Wednesday, September 3, 2014
Over the summer I purchased a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet. This is a $200-$220 8-inch tablet that runs full Windows. It is small, thin, and lightweight. I carried it with me on my travels, including campouts, my family vacation and ultimately to the Oregon Star Party, where I used Powerpoint and ran a SkyTools demo on it. It runs SkyTools 3 quite well and, with ASCOM, it will control most any telescope. In fact, there was a gentleman at the OSP using one to drive his 40-inch Dob. He had it attached to the base of the telescope itself, and it was working quite well for him.
It is possible to connect to the telescope via a USB connection, but using a Bluetooth-to-serial adapter may be an even better option, assuming it works (I have not tried this personally).
As others have reported, the Windows touch interface allows SkyTools to work mostly as it would using a mouse (with a few exceptions, such as mousing-over objects on the screen). I must say it's pretty cool to have such easy access to SkyTools in the field.
On the downside, the screen is very small and the video driver does not currently allow you to enlarge the fonts by more than 25%. You need to look pretty closely at it in order to see what is going on, and those with failing vision may find it difficult. In that case, one may wish to go to the larger 11" version. It also can't handle a very heavy load, so it is best to keep your observing lists short, particularly with Real Time, which will keep things rolling along nicely.
It seems clear to me now that this is the future for SkyTools in the field. When it comes to supporting many different mounts, and advanced features, telescope control via ASCOM is difficult to beat, and it runs on Windows. Windows will continue to improve in terms of integrating the touch interface, and there are new processors on the horizon that will be smaller, more powerful, and run longer on a small battery. We may even see some of these things emerge in the coming months. For my part, I am working to make ST4 more compatible with the touch interface, without sacrificing any of the unique capabilities of the mouse.