At The Consumer Electronics Show 2010: My Ideal Portable Computer
I’ve been thinking about what my ideal portable computer would look like since attending the Defrag 2009 conference last fall. I was sitting in a session I couldn’t engage in, looking at all the open computers around me. There were PCs, Macs, and tablets, large and small. None seemed quite right.
I loved the tablet I had a couple of years ago, but it was thick and heavy with limited battery life.
Then the iPad rumors started and I got interested. Now that I’ve seen the announcement, I’m back to designing my own ideal computer. All my specifications exist, just not all together in a single computer.
After a lot of thought I want a modular approach to life, which influenced a lot of decisions.
My ideal portable computer would be a slate, pad, whatever you want to call it. It should have a 12” to 15” LED LCD screen, with about a 1/2” bezel around the edges and be in the 1/2” to 3/4” thick range. Weight should be between 2 to 3 pounds. I was hoping to go OLED, but they are still crazy expensive at that size.
It would not have a physical keyboard. It would have an on-screen keyboard like my Android phone. In addition, in a tribute to the 1997 brilliance of Jeff Hawkins, it would also support Graffiti, the constrained writing input so successful in the Palm Pilot. It would also let me attach a folding keyboard via Bluetooth or its USB connector. I’ve got a great folding iGo Stowaway keyboard that is small, light and types well that uses Bluetooth.
There has been a lot said negatively about Windows 7 on a tablet requiring a stylus to work well. Actually that’s fine by me; I want the ability to use a stylus, something some touch screen computers give up. Holding a stylus, or a pen, is very natural for me to draw, point and write. Other times I might just use a finger. But it should be my choice, not a hardware constraint.
My ideal computer will have a built in webcam, WiFi, Bluetooth, and Wireless USB. I wouldn’t put 3G or 4G in it since then it would be locked to a single carrier or technology. The small portable 3G/4G hotspots like the MiFi would give me 3G/4G and more flexibility (plus more battery life). It would also have a USB port (I can live with one since I have a drawer full of tiny 4 port hubs), an SD card slot and 3.5mm microphone and stereo headphone jacks. I’ve decided to give up a wired RJ-45 Ethernet port to keep the ports to a minimum, I can use a $10 USB Ethernet adapter. Much as I hate to say this, I’m also giving up my VGA connector, using a DisplayLink adapter instead. VGA connectors are just too big.
Before specifying processor or operating system, let me outline an absolute software requirement. I want to be able to seamlessly take control of my “home” computer, running Windows 7 Professional on a quad core processor with gobs of memory and terabyte hard drives. There are programs like Logmein and Microsoft Mesh that approximate what I want, but I want the capability cooked into the system of my slate. I also want my slate storage to appear all the time as a drive on the desktop and my desktop drives to appear on my slate. My recent experience with my PogoPlug shows that storage can appear as a drive regardless of where you are.
Given that requirement, I frankly don’t care if my slate runs Windows 7, Linux, or Android (I am pretty sure Chrome OS won't have the features I'm looking for). I do want support for being able to write and do spreadsheets offline in Office compatible formats. I also want Flash support.
The operating system will define the processor and other computer components. If it’s Windows 7, I’d go with a CULV dual core processor. For Android or Chrome OS, I’d go the next generation Tegra processor. Any choice probably means between 2 and 4 GB RAM memory.
I would be happy with a 32GB solid state “hard drive” given that appears to be the sweet spot in price and capacity (and the fact I have virtual access to my terabytes at home). I really don’t need an optical drive built-in (I have a tiny USB optical drive to use if I need it).
Finally, I want a battery that lasts for about 6 hours when I’m using the computer and another 20 hours in standby mode. That will let me attend a conference or meeting all day, be productive when I need to and not have to power down or hibernate when I’m not using the computer. I am willing to take screws out to change batteries, I don’t do swaps to keep running, but batteries do wear down so it has to be replaceable.
Based on comparable costs of components, etc., the base slate should have a cost of goods in the $200-$300 range, meaning it could sell for $400-$500. All my modular add-ons would add another $150-$200, depending on the 3G/4G module.
With my ideal computer, I can sit on the couch using it as a simple Web browser. If I’m in a meeting I might use the stylus and write notes like it was an electronic legal pad. For presentations, I add the DisplayLink and my Logitech wireless presenter and I’m set. For serious writing I can pair a folding keyboard. When I’m home, the wireless USB would dock with my monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc. All the time I have access to all my Windows programs (and I have a lot) on my powerful desktop.
I can hardly wait. I suspect we may see a lot of my needs met before the end of 2010, maybe even that HP slate I am hearing rumors about.