The CTL 2goPad may be one of the best budget Windows 7 slate PCs on the market today. It hits a sweet spot between features and price, thanks to its relatively affordable $549 price tag.
One of the tablets’ closest competitors is probably the Netbook Navigator Nav9 slate, which costs $699 and up if you want a Windows 7 version.Yet the 2goPad has a capacitive multitouch display, an accelerometer and several other features you won’t find on the Nav9 including custom buttons built into the side of the case for clicking “OK,” scrolling up and down, or launching a settings panel.
That said, being one of the best Windows tablets around might not be good enough for some users. The truth is that Windows still feels clunky on a slate PC with an Intel Atom processor and a relatively low resolution 1024 x 600 pixel display. It can be tough to tap the proper area on the screen at times; using the on-screen keyboard can be a maddening experience; and the computer just feels sluggish at times.
So is the CTL 2goPad worth the money? That depends on what you’re looking for. Read on for the details.
CTL sent me a demo unit to review. The 2goPad has a 10 inch, 1024 x 600 pixel capacitive multitouch (2-point) display, a 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450 processor, 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive. It runs Windows 7 Home Premium and has 802.11b/g/n WiFi, Bluetooth, stereo speakers, a 4 cell battery, and a 1.3MP camera.
The CTL 2goPad has a pretty sleek design. The front of the device is covered by a single sheet of plastic, with a 10.1 inch display in the center and a glossy black bezel around the edges. On the right side are a few capacitive touch buttons for scrolling, opening a settings menu, and pressing “OK.
Above the screen there’s a webcam, and below the display is the 2goPC logo — written in big, cartoony characters. It’s probably the weakest point of the tablet’s design. While CTL’s 2go PC line of computers typically includes netbooks for the education market, based on the Intel Classmate PC reference design, the 2goPad really looks like a device that would make an excellent business or consumer tablet — if it weren’t for the cartoony logo.
On the top of the computer there’s a microphone, power button, and a single LED that lets you know if the computer is on or the battery is charging. It’s a far cry from the half dozen status lights found on most windows laptops, but I really like the subtle design of the single status LED, which lets you know when the computer is active without presenting a distracting, flashing, in-your-face light.
There’s also a vent on the top of the computer, and if you place you hand over it, you’ll occasionally feel a bit of air flowing out — but it doesn’t get very warm, and the vent is placed in a location that you probably won’t place your hand over very often — something which I can’t say for some other Windows 7 slates.
The left side of the computer has an Ethernet jack, 2 USB ports, mic, headphone, and power jacks, and a special port for a VGA adapter. There’s also a plastic door covering the SD card slot.
At 2.6 pounds, the 2goPad SL10 is kind of heavy for a device that’s meant to be held in your hands. Sure, it’s not as heavy as some hardcover books, particularly textbooks, but if you plan to read eBooks on the tablet, you might be best off reading in bed where you can prop the computer up against your legs… or spending a little time at the gym first. I probably wouldn’t make such a big deal of the 2.6 pound weight if it weren’t for the fact that the slate essentially weighs just as much as a typical 10 inch netbook, despite the fact that it doesn’t have a keyboard or removable battery.
The SL10 measures 10.3″ x 6.6″ x 0.72″ and has a very solid feel to it even though the case is made of plastic.
CTL ships the 2goPad with a synthetic leather protective case, which can also serve as a stand thanks to a kickstand built into the back. There are cutouts along the sides of the case for accessing the ports, capacitive buttons, webcam, and power button. The case also covers up the 2goPad logo, which some users may see as a bonus feature.
Unlike some other tablets I’ve used recently the 2goPad SL10 has an accelerometer which allows you to rotate the display simply by shifting your grip on the computer. While this makes it very easy to switch from portrait to landscape mode and back again, it takes a few seconds for the screen to rotate, so you get to know the dark screen pretty well.
Speaking of the dark screen, the tablet has a very glossy display, so it serves quite well as a mirror when the screen is dark. I’m pretty sure I could shave pretty safely using the 2goPad. When the backlight is on, things get much better, but the screen will definitely reflect some glare if you try to use it in or near sunlight.
The viewing angles on the CTL 2goPad are much better than those on the Netbook Navigator Nav9 tablet, allowing you to tilt the computer a bit without all the colors washing out. But it still doesn’t come close to the Apple iPad, which has an IPS display that’s viewable at nearly any angle.
Performance and Battery life
The more I use small, low power slate computers running Windows 7, the more I’m convinced that you really need a bit more machine to get a good touchscreen experience out of the operating system. While I have no doubt that a machine with a 12 inch, 1366 x 768 pixel display, an active digitizer and stylus, and maybe an Intel Core 2 Duo chip (and preferably a keyboard tucked away beneath the screen) could probably provide a decent user experience, a 1024 x 600 pixel screen just feels cramped, and when you add an Intel Atom processor and integrated GMA 3150 graphics to the mix, things just start to get sluggish at times.
