Tablet PC- what’s that premium worth?

53 Comments

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?

53 Comments

Mike Cane

Asus could rewrite the rules for tablet computing too.

Take the EeePC …

1) Take the keyboard off where it is now

2) Put the screen where the keyboard is (make it a touchscreen)

3) Put keyboard where screen was, make it detachable.

In other words, the screen sits over the components, unlike other tablet PCs out there.

It seems horribly backward, but with a keyboard that is simply a screen cover and completely detaches (NO hinge), there’s no real radical engineering being done to turn it into a tablet. No need for a fancy swivel hinge ala the Fujitsu!

Now that Palm Rejection tech Fuji uses — is that hardware or software? I wonder if Asus could even mimic that to prevent vectoring?

Asus TPC has a certain ring to it, no?

Kevin C. Tofel

Almost forgot: take a look any of James’s ink posts here on the site. I can barely read ’em but Windows has no problem interpreting his notes. ;)

Kevin C. Tofel

Jan, I won’t address of all of your scenarios, but a few quick thoughts come to mind. If you’re using the Tablet PC as a tool, you’ll eventually have the tool in an optimal state for use. Meaning: you’ll likely have it on or in Sleep mode when you know you’ll be ready for note-taking. Resuming from Sleep should take five seconds or less.

One thing you didn’t mention, but I think is a VERY valid use-case is: finding notes you’ve written previously. Using OneNote (as an example), your handwritten notes are indexed and searchable without any action on your part. You don’t need to “convert” your handwriting to text and everything is highly searchable. Not so with paper notes, which you then “convert” to text by re-typing.

I’m not trying to convince you either way, I’m simply adding more info to your decision making process. I highly recommend spending some time with a Tablet PC; ideally for a few days. I know that ALLTP.com used to offer 2-day demo deals; you have to pay the for the Tablet in advance, but you can return it within 2 days. Just a thought.

Jan

Actually, I am trying to choose between HP Mini and a tablet pc (Fujitsu P1620 or OQO+folding keyboard). Size-wise I don’t want anything bigger than HP Mini. I’ve never used a TPC but I’m tempted, so I’ll appreciate if other people can share their specific usage scenarios.

1. Taking AD HOC notes like phone numbers, brainstorming etc.

Do you really prefer taking notes on the computer to jotting on a piece of paper? For now I use pen-and-paper and later, usually at the end of the day, I copy (type in) all the important information from my scrapbook to the computer (spreadsheets, SuperMemo, MindManager, Addressbook, or simply text files). I can start using a normal pen in no time while before starting inking I’d need to make sure the computer is on, resume it if it’s not, start OneNote, open the file, switch to the appropriate page, is it worth it? It often makes me smile when I see people trying to save my phone number in their PDA, going through the menus, using a stylus in the handwriting recognition mode, correcting mistakes – it often takes ages.

2. RESEARCH notes:

* speed: is your inking really faster than touch typing? (I can type pretty fast)

* readability: I assume the handwriting recognition technology is not very useful unless you ink slowly and very carefully. I take quite a lot of research notes on paper and then copy the contents by typing in a wordprocessor. This takes quite a lot of time but ‘copying’ becomes automatically some sort of ‘revising’ the material so in result I memorize/understand it better. My typed notes are also 100% readable which is not always true about my handwritten notes – it takes me sometimes a while to decipher what I wrote a long time ago.

Several years back I bought C-pen, a portable pen scanner, to scan quotes from books and it worked fine but after using it for a while I realised that each time I scanned a line of text I kept checking on the bult-in lcd whether the text was recongised correctly. It slowed my reading down significantly. And then I needed to transfer files from the scanner to the computer and correct mistakes. I’ve stopped using the scanner although it works as advertised. New technologies are simply not always worth the hassle.

3. Reading E-BOOKS:

It is tempting to use a TPC in the slate mode as an ebook reader, especially in a cramped compartment.

4. MINDMAPS
I think I might use inking in mind maps although I’m not sure if there’s any real advantage here. I’m afraid the readability of my maps would suffer.

