First impressions of ExoPC and of Windows 7 as a tablet PC OS (Part One)

by Jon Davis 3. November 2010 18:52

Welp, I'm writing this on my brand spanking new ExoPC with a paired-up Apple Wireless Keyboard (the mini one that works well with the iPad). The ExoPC just arrived and I've used it for a while now.

These were my thoughts and journal as I pulled it out of the box and fired it up and made use of it. FYI this is neither a review nor a fanboy unboxing, this has all the ugly bits of what I DON’T like and what DOESN’T work along with what does. It’s not just ExoPC I’m looking at here, either, it’s Windows 7 as a slate OS.

  1. Good, no fingerprints nor smudges on the back by the ExoPC staff upon arrival. I was worried about that. Unfortunately, the material is the same as what I thought it was; scratches and smudges will show, so this will definitely need a case/skin.
  2. Strange shape, the corners. Nothing I didn't already observe from YouTube, etc., but holding it in my hands and calling it mine, after using an iPad, .. kind of an odd shape. Viewed in landscape mode, the top bezel is narrower than the bottom bezel.
  3. Hm. It's not turning on. Is it a dud? Where's the plug, maybe the battery's drained ...
  4. Plugged in, still not turning on. Oh. Just hold the power button down for like 5 seconds. Hrm. Shoulda read that Quick Start Guide. Wait, no.. the Quick Start Guide doesn't mention it.
  6. Hm. This screen. It's not Apple. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad screen. It's just .. well, it's not Apple. Apple is the shiznat when it comes to beautiful screens. They only use the most beautiful, most brilliant affordable screens man can produce. ExoPC is not Apple. Hence, this screen. It's like a cheap netbook screen. Have you ever bought a new cheap laptop and the screen looked kinda .. well, glittery and flourescent? This screen is kinda glittery and florescent. And it still has some problems being viewed at an angle. It's like a low-end laptop screen in terms of appearance. Sorry ExoPC, I have to be honest here. EDIT: Despite colors issue (it has a painfully blue tint, and is really not very brilliant), at least it’s pretty high-resolution, and that matters a great deal to me. I still like it.
  7. OK, this is something I think Microsoft needs to fix. When tapping on something, a fat finger will go down on one area, then come up on a slightly different area. iOS and Android are truly amazing at figuring out where I really intended to tap, in fact I can usually get my fat finger to tap within about two three pixels of my target. But with Windows 7, as the finger comes back up and the tap becomes a mouse click, the mouse moves during the up-stroke. Let me say that again: the mouse moves down while the finger comes off the screen when tapping, causing mouse "clicks" (taps) to miss. It's horrible, and requires an extreme amount of care when tapping. Fortunately, this is a vertical problem and not a horizontal problem; I've made a number of edits to this very paragraph by tapping next to the word I want the caret to edit, and it has worked flawlessly with each tap. My frustration was with, for example, drop-down menus and dialog buttons.
  8. First thing I saw after initial setup: Windows 7 desktop. ExoPC software must be launched.
  9. First thing that happened when launching ExoPC software: Got a dialog message saying that I must download and install a mandatory update. Tapping OK did nothing. Tapping OK again brought up full-blown Internet Explorer, which in turn brought up the security dialog for allowing for a file download. (ExoPC: Guys, this needs to be changed to an automatic download and install, don't use the web browser for this. Think Xbox 360 experience.)
  10. Prior observations of the ExoPC software based on watching YouTube videos: I sense a lot of love. I think there is a lot of Apple-like brilliance in the way tasks are exited on the right side. I don't like the sideways roll-in; were this built in WPF it could have been a lot cleaner. I absolutely hate the aesthetic of the "W" "W" "W" button-like graphics for the web browser!! Yuck!! .. and completely unnecessary / non-functional.
  11. First observation of the ExoPC software after update: ExoPC's designers need to use WPF, not Silverlight. WPF is more tailored for hardware acceleration. Also, as I am hearing the "Navigate Complete" sound from Internet Explorer when tapping into sections, unless they invoke this system sound manually I can tell that the ExoPC screens are HTML4-based using WebBrowser objects. Slate tablets are much more suited for WPF-based software and software developers need to stop using clunky technologies when creating slates.
  12. Second observation of the ExoPC software after update: ExoPC's designers need to watch this video which I just watched yesterday:
    Case in point: The software is artful and useful, but a bit chaotic and not very structured and organized. Everything seems to be laid out somewhat randomly.
  13. Third observation of the ExoPC software: Those circle images for "W" "W" "W" in the web browser that's launched by the ExoPC software .. still yuck. Now that I've seen the other app icons, those are kind of yuck, too. The graphic design by ExoPC is good but not very good and definitely not world-class like Apple is.
  14. First thing I manually downloaded: Google Chrome (made it default).
  15. Second thing I manually downloaded: SiliconDust HD Homerun drivers so I can test watching HD television over WiFi.
