Life’s too short for crap

I may be late to the party, but I just couldn’t resist and ordered an iPad 2 (16GB, 3G).

It’s a strange situation because I am already an Android user these days for the phone side and really appreciate the freedom (and costs!) that come with it despite Androids downsides (my main criticism is that there are no vouchers available for the Android app market as opposed to the iTunes store => +1.85% on each app purchase while using my EU credit card).

My beloved HP tc4400, the iPad2 on iOS5 and a FlyTouch 3 Android 2.2 tablet that still lacks a PDF reader because it’s already on auction. The FlyTouch btw also has a 1024×600 screen – as opposed to the other two that offer a 1024×768 screen resolution. Good for movies, bad for PDFs.

No, there’s much more to an iPad, obviously, and probably also more than enough reasons why over 29 million (!) iPads have already been sold till now. A “tablet revolution”? No, but a tablet revolution based on the iPad – that’s for sure.

I am used to buying second hand hardware and this time I am glad I had found a way to finance this purchase (via a mobile phone contract = subsidized hardware) and with the sudden loss of a dear family member earlier this year, I also realized that life is indeed too short for crappy products. Why should I waste time with stupid hardware if instead I can also go for the real thing?

This very emotional reason probably is the most honest excuse for this purchase, but you know what? Clicking that “buy” button felt damn good. Whatever they say about Apple products and their fanboyz – it’s true, it’s a *feel-good-world*.

So why should I still blog about this purchase if 29 million out there have already made this buying decision? Because I have a smart list that matters to me. Here’s my TOP5 reasons for the purchase:

After watching this documentary earlier last month about former Microsoft employees, it eventually occurred to me that most MS products just lack passion .

This is exactly what I like the most about these portable Apple products: a meticulous CEO that demoed his products and also looked at the smallest details.

Or Linux developers who create stuff out of passion. Not because they have to, but because they want to. That alone is a totally different approach and a sign of quality to me.

I am yet to see that on MS products. And I am a Win7 user most of the time, along with this crap called Outlook 2007 (HTML rendering, bollocks!).

And it’s not just the software you can buy. Just yesterday I read through this publication from Microsoft Research on the need for meta data to be implemented in future generations of filesystems. Very valid points and I understand that MS Resarch are doing good work, BUT! – again – the paper was much longer than necessary. So much blablabla and yet the important stuff could have been said on one single page. This out-of-focus-approach is so typical of MS, I think. As a customer and user of MS products, I don’t feel any passion in their products and meanwhile also believe that many lines of code on their OS & apps are just random data.

Hence: any company that shows a passion with their products is highly appreciated. A passion to deliver good quality.

I think the iPad is the best reading device. Why? Because I can not display most of my PDFs on a 7″ eInk display without constantly zooming in and out. So as long as eInk readers aren’t running a bit faster for this purpose, the iPad is the better alternative to me at the moment although I am sure we’ll soon see more 7″ devices.

The Amazon tablet(s) would have been an interesting alternative to me, but their 7″ Fire tablet isn’t even available here! In my opinion as a customer, if you can’t launch/ship global, then don’t even launch it for a single country. You can do that for Japan, maybe, but not for the US that are so connected with the rest of the world.

There are SO MANY apps available for the iPad. In fact, most publishing houses in Europe ONLY offer iPad apps for their print products. No Android app, only iOS. Sad, but still the bitter reality. Because I’d also be happy with a competitve (and available) Android tablet.

Talking of Android tablets, my friend Dave recently got an Asus eeePad Transformer TF101 and – as a pilot for an international airline – tried to pick the better alternative. Unfortunately, his tablet already broke after only two month and his biggest complain was the lousy App situation for Android Honeycomb (as compared to the iPad, of course, which is hard to beat). Dave – go and get your iPad. Now!

Adrian – I missed my chance to get an HP TouchPad for 99 EUR. I reckon that it would have been an interesting PDF reader and surfing device for me.

Battery runtime on the iPad is just totally crazy. It’s long enough to get me through a day at a BarCamp and that’s all that matters to me.

