I’m not going to get into the specs of the Pepper Pad 3. That info is better presented on their site. This is an account of what it was like to use it.
I spent at least an hour with a Pepper Pad 3 on Friday, then I monopolized a unit for another hour Saturday before switching to yet another one for a third final hour — and then was asked to leave their booth because people couldn’t use it. (Five minutes later, I pass by their booth and only one person is there! Attention vendors: Do not shoo me away. People will crowd your booth if I am there. Just so they can annoy me!)
These are the things I did on a Pepper Pad 3.
I went to the following sites: Palm Addicts, ebay, New York Public Library, Internet Tablet Talk, YouTube, Keepvid, AbeBooks, Yahoo Mail, the website of The Signal (p)odcast, the website and PDF of Digital Puppet Magazine, and the admin section of this blog.
Palm Addicts – this is a huge site and would often give the Nokia 770 trouble under Tablet OS 2005 (it works better under Tablet 2006). Palm Addicts loaded fine and there was no hesistation while scrolling up or down. All images loaded. No problems.
ebay – signed into my account, went to Favorite Searches, clicked on a link there, found an item I wanted to add to my Watch List. This was a problem for me. The way I usually use ebay is to have it open in three (Firefox) tabs: Watch List, Favorites, and a search result. I couldn’t find a way to spawn the additional tabs. This is most likely an oversight on my part (I also didn’t ask for help!). A real problem occurred when I tapped on Add This Item To My Watch List. When this works normally, the page will Refresh and that link will change to You Are Watching This Item. That didn’t happen no matter how many times I hit the link. But when I went to my Watch List, the item was there. First bug encountered!
New York Public Library – signed onto my account, checked the status of my Books Out (one overdue, so I renewed it), Hold Requests, and List. I came across a display issue I also have on the 770. At the LEO page are 4 links in the top right: LEO en español, Login, My List, Help. These are supposed to be on one straight line. But sometimes tapping on them using the 770 causes them to move, so they each wrap and become vertically centered. This also happened on the Pepper Pad 3. Personally, the NYPL’s site has poor design and this oddity might just be part of that.
Internet Tablet Talk – went to a large forum thread, clicked on Thread Tools/Show Printable Version. This is an iffy and slow process with the 770. No problem with the Pepper Pad 3.
YouTube – all Flash videos played. Although on Friday it was possible to get them to expand to fullscreen, on Saturday Pepper’s AP was so crowded that it wasn’t possible. But I did see them play fine fullscreen earlier.
Keepvid – copied a YouTube video’s URL into their conversion box. Got the Download link for a converted video. Video downloaded and played fine on the Pepper Pad 3. I cannot get Keepvid to display a Download link on the Nokia 770.
AbeBooks – did an Advanced Search for an author. No problem. No problem with the 770 running OS 2006.
Project Gutenberg – searched for an author, downloaded a Plucker version of his ebook. Pepper Pad 3 reported there was no application to open this kind of file and saved it to disk. Clicking on either the Text or HTML version of the same ebook simply displayed them in their respective format.
Yahoo Mail – signed onto my account, opened an email that had a JPEG attachment and downloaded it. No problem. Opened an email that had an attached (and legal) MP3 and tried to download it. It would not download. This was the second outright bug on the Pepper Pad 3. Composed an email to myself and attempted to upload an attachment. The File dialog opened and it was blank; no files were displayed on the Pad. I was unable to upload a file to attach. This was the third bug.
The Signal – clicked on the icon for the MP3 of Program 19. Above the browser a row of audio controls appeared and the MP3 began to play. To specifically save the MP3, I had to click to get a Save Audio File choice. Since this was a large audio file, I aborted it before completion to save on Pepper’s AP throughput. No problems.
Digital Puppet Magazine – scrolled down and clicked on the Summer 2004 issue. Adobe Acrobat Reader came up. On this Pad, it was the first time it was activated and I had to accept the license. The dialog box for this was large and ran off the bottom of the screen (I could still click Accept). Once that was done, the PDF downloaded and displayed fine. The Pad had sufficient horsepower to scroll up/down with no hesitation. Very nice. Reading PDFs on this should go well.
WordPress admin area – I created a new Post, typed in the text for it using the Pepper’s split keyboard, selected and uploaded a JPEG for the post. Before I could post, however, I was shooed away. The reason you have not seen this post is because I apparently cannot get that particular bit of the WordPress admin section to display properly using Opera on the Nokia 770! The post remains in limbo until I get to my desktop PC (or possibly an Apple Store!). (See what you did to yourself, Pepper? Don’t you guys watch My Name is Earl? Karma just bit you!)
At a post-shoo return to their booth, I was able to see Japanese and Cyrillic text displayed via the local Google sites.
The Pad could easily pair with my portable (imported from China via ebay) Bluetooth keyboard. Despite the ton of Bluetooth devices saturating the Javits Center, the Pad listed the keyboard by itself in its Found Devices list. Typing worked very well for me. Unlike on the Nokia 770, I did not get cursor hestitation, dupppplicate [sic] characters, or have Backspacing run wild. I would actually be able to get real typing done on the Pad. I made Pepper’s ubergeek laugh because my second test sentence was “Die 770 Die!” (Does My Name is Earl play in Finland?)
