I have been eyeing up the Nokia n810 tablet recently, thinking about how useful it might be in a field setting. The n810 is essentially a small, slimmed down computer running on an ARM processor (versus your typical Intel chip in most computers). ARM chips are used in most low-power devices such as mobile phones, where battery life is an important consideration. Likewise, out in the field we don’t always have easy access to electricity, although we have started to experiment with solar panels and battery packs. There are similar (and likely more computationally powerful) devices that use Intel chips, but at this point their price is a fair bit higher, and from what I could see the power draw is greater as well. The thing about the n810 is that it can be charged from a USB port, versus the much higher power requirements of something like a laptop. While the n810 comes with a Linux distribution called Maemo, people have recently managed to port Ubuntu to the device (as well, Ubuntu has been working up an ARM distribution). By using something like Ubuntu on the n810, we have a full suite of applications that we can use, from word processing (although I think OpenOffice on it would be a little unwieldy) to GIS.
While ths seems like a neat idea, the question becomes also, why? While some of the things like GIS might be nice, so that we could be updating our databases in the field, they’re probably not necessary. I have thought about whether it would be useable for reading pdfs or books, to cut down on weight, but how much weight would we really cut out if we need portable power solutions? I still would like to try it out for writing things like manuscripts, but the small keyboard size may make this a problem too.
Nonetheless, I think that it could be a worthwhile thing to try, as the costs to try it out are always coming down.