  16. First adjustment I rushed to make: Windows Explorer; Alt+T,O (Tools --> Folder Options); Click items as follows: Single-click to open an item (point to select).
    This makes Windows 7 behave like iPad and Android as far as launching apps goes.
  17. Second adjustment I rushed to make: Control Panel -> Sounds -> Theme: Characters
    That "Navigate Complete" bump sound in both Internet Explorer and (AAACCK!!) in the ExoPC software drives me absolutely bonkers as it reminds me of Windows 98. "Characters" is a nice hi-tech sound scheme, and its "Navigate Complete" sound mapping, which I might still turn off, is less Windows 98-ish.
  18. Next task I performed: Set up Live TV on Media Center with HD Homerun, while starting these notes.
  19. Bummer. The HDMI out is the mini-HDMI sort so I can't test the HDMI out yet.
  20. Next observation about Windows 7 and touch interface: You know those little drop-down menu buttons next to toolbar icons, like for example the narrow down-arrow button next to the bullets toolbar/ribbon button in WordPad that lets you choose what type of bullets or numbering you want to use? Yeah. It's rough having fat fingers. Amazingly, the horizontal accuracy of the screen is really not bad, though. Thank goodness they're just narrow and not also short!
  21. Ooo. Confirmed, Media Center not only looks like it's surely touch-ready, it is touch-ready! Yaay! Also, live HD television works fine on the ExoPC over WiFi, so the graphics card is indeed able to handle that. There was some bandwidth garbling at first (for about five or ten seconds) but it eventually evened out and I watched the next 30 seconds or so flicker-free in 24 fps @ high resolution.
  22. Bummer. Google Chrome is not touch-scrolling, and apparently doesn't support multi-touch, at least not at any self-detecting default behavior. I have to use the scrollbar. Oops, scratch that, I do have to still use the scrollbar, but pinching will adjust the font size. *sigh*
  23. Hulu test @ 360p: Functional, but pretty low FPS (like, 5-10 fps). Live TV in HD from HDHomerun will look good because real TV from HDHomerun is not heavily compressed, but the heavy compression in Flash video at Hulu is a burden on the CPU that just doesn't look very good on ExoPC. I ran the same show (The Office: "Costume Contest") in split-second-precise parallel, on my first-generation Mac Mini which is running at 1080p resolution, and the FPS on the Mac Mini is much, much higher (like, maybe, 15-20, which is perhaps the source stream FPS). I'm not running FPS diagnostics here so I don't have the real numbers, but anything below 60 fps is visible to the human eye so it's reasonable guesswork.
  24. (Stepped out for an errand) Returned and noticed that the screen compared to my desktop screen is extremely blue. The white background for this text editor is light blue, not white.
  25. Next observation: Not pressure-sensitive at all, as I tried poking at it with the back of a pen and nothing happened. (I guess this is a feature, not an issue.)
  26. Sometimes the on-screen keyboard doesn't "take" pressing the enter key or dragging a window. The previous line item (and this one) was entered with the on-screen display, but after shifting focus or somesuch activity nothing happened when I tapped the Enter key until I tapped some letters or something. Strange. And the keyboard window would not drag just now until I shifted focus to Wordpad, then back to the keyboard, or something. It's one of those difficult-to-reproduce things, but I think it might have something to do with the fact that I had stepped away from the unit overnight, and we all know how Windows has to reorient itself to the presence of a user for a few seconds if the user was away for a long time, as Windows likes to hunt for mice at night, etc. Otherwise, I'm sure this behavior won't happen while typing or doing just one thing, it would only happen if you fake out the UI, .. hey, what's that over there?!
  27. Off topic.. hey Microsoft, when you gonna put the user's picture in the Personalization control panel (instead of the User Accounts control panel)? Can't get more personalized than setting up your picture.
  28. Downloading Steam.
  29. Rotate detection / auto-rotate is not working. Millennium is running, option is checked.
  30. Ugh, Steam login doesn't show on-screen keyboard button. Using Bluetooth keyboard.
  31. Installing Torchlight (from Steam) to see what happens. Torchlight is like Diablo, and it should be touch-friendly because so much of the game is just mousing over the monsters or friendly dialog characters and then left-clicking the mouse.
  32. Oops, just noticed that there are 55 Windows updates waiting for me. (Holding off for a bit.)
  33. I love the iOS-like touch behavior of WordPad. It scrolls with a flick and the whole window border moves like a spring when you reach the end.
  34. Sometimes buttons just don't press the first time. I know the tap itself "took" because I see the water ripples effect, and I know the pointer didn't miss because the arrow and the touch location indicator (a little tiny square) is right smack on the button, but only a second tap will sometimes "take". This could be a real, genuine problem; in games, it could ruin the game, and on a medical software interface it could mean someone's life. Just sayin'!
