I used to spend my life in conference calls – its a symptom of working for a global organisation , where your boss and co workers are separated by thousands of miles. It got so frequent I almost felt like I was hearing the familiar bleep every time someone left the room. Occasionally calls would be accompanied by some form of online component , be it livemeeting , WebEx , gotomeeting or any number of similar collaborative tools. More often than not these would be used to display meeting minutes , or to check that colleagues working from home had actually bothered to get dress that morning!
In contrast , a meeting in the office itself used a much more simple tool – a whiteboard. Nothing says brainstorming than 3 or 4 guys fighting for the marker pen by a 6 by 4 foot expanse of shiny white potential. The cloud at the top of any diagram would inevitably get doctored to become “the internet sheep” but a good diagram would remain , almost like a trophy for a few weeks afterwards.
What I think I’m trying to say is that I miss my whiteboards. When I’m not visiting customers, I’m at home in the “office” ( spare room ) and I’ve been banned from putting whiteboards up for now, so I started to think about the alternatives. The thought struck me while I was watching some Training CBT’s , which of course feature the presenter using a tablet as part of an onscreen whiteboard. Almost all of the tools I use for online collaboration allow some form of whiteboarding, and for everything else , there is always MS paint !
I needed to get myself a tablet , but not break the bank – a quick hunt of my local tech forum confirmed that the weapon of choice for a serious “tabby” as I shall now refer to tablet users seems to be the Wacom Series – they look like pretty handy bits of kit , but at an equally handy price. I know I’m not going to be making heavy use of my tablet for any illustration or photo retouching so an A4 sized beast is probably out of scope – still even the smaller tablets looked a little bit out of the price range for what was still an experimental purchase.
Whilst hunting for a second hand tablet on eBay, I noticed a fair number of tablets by the familiar , if a little “cheap and cheerful” brand Trust. The tablets seemed to be pretty reasonably priced at about half the cost of the equivalent Wacom , and with some surprisingly positive reviews. I eventually found the same tablet for almost half the price on Amazon The photo is slightly misleading as I wouldn’t say the surface bends quite that far – I was almost under the impression you could roll the tablet up , which would have made it very portable. It is flexible , but I’m still not sure what sort of purpose the flex servers , other than weight saving. The pen requires a single AAA battery , but its not really affected the balance of it.
In terms of usage , it was very straightforward – the Windows 7 Installs on both my laptop and desktop picked it up straight away , though there is a supplied driver on CD for some extra tweaking. At the moment I am having more success with the tablet on my laptop rather than desktop – my desktop uses two monitors , which effectively cuts the tablet resolution in two – its still ok for annotating a PowerPoint slide , but I wouldn’t really feel happy drawing a diagram with it. Speaking of drawing, I realised one key element – If you can’t draw on a whiteboard , using a tablet isn’t going to make it much better! I’ve been doing a few test diagrams , and while I think they are probably a bit more personal than freehand with a mouse , I’m not sure if I would really feel happy presenting them to a customer – perhaps I might be better of sticking with Visio after all….