I am an unusual Tablet PC user, I know that.  I am totally dependent on taking ink notes in my work and why the Tablet PC is so critical for getting my work done.  In addition to the inking ability the other criteria that is vital […]

Mini_vs_fuji_2I am an unusual Tablet PC user, I know that.  I am totally dependent on taking ink notes in my work and why the Tablet PC is so critical for getting my work done.  In addition to the inking ability the other criteria that is vital to me is mobility and since Tablet PCs usually come in thinner and highly mobile forms they work well for me.  The Fujitsu P1620 I am using now is a highly mobile inking machine and I love it.  It makes my work better and easier and that’s worth a premium to me.  The recent introduction of ultra-portable notebooks like the HP Mini-Note have driven home to me how much a premium I paid for the Fujitsu and it’s got me thinking about that.  The HP Mini I am evaluating is is about the same size and weight as the Fujitsu and with the exception of a much slower processor and the lack of a touch screen is similarly configured.  That means that it’s roughly as mobile as the Fuji so the primary difference in functionality between the HP Mini and the Fujitsu P1620 is the Tablet PC bits.  Those bits are important to me as I mentioned but is it worth a 300% price premium?  Is it worth such a premium for you?  Let’s discuss that so read on.

My work being totally dependent on ink note-taking makes this question more moot for me than for most as i must have that capability.  But I speak to a lot of tablet owners who admit that they primarily use their convertible Tablet PC as a notebook and only rarely go into tablet mode.  Some of them admit they only use the tablet mode on flights where the work room in coach is very cramped and thus they go into tablet mode so they can work with their computer in those tight quarters.  That is not an issue for ultra-portable notebooks like the HP Mini so they likely wouldn’t need tablet mode for that.  These particular users could probably work just as easily without the tablet functionality so price premium becomes a big point for them.

When I was preparing for the review of the HP Mini and comparing the components and size of it with the Fujitsu P1620 the price premium between the two hit me in the face.  The price difference is so large that I admit I was shocked when I started thinking about it.  The Fujitsu cost me three times what the HP Mini with the similar configuration would cost me and that means that the tablet premium is huge in this case.  I am willing to pay a healthy premium for my required ink note-taking but what about most users?  I can’t believe that most would be willing to pay that kind of a premium for the ability to swivel the screen and work in slate mode.  Sure it’s nice but if it’s not really mandatory to get your work done you’re not likely to find it a good deal to pay that much extra for it.  Even I had to do a double-take at a >$1,000 premium and I need the capability. 

Now before you jump all over me I realize that some important components of the Fuji are much better than those of the HP Mini or the Asus EEE PC (9-inch model).  But having used the Mini as a capable mini-notebook computer I would have a hard time convincing myself that the cheaper components make a big enough difference to justify spending a ton of extra money to improve them with a similar device like the Fujitsu.  I realize that the technology to include a touch-screen that swivels around and provide a good inking experience is a premium and I have willingly paid that premium for years.  But for most people I question if that high premium, now that these portable notebooks are coming way down in price, is actually worth it.  If you can do what you do for hundreds less why shouldn’t you?  This topic is very interesting to me and will get even more apropos as these cheap laptops continue to be released and push the envelope.  Tablet premium- worth it or not?

  1. Very good question.

    I think for people outside the states – this is even more of an important question.

    Here (Australia), I can get an Eee PC for $450 – i’m considering one but am waiting for either the newer HP, the 9″ or the rumored Acer. I actually wanted a P1620 but in Australia they hover around the $4000 mark. This is about $3600 or so US.

    Tablets here are virtually non-existent.
    While I do like them, I just don’t use them enough to warrant the premium myself.

    Just for a bit of perspective too. I showed my non-geek friend who was actually looking for a 2nd laptop (!!) the Eee the other day.

    His first words were “That’s S***”… Then a day later I get a phone call from him asking “Where is the place I can get one cheapest?” – he thought about it and linux made sense, smaller footprint and lower system resources used. Most of his applications are online and all his media is on his 160GB ipod. As a companion PC the Eee makes wonderful sense for him.

    The tiny laptops are really gaining steam. People are realising they don’t need bohemoth 20KG portable desktops just to get things done. Particularly with periphery devices like mobile phones and portable media devices which take a bit of a load off what the computer is required to do in some circumstances.

  2. James… this is a very interesting topic you started. I’ve often wondered about this myself. I use a tablet, but only for note taking, and not as often as you do it seems. I find a tablet only really useful for the typical “I’m sitting down to a meeting for more than 30 minutes” scenario. Otherwise, if it’s a impromptu get together, I rarely get my computer to start up fast enough to avoid missing those first few crucial moments: back to pen and paper. Still, tablets are generally lighter than other laptops so I continue with them when traveling: like you, I use a Mac when at my desk.

    But I’ve gotten into photography lately and when I travel, I can see these mini-format computers coming into their own. I can live without the e-ink if necessary, it’s small, and with the HP, it has a large HD unlike the Asus to store photos on the run (hey, photosontherun!). I was thinking about the P1610 or P1620 because of this very reason, but with the HP coming in at 1/3 of the price, a small tablet for travel where business needs are not critical might just tip the scale for me. Certainly, the HP Mini and the Asus are not much more than a portable media viewer, and are a lot more flexible.

    Great topic James!

  3. Yes, for me the “tablet premium” your are speaking about worth it.
    The tablet pc is a fantastic tool once you tried it one time.