If you propped the CTL 2goPad SL10 up using the kickstand on the case, plugged in a keyboard and mouse and used it as a desktop or laptop style computer, you’d get about the same kind of performance we’ve come to expect from a netbook. (That’s a little tricky though, since the case blocks one of the USB Ports). The computer can handle basic multitasking, allowing you to listen to music, chat in an instant messenger, and surf the web all at the same time. You can watch standard definition Flash video or local video content, although 720p local video is hit or miss.
The computer is certainly more than powerful enough for running a single task at a time. CTL typically markets its 2goPad products at the education market, and odds are in a school setting multitasking might not be that important.
Things get a bit iffier when you unplug the keyboard and mouse and use the computer as a tablet, which is really how it’s meant to be used.
The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s hard to tap on some links, text, close or minimize boxes, or other UI elements because Windows was designed for a keyboard and mouse, not a fingertip. When you place your finger or thumb on the keyboard, it’s much larger than most of the items you’re actually trying to tap. So it’s a little too easy to close a window when you meant to minimize it, or vice versa — although a little practice can certainly help relieve these problems.
Adjusting the Windows DPI settings, resizing the Windows scrollbars, toolbars, and other elements can also help. But when you’re using a computer with a 1024 x 600 pixel display, it feels kind of silly to resize screen elements to make them take up more space.
I also noticed that if you hold the tablet in your hands, you may occasionally hit the Up, down, settings, and OK button by accident at inopportune times. For instance, if you press one of these buttons while you’re trying to type using the on-screen keyboard, it may disappear altogether. You can get used to this by adjusting your grip, although using the synthetic leather case also helps since it puts a little space between the capacitive touch buttons and your hand.
The second thing you’ll notice is that entering text is a bit of a chore. When you tap on a text input area, an icon will pop up showing you a small image of a keyboard. Tap that icon and the Windows 7 on-screen keyboard will open. You can use this to type, and since the capacitive display can accept up to two inputs at a time, you might actually be able to touch-type… or at least to type with your thumbs much as you would on a smartphone.
I found entering text much easier on the 2goPad than the Netbook Navigator Nav9, thanks to the capacitive display. Or rather, once the keyboard was open and situated properly, entering text was easier. The problem is that the keyboard isn’t really well enough integrated into the operating system.
Sometimes you tap a text input area (like the location bar in a web browser or the edit window of a word processor or notepad), and the keyboard icon doesn’t pop up right away. When it does, the keyboard will appear wherever it was the last time you used it: at the top of the screen, the bottom, in the middle, or wherever. You may have to slide it to the position where it will be the least obtrusive, which is tough to do because no matter what you do, sometimes the keyboard will cover up the screen where the text should appear — making it difficult to check for typos and spelling mistakes.
The keyboard is also very difficult to use in portrait mode, because Windows squashes the keyboard when you turn the screen sideways, without removing any keys. So you still have all the number keys, Fn keys, Tab, Shift, Ctrl, and other keys where you really need them or not.
There are some third party tools that address the keyboard issue. I tested Thinix Touch on the 2goPad, and it almost made entering text bearable. The software replaces the Windows shell with a custom program launcher and an on-screen keyboard with nice large keys. The best thing about the keyboard is that it automatically resizes the window of whatever program you’re using when you launch the keyboard so that the on-screen keyboard won’t cover up the text.
Unfortunately, when you close the keyboard, the window only seems to return to its normal size about half of the time. A bigger problem is that it just takes too long for the keyboard to appear, and sometimes I found myself hitting the keyboard button repeatedly after thinking nothing had happened, only to then watch as the keyboard appeared and disappeared several times.
You can also dock the Windows 7 keyboard to the bottom of the screen, which should similarly resize apps. But you still have to pull up the keyboard manually, and I found that it takes up more than half the screen in landscape mode on a device with a 1024 x 600 pixel display.
CTL loads the 2goPad with an application called EasyBits Quick, which is also aimed at making the tablet a bit more touch-friendly. Unlike Thinix Touch, Quick isn’t a complete Windows shell replacement. In fact, you can still use the Windows 7 Start Menu and Taskbar while Quick is running. But Quick does provide a customizable application launcher which gives you nice big icons for frequently used programs, organized by categories such as Quick Launch, Games, Common Folders, and Desktop (for viewing items stored on your desktop).
Adding programs to the Quick Launch menu is as as easy as tapping the Settings menu… but you’ll have better results if you flip to portrait mode to do this, since the “OK” and “Cancel” buttons are located below the edge of the display in landscape mode.
While EasyBits Quick is attractive, it doesn’t really add that much functionality to the 2goPad, and in one sense it draws attention to the low power nature of the tablet. When you switch tabs, (between Quick Launch and Games, for instance), there’s a brief animation where the program shortcuts explode from the center of the display until they’re all lined up and ready for you to press. The animation is incredibly jerky and really just takes too long to finish. I don’t know if the processor, graphics, or something else are to blame, but I would probably turn off the animation effect if there was an option in the Quick settings.
