View Full Version : UMPC versus pen and paper - the battle rages on

Bob Russell
05-23-2007, 05:40 PM
There has been a new flurry of activity in the "Can technology replace paper" wars. How many different ways will we see it played out?

* Will the PDA replace paper and pencil?
* Are e-books better than paper? Will they replace paper books?
* Is a Tablet PC the door to real paperless offices?
* Can UMPCs finally replace the paper notepad?

I've made no secret of the fact that I'm fascinated with UMPCs, and that I believe I can benefit greatly from them, and that I am aching to get one as soon as I find one that justifies paying the price. But while technology answers do provide some significant benefits, it's not going to replace paper anytime soon, even for me.

So what is the new topic? With the rise of the UMPC, people are asking the following much more modest question: How much will I reach for my UMPC instead of paper? Here are some example thoughts recently shared - I grab my UMPC if I don't have to undock it (, I used my UMPC because I couldn't find pen and paper (, Can't beat pen and paper (

But maybe the point is that paper is a great tool in conjuction with a UMPC. In fact, I remember reading in the last day or two someone sharing that very point - it's not an either/or proposition. You see, the advantages of writing on a tablet have to do with using them after the input, not making them easier to write in the first place. You get to keep all the notes together in a small device, more easily file them and even do searching (e.g. with One Note).

So what kind of hybrid technology could merge the best of both worlds. You don't have to look any further than the example set with business cards. Neil over at PDA247 asked ( whether anyone actually beams business information instead of using business cards. Most of the answers seem to be "no", even in a pda forum! But I have seen people scan cards.

Now imagine if you write your notes on a notepad, but had an easy way to scan them into your UMPC so they can be integrated with the rest of your notes and information. The biggest problem is that you have to direct the notes to the right place, i.e. you have to do filing sort of like you would for paper that gets filed. If one could adopt a routine of electronic filing of scanned notes, you get all the benefits of tablet note taking, but the easy of writing on paper.

Is that a practical solution? Will there ever be a convenient paper scanner on the side of a UMPC, or that maybe even uses the screen surface somehow? I don't know. But it seems to me that it might be a great solution until our desks have screens and scanners built into them like the research desk at Microsoft that was demonstrated recently. (Sorry, you'll have to google for that video because I don't have the link.)

But for now, one thing is clear - paper is still the champion.

05-23-2007, 06:15 PM
The thickness of a UMPC bothers me. I'd rather see it Iliad size with colo(u)r eink and even a little thinner like 1/4" thick. But I like every feature of them except maybe MS.

Actually sometimes paper is not better. I could never get the hang of proper calligraphy on three ring binders either.

05-23-2007, 06:56 PM
I'm supposed to be getting a tablet PC (convertible) sometime soon for work, and I've spent some time specifically considering just this point. I've also been playing with Microsoft OneNote ( (came with my wife's install of Office 2007), which looks very promising for note taking/organizing.

What I've come up with is I think I'll keep using paper for quick notes that I don't expect to want more than a few minutes to a couple of hours, and probably do OneNote notes for to-do lists and things I need/want to keep longer. As I expect to be traveling more for work starting this fall, it'll be helpful to reduce the amount of paper I'll have to keep up with.

As I see it, the drawback to e-notes is having to decide where to put them on the PC so that I can find the things later (slows things down you understand). OneNote helps with that (I find its interface quite intuitive, and takes care of storing and retrieving notes automatically), but for really quick stuff, I think paper is going to be a better solution. :shrug:

As for ways to get hand written things digitized, I think something like the G-Note tablets ( could be a good complementing device for that purpose, depending on what you're wanting to do. It would seem to be workable for whatever computer otherwise fits a person's needs, from UMPC to full-tower desktop.

05-23-2007, 07:02 PM
A convertible tablet PC has replaced pen and paper (and a standard laptop) for some people. For this reason, I think the Fujitsu FMV-U8240 is the closest we have yet seen to what UMPC's will look like in the long term. Use it as a tablet for handwriting entry and reading e-books, flip to its keyboard mode for heavy text entry. It is also one of the most expensive UMPC's, but you can charge more for good design when it is new. Later on the design gets copied by everyone. I would probably prefer a slightly larger device, but the same basic design should work from 5.6" to perhaps 10" screens (as demonstrated by the 9" Fujitsu P1610).

