My job involves reading and annotating a lot of PDFs, and doing so on a tablet seems much more comfortable than using a laptop. The tablet would have to support handwriting recognition, of course, because a laptop’s keyboard would be far superior to a virtual keyboard at an odd angle right at my pelvis. As of Fall 2011, there is no native handwriting rec ability in either Apple iOS nor Google Android, and apparently none in their app stores, either. Besides, their largest displays are 10 inches (diagonally), while an 8.5×11 inch page ideally needs a 14 inch display. Also, my favorite PDF annotation tool, Tracker Software’s PDF XChange PRO, isn’t available on those platforms. Fortunately, there are tablets dating from the early 2000s that have 12 inch displays, native handwriting rec support, and designed to run the OS that my PDF tool requires (i.e. Microsoft Windows). As an added bonus, those tablets can now be bought for around US$100 even though they sold for thousands when first released.
I’ll focus here on Motion Computing’s M1400 tablet. I found one for $99 on eBay with its original digitizer pen and Windows XP installed. One or two owners before me had experimented with it, because there was no apparent way to open the Input Panel to use handwriting rec, the device buttons didnt work (except the power button), and the virtual keyboard would open only if I booted with an external keyboard attached and entered Ctrl+U during boot to activate the Utility Manager and turn on the virtual keyboard. A further problem with the hardware itself was that it got quite hot while in use, too hot to keep in one’s lap.
Installing Windows7 (the lowly Home Premium variant is sufficient) solved all of the software problems, and the device no longer gets more than mildly warm.
One new problem is that the display cannot be rotated to portrait orientation, because Intel refuses to release an updated video driver for this CPU chip for Windows7. However, some people have had success running the video driver in XP Compatibility mode, which requires installing the Professional or Ultimate variants of Windows7. I recommend installing Comodo Time Machine after the OS install and before any changes to drivers or registry settings, so you don’t have to reinstall the OS in case of an error.
By the way, I had never heard of Motion Computing before buying this device, but I am very impressed by them. They provided free tech support for a product they hadn’t sold in 5 years, it was very quick, and very thorough. If they offer a 12+ inch Windows8 tablet, especially if it has a color eInk/LCD dual display, it’ll be the first one I consider buying.
If landscape-only orientation is okay with you (and possibly no audio), here’s what you need:
- Motion Computing M1400 tablet
- Windows7 Home Premium installer software
- external usb-connected keyboard with arrow keys
- CD/DVD external usb-connected drive (or 4GB usb drive + laptop/desktop with CD/DVD drive)
- Ethernet cable to your router
Follow these steps:
- The following procedure will NOT leave your files on the tablet in place. Many of them will be moved to c:windows.old, but you should probably make a backup copy of any that you would hate to lose.
- If you use PDF XChange 4.0 (but not the portable version), and if you have a session that you want to remember (i.e. a set of open PDFs), then be sure to note down the filepath of each (in addition to backing up the file itself in step 1 above). Although this PDF viewer is great, they don’t yet support session backup (nor syncing).
- If you don’t have an external CD/DVD drive, you’ll need to make the usb drive bootable. Don’t forget to copy all the installer software to it.
- Connect the external keyboard and the external drive.
- Make sure that the tablet can boot from the external drive:
- Reboot the tablet and the white Motion Computing screen appears, hold the digipen tip to the screen. A context menu should appear; select Launch System Setup.
- The PhoenixBIOS Setup Utility should open. Tap the Boot tab along the top.
- If you’ll be using an external CD/DVD drive, then “CD-ROM Drive” should be listed higher than “+HDD”. If it’s not, then look at the bottom and tap the white down arrow to the left of Select Item until CD-ROM Drive is highlighted in white, then tap the + to the left of Change Values to move it up the list.
- If you’ll be using a bootable usb external drive, then tap the white down arrow until +HDD is highlighted in white. Tap the white Enter to the left of “Select > Sub-Menu”. A submenu should open below HDD, and the external usb drive should be listed above the hard drive; if it’s not, tap the white down arrow until the usb drive is highlighted in white, then tap the + to move the usb drive higher in the submenu.
- When finished, tap the white F10 at bottom right to save and exit. A yes/no confirmation dialog will appear. Click yes. A beep will sound and you should exit to the Windows bootup process on your external drive.
- At this point, the digipen was no longer recognized for me, but the arrow keys on the external keyboard did.
- When you are prompted whether to enable WindowsUpdate, I recommend not doing so. It’s a great feature, but when I did this procedure the first time and turned this feature on, the installation of Windows7 SP1 introduced a bug that made several applications give errors about not having the right permissions, or not having enough space on disk, and I could not uninstall some apps like Comodo Time Machine, either.
- During the install process your machine will reboot, and if you booted from a usb drive, you’re going to boot from it again (unless you’re quick and yank it). If you do boot back into the install dialog again, just move the power switch to off, yank the usb drive, and power on. Installation will pickup from where it should.
- Once Windows7 is installed, use the Ethernet cable to connect to your router so you can get drivers, especially a wifi driver. The external usb drive and keyboard can be disconnected.
- To get drivers, go to Start | ControlPanel | DeviceManager, hold down the pen button while clicking on Display Adapters (i.e., do a right-click), and select “Scan for hardware changes”. This should trigger a search on Microsoft/manufacturer sites for all the drivers you need, not just display adapters. If you turned off WindowsUpdate during install, you’ll get no drivers at this point and should click the Change Setting button, then the Yes radiobutton. You should get drivers for:
- Intel PRO Wireless 2200BG Network
- Motion Computing Tablet PC Buttons
- AuthenTec AES2501 (fingerprint sensor)
Even with this, I could not get drivers for:
- Video controller
- Multimedia Audio Controller
- PCI Modem
- You should now have wifi connection ability, so the Ethernet cable can be removed.
- By default, if one holds the digipen to the screen for a short while, it will be interpreted as a right-click. This is a problem if one uses a multi-level dropdown menu and wants to select anything other than the first item in one of its submenus. To disable this, go to Start | ControlPanel | Pen And Touch | Pen Options, highlight “Press and hold” in the list, and click Settings. Turn off the “Enable press and hold for right-clicking” checkbox.