5. SUPERMEMO
Memory-aid software. It must be great to use Supermemo in the slate mode for daily repetitions. I could use it anywhere – even while walking, standing in a queue. I can see the advantage of the slate mode here.

6. WEB browsing
I don’t think I’d want to surf the web in the slate mode. I copy-and-paste and comment on what I’m reading on the regular basis. I rarely use a mouse when browsing the web, I have tons of keyboard shortcuts.

7. DRAWING
I don’t draw much. If I do, I can always scan the drawing. I understand it might be great for architects, designers, artists – but not for me.

Are there any other usage scenarios that I might adopt?

Jan

Erik

If it’s a tablet you’re after, then yes, it’s worth the premium – because that’s the price point that it’s selling at and it hasn’t been discontinued / dismissed as a product line.

I’m a tablet user (tc4400) and often mobile. However, my true mobility writing / notetaking isn’t with my tablet, rather, it’s with my current “mini”… an old MobilePro 900C. I still find a tablet not “mobile enough” for my needs (I want it handy and unobtrusive throughout the day). I’ve been awaiting a successor for light, portable, and usable touch-typing solutions in a small form factor, and the HP mini just might be it (I ordered one yesterday).

I can’t tell you the number of times people have cooed at my humble MobilePro at use in public (car wash, theater, restaturant, airport, etc.). There’s simply a large number of people desiring something like it for document creation, e-mail, and internet surfing.

Nevertheless, I long for the “instant on” of my MobilePro and it’s long battery life in newer products. I think the EEEs, Minis, et al will largely crush >any< potential of an embedded OS successor to the CE devices of yesterday. SSDs bridge and may eventually shorten the gap considerably on these fronts (boot time and battery life) between highly mobile solutions and their desktop/laptop counterparts.

nomo

Analogy: An average consumer buying a small sedan will probably choose a $16k Toyota Corolla over a $40k BMW 335i.

nomo

James wrote: “The fact is there is a big premium over these low-cost notebooks coming out now and the average consumer has to do much more soul-searching to decide if they should pay the premium than they used to.”

In my opinion an average consumer will have no trouble deciding between a $500-$750 Mini-Note and a $2000+ ultra-portable. There might be some soul searching if a Sony TZ or Fujitsu P7/P8/P16 were available for $1000-$1200, but even then only a portion of the mass market would be interested. I’ve read some comments that the HP Mini is too expensive!

Jon M

You know its tough to really weigh in whether you can make a bad or a good choice between your Fujitsu or the HP Mini. I’ll tell you the truth the HP Mini really sways me. I use the keyboard more than anything but enjoy tablet functions as well. I own a Fujitsu U810 and a Samsung Q1 Celeron, and the tablet functions are great on both of them, but what really attracts me to them is the size. The serendipitous thing about those 2 devices is that their price was modest, and since tablet/tablet functionality is secondary, it was hard to me to spend more on other units/configurations. Besides, their reviews were very good as well and that made me take the plunge. Size matters to me very much as it does you, and price is not a concern. I do see the price premium you pay for your Fujitsu over the HP Mini, but just like me, price is no concern for a machine that feels good and works good. What you have to think is which machine do you find yourself reaching towards and picking up and using the most? I admit even with my Fuji and Sammy I still revert to my Toshiba Libretto U105, it was and still is the perfect sized mini laptop that was ever made, and it was $2299.99 when I bought it; meaning price was no concern. Now comes the dillemma, the HP Mini is not mini compared to my Toshiba Libretto, but …. now I am looking at the fact that the Libretto is getting old, 1 GB of RAM, can barely run Vista Basic; but its hard to shelve because IT WORKS SO WELL (with XP). Its speedier than the Fujitsu U810 & Samsung Q1 and even my ThinkPad X41 (sad but true). Now against all my instincts, the HP Mini looks good but price … tells me otherwise … the only reason I like it so much is the ExpressCard slot and its size (in that order). I would be willing to pay more for one, that is no issue but I am scared of the VIA processor, and don’t know enough about the Intel Atom. So the answer is that the premium is worth it if it really qualifies itself in the features, workmanship, ergonomics, and usability to take you to the next level of computing/experience you require.