05-23-2007, 09:59 PM
Great thoughts Bob (as usual!). As a UMPC enthusiast I wanted to share a quick perspective. Since I bought my first UMPC about a year ago, I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've written on paper. I'm not counting any credit card authorization signatures...been plenty of those. ;)

I ink as much as I can directly on my Samsung Q1P UMPC, using a Bluetooth keyboard only for heavy-duty content writing. Main reason: all of my ink is searchable in Windows as it gets indexed in my own handwriting. No need to transfer to text when you have searchable ink.

Along the same lines: business cards & such. I use OneNote Mobile on my smartphone to snap pics of business cards, UPS tracking numbers, etc...these are then synched over as images right into OneNote where they....wait for it.....get OCR'd in the background and get indexed. If you sent me a pic of your business card, I could copy the image to OneNote and do zero conversion, yet I could search for your info and find it quickly. We'll get you over to the UMPC side soon.... :happy2:

Bob Russell
05-23-2007, 10:19 PM
Thanks Kevin. That's remarkable that you've been able to make the jump from paper to UMPC/One Note. And very encouraging for those of us that want to do the same. There is even a new copier at my office that allows me to scan my paper notes and email them to myself. Everything digital gets closer and closer.

The camera angle is also very interesting, and I'll probably have to look into that even with my desktop. I know that ScanR service does something like that, but it was cumbersome to do the emailing of a picture, so I never really adopted it in my workflow. To get it into OneNote is even more interesting, and is a nice tie from the smartphone to UMPC.

Of course, the Q1 Ultra has a camera built in (although reports of picture quality haven't been spectacular), so maybe it can be used for business cards. If Samsung was smart, they would provide software and make it part of the product feature set!

05-24-2007, 07:06 AM
I mentioned this previously in a different thread, but I thought it would be a good idea to summarize here as well. I've had a TabletPC for about 3 years now and used to use the hell out of it. One thing that looked promising, and majorly pushed by M$, was OneNote. Unfortunately, I never really had a use for this and never really used it too much (I have something like 6 legal copies of it, but never found it useful). It was just easier for me to use the pen to enter text directly into MS Word; why bother with OneNote?

Aside from that, I really enjoyed using my PC (a Compaq TC1000). If I were to recommend a Tablet to anyone, I'd say get a slate and stear clear of convertables (you can leave the extra weight/bulk at home and carry a Bluetooth keyboard if you really need one). I think what kept me from using the pen for writing so much was probably getting used to the feel of writing on something that wasn't paper, it just didn't feel right. I wasn't worried about damaging the screen or anything, but it was just too slick and didn't feel natural.

On the UMPC front, I've been definitely keeping my eyes peeled for a nice model that is small, lightweight, useable, convenient, and has a decent battery life. So far I've physically checked out Sony's offerings (still too bulky for my taste), the original Sony was pretty decent, but lacked good resolution. I also checked out one of the earlier UMPC's offered (forgot which brand), but it was bulky, had a smaller screen, and used a dated Transmeta Crusoe processor.

The newer offerings looked cool, but I have yet to see any in person. I'll keep my eyes open and let you know. BTW here is a site I found with quite a few reviews and a lot of pictures:

Cant's wait for the Samsung Q1 Ultra!

05-24-2007, 09:43 AM
I think I get what you're saying about OneNote, Azayzel, when I first heard of it (after installing Office '07) I didn't think it would be much use to me either. I haven't looked at the '03 version, so I don't know how different it is or isn't :shrug:

After playing with it a bit & running through the "what the heck is this OneNote thing" tutorial, I started to see possibilities for using it to organize my projects at work, and I wish that it had been around when my wife started her dissertation, as I think it would have made a lot of the stuff she's doing a lot easier (she's too close to the end to bother with starting a new method, but the one she uses now is much more cumbersome than I think OneNote would have been for her).

It also offers a workable way for her to grade papers electronically when she starts teaching again this fall. She can accept e-copies of the papers load them into OneNote as images, make her comments and mark the grades and then send the whole shebang back to each student as an XML file, while keeping copies of the paper and her notes -- something that most teachers/professors would love to be able to do -- all without ever printing a single page. On top of that, the notebooks, sections, and pages pretty much organize themselves into a gradebook file for each class, student and assignment, respectively.

I think the primary advantage over using Word to do the same things is the way that OneNote allows organizing things -- Notebooks containing sections containing pages, and you can add/remove and move around any and all of those elements with excruciating ease allowing for more free-form sorting than Word can handle. It also handles storing and retrieving (to and from the hard-drive, I mean) the stuff you put into it for you, so you don't have to hunt for it, just open OneNote, and there are your project notebooks. The only time you have to worry about where something gets put is when you want to close a project or re-open one that you've closed, between sessions, it holds onto your open projects and keeps them right there handy.

