When tablet computers first reared their heads in the '90s, they were quickly written off as low-powered machines that were kind of neat, but not terribly functional. As a busy performer doing three shows a day at the marine park, I didn't have time to fumble around with the clumsy stylus that came with these devices, and within a month, mine found its way to the bottom of the junk drawer.
Fast forward to now. The 2010 Consumer Electronics Show was all about PC tablets, and within weeks, Apple's much-hyped iPad will be commercially available. Okay, so tablets are now the buzz gadget of the year. But are these latest computing devices actually must-have items, or are they just overgrown, overpriced iPhones?
One of the more highly regarded of the batch is the Fujitsu Stylistic ST6012. This Windows-based machine comes with a smallish 80 gig hard drive, so if you watch a lot of movies while you travel, you'll need to juggle your files every trip. I might find this acceptable if the thing weren't so expensive. For $1,700, you'd think it would keep working when you want to take it to a more comfortable spot, like your favorite underwater thinking cave.
But no such luck. After 10 seconds of immersion, the touch screen went black. Hoping to salvage the machine, I quickly tried to reboot, but the Stylistic was, to indulge in an overused phrase, dead in the water. Perhaps if Fujitsu wants to make a big impression instead of a big mess, they'll make future models a little more durable.
I was eager to try the HP Slate after Microsoft honcho Steve Ballmer made such a show of it at the CES last month. Sure enough, the touch-screen interface is friendly and relatively easy to figure out. With the benefit of the Kindle's software and content, it's a decent enough e-reader, but it still fails my litmus test: Can I get Underwater Magazine on this thing? True, you can hook a keyboard up to it, but why would you want to? The keystroke accuracy-rate was appallingly low, and tapping away at those tiny keys with my beak drove me nuts.
While I've exactly never been thrilled with the Windows track record on security updates, I'm even less thrilled with the fact that the Slate shorted out immediately after I did a backflip, caught a fish thrown by my handler Bob, and dove back down into my tank. It's a sad state of affairs, really. Besides bad PR and poor customer relations, HP can't even make a machine that works right.
Without further ado, let's get to the 800-pound gorilla of the bunch, the iPad. The device's unimaginative name belies its sleek, creative design, which is everything we've come to expect from Apple. It's pretty to look at, and they've worked out a lot of the touch-screen kinks that plagued the iPhone and iPod Touch. It's also much smaller and lighter than a laptop, making it easy to tuck under a fin when you're swimming out the gate, and thanks to Apple's dominance in the smartphone field, there will be thousands of applications for it.
Beauty does not equal durability, though. After repeatedly throwing it up in the air with my tail, the device eventually landed on the nearby concrete and wound up with a cracked face. Despite the dramatic reduction in aesthetics, it still worked, though its touch surface was no longer as sensitive. Perhaps the iPad is just fine if you're using it on the bus or at the office, but I have to wonder if Steve Jobs' geniuses ever once stopped to think about what might happen, for example, if an aquatic mammal wanted to use his tablet while frolicking in a gentle ocean cove.
Maybe it was the cracked screen, but Apple's latest gizmo didn't even last as long as its competitors when subjected to a standard aquarium habitat. I don't care how much the press loves Jobs; he won't win me over until he acknowledges the inherent flaws in his product line and does something to fix them!
Sound familiar? These new tablets may be slimmer and lighter, but just like the last generation, once you peel away the hype, you're left with a nonfunctioning hunk of metal and plastic at the bottom of the pool. One star for all of them. Next week, I'm running the new, cheaper crop of Blu-ray players through the drills. You won't want to miss that!