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Data Pad

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In many science-fiction works, even those pre-dating tablet computers by decades, the most common form of portable computer is a flat, rectangular slab held in one hand and operated with the other. Usually called a Data Pad or some similar name. Like its spiritual companion, the communicator (AKA the cell phone in your pocket), it's now completely defictionalized in the form of the tablet computer.

In Science Fiction settings, it can also work as a Clipboard of Authority, or sometimes as a Super Wrist-Gadget.


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    Comic Books 
  • The omnicoms of the Legion of Super-Heroes comics are generally depicted as something midway between a smartphone and a tablet computer in size, with a keypad and screen. The ones the Legion uses have quite a few additional functions built in, such as environmental scanning capabilities. Though these are becoming defictionalized as well.
  • Fact Totems from Sinister Dexter, smartphone-like devices which give data on targets to gun sharks. Their use in the strip actually came a good decade before smartphones came to prominence.
  • In Albedo: Erma Felna EDF, everyone in the EDF has a 10x12cm "hand computer" made of titanium that connects them to the sentient and omnipresent Net. It's got a camera, and the fleet version can control a ship from any data port on board.

  • In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Dave and Frank use devices called "IBM Tele Pads" to watch themselves being interviewed by The BBC. They only seem to operate in portrait mode and have ten channel buttons along the bottom of the screen.
  • Avatar had transparent data pads onto which the Earth people could drag info from their computer screens.
  • Star Wars has data pads, though they're mostly featured in the Expanded Universe.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future, everyone in the Wim Wenders' film trilogy Until the End of the World seems to carry around a wallet-sized personal computer.
  • In Minority Report, a variant involving transparent data pads exists. They can be used to transfer data from a stationary computer, to view that data while mobile, and transfer it back later.
  • Red Planet showcases both regular and extendable semi-transparent display versions of portable computers. This latter one is used by the Mars astronauts on the ground and becomes an important tool to find their way to the Habitation Module.
  • Geostorm has ones that look like a pen when not in use and can be extended with a flick of the wrist.