Then, of course, there's the way it allows easy searching of both 'ink' text, and text inside pictures. We had a short (under 100 pages), very old (mid-1800's) book that my wife needed for her research, that she could only have for a couple of days, so we photographed the pages and sent it on back. With OneNote we can toss those photographs into a Notebook and she can search the contents.

I'm not trying to push OneNote, though I'll admit to being a bit excited about it lately (since it's new to me), and I'll further admit that I haven't had all that much time working with it, so take my opinions salted to taste (as always). I'm just trying to explain the potential usefulness I've found and see in it. :shrug:

Naturally, not every tool is for every person, so whatever works for you works for you, and that's that. Like I said, I'm not trying to convince, only explain. :nice:

05-24-2007, 09:52 AM
What would be the nearest equivalent to OneNote in Linux-Land?

Bob Russell
05-24-2007, 10:31 AM
What would be the nearest equivalent to OneNote in Linux-Land?Here are some ideas..

05-24-2007, 10:56 AM
I like the way you summed all that up Natch, I guess I was short-changing it a bit. I saw it as simply a way to make scribbles you could organize like post-it notes. Guess there are quite a few more uses for it given the right creative inspiration.

Steven Lyle Jordan
05-24-2007, 12:25 PM
For me, since I type faster than I write, I use either my PC or my PDA and its folding keyboard to take serious notes on things. Usually I know in enough advance time that I need to take something down to have the PC or PDA open to the proper doc or note when I need it. As a result, I use full sheets of paper for almost nothing.

Quick notes of 1-2 little things are sometimes relegated to post-it notes, just because for unexpected needs they are often faster for me to get my hands on in a pinch. First chance I get (like once I've hung up the phone, or whatever), I transfer those notes by hand into my PDA or PC (either works, since they sync up the notes with each other).

I've never known anyone who actually had compatible PDA gear to allow them to beam cards back and forth... or if they did, they didn't know how it worked! (For the record, I've never done it, so I don't know how, either!) I just take the cards, hold onto them, and transfer the most important into my contact list manually (for on-the-go access).

05-24-2007, 12:41 PM
I like the way you summed all that up Natch, I guess I was short-changing it a bit. I saw it as simply a way to make scribbles you could organize like post-it notes. Guess there are quite a few more uses for it given the right creative inspiration.I didn't think you'd short changed it, per se (and I may be over perceiving its usefulness, for that matter), I just figured you had something else that worked for you. :nice:

If you're interested in a quick run through on it, I found the tutorial thingy on the '07 version (haven't seen the '03 version, so I don't know what's different) to be really well done from an explaining what it can do point of view. I figured they included that because they actually realized that most folks would initially react similarly to how I did since its function and usefulness just aren't obvious without the explanation. :shrug:

For me the selective screen capture feature alone is particularly useful (I think they call it something clever like "Clip"): it allows selecting exactly the part of the screen to capture, so it saves time cropping things later. :smug:

05-24-2007, 12:45 PM
Here are some ideas..
Thanks! Just what I was looking for.

05-26-2007, 03:36 AM
For me to really switch from paper to umpc, tablet or anything else, the most important requirement would be to have 4 or 5 equivalent gadgets at the same time.

I would prefer 4-5 A4 tablet PCs of the slate kind with an e-paper screen or similar if possible. All of these devices to be synchronised to my PC in an instant.

As I never work with a single sheet of paper only, but many often I use several documents to finalise a new one, I badly need the ability to have all of them before me at the same time.

These devices do not even need to have a full operating system. I need only handwriting, document/page switching, saving, synchronising to a common data storage. The hardware needs to be as sleek as possible. One more thing: preferably not running on Windows but open sourced software as I don't want to learn IT all over again every 3 years and drop out all my documents when a new version of Windows replaces everything I got used to. Also I hate pop-up windows, because I know what I am doing and I don't need an "office assistant" to provide me with advice continouosly.

Unfortunately, I am not setting the market trend, so I don't expect my dream to be realised in the next 10 years. These things are just way too expensive.

Finally I hope you get my point that having a single but "perfect" device will not really allow us to transfer from paper to e-solutions unless you have super-power memory of course ...

05-26-2007, 11:01 AM
I just use a plain text editor on my mac to make notes on my projects (or sometimes, plain text email to myself, especially if I'm not near my own machine). The screen is big enough that I can have a few of these up at a time. Too bad there are no tablet macs, and no HWR software for Linux. (I won't use Windows if I can help it.)