really ‘got’ the pen experience, I would say give it another try–the OneNote/Pen combo is pretty powerful.

[Post Note: 2/25/15: The version tested here is the Microsoft Store Signature Edition version. As our industry is at Peak Crapware this is recommended.

HoloLens Doesn’t Have to be Vertical at Launch

The Microsoft HoloLens--a game changer?

The Microsoft HoloLens–a game changer?

Last month we saw the technical preview and unveiling of Microsoft’s new HoloLens technology. Basically an amazing piece of augmented reality technology that will reportedly be coming with the Windows 10 wave of products. It inserts computer generated content directly into the field of view with the HoloLens headset. A lot has been written on the experience and potential of the technology, and most are dropping it into the ‘vertical’ category of apps like Real Estate, CAD or gaming. I agree, HoloLens has the potential to be a game changer in these kinds of applications.

But that doesn’t need to be the only story. Recently we started getting requests at work for dual monitors. Being the cheapskate I am, we rolled it out first slowly to the people that would really use the extra space. But then I started thinking, having the extra space spread out allows people to get more work done and interact over a lot more applications at once rather than switching windows. HoloLens is kind of the ultimate expression of multi-monitor for Windows.

I can see a case to be made for a pure, Windows 10 based HoloLens without the vertical industry requirement. Just Windows expanded into you living room or work space. Imagine putting on the headset and logging in and having your start screen experience placed all over the room. Click on Netflix and a movie theater window opens at just the right distance in space. Media consumption becomes an immersive experience. Movies, music, even web browsing are all spread out around your environment. Cortana can float through the room and walk with you like a real assistant. Rather than at an uncomfortable desk, you can arrange your living room as a work/play space.

A working environment might have collections of Windows floating around your main app, diagrams on the desk, 3d models floating in air, Office applications to the side. Taken further, Windows no longer need to be confined to their old standard shapes and sizes. Alerts and notifications could be ‘pinned’ on farther surfaces showing big alerts at a distance while intimate work could be up close. The room and all it’s surfaces become the workspace. Walking around ‘inside’ your work becomes normal, walking up to a ‘white board’ can be on any wall, video calls can be in the desk or hover over the phone. Icons floating in space or live tiles (or cubes! let’s go 3d!) could be strategically placed. I would love a virtual envelope icon to pop up through my desk and sit there like an object for notifications. Along those lines, notifications take on an all new potential as virtual objects that appear when attention is needed. Add cool animation and 3d and you’re living in the future.

Most pundits currently talk about the potential for specialized use case scenarios for HoloLens, and this may turn out to be the case at first. But if you look at HoloLens as basically multiple monitors unleashed from hardware, it begins to take on something much more–and immediately useful. Microsoft would need only make some manner of positioning applications ready for the launch to ‘pin’ your environment, then leverage universal apps to populate your workspace. Make the price reasonable and you could start using it tomorrow.

Just a thought…

It’s Time to Like Dell Again

I’ve always kind of had a soft spot in my heart for Dell. I went to the University of Texas at Austin at the same time Michael Dell was building PC’s in his dorm room. We used the ‘PC’s Limited’ PC’s at work where we needed ‘turbo’ machines–the souped up 286’s with an actual button on it called Turbo Mode that helped us chew threw text indexers and dBase reports (God I’m old). They were the 80’s version of what today would be called an enthusiast’s PC. They were successful and like all good tech companies went public. They slowed down, got safe, and started turning in their quarterly homework assignments to the financial world. Wall Street has a great way of destroying innovators in favor of marginal increases in growth over time.

This tiny box is a Core i5 Haswell with 8GB RAM and SSD. Full desktop replacement!

This tiny box is a Core i5 Haswell with 8GB RAM and SSD. Full desktop replacement!

Dell became the Volvo of the PC industry. Boxy, safe, mid to high pricing, reliable, but dull. They went public, became a huge PC vendor, ranking at the tops of the corporate charts. Still great, but always boring. Their servers were rock solid. Their technology sound and always on the short list for corporate purchases. But decidedly dull. Soulless. They were the epitome of the corporate beige box. Even their flirting with the gaming world with things like Alienware somehow sucked the life out of these designs.

And then something wonderful happened. Dell bought it’s soul back from Wall Street. They went private. It took control away from the quarter to quarter financial drones and got back in the tech business.

By going private and basically being accountable to no one but themselves and their customers, a strange thing happened. They became accountable to themselves and their customers. Their designs improved. Their service improved–I’ve had a couple of times recently to work with them and am constantly impressed. They put out innovative, new, tiny OptiPlex boxes with i5’s in them (it’s always fun telling someone, “no really, the whole computer is in there!”). They’ve made the successful Venue tablet lines (even that Android thing looks interesting and I don’t like Android). And the current darling of the tech world, the impressive XPS 13. It’s actually a cutting edge piece of beautiful technology. I’ve even noticed lately that Dell machines come with minimal, and actually useful preinstalled software (unlike Lenovo). Dell is reclaiming it’s role as a leader, innovator, and competitor.

All they had to do is get rid of the bloodsuckers from Wall Street. It makes you wonder what other companies could do if freed from the destructive force of the financial overlords. But right now, Dell is something to watch.