    But it is now possible to work with a TPC without spending a lot of money in it : my TPC is not my main work computer, but it is regularly an essential working tool for me.
    It is an “old” model, the specs are not “high end” (centrino 1.2Ghz + 1.5Go RAM + 80Go HD), but my TC1100 will never leave my office !

  4. James…

    I really see your P1620 and my X61T has a different class of machines than the HP Mini.

    While I agree that based on your video the Mini was acceptable from a processing power standpoint for email and other lighter load work I suspect that I would truly miss the Core2Duo processing power, battery life, and 7200RPM disk of my Thinkpad tablet.

    As for paying a premium price for tablet capabilities, I do hope that these mini-notebooks put continued downward pricing pressure on the entire marketplace. I also hope that vendors will utilize Intel’s ATOM CPU core and chipset platform to create low cost tablet and touch sensitive devices.

    I use my tablet in tablet mode all the time, including for presentation work. Using a wireless projector and my tablet make everyone gasp when I walk around room scribbling on the screen and moving things around in OneNote. I also love web surfing in tablet mode.

    For my vantagepoint, I am glad there is action and an increasing number of options in the sub $750 portable computer marketplace. But I also appreciate the differences between my machine and what the ASUS and the MINI are. My hope is that as a result of these developments my next full featured and high performance TABLET will cost $1000 – $1200 rather than $1700 – $2000.

  5. I think my purchase yesterday of the HP Mini Note is a good example of that premimum. I would much rather have the P1620. Althougth I’m not the note taker James is (thank goodness I don’t have all those meetings), I would like to become more Tablet PC orientated.

    But when I seriously weighed whether I would justify the cost of the P1620 by using it in the manner in which it was designed, the answer was no. I write as a second job, and maintain a few websites. For that, I need good keyboarding, not inking. (Although I love marking up manuscripts in ink and sending them back to authors – they always wonder how I did that electronically!)

    So, when it came down to crunch time, I looked at the checkbook, studied the specs, and compromised. I wanted the bigger keyboard and bigger hard drive, and gave up a little in the performance arena.

    These are the tough decisions.

  6. No wonder Tablet PCs remain a niche product. While the price gap for regular convertible Tablet PCs usually isn’t as large as the premium for the P1620, it’s still disheartening to see the disparity. We got new computers at work last year, and even though I went for about the cheapest option I could—a mid-range Gateway M285—my coworkers got better equipped notebooks for a few hundred less than my machine. A few hundred here and there adds up when you’re purchasing 10 or 20 machines. And when you expand that to large corporate IT—where there are hundreds or even thousands of computers—it’s easy to see why tablet adoption rates are so low except in vertical markets.

    Tablet PC manufacturers need to get the price difference closer to just the cost of the digitizer hardware and a slight markup for R&D. Then in order to justify the premium, they need to focus marketing on the real world benefits derived from the tablet functionality. The marketing needs to show users that the tablet functionality solves a problem they have. Early adopters like us will buy something just because it’s new and it’s cool, but it doesn’t work that way with mainstream users. Lenovo/IBM had an eye-catching commercial for the Thinkpad tablets, but it didn’t show any features of the hardware. Gateway tried with the marketing for the Convertible notebooks, but it was simulated content, not real world usage.

  7. Travis Carnahan Wednesday, April 9, 2008

    The other factor you didn’t mention is the ease of surfing the net with a tablet. There is not a better experience than sitting down to keep an eye on my kids and being able to still keep up to speed on my email, do work online, edit documents, and brainstorm (all on a good size screen without having it “standing up” between me and everything I need to see!) I agree (mostly) with Ozone about the TC1100; if Hp had kept it alive, I would have it instead of the new X61 that will be delivered in the next few days!

  8. At work, I currently have a desktop and a laptop. My next laptop was going to be thinner and lighter than my current one, but I am not so sure now. They recently decided that we can have either or which means I get a laptop only. Could I still go ultra portable?? If I have scads of ram and a decent processor (with 2 cores at least) I would be fine. I have at least a year until I have to decide things.

  9. Like you, I depend on ink and I have no problem with pure slates (my first tablet was a Motion m1300). I am willing to pay a premium for that and I have, choosing the OQO 02 over many lower priced UMPCs.

    I would note that, for me, portability is different than for you. I wanted something that could go in my pocket or (forgive my inner geek) hang on my belt.

    For the general market, though, I think you are right. Inking is a different paradigm for computer use and most people don’t gravitate towards it because they’ve always used a keyboard and they have a comfort level with it.

    That said, I would see the low price notebooks competing more against the high price notebooks. Except for people who want a desktop replacement, low price notebooks can serve as their only notebook.

    I would see the UMPC market becoming even more of a niche with most UMPCs being inkable. The non-inkable UMPCs will lose out to either the smaller MIDs or the more capable low price notebooks.

    Eventually, though, as the iTouch generation grows up, I think that inking will come back into the fore. They will be used to working without a real keyboard and will realize the benefits of handwriting recognition versus the virtual keyboard.

  10. James, when you consider the fact that slates are at a similar or higher premium, I don’t think you need to say it’s because of the rotating screen on convertibles. It’s simply a premium for having the inking capabilities.

    I have to wonder if some of that premium isn’t artificial mark-up myself. Does it really cost 3 times the price just to have that touch screen?

    If it is justified, then it’s a real “Wow!” moment.


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