This week in Mobile News Manor #10: Take 2 tablets

Summary:This is a peek into a technology writer’s home office, aka Mobile News Manor, discussing gadgets, apps, best practices using same, and ebooks. This week two tablets dominated.

One of the primary benefits of being a technology writer is the ability to work in my home office, aka Mobile News Manor (MNM). It is a bustling place, with evaluation gadgets constantly arriving and going back to the vendors. As part of my daily work I spend a fair bit of time testing these gadgets for review, and also looking at new apps for various platforms to streamline my work methods.

This column is my look back each week to share pertinent experiences that I believe you might find useful. There is no telling what you might find in this column, but you’ll definitely get a feel for what it is like testing gadgets for a living. Welcome to the Manor.

Gadgetry of the week

Tablets are the flavor of the month in the mobile world, and this week two of them have grabbed a lot of my time. The TEGA v2 is one of the first of the new breed of touch slates running Windows 7 to hit the market, and I finally got around to writing a review of it. I like the v2, but find the iPad-like form factor to be a strange home for the Windows OS. It has its good points and bad points, and is a good option to consider for those who need both a tablet form and a full Windows system.

Top: Motorola XOOM Bottom: TEGA v2

Top: Motorola XOOM Bottom: TEGA v2

The Motorola XOOM is still getting a lot of my attention this week, and I have very mixed feelings about the first tablet to run the Android Honeycomb OS for tablets. The XOOM is growing on me the longer I use it, as I find the hardware to be very good. It is apparent that Google and Motorola rushed the XOOM to market, as it is not quite as solid as it should be. It was probably released early to get it in the hands of developers, to seed the market with apps written for the new OS. Let's hope they get things going quickly, as it needs both work on the OS and lots of apps optimized for the tablet form.

On the notebook front the ThinkPad X220 has become my mobile computer of choice. The fantastic keyboard coupled with stellar battery life makes the X220 a mobile worker's dream machine. The 6-cell battery on the X220 adds no bulk to the ultra-portable, yet provides a solid 7+ hours of battery life. This can be augmented to over 15 hours by attaching the slice battery option to the bottom of the notebook, which adds maybe a pound to the package and a little thickness. The combo makes for the perfect traveling laptop, able to handle even the longest international flights. I love this notebook.

For those who find the slice battery to be overkill, the X220 is available with a 9-cell battery. This should provide a solid 10 hours of battery life without needing the slice battery option. It probably sticks out more than the 6-cell battery, but could be worth it for those wanting the most battery life with the smallest package possible.

AT&T is sending me an Atrix 4G with the innovative laptop dock, but it hasn't arrived in the Manor yet. I am looking forward to testing this unique approach to use the superphone as the core module for the small laptop dock.

The only device that was returned to the vendor this week was the Lenovo IdeaPad U260. This is Lenovo's thinnest and lightest notebook yet, and I have enjoyed testing it. The thin package results in battery life that is not very good, so the form has a toll on function.

App of the week, Swiping and Ebooks »

App of the week

I am always looking for good apps for the devices I use, and the app of the week is a Windows 7 desktop gadget. Desktop gadgets are those widgets in Windows 7, such as battery gauges and clocks, that are placed on the desktop to provide a convenient source of information and utility. Most of them are free and downloaded from the Microsoft repository for such gadgets.

The time spent with the TEGA v2 had me looking for a convenient way to launch oft-used programs by touch. The Windows interface is not quite optimal for touch operation, especially scrolling through the Start Menu to find the program of interest. That's where the App Launcher desktop gadget comes into play.

Once installed on the desktop, the App Launcher is a simple repository for programs via a little windows that sits on the desktop. This window can be dragged to the preferred position on the screen, which is important on tablets like the v2 which can be used in either portrait or landscape orientation.

Getting programs into the launcher is a simple drag-and-drop operation in the settings box. Any program can be placed in the box for easy access, and some system functions like the Control Panel can be placed in the launcher too. Once configured with the desired programs. the App Launcher sits on the desktop with all apps a simple tap away. This is so convenient on a touch tablet that it is highly recommended. Thanks to TechRepublic for pointing me to App Launcher. Check out the other gadgets in their recommended list.

Ebooks of the week

Two ebooks have gotten my attention this week, both a departure from my normal leisure reading material. The Killing Room by John Manning is a tale about a curse on a wealthy family spanning decades, and a former FBI agent's attempt to determine the source of the curse. It's not a great novel, but I found it entertaining to read.

The other book I am reading this week is fascinating, as it is a collection of true stories from the Civil War that gives a real view of that horrible war. Best Little Stories from the Civil War: More than 100 true stories is the work of journalist Kelly C. Brian. Brian researched the war and uncovered real stories that stand alone, involving both famous personas from history and unknown real people, and he tells the stories in a most pleasing manner. The stories collected by Brian together form a very unique picture of the entire Civil War, and I am thoroughly enjoying it.

This book is a treasure as it is currently available from Amazon for the Kindle for free. I make it a habit to regularly check the Top 100 Free Kindle book list, and often find real jewels. These are promotions by Amazon and the publisher to expose new readers to these author's works, and are a tremendous value for prolific readers. The promotions work, too, as I often discover new authors and end up buying other books in the store.

Errata

The time I spent with the ThinkPad this week got me thinking a lot about keyboards. They are important to my work, and good keyboards are real treasures. Thinking about keyboards led me down memory lane, remembering my early school days and how important it turned out to be that I learned to touch type in school.

They called it "typing" then, and I still vividly remember how much I hated the repetitive nature of that course. Like many things of this nature, the course was well worth the pain it dealt out every day. My own kids have all gone through the same course at school, although it's more aptly called "keyboarding" now. They have hated the course just as much as I did, but duly slog through it.

This has me wondering what will typing class in the future be like if tablets invade the classroom. With onscreen keyboards replacing physical QWERTY keyboards in this scenario, how will that class work and what will it be called? I don't think the school system will want a "swiping" course on the books.

That's a wrap

I hope you enjoyed this recap of the week in Mobile News Manor. I get a lot of feedback from readers who appreciate this form of sharing my work week. I believe it is unique in the tech world and it resonates with readers who contact me about it. If there is anything you feel would make it more valuable to you each week, leave me a comment and I'll consider it. I hope most of you will find something useful to take away from this column.

Topics: Tablets, Hardware, IT Employment, Laptops, Legal, Mobility

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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