Also, 29 million customers enable a fabulous aftermarket. You’ll find plenty and cheap chargers as well as other accessorries on eBay, on FocalPrice and so on.

I remember when Eric told me about his daily trips to the office through Nairobi traffic and mentioned how the iPad actually is the solution to his mobile office.

Just look at how many of us laughed about the iPad and its limited capabilites back when the iPad1 was launched. And now we are even using it to have a mobile office and a quick device for that daily “lemme google that”-moment.

Sure, the iPad2 is heavy and we’ll probably all complain about the size once there are more 7″ readers/tablets, but after my previous experience with a 8.9″ and a 10.1″ netbook, I know for sure that 12″-14″ is the best laptop size for me and that this 10″ tablet does it for me atm.

HP tc4400 vs. Apple iPad 2
(the HP tc4400 tablet pc also serves as my backup machine)


I am not yet ready to fully convert to the Apple world (+ Ubuntu is cheaper anyways :-), but this lack of passion on MS products certainly is a very valid reason for me. It’s also kind of ironic that Bill Gates himself is very passionate about his philanthropic foundation for this passion has already enabled so much good work (the BMGF are imo doing a very good job by financing smaller projects). I wish some of this passion could also reflect back on Microsoft and that their future tablets with Windows 8+ will provide a suitable alternative. But atm, I highly doubt that.

the tablet alternative

I have about 20 GB of water & sanitation (watsan)-related publications on my computer. Most of them are in PDFormat, and most of them I’ve just opened once and then archived out-of-sight. With some I’ve also only read the abstract (if available) because relevance is important and I feel there are a lot of policy blabla papers out there that don’t get me anywhere. Still, I actually need to read them.

I work from my home office and don’t have any IT department I can call when I have an IT problem. Which means I have to have a backup solution in place for when there’s a problem. Like a 3G modem when the cable modem is on holiday. Or a second computer, ready to be used in combination with my 22″ TFT and external keyboard + mouse combination.

In the past, I’ve used an Asus eeePC 1000HGo (1000HG with a 3.5G modem) netbook ex 2008 (which I’ve blogged about here) for this task and liked this litte machine:


It’s a very nice netbook with the typical 10.x” setup, matte display, 160 GB HDD, 2 GB RAM, 1.3mpx webcam and a 3.5G Huawei modem (which surprisingly works well and out-of-the-box with Linux). The best part about these eeePC netbooks certainly is the tiny power supply. I don’t like the bulky cords (the cords!) that come with 90W power supplies. Eh.

I’ve also been using it as a mobile DVB-T receiver (TV) and while travelling + on holiday. My other, main machine is an HP EliteBook 6930p on a docking station, so I am “mobile computers” only. This eeePC also has a button to switch screen resolutions within Windows between the default 1024x600px to 1024×768 (compressed view) and 800×600. That’s something very handy when you’re dealing with apps that need more than 600px vertical height.

The problem

Now, I’ve been wondering how people actually read all these PDF publications? Do they print it out? You know, some of these publications are well over 100+ pages, also with a lot of graphics. And then I just can’t see myself reading these documents on my main computer. My eyes already hurt and balancing a laptop on your…well…lap… isn’t a long-term solution.

Yes, tablets. The Apple iPad or modern Android Honeycomb tablets. Both still kinda expensive and also limited, but very good in what they do. I am actually waiting for Amazon to launch their 7″ Android tablet later on this year. And eBook Readers? I’ve thought about buying an Amazon Kindle (also because it’s affordable), but a) eBooks in Germany are often as expensive as the printed version and b) the current eBook Reader is too small for displaying readable PDFs in vertical mode (I think). The Kindle DX would have been an option, yes.

I also did this little survey via FB and some of my friends voted as followed:


Most of my FB friends, it seems, are using their notebook/laptop to read these PDFs. Also, eBook readers seem to be very popular. I also use an eBook Reader / PDF reflow tool like GoodReader (on iOS) or ezPDFReader (on Android) to read PDFs directly on the phone. But even though my Motorola Defy mobile phone has a very nice screen resolution, trying to read longer text on a small device is just an interim solution.