Since the Pad also has (unlike the Nokia 770) USB Host Mode (via two ports: standard and mini), I did a sordid and unnatural yet fitting act: I attached the Nokia 770 to the Pad via USB cable and transferred some files from the 770 to the Pad. It went very well. (Maybe Nokia should check Limewire for My Name is Earl?)
The Pepper comes with a CD for Windows PCs that duplicates the applications found on the Pad itself. Documents and files (photos, music, video) can be synced back and forth. Although this sounds like Palm Desktop, it’s more than that: You essentially get the Pad running on the desktop thanks to the Magic of Java.
Out of the box neither MPEG-2 nor DiVX video are supported. This is a cost decision. However, these codecs are available for download so MPEG-2 and DiVX video can actually play on the Pad. I saw an XviDed AVI play and it was stunning.
The tiny split keyboard is usable. The keys are large enough and spaced far enough apart that I was never able to press two at the same time. They have good tactile feedback. Also supported are standard keyboard commands CTL-C, X, V (Copy, Cut, Paste). While the keyboard letters are in standard QWERTY fashion, punctuation and symbols are not in their usual places and some of them are printed in blue and to invoke them a special Blue key has to be pressed. I didn’t have any problem with this. The split keyboard — because the Pad is then held in both hands — gives the Pad a balance in the hand I’ve generally found lacking with UMPCs.
A brilliant invention is the elliptical roller on the right side for scrolling through pages. It works very, very well. On the left side is a 4-way directional pad with center buttton. It has a great feel, doesn’t wobble, and also works well. In fact, I have to say these are the best controls I’ve encountered on any portable device.
The stylus is full-sized, all-plastic, and is stored in a grip on the front of the Pad just below the screen. I’m not fond of this but I could live with it.
The screen of the Pad is fine. No flaws, no “stagelights” or dimming at the corners. Brightness, viewing angle, and color are fine. There is no HWR software, so interacting with the screen is mainly for tapping, selecting text, and cropping photos.
Did I just type “cropping photos?” Yes. Again, unlike the Nokia 770, the Pad has a photo application that allows photos to be grouped in albums and, among a few other minor features, allows photos to be cropped. I would have loved to have demonstrated this feature, but that planned post is in limbo because of, well, you know…
Aside from the photo software, there is a Journal program that offers rudimentary word processing functions; a browser based on Firefox 1.5; an audio player; a video player; Adobe Acrobat Reader; MobiPocket Reader; a mail application; and more.
A File Manager. No, I am not kidding. There isn’t one. It’s still being worked on. Seriously, the Pad can be used without it. Each application still has access to its own files. And there is, as I will explain in my Conclusion, no reason to look at the Pepper Pad 3 as a conventional computer.
A Calculator. Stop it, I’m not kidding! There’s a clock, but no calculator. I don’t know if there ever will be. It seems to have become a legendary issue at Pepper.
Also missing is the photo application’s ability to list photos in an album just by their filenames instead of as (untitled!) thumbnails. This is being worked on.
Consistency in the web browser’s ability to ask if you wish to store your signon information for a site. This worked except when I got to Yahoo Mail. It did not ask if I wanted to save my username and password. (I must point out that the Nokia 770 works flawlessly in this respect.)
The tabbing in the browser. Instead of a (shield your eyes) stupid goddammed endlessly sl-o-o-o-w-l-y scrolling desktop-like menu of bookmarked sites (hello, Nokia 770!), the Pad allows bookmarked sites to be arranged, if you like, in groups under tabs. It is heaven.
The general UI. They have put some real thought into the Pad’s UI, trying to get away from the desktop WIMP GUI of the past twenty-plus(!!!) years. There are still artifacts such as drop-down menus (will we ever be free of them?), but there is no underlying desktop. At the bottom of the screen are icons for all the apps (plus some Prefs/Settings). I actually had to ask how I could switch from the browser to a different app because I couldn’t find a way to minimize the browser. (Don’t you laugh at me! Everyone — including you! — upon encountering Pocket PC for the first time ((as Palm-Sized PC)) asked how to close the apps!) I didn’t have to Minimize, just tap on an app’s icon at the bottom of the screen to switch!
Access to the CLI. Let me trot it out once again: Unlike the Nokia 770, gaining root is there to have. A nice little Console pops up for non-GUI power.
Front-mounted webcam. It’s only VGA and I didn’t bother to try it, but it’s there. Some people make a big deal out of these things.
NTSC video-out. Yep, it’s there. I didn’t get to try it but I was told it would be possible to play YouTube videos on a TV. Or a slideshow of photos.
TV remote control. Yep. Pepper understood that if people will use this on their couch, they’ll probably want to point it at their nearby TV too!
Overall, Pepper has brought a real competitor to UMPC to market. I could, with no qualms, argue that what they have done is to create the first true leisure computer. With a very friendly interface, wonderful hardware controls, and easy-to-use popular applications, all wrapped up in a non-desktop UI, Pepper has a real opportunity to create a new product category and new way of computing. Anyone sitting down to use a Pepper Pad 3 will — because it does not look like Windows — think Fun, not Work. It’s the world’s first real Couch Computer.