Thursday, May 23, 2013

In with the old, out with the new

I've been tinkering with Tablet PC's lately.

What's a Tablet PC, you ask? I'm talking about a fully functional laptop computer that has a touch screen interface on top of the traditional keyboard and trackpad, and one that folds or flips flat so the user can write on the screen as if it was a notepad.

My old tablet is an HP Elitebook 2730p. I've been using it for years as my primary computing device. In my office, it spends most of its time docked, so I get a full size keyboard and monitor. But I also regularly used it for writing papers, teaching classes, presenting at conferences, creating mathcasts, and taking notes during meetings. It came home from work in my backpack every evening and returned with me every morning. Once, during the summer, I even left it on top of my car on my way to work. We made it about halfway there before it caught the wind at 45mph, did a tumbling backflip off the roof of my vehicle, and bellyflopped onto the asphalt behind me. I hit the brakes and managed to retrieve it before anyone ran it over -- and would you believe it, the thing booted right up!

Suffice it to say, I love my HP Elitebook. But its getting old and slow. I'll need a new one soon.

So I'm testing out a contender: the Dell XPS 12 Convertible Ultrabook, pictured above. I decided to see how it would compare with my old HP Elitebook for creating Mathcasts.

Mathcast is shorthand for Mathematics Podcast, which is really just a short movie about a mathematical concept or task, typically with digital inking combined with narration. Think Kahn Academy. Or better yet, check out the growing number of YouTube Channels (like the GVSU Math Department's YouTube Channel) devoted to hosting instructor-created Mathcasts. For me, the ability to quickly and easily create Mathcasts for my students is one of the main benefits of having a Tablet PC instead of a traditional laptop. A closely related element is the ability to mark up electronic copies of student work on the fly: no more bulky portfolio binders and lost paper clips. Just download and go.

So how does the new Dell XPS stack up against my old HP Elitebook? Not well, I'm afraid. Here's a pair of screencasts I created to illustrate the difference. To set the mood, you may want to listen to a bit of "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" first.

HP Elitebook 2730p                                          Dell Ultrabook XPS 12
Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.  
In both cases, I was using the inking tools built into Microsoft Word (2007 on the HP Elitebook, 2013 on the Dell Ultrabook). As is evident from the video, the Dell XPS 12's touchscreen just doesn't have the precision to make a decent Mathcast.

For a more targeted example, here's a Mathcast on Factoring Quadratics that I made using the HP Elitebook.
Nice, right? And here's my attempt to replicate that Mathcast using the Dell XPS 12 Convertible Ultrabook. The 50 second mark has a nice illustration of my struggles to write anything resembling legible mathematics.

I'll be honest: I was so distracted by the poor inking that I had to start over a few times: I kept making mistakes or forgetting what I wanted to say. Technology works best when you don't notice you're using it. And with the XPS, I noticed it a lot.

The results are clear: For creating Mathcasts, the Dell XPS 12 simply lacks the touch-screen precision to write mathematics (or much of anything) clearly.

So it appears the old adage "Out with the old and in with the new" has it backwards in this case. Granted, Dell's Ultrabook is among the first new tablet / laptop hybrids built to take advantage of the new touch interface built into Windows 8, and in that arena it does pretty well. But as far as using it for creating Mathcasts, taking meeting notes, writing feedback on student work, or anything that involves writing on the screen, I'm less than impressed. Much, much less.

With that said, do you have a newer Tablet PC that works for you? If so, I'd love to hear about it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment