Tablet PCs for Real Estate Agents

I’ve had a few agents contact me lately about the Treo VS the Tablet PC products.

Tablets may be a bit off the Treo topic, but they are dead-on the mobility issue…and, it’s something I’ve been looking at myself lately… trying to decide if a tablet makes sense for me, and if it’s a “now” item or a “soon” item on my wish list.

What I’m dying to see, what I’ve been scouring the reviews, the “upcoming products” and the other geeky sites and pubs to find is a truly great tablet PC.

Not just any old tablet — I want one that will work for me and that I can recommend to my clients. For me, it would have to have…An extraordinary battery life.

One of the things I love about my Treo is the number of hours I can work on it and the ease with which I can plop in a new battery. Now, on a Tablet, I’d like to have the battery last all day and be hot-swappable. I don’t like to “power down” and reboot. I hate it. And most PCs (unlike the Treo, again) take so blasted long to boot, that it makes me crazy. I’m not a patient woman. ‘Nuff said.

It would have to run decent graphics.

I don’t want to look at a screen that’s grainy or low quality. And I want to run some programs that demand a little punch in the graphics department. I need at least a 128MB video card, and I’d prefer a 256. It also needs to be visible in low light and bright light conditions. I lug my portables around, I use them in all kinds of situations. No matter where I am, I want them to be useful.

I want to be able to run OneNote.

Yeah, I know it’s a Microsoft product, but I’m quickly becoming addicted to this thing. It’s now where I’m keeping notes for my articles, notes from client consultations and to-do lists for my clients, my subcontractors and myself. My list of books to read. My quotes collection. My essential information. My research and cross-referenced materials. It’s where I keep the guts of my business and of my writing projects. I want to be able to use a pen to get the full benefit of this software.

I want to use it whenever I’m out of the office.

I’m going back to a standard “hoss” machine to sit on my desk. My laptop replacements that I’ve used for the last five years simply don’t last very long. I can get about 12 months out of them — a couple more with crossed fingers — until they start getting flaky and have to be sent to the shop. Since I don’t make money if I don’t have my computer, keeping an older machine isn’t an option for me. And, when laptops start going, they crumble fairly quickly. It usually starts in the optical drives and then the main components begin to fail in rapid sequence.

Yeah, I know other people get more months out of their laptops, but they don’t use (ie abuse) them like I do — I’d be willing to bet on it.

I want a tablet to take over whenever I step away from my machine. I want to replace my pen and paper with a digital version, I want to record conversations and interviews while taking notes on a tablet PC.

I want it to survive a bounce, or two or three. I want it to have enough of a hard disk that I can keep all my current projects with me, AND my entertainment.

I want an easy way to download software, movies, music from my external hard drives, CD’s and DVD’s onto the drive and use virtual drives to conserve precious battery life and eliminate all unnecessary bulk.

I want it to be large enough to use comfortably and small enough that I don’t have to carry some huge bag for it and all it’s “things.” (If I wanted to carry an over-sized diaper-bag, I’d have another child.)

It needs to weigh less than 3.5 pounds. Period. Heavier than that and my arm will get tired after a few minutes of holding it to write. Reading big books (while holding them up) become tiresome after a short time, and that’s without the added pressure of pressing against the book to “write” or to activate buttons.

I’ve been looking for several weeks now for the tool that will help make my 2006 easier and more mobile. I’ve not settled on one yet.

I’ve seen quite a few interesting models.

I’ve wavered over the IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad X41:

It’s got that keyboard I’m so attached to — built in. And IBM keyboards get rave reviews. Since I tend to wear the letters right off mine, this may be important. But I wonder if I’m not holding myself back from the advantages of the ink concept with this “old school” typing fallback — not to mention the additional weight required of a hybrid Tablet/PC combo.

I’m trying to think in new ways. Which leads me to the idea of simply a slate style — so long as it has bluetooth so I can use my portable keyboard when I have a keyboarding emergency or I simply can’t MAKE myself not use a QWERTY layout to write. (Hey, it could happen.)

That leads me to the well-reviewed and impressively appointed Motion Computing slates:

And then I get stuck. What, exactly, do I want the tablet to be? I have to keep reminding myself that I’ll keep a desktop running back at the office. That I don’t HAVE to carry everything in the world with me. Besides, I carry a slimline 40 gig hard drive in my purse (I’m not joking) as a backup of all my essential information. It’s secured so only I can read it, but I can read it from any other computer — which means that if my laptop does crash and burn, I have a full copy of my hard drive on me — at least a full copy since my last backup. Call me paranoid.

Now, back to the Tablet concept. The LE1600 is a full-sized tablet, way too big to slip in a purse or a pocket — even a large pocket. But it’s impressive. It’s had great reviews. It has many of the features I want.

So I stop myself to think again… what EXACTLY is the goal here? Is it features, connectivity, convenience, size, battery life,…?

Apparently at this point in the Tablet game, there’s not a single answer for all those questions. It’s a matter of deciding what’s most important and letting those other features go.

Like life, it’s about picking your battles.

And then I look at the LS800 model — nice little machine. About the size of a paperback — a thin paperback. And it has most of the features of it’s bigger brother the Motion LE1600.

So I “ohhh and ahhhh” a bit. And I tap my foot, go read a bunch reviews on this little gem, and realize that it would EASILY fit in my purse. It would run my OneNote, it would have enough memory to store my files, some music and even a handful of movies. But, even though it’s smaller, it only has a 3-hour battery life (bit brother has an extended battery option that gives use a 7-hour boost).

Both models are slate style, no DVD or CD drive (but this is available as an external option). Both would utilize my current BT keyboard. And both have advantages. But the little one is so cute! I have to take a deep breath and think on it a bit.

In the meantime, I’ve looked at the newly released, tiny Fujitsu P1510D Notebook/Tablet PC convertible. It weighs in at 2.2 pounds:

Then there’s the rugged DuoTouch by Itronix:

But I don’t think that has quite enough juice for me. Course, that wouldn’t matter if I dropped a really high-powered one and it shattered, would it?

So I’m right back to the position I’m always in when I decide to quit doing this to myself. I’m in information overload. I need to get away from the Internet resources and re-evaluate what I really need for my own business. What I really want to accomplish.

The Tablets are becoming standard for medical professionals. After all, they have the wireless option being pumped at them from the IT room of the hospital where they work. It’s a perfect fit for that environment.

Not so much for the Real Estate agents yet — unless you are living in one of the early release markets for the Verizon Broadband product and you have selected a Tablet that will utilize that “always on, anywhere you are” capability.

Out in the woods where I am, and in the smaller towns were most of the real estate folks still work, that’s not yet an option. But my work, unlike real estate professionals… can often be done without the connection. At least the writing portion can be… so long as I don’t need to “look something up” real quick. Or check my email. Sigh… I’m addicted to the Internet.

Right now, it takes a Treo to achieve that (and where I live, I don’t always have a signal even for that — so the Treo is more useful to me when I hit the road than when I’m here in my office.)

I’ll need to keep a cell phone for when I’m out and I wonder if the “play” between the Treo and the tablet would create a synergy that would make me happy. I dunno, and much of that may depend on what happens with the new and upcoming Treo models.

I’m anxiously awaiting the next wave of mobile technology. I believe 2006 is going to be a big year for it. Having had a taste of mobility, the masses want more — and we are willing to pay for it. In economic terms, that means we will get it… eventually.

For now, I’ll amuse myself with the array of new devices appearing on the market — like the one my kids would love (but won’t be getting yet) a rugged little device that’s great for connectivity with few hassles for the teen and low-tech crowd — the new Pepper Pad:

With a Linux foundation, and encouragement for the users to mod it to their own tastes, this might be an up and coming device type on the same level as the cell phone. I noticed in particular the thumb-pad formation of the split keyboard — a new generation favorite.

Me, I’m old. I like my full-sized keyboard. But, I’m willing to change, to try something new, if the technology will hand me something that works just as well or better — and doesn’t weigh much. :O)

So I’ll take a break and head back to review more of these mobility products soon… when my mind clears…

And then there’s the concern about Microsoft’s new Vista operating system, due out next summer. Will this impact the Tablet OS? Will it make my new tool/toy obsolete about the same time I am really using it for everything? And, more importantly, will I care?

Sigh… some days it’s tough to be a geek!