Chip

Very good points. I use a convertible, but use in tablet mode 75% of the time–mainly for notes or research. I have no use for a touch screen (although it is fun to watch my two year old niece write with her finger–and pull her finger back to look at it to see where the ink is coming from:-)).
While I have paid more, I feel up to $400 premium is a fair price to add tablet functionality.

In priority of need:
*long battery life
*Instant on (I can still dream)
*Bright display
*Processor speed is not that important–need to use OneNote, email, web browser, word-processing and IM client.
Touch screen on a tablet doesn’t even register on my radar. My current tablet has that capability and I turned it off.

mw65719

James,
I agree that TPCs are quite pricy if compared to the Eee PC or the slightly newer HP.
And to add insult to injury, there are actually comparable devices with a touchscreen (NOT an active digitizer) available in the market at a rather small premium (various Cloudbook variants like the Belinea S-Book for example). Obviously, you are not going to use a passive touchscreen for heavy inking like you are doing and an active digitizer might allow for a slightly higher premium.
And while I buy into the “lower market volumne” argument somewhat, I also believe manufacturers just view TPCs as premium products that can be sold at a higher margin.

However, let me voice another opinion on the Eee PC and its very low end / low price brethren:
Many people just buy them because they are soooo cheap without thinking mich about it (some other posters also mentioned this). I believe that a large bunch of buyers will rather quickly realize that what they bought does not really meet their needs. The excietement about the larger screen (8.9″) models seems to support this. So they will buy larger notebooks (and some models from dell and other manufacturers are available for roundabout $800) and the cheap, low spec devices will end up gathering dust (or potentially really as kids’ toys).

Jelster

You seem a little eager to throw your premium money away. :)

Wacom digitizers for the PC run at about $100 on Newegg, $40 for a different name. Not sure on the technicalities of screen vs tablet but it sure isn’t $900 difference.

The premium, if you take the P1620 vs HP-Mini is (ballpark) 50% component choice and 50% market pricing. Not to be branded a parrot but the U810 does pretty much everything we’d expect from a UMPC/Notepad for $1000, if it had a bigger screen and keyboard, and shaved off a few hundred bucks by utilising the additional space it’d stomp the HP-Mini into the ground.

None of this is unachievable. Indeed we can see that the 8.9″ screens are not adding a huge cost to the existing systems so it isn’t like we’re reliant on some technology price drop to make it a reality.

VAZT

At work, a great presentation I saw a few years ago demonstrated (PowerPoint slides) what the speaker paid for computers over the years, and their specs. The point: every couple of years he spent a little over $2,000, and easily doubled speeds and memory sizes every 4 or 5 years.

The point: these ASUS/HP netbooks (would someone tell me what to call these things) are closer competitors to BlackBerrys and iPhones, I’d suggest. No one is taking about them as full computer replacements, merely as extensions of a home PC.

Tablets are an entirely different animal. You are facing a $1,000 price premium for a touch-capable inking interface. Shop for a Wacom – cheapest pen surface accessory for my PC? $1,000.

I want to see what Apple aps will roll out for the iPhone. There is a clear call for some kind of doodling or inking ap for the iPhone. But no one is going to consider inking by finger on a 480×320 screen a replacement for pen inking on 1100×800 (or so) pixels worth of 9″ screen.

Form completion, OneNote taking, drawing: that’s what the tablet premium is for. Web surfing portability has been around for cheap for years. But in work or classroom settings where inking silently on a decent sized surface is needed, the tablet premium of $1,000 makes sense.

What I’m truly curious to see is: iPhone 3rd party applications allowing finger inking -AND- 3rd party applications and hardware allowing iPhone to use BlueTooth folding full sized keyboards. That comes, and any tablet just got threatened by a more portable (iPhone) $400 device.