  • The Culture novel Excession mentions some Culture citizens using devices of this nature called Tablets — generally Culture citizens have something in their head called a neural lace, through which they can do everything, but more "off-the-grid" people won't have a lace and will just have one of these.
  • Subtle in the web-novel Domina. Pads are mentioned in the same way you'd mention a paper memo pad, but then people are described as "scrolling down" or "tapping his way through," making it more obvious that they are this trope.
  • In Stanisław Lem's Return from the Stars (1961), the author envisions e-readers (options) and audiobooks (leptons).
  • In the Quadrail Series multimedia "readers" have replaced most media platforms, with movies, music, and books being read off of small data cards or chips that are loaded into it.
  • The Mote in God's Eye. The Imperial humans have pocket computers that can operate on their own as well as connecting with other computers. They can write on the computers with a stylus, like the Star Trek: The Original Series example.
  • In Rainbows End, these are mostly considered obsolete, though they are still available for people who, for whatever reason, don't want or aren't ready for full-on wearables. Robert Gu starts with one of these after his Alzheimer's is cured, to try to ease his way into the modern world. It's actually so thin and flexible that it can be folded up like a piece of paper.
  • Desks in Ender's Game are most likely tablets (they're certainly portrayed thus in the film). Apparently, one can even write code in them, something that is not very comfortable with Real Life tablets.
  • In the Old Man's War universe, PDAs are omnipresent among the humans, with the exception of the Colonial Defense Force soldiers, who instead have a BrainPal inside their heads. Both the PDAs and BrainPals are used for pretty much everything, and a couple of the books show how difficult it can be to adjust when they are unable to use them.
  • In Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds, the crew of the Rockhopper use tablet PCs, but with the added twist in that they are flexible and can be recharged via the piezoelectric effect by flexing them back and forth. When the Rockhopper is stranded in interstellar space, it becomes a minor plot point to find a way to replace the aging tablets, along with all the other failing technology.
  • Tablet computers are commonplace in The Expanse, usually used for video calls but also for internet access and even such frivolous purposes as playing games.
  • In the Hayven Celestia universe shipboard geroo use smartphone-like devices called "strands" as well as larger tablets.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Andromeda had flexis—datapads that looked like sheets of paper.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) mostly used laptops until a tablet computer (of a size and shape similar to an early 21st-century model) appeared in the 4th Season aboard the Demetrius. Usually the crew just passes around information on pieces of paper. Caprica replaces these with digital computer paper. In the pilot, Zoe even uses a piece of digital paper to send a text message. One of the reasons Galactica is of a lower tech level is because the ship was built during the Cylon War; it's specifically mentioned that they had to use wired, analog interfaces because the Cylons could hack anything else. This is one of the reasons it survived when the modern fleet was annihilated.
  • "Globals" in Earth: Final Conflict were exactly like Real Life smartphones... years before smartphones first appeared on the market. They were handheld digital computers combined with cutting edge cellphone technology.
  • A deleted scene from the Firefly pilot "Serenity" showed Simon using a tablet computer to look up the name of the ship. It was evidently voice-activated. He is briefly seen interacting with a device that looks a bit like a laptop computer turned on its side, with the keyboard to the left of the portrait-oriented screen, in "War Stories".
  • In the TV version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981), the Guide looks something like an Amazon Kindle—kind of a dedicated tablet computer which can only access the Guide.
    • The novel's version looks more like a large calculator with a hundred buttons and a 4-inch-square screen, evidently pre-dating the touchscreen.
    • The film version of the Guide appears to be a closer example of this trope: styled to look like a book, but with a seamless folding screen instead of pages.
  • Stargate Atlantis had ubiquitous tablets about the size of an iPad, but with better armor. They could also interface with alien technology. In Stargate SG-1, even Ba'al knows how to use one, although he did spend a few years on Earth.
  • Star Trek has PADDs (Personal Access Display Devices). See Everything Is an iPod in the Future for further discussion about them.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series featured the PADD's 23rd Century predecessor, a device usually referred to as the "electronic clipboard," usually given to Kirk by a Yeoman to sign with some sort of stylus, then handed back to the Yeoman. The PADD wouldn't be formally introduced until the 24th century.
  • The pilot episode of Babylon 5 had one character's credentials presented in the form of a flexible display with a scrollable screen. In the show proper, they'd use bulky looking slate tablets instead, but for the most part the characters just used the station's multitude of wall or console mounted computer screens. Incidentally, the show also featured Data Crystals, which were used identically to USB thumbdrives, which would hit the market a year or so after the show ended its run.
  • Used extensively in The Expanse where they take the shape of roughly palm-sized panes of some transparent material. Detective Miller's is shown to be heavily cracked in Season One, most likely from constant use and rough treatment in the Crapsack World he lives in. Interestingly, this sort of technology, with pseudo-holographic imagery projected into a thick pane of plexiglass or similar material, is probably the closest we'll ever get to actual holoscreens in Real Life.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Traveller has "hand computers".
  • The Imperial Guard of Warhammer 40,000 make use of "dataslates", assuming the author that doesn't have them use feather quills and parchment.
    • They seem to appear most often in the Ciaphas Cain series, Jurgen keeps his Porn Stash on a collection of them.
    • A few items in the Dark Heresy RPG spinoff. Some are used only for text and generally about as cheap as paper notebooks (or cheaper on some worlds), simply buying a new one instead of writing over old data. Dataslates with more functionality are rarer, but just as cheap.
  • In Rocket Age they are usually found in ancient ruins, datapads usually hold information such as film footage, or ancient texts.
  • Several BattleTech books make referenses to "noteputers," though little detail is given other than that they're fragile and have glass screens. The most details given about them come from a scene where a secret agent deliberately drops hers in order to set up a Wardrobe Malfunction (in this case, popping out of her bikini as she picks it up) as a way of getting close to her target. The page picture on the wiki (taken from the Chaos March sourcebook) makes them look extremely dated in a mid-80s zeerust fashion, bearing a passing resemblance to laptops of that era except smaller, and the given (albeit approximate) system specs would have been impressive for a laptop made before about 2005... except for the fact that they cost 500 C-Bills, one of which is worth about ten US dollars in 2020 per Word of God.

