Tablet hardware review- FrontPath ProGear
jdbell at fareselaw.com
Mon Aug 5 17:22:58 UTC 2002
A few days ago I posted a link to a tablet PC I'd run across. I ordered one for my office for unrelated purposes*, but I couldn't resist trying Squeak out on it over the weekend. I thought I'd pass along my experiences in case anyone else was interested in this machine.
I'll be sending a follow-up email about people's experiences using Squeak on tablet PCs in general- I'm slowly building a set of preference settings and hacks that are making the experience more and more pleasant, but I'm interested in hearing about what other people are doing with tablets to prevent spurious menu pop-ups, etc.
The tablet is a FrontPath ProGear. It's based on a 400mhz Transmeta TM3200 processor. The model I'm using has 64MB of ram and a 5GB hard drive (part of the ram- 16MB I think - is used by the Crusoe** for its code magic). It has a really great 1024x768 touchscreen that measures about 10" diagonal. The picture quality is wonderful! The unit can operate in either landscape or portrait modes- I personally love the portrait mode, after working with that a little I started wishing that all computer displays were portrait mode.
It comes with an Orinoco wireless lan card, which goes in a standard pc-card slot, and its integrated antenna extends partially outside the case- I was originally under the (false) impression that the card was mounted inside, like Airport cards in Apple laptops.
I ordered the Linux version with the 6-cell battery pack for $650. I do wish that I had ordered the 3-cell machine for $600 and an extra 3-cell battery instead of the 6-cell battery: the 6-cell is much fatter than the rest of the machine and throws off its balance and feel.
I don't have good numbers on the battery life, but I've used it for a couple of hours at a time disconnected without any problems (complete with wireless lan access). People on the net report around 4 hours, with up to 6 if you're really lucky- but I don't know if they are talking about the 3-cell or the 6-cell packs.
There were some things about the machine that I don't particularly like: the screen cover is actually a cloth cover which is connected to one side of the unit, it folds over the screen and locks in place. I guess it's light and does it's job of protecting the screen, but it just seems a little strange. Also, the wire stand that is included feels cheap and unstable.
Software: The Linux distribution is pretty minimal, and most of the hard drive is free and unpartitioned. I found some notes on the net on using this space to extend the existing usr and home space. The distro is pretty minimal, there are no developer tools included (although there is a CD that can be used to turn the system into a 'development system' if you want to yank the hard drive out and stick it in a desktop Linux box for configuration- thus far I've just stuck to hunting down binaries). Some people claim that the distro is based on Slackware 7.1, others say it is Midori, personally I have no idea. It comes pretty stripped down- you can run Netscape, the configuration utility, and a software keyboard/character recognizer.
I once again used notes from the net (don't have the links handy but I can find them if anyone is interested) to grab an xterm and start to get Squeak running. I installed the standard intel Linux Squeak 3.2-4 VM and the -4917 image. Everything worked great! I had a few minor problems: the software keyboard wouldn't work with Squeak (weird, but solved by hooking up a keyboard from a G4- worked great, and later with Genie), and I couldn't convince the brain-dead window manager to let Squeak run full-screen. But, these were minor and easily worked around.
The tablet has a built-in mic and speaker which also worked great from Squeak without any tweaking whatsoever. They aren't the highest quality, but are plenty good enough for taking voice notes.
Squeak runs very well on the tablet. I have some numbers from the speed tests submitted by Andreas and Dan, before and after Ned's updates:
Before: Dan: 38332 Andreas: 11644
After: Dan: 35797 Andreas: 10407
Obviously, it's not the fastest Squeak machine in the world, but it seems very responsive. The limited system memory has thus far not been a problem, I've loaded the Connectors project and played around with some EToys stuff and I haven't noticed any thrashing or anything. (I was hoping the unit used standard ram, but apparently it is soldered on the motherboard).
The unit includes a 'cursor'- I'm not sure exactly what it is capable of, but as shipped it can act like a scroll wheel on a mouse, only in both horizontal and vertical directions. (so, at least in Netscape, you can load up a page which is both wider and taller than the screen and scroll with the 'cursor'). I think it is capable of more- it can be clicked- perhaps it would be possible to hack this so that the cursor acted like a full-blown mouse, which would be a useful alternative to the stylus in some cases. (In Squeak the cursor can be used to move up and down lists- I think it is acting like a scroll wheel?)
In summary, I think the tablet is well worth the $650 we paid for it- although not worth the $3200 it supposedly originally retailed for.
If anyone has any questions, just let me know!
*rdesktop access to W2K Terminal Services, which works great too.
**any of you hardware gurus ever looked into what/if any advantages Squeak would have running on a Crusoe in native mode- (if there is such a thing) and skipping that whole x68 emulation layer completely?
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