When you tap the Settings button on the right side of the display, it launches an app called Notebook Manager, which provides quick access to volume and brightness controls and buttons to toggle the WiFi, Bluetooth, and Camera features. You can also
OK, so to sum up so far, entering text is clunky and awkward, it can be hard to tap on some screen elements and you might end up tapping multiple times to get one thing done, but at least it’s easy to launch programs. So what kind of apps are you likely to run on this device? I spent some time surfing the web, watching videos, and reading eBooks and the experience wasn’t all that bad once you get used to some of the computer’s quirks.
Surfing the web using Internet Explorer or Firefox (the two browsers I tested), was actually somewhat pleasant. Both browsers supported touch gestures out of the box, including pinching the screen to zoom or flicking a finger up, down, or two fingers left or right to scroll through web pages.
One problem that I think it inherent to all 1024 x 600 pixel tablets is that the screen is effectively a 600 x 1024 pixel display in portrait mode — and many web pages were not meant to be viewed at that resolution. While the browsers on the iPhone, Android, WebOS, and other mobile devices automatically reflow text to fit on low resolution displays, I haven’t found a desktop browser that does this yet, which means your only choice when reading a web site that doesn’t fit well on the screen in portrait mode is to spend a lot of time scrolling or to zoom out of the whole web site — which sometimes makes text look a little funny.
I also found that I often clicked on the wrong links in web pages, because of the aforementioned problem hitting precise areas with an imprecise implement (my fingertip). Likewise, I occasionally tapped a link and opened a new web page when I was simply trying to scroll. The act if of putting my finger on the screen to start a scrolling motion was sometimes enough to accidentally open a link.
Another problem is that some web sites are just clearly not meant to be used on a touchscreen display. For instance, I have a really hard time using the Google Reader web-based RSS reader on Windows tablets, because you can’t use keyboard shortcuts to skip through stories, and kinetic scrolling doesn’t work. I wish there was an option to switch to the excellent iPhone/Android version of the web app even when using a desktop browser. The default mobile version just doesn’t cut it.
I had no problems at all viewing YouTube videos… as long as I didn’t push the resolution past 480p. Videos looked good in full screen or windowed mode.
I also installed the Amazon Kindle app for PC to see how the 2goPad SL10 fares as an eBook reader. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s kind of heavy, but books actually look pretty good on the tablet and if you don’t have a problem holding a 2.6 pound device while reading, it could work pretty well as an eBook device — unless you tend to do marathon reading sessions, because the 2goPad battery clearly wasn’t designed for that.
I got about 3 hours of battery life while using the tablet to surf the web, stream some music over the internet, watch a YouTube video or two, and install a couple of applications. I suspect you could get an extra 30 to 60 minutes if you turned off the WiFi, dimmed the display and just sat down to read a book, but when netbooks with similar hardware are getting up to 10 hours of battery life, 3 hours is kind of hard to swallow.
The back of the computer gets a little warm if you’ve been using it for a while, but it’s not excessively hot. The fan on the top of the 2goPad will likely run for much of the time that you’re using the tablet, but it’s not all that noisy… or at least it’s quiet enough that the sound of my primary laptop fan usually drowned it out during my testing.
The CTL 2goPad SL10 is probably the best Windows 7 tablet I’ve used so far, thanks to its sturdy build quality, attractive design, and responsive capacitive touchscreen display as well as helpful buttons on the side of the case. Unfortunately, it’s still hampered by a slow processor, low resolution display, and the fact that Windows 7 simply wasn’t designed from the ground up for touch input on this type of device.
If you have $549 to spare, you still might be better off spending it on a tablet that was designed specifically for touch, like the iPad. Or you could buy a netbook and pocket half the cash. You’d end up with a device with similar performance and better battery life, but no touchscreen.
Alternately, you could save up a little more cash and splurge on a higher end Windows tablet with more powerful graphics and CPU performance, a higher resolution display, and an active digitizer for more precise pen-based input.
That said… I suspect that many of the issues I had with the 2goPad might not be dealbreakers for everybody. Text input is easy enough to enter URLs and jot quick notes without too much trouble, and you could always use an external keyboard for longer writing jobs.
Unlike the iPad, the 2goPad can handle Adobe Flash, as well as Microsoft Silverlight, and virtually any app or technology designed to run on Windows computers — even if those apps weren’t really designed for touch input. And unlike the iPad, the 2goPad has an SD card slot, 2 USB ports, and a camera. If those things matter to you more than a user interface that feels clunky at times, this may be the tablet for you.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from testing the Nav9 and 2goPad in recent weeks, it’s this: Windows 7 may have been designed with touch in mind. After all, there’s handwriting recognition and an on-screen keyboard. There’s support for multitouch gestures. Windows 7, on the other hand, was clearly not designed with devices like these in mind. It simply doesn’t play well with touchscreen devices with low resolution screens, relatively slow processors, and low power integrated graphics chips.