When the iPad was announced, I must confess for a moment I was caught up in the hype. Especially in the nerdgasm of “ooh, what will THIS do for tabletop gaming?” But then a buddy of mine grounded me back into reality with a nice little reminder: It’s not a tablet computer, it’s just a damn iPod Touch: Supersized.
After that realization, I was curious about the available tablet PC’s on the market. My fiancee has one that she hardly uses — it’s older, cumbersome and the battery life on it was pretty yuck. While it was OK in the tablet department, it was hardly ever used as such due to being sub-par to her Wacom tablet. What I did end up purchasing is the ASUS T91 Tablet PC. It’s now a couple months later, and I’m happy to report I’m perfectly satisfied with this alternative and not even giving a passing glance at the iPad.
The T91 is a tablet netbook. It’s only an 8.9 inch monitor, and the specs are what you could expect from a Netbook: 1.33 Ghz Intel Atom processor, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB SSD hard drive and it comes with an additional 16 GB SD Card. It has a couple USB slots and an extra SD card slot, so storage isn’t a terrible issue to me since I’m not loading a lot of HD Movies or ridiculous music libraries. The version I bought came with Windows XP installed and I purchased it bundled with a replacement 2 GB RAM stick. It also has built in microphones and a 0.3 Megapixel Videocamera. Nothing fancy, but it sure does beat the video camera the iPad came with (Oh wait….)
Needless to say, it’s not a tablet geared for any heavy graphics processing or video gaming. The key emphasis here is that it is a NETBOOK. But, it’s a netbook with a swivel monitor that is also a touchscreen. Web browsing is pretty awesome, whether you’re using the included stylus or your own greasy fingers. Despite having a powerhouse desktop and even a gaming-capable laptop, I find myself sitting on the couch (or the toilet) many times a day with this thing. While it’s a pound heavier than an iPad, I’ve found its weight nicely dispersed and not a burden to hold or read from. It works awesome as a PDF reader…I’m able to use Adobe Acrobat in full screen mode and everything appears clean and clear and is easy to browse through (I believe the extra RAM helps that over the base model.) This is a good thing considering the amount of PDFs I now have on my DriveThruRPG account. Before having this, I still wasn’t fully convinced of PDFs being a replacement for books (mostly because of my bulky laptops in the past.) Now, reading from this sucker in bed feels no different than reading a paperback novel (especially when you flip the screen to be portrait sized over the standard landscape view.)
One thing I do have a gripe about is how sluggish the D&D Character Builder tools run on it, even causing the occasional crash. To be honest, I even get that on the Alienware MX11 I’m typing on right now…so I think shotty programming is more a culprit in those regards. To be honest, the best results I had with that software on my tablet was when it was running in “Super Performance Mode”. Anything lower caused hiccups.
That said, Hero Lab software works like a dream. Last few D&D character creation sessions went by pretty quickly just sitting down and jamming stuff out with the tablet. It was less cumbersome than a normal laptop, and was easy to pass back and forth. While I wouldn’t use graphic intense virtual tabletop functions with this tablet (especially since it lacks an HD out..although it does have VGA out) I would still use whatever your favorite combat tracking software with it (like DnD4eCM or Masterplan –both of which actually worked pretty well!)
One thing I will note is the battery life and its performance. To get the fastest load times and best results for media-rich content (like streaming video) you’ll want to keep it on Super Performance mode, which with WiFi kicking will give you around 3 Hours. Usually, if I’m just reading PDF’s or using local software, turning the performance down just a notch or two, a couple notches on the brightness or cutting off the wifi/bluetooth entirely nets me about 5 hours.
So for the Tabletop/RPG Enthusiast, I’d recommend the T91 for:
- PDF Reading
- Most character creation software
- Most combat tracking software
- Keeping up with notes/documents for the campaign during play
- Awesomely portable web browsing (rocks on the couch)
- Decent Battery Life
Strikes Against the T91:
- Definitely not a graphic powerhouse. It can handle streaming video OK in Super Performance mode. Again, it’s a Netbook.
- Processor does choke a bit in excessive multitasking.
- Onboard Battery Supply. It doesn’t completely phase me but I know many who refuse to purchase a laptop/netbook with one.
I should also note that the model I have was pretty much the first gen of the series. Since then, they have released a “T91MT” which supports MultiTouch, and comes issued with Windows 7. I was just happy to have a tiny netbook with a real touchscreen as opposed to a pointer stylus setup.
And just on a side note, I love it for its “serious” uses too. I actually use it with a free version of Quickbooks’ Cash Register Plus for my game shop at the local marketplace to keep track of sales and tax. The automatic standby mode it falls back on between uses gives it lots of life…I can usually squeeze about an entire weekend without recharging!