Terry Gho

I have thought about the whole idea of tablet and how much had it assist me in my line of work. I work for a mining company and we do sell mining equipment. Where the ink helps tremendously is when I mark up the drawings for approval. I am primarily involved with sales so I don’t do a great deal of inking. However it is still fairly regular and assist me in taking notes everywhere.

On a personal level, unfortunately I have yet to see the benefits of inking. But it is nice to have flexibility. If I was in a different sector, i.e. not engineering – it may be of little use to me.

Just to correct Mr. Crash from the first post – I am too from Australia and the P1620 is not $4,000 here. We do not have the flexibility of configuring our own P1620 hardware – so all vendors only sell the top model. They range from AUD 2,400 to 2,950. So we are almost as competitive as the prices in the continental US.

nomo

My point is that the P1610 is discontinued and discounted, and therefore not a completely fair comparison — even if it’s the best value. ;-)

medah4rick

nomo, my p1610 was bought from the fujitsu store on ebay. it’s brand new not a refurbished unit.

Jelster

Nate,

Agreed and it’s a primary reason why I’ve not sunk cash into a U810 but would love to see the design expanded to a larger screen and keyboard.

However had the U810 released at $400-500 I think the keyboard size issues would have been less important or even perceived as a bonus inclusion. Hell at that price point a $100 BT keyboard with stand for the U810 would have been a great compromise.

nomo

medah4rick: I did the same and for me that was the best value proposition. The issue is that our P1610s aren’t new — they are discontinued and heavily discounted. What price would a P1610 be if 350,000 more customers wanted to place orders?

medah4rick

i got my p1610 on ebay for $810 brand new. what’s a hp mini? hahaha

nomo

Asus has an entry-level product; HP is going after the education market; Fujitsu is targeting corporate applications. Many of us either don’t fit into these categories or aren’t willing to pay for everything we want. Either way, we live with compromise. But as BJNokav points out, perhaps a better question to ask is, “What price would you pay for a product that exactly meets your needs?” If it isn’t very much, you’ll probably have to live with compromise for a while longer.

Tony

Ok Pam, I love the “dagnabit”! Thanks for the smile that gave me! And great point.

Nate,
I think we are close to agreement. Were you say cost is more important than marketing, I believe they both matter in equal weight, but I’m an EX salesperson, so I maybe a tad biased. ;-)

Ultimately, I think we all agree that “ultra portable laptops”, “UMPC”, “tablets and convertibles” and “conventional laptops”, regards of size are of value in the marketplace (Hmm, remember when a laptop was a laptop was a laptop! Wow how times have changed since 1992 when I worked at CompUSA!).

The problem I think comes to how they are all being priced and marketed. Or maybe better stated, how they can be priced and marketed better.

Anyway, excellent conversation all!

BJNokav

Convertible Tablet PCs demand a price premium over regular notebooks.

Slate Tablet PCs demand a price premium over Convertible Tablet PCs.

Yet, ask a regular notebook user to describe his/her notebook, and you’ll be hearing a fish describe water. Ask a pure Slate Tablet PC owner to describe his/her Slate, and you’ll be hearing a fish describe touching the face of God with his/her little Wacom pen.

Digital Typewriter: $500-$2000
Digital Pen and Paper: $2000-$4000
Touching the face of God with your little Wacom pen: Priceless

Nate

Jelster,

I’d agree, except that the u810 doesn’t have a keyboard that you can touch type on.

One of the really appealing things about the Eee is that the keyboard is about as small as it can get, while remaining usable.

I’ve considered the u810, but that keyboard is just too small to be usable.

Jelster

Not to derail this but I think the UMPC market is not taking off because it never lived up to being the cheap alternative to a laptop. The designs are largely alien in concept and at best mimic the Smartphones that people can pick up for a few hundred bucks.

EEE won through because of a common stylish design, cheap price and ZERO competition. It’s going to be interesting to see how Asus compete’s now they’re not the only kid on the block.

Basically I think a $400-500 U810 would have blown away the EEE. $600-700 U810 (with 8 inch screen and other upgrades) would have sealed a lot of other business. They can certainly do the hardware at that cost so it just a matter of convincing the mfrs to make the devices.

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