  35. Alright, I just got Torchlight installed. Loading Torchlight was very slow. There's a problem with the touch interfacing here; what seemed initially like random buttons getting pushed, it turns out that, at least in the Torchlight menu UI, screen taps do not invoke a mouse-move first, so wherever the mouse was last dragged, that's where the screen tap will *click*. This is an issue; screen taps should invoke a mouse-move event first before mouse-clicking, rather than just mouse clicking. Knowing this, I found it much easier to navigate the menus and set the screen resolution in Torchlight and set up a new character. Unfortunately, while I did manage to get the game to load, and the game does load and it's even (more or less) playable, the FPS rate is so low (feels like 5 fps) that I knew I wouldn't be playing this game on this device.
  36. Next up is World of Goo. WoG works great, it's very touch-and-drag friendly.
  37. I noticed an issue while playing WoG. If you tap in three different places on the screen very fast, tap-tap-tap, suddenly all touch functionality will cease. You have to stop touching the device altogether for a few seconds before it will start responding to touch again. I guess it's a safety mechanism for pressure-sensitive tablet PCs to keep them from tapping everywhere when carring such a device, but that safety mechanism isn't appropriate here (on the ExoPC which is strictly capacititve). I hoped this might explain my on-screen keyboard problems earlier, but it didn't seem to affect Wordpad nor the on-screen keyboard, as of course it shouldn't since an on-screen keyboard would have lots of keys to tap all over the screen.
  38. Aaand after editing something above I seem to have lost my Bluetooth connection to my keyboard again. It was hell getting it to sync in the first place. DON'T RECOMMEND THE APPLE WIRELESS KEYBOARD! (Crossed-out, see below.) Even after re-syncing it won't work.
  39. Gonna try running all those 55 Windows Updates, see if that fixes the Bluetooth issue etc.   … Nope.
  40. Ohh LOL.. figured out the Apple Wireless Keyboard problem! I had previously sync'd with my iPad which was all the way in the other room. I had to go in there and turn Bluetooth off on the iPad. Now the keyboard works fine with the ExoPC. Ha!
  41. Nice. Auto-rotate works now after installing updates and rebooting.
  42. Time to test WPF readiness for touch. I sought out some WPF sample apps and found this: .. but unfortunately when viewing details of a person I had added, the "Done" button was below the viewing threshold, and there was neither a scrollbar nor automatic scrolling behavior while attempting to drag the details panel. Rotating to portrait mode, I was able to reach the 'Done' button.
  43. .. but having switched to portrait mode, I realized how ridiculously tall and narrow the ExoPC is. On one hand it'd surely be no good for 8.5"x11" type of document reading (too tall and narrow), but then I realized that, say, Acrobat Reader, will always have a title bar and toolbar, unless viewing in full-screen mode, so really it all balances out.
  44. At this point I have become accustomed to using touch as my mouse pointer, when it works, so long as I am using the Apple Wireless Keyboard.
  45. Looking for Silverlight multitouch demos. is crap. Bad demo. is the place to go. Ugh, Silverlight is slow in Chrome on ExoPC, scratch that. WPF demos. in Internet Explorer is the place to go. Wait. I tapped "Enterprise". Where's the download button? Oh good grief, forget this...
  46. Alright let's download and install Windows Live Essentials and post all this up on my blog ...
  47. (Rebooted for Windows Live Essentials just to get Live Writer .. *facepalm*)
  48. Pasted here into Live Writer, yay. Hey .. nice, the Live Writer default font size, which is relatively small compared to WordPad, looks really good being so small. This display really is pretty high-resolution. Very good detail here.
  49. Live Writer is forcing me to invoke the taskbar launcher button to get at the on-screen keyboard to make edits. No handy keyboard button as I tap. Also, coming back to the on-screen keyboard again I’m again seeing the keyboard have difficulty maintaining touch responsiveness. It’s as though it’s daydreaming and forgetting about me altogether for as long as 10 seconds. If I focus back into the app and back into the keyboard it usually comes back, or I can wait a bit. Still, on-screen keyboard buttons erratically just decide not to respond even as I add this.

Alright, that’s enough this round.

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About the author

Jon Davis (aka "stimpy77") has been a programmer, developer, and consultant for web and Windows software solutions professionally since 1997, with experience ranging from OS and hardware support to DHTML programming to IIS/ASP web apps to Java network programming to Visual Basic applications to C# desktop apps.
Software in all forms is also his sole hobby, whether playing PC games or tinkering with programming them. "I was playing Defender on the Commodore 64," he reminisces, "when I decided at the age of 12 or so that I want to be a computer programmer when I grow up."

Jon was previously employed as a senior .NET developer at a very well-known Internet services company whom you're more likely than not to have directly done business with. However, this blog and all of have no affiliation with, and are not representative of, his former employer in any way.

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