Tablets ready when you are

The ABA Techshow 2011 wound down Wednesday at the Hilton Chicago with a couple of “shootouts” aimed at gadget geeks.

The “2011 Smartphone Shootout” was a redux of a session last year that ran down the features and capabilities of what essentially are handheld computers that also make telephone calls.

Across the hall, a trio of technology devotees drew much larger pieces for their own shootout: this one for tablet devices. While not a new technology by any stretch, tablets are fast gaining ground in legal circles, replacing the canary-yellow paper pads for some or playing the understudy for desktop PCs when the show goes on the road.

As much as “Slate Shootout” panelists Josh Barrett, Kathy Jacobs and Nerino Petro touted the flavor of tablet each served up at the session, they were all willing to concede any weaknesses.

Barrett, author of the TabletLegal.com blog, was packing an Apple iPad, which Petro likened to an Italian sports car: It looks really cool, but good luck carrying any passengers.

Jacobs, on the other hand, pulled out a Windows 7-based device: a Crown Victoria “with a two-body trunk.” She runs a technology training and consulting firm bearing her name and is vice president of the Association of PC User Groups.

For his part, Petro unholstered a Motorola Xoom, which runs on the Android platform and is new enough that peripherals, including an adapter for external displays, are not yet available. The author of blog Compujurist.com is the practice management adviser for the Law Office Management Assistance program at the State Bar of Wisconsin.

The presentation started with a show-and-tell for the basic workflow of pulling an attachment from email, editing it and sending it back. All three tablets could perform the basic tasks, of course, but since the exercise started with Microsoft Word file in the dock format, the Win7 device had a clear edge.

Tablets that run the Microsoft operating system likewise can run all the programs from the Office suite, and carrying out tasks on a mobile device of this sort is all but identical to working on a desktop.

The iPad and Xoom tablets, however, had to run third-party apps for editing the document. Both Barrett and Petro called on Quickoffice, which can open Word files but which struggles with the document formatting. In their example, numbering on paragraphs was out of order.

Barrett pointed out that when he downloaded the attachment, what he opened for editing was actually a copy: the original stays in what’s called a sandbox and the app manipulates a copy. This architecture is used across the board (or is that tablet?) when it comes to Apple’s iOS.

When it comes to manipulating or editing text, users may prefer using a stylus to an onscreen keyboard. Jacobs demonstrated how a Windows device can display a miniature keyboard for use with a stylus. The slicker function was the hand-writing recognition that lets a stylus become a pen.

Petro said he also likes using a stylus, but there’s no integrated cursive or print recognition, restricting users to circling words or sentences, for instance. On the iPad side, an app called PenUltimate gives users scrap sheets of a sort that can be attached to documents like a Post-It note, Barrett said. However, the notes are merely pictures and thus can’t be searched or converted to text.

In the end, the choice of which tablet to buy comes down to how you envision using it. If you’re comfortable with a Windows desktop and want close integration, then a Win7 makes sense. But if you plan on long plane trips and want to use your tablet for the duration, an iPad or Android-based tablet are better selections by giving as much as twice the battery life as a power-thirsty Windows gadget.

~ by CDLB on April 13, 2011.

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