The solution
I’ve often been dreaming about using an IBM ThinkPad X4* or X6*. Fellow blogger Steve had at one point in the past already recommended HP tablets to me and also is an avid user of an X61s. I like ThinkPads for two reasons:

a) you can set the recharge level of the battery and leave it on the machine, so it won’t overcharge. Not possible with HP laptops.

b) Fan intake is at the side of the laptop body, not underneath. It’s not that they are cooler than those who suck in air at the bottom, but it’s a matter of overheating because most ppl will keep the laptop on a table or, even worse, balance it on their lap, so the intake may be covered. ThinkPads are smarter in this regard.

The other – important – fact to mention is that I realized how crazy this miniature thing actually is. I am tall and don’t want to balance a small 10.1″ netbook on my lap. Makes me look even taller and there’s no need to use a small machine when I can also be a bit happier with a 12″ device. In fact, I think my next main machine should be a ~ 13″ device. Perfect size, imo.

So I sold my netbook and bought this HP Compaq TC4400 instead. It’s a 12.1″ XGA tablet notebook with a Dual Core CPU (albeit 32bit), 2GB of RAM and some old-fashioned stylus thing. It’s my first tablet, my first Wacom pen tablet (my last + cheap drawing tablet was from 1999 and never really worked) and I am very curious how I will use it. Also, it was cheap. 97 EUR + a used 250 GB HDD + another keyboard with EU-layout (US-keyboard misses one key) + new battery = about 160 EUR. Not bad, given that I received a similar amount for the sold netbook :-)


Buying 2nd-hand / refurbished items sometimes is like gambling – you never know what you’ll end up with. Of course with a dealer you can return the item (12 month in Germany!), but I didn’t want to return anything and actually enjoy fixing stuff myself. I had to glue a broken display bezel, but to my surprise the rest was very much ok as the vent (often reason for overheating) had already been cleaned by the previous owner.




Note : it’s recommended to refasten all screws on a computer, even the internal ones because the “grade B”-rating that made this one cheaper was upgraded to “grade A” after disassembling it, cleaning all parts with isopropyl alcohol and then reassembling it again.

I am currently running both Win 7 and LinuxMint LXDE on this tc4400 and already love it. Sure, it’s a pen-controlled tablet with a keyboard pre iPad era, but with Win7 a lot of cool stuff is already supported out-of-the-box. Battery runtime seems to be 3.5h (and the battery is really small). I also like it because:

  • It’s compatible with both HP docking stations in our home office (HP nx8220 and HP Elitebook 6930p).
  • Caps lock keys suck and unfortunately there’s no keyboard light / illuminated keyboard available. What it does have, though, are yellow led lights next to the key so you’ll instantly know if you’ve activated the caps lock key. Smart design, imo.
  • I dig the XGA screen resolution. Yes, it’s only 1024×768, but you know what? My 14.1″ Elitebook is WXGA+ 1440×990 which results in about 128 dpi. 128 dpi is tiny! My eyes hurt. Also, it does not have an LED screen (hey, the machine was cheap and is from 2006!), but it has good viewing angles. My main machine does not have such good vertical viewing angles.

That next thing I will need to figure out is why the touchpen (PL800A) has to be so expensive as a spare part (update: i found this one via eBay). The pen has a circuit inside and while drawing a sample picture on my tc4400 today, I often acidentally clicked on the right-mouse-button of the pen. Maybe it’s just me but I’d also like to try out some alternatives here. Any recommendations?


And the best part? It’s both a laptop and a reader. Kudos to Steve for recommending this one to me!

I am very curious how I will make use of this (cheaper) alternative to the netbook and how or if I will use it as a reader for the many PDFs waiting to be read. After all, I can still sell it if it doesn’t work out for me and my needs. But going by other reviews online, especially by what HP tc4xxx owners have said about their tablets, this one seems to be one of the best tablets out there.