    Video Games 
  • You can find and read several of these in all Deus Ex games, which refer to them as "datacubes". People leave them strewn around like sticky notes.
  • These are ubiquitous appliances in the Mass Effect universe, though mainly for transfer of data between individuals. Personal computers take form of wrist-mounted Omnitools.
  • The Captain's PDA in Alien Legacy, a rather clunky device that owes at least some of its aesthetic inspiration to Star Trek: The Next Generation's PADDs and serves as a Diegetic Interface.
  • The PDAs in Doom³ look a lot like real life personal tablets, except for a slot for "video disks" at the top and a curved part at the bottom with a trackpad of sorts in the middle. Their utility may seem limited to the player, but keep in mind that they're work tools above being personal devices, and NPCs do seem to be able to use more functions than the player has available (or knows how to use), such as voice recording to make audio logs. A PDA can also download the data from another when in close contact, including security clearance, which is an integral part of the game's lock and key puzzles, as certain restricted access areas require a clearance check on your PDA.
  • A translucent data pad is used in Mr. Robot as an in-game main menu, and as your window into cyberspace while ghost-hacking.
  • Lilah Kerlins uses one in Obsidian, although the outer cover makes it look more like a laptop.
  • In 2090 AD during Dark Fall: Lights Out, the crew of the D.E.O.S. research station use these, and they apparently have a lot, using some as digital picture frames, others as personal journals, and one crew member even goes to the trouble of erasing some of the cookbook data in one, to write in it while cooking for a party.
  • While not strictly seen in-game, your character in System Shock 2 uses a PDA that's relayed to your HUD. It's used to retrieve emails, playback audio logs, and list your mission objectives.
  • The RobCo Personal Information Processor, or PIP-Boy 2000, from Fallout and Fallout 2. It's boxy with a small 5 x 3-inch screen with green print and colors but it's highly advanced as it records the user's health, maps wide swaths of area via satellites, reads and records messages and videos and can even play simple games. By Fallout 3 onwards, it was revealed that some vaults received wrist-mounted variants of the device.
  • Several characters in Cosmic Star Heroine make use of tablets, in particular your party member Dave, who can use his to hack into mechanisms, attack enemies with electricity, rust them, patch up his allies or hack into the environment to get effects benificial to your party or detrimental to your enemies.
  • Tablet pads are commonplace in the Firaxis reboot of XCOM. In XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Chief Scientist Dr. Vahlen is always seen holding a large one that she apparently uses to interface with the research labs' network. In XCOM 2, Shen and Dr. Tygan use theirs to manage the Avenger's machines and lab systems, non-Specialist soldiers pull one out to hack ADVENT equipment, and ADVENT datapads and Alien Data Caches are valuable mission loot that can be sold instantly for supplies or decrypted at the labs for generous amounts of intel, though it takes some time to access their contents.
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Every single stalker in the Zone has a PDA. In all games, the most prominent use of the player's PDA is to check the satellite map of the Zone (maps of certain underground locations can appear in the quest log) and track quest objectives.
    • PDAs don't appear on the corpses you loot in Shadow of Chernobyl, but you can get info like stash coordinates and messages when interacting with the bodies, so presumably downloading that data to your own is an offscreen interaction; your PDA includes a fairly extensive encyclopedia about the Zone's mutants, anomalies and artifacts, plus the Marked One's journal, and a log system that includes documents you pick up during missions, and a "nearby stalkers" tab with their faction alignment and reputation, even if they're hostile and as such don't appear on the mini-map when out of sight.
    • In Clear Sky, the PDA has a fair few functions related to the faction war system, and you can pick up physical PDA items as quest items.
    • In Call of Pripyat they play a more prominent role, being physical items (like in Clear Sky) that can be sold to Owl for a bit of money and an achievement. Degtyarev's PDA can also track anomaly fields and, if the proper detectors are installed in a quest for the Ecologists, what artifacts have spawned in them.
  • The PDA is how you manage your inventory, access research findings and everything else in Subnautica.
  • In Being One games you can find abandoned tablets containing journals of their former owners, often questioning the sanity of Dr. Rycroft.

  • Angels 2200: Two different versions are shown: A security guard accesses the ship's message system with one and the pilots carry something called "Jmlad" that functions as a personal organizer and storage device.
  • The Cyantian Chronicles "plates" are standard Cyantian tech. Used for everything from schoolwork to indexing subspace inventories to playing games.
  • Freefall has ubiquitous data pads that connect to the global comnet. On the rare occasion that people absolutely need something resembling paper they print out a sheet of plastic referred to as "smart paper." This paper can alert the user with vibrations or a ringtone, though apparently the default setting is to fold itself into origami.
  • Jix compared the iPad to her own species' tablets once. She wasn't particularly impressed.
  • Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger stumbles across some kind of plot when he gets his datapad mixed up with the Gestaltian Envoy's one.
  • As common as paper in Schlock Mercenary, but referred to as "Handbrains."
  • When they're not using their brain implants characters in Quantum Vibe often use touchscreens that can be stretched from the size of a smartphone into a very large model tablet.
  • Everyone in the space arc of Arthur, King of Time and Space has one. Of course, after 2010, the characters in the contemporary arc have them as well.

    Western Animation 
  • Tucker of Danny Phantom was absolutely obsessed with his PDA, sometimes with plot-related consequences (Skulker's armor infamously got hacked by it) but mostly for comic relief.
  • The first couple seasons of The Batman had Bruce rely on an ersatz PDA called the Bat-Wave, instead of the traditional Bat Signal (since this show starts out with the cops hating his guts).

    Real Life 
  • Tablet computers. While they've been around for decades, and a Spanish teacher even patented a mechanical version in 1949, it's only been since the introduction of the PalmPilot in 1994 that the device became practical and reliable enough to be viable; the Apple iPad was probably the first tablet computer to really look like a true Data Pad, being slim and with a touchscreen, when previous models were on the clunky side and usually required a stylus to interface with the screen.
  • Smartphones, which are essentially smaller versions with phone/videophone capability, plus Internet connection, GPS and whatnot.
  • The Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) was a pocket-sized tablet that gradually disappeared from the market around the same time smartphones started becoming more common. PDAs were essentially smartphones without the phone, or small tablets. The iPod Touch is a modern descendant of these.
  • Phablets (phone + tablet): larger than a smartphone, smaller than a tablet. Depending on your perspective, they either give you the best of both worlds... or not.