Tablet research; trial, error and lessons learned.

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by juicedesigns, Oct 22, 2017.

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  1. juicedesigns

    juicedesigns Pen Pal - Newbie

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    I've been budgeting away money from commissions and odd jobs for the last year; saving up to buy a tablet. A few weeks ago, I met my budget goal of about $1500.

    I didn't spend too much time researching before deciding to go with an HP Spectre x360 15... This thing was a monster. It had discrete graphics, the longest battery life out of any competitor, and an unbelievable 4k screen. I was amazed. It effectively replaced my aging macbook pro and gaming desktop. Unfortunately, it did not replace my tablet -- the one thing I set out to update.

    Somehow my HP touchsmart from 2012 has a drastically better digitizer than HP's flagship machine from 2017.

    The pen was horribly inaccurate, jumping several pixels in any given direction between hover and tap. The pressure sensitivity ramp was also bad. A quick swipe on my old touchsmart would create a line that went from 0 to 100, then back to 0 -- as expected. The digitizer in the Spectre would go from 80 to 100 to 0, making every line start with a blob. I can't even begin to express my frustration with this after having spent a small fortune to 'upgrade'. To add insult to injury, HP's software offered no way to adjust that. It didn't even allow you to assign keystrokes to the pen buttons. Pretty damn useless when all you could do were things like open the start menu or change the volume.

    ------

    So I did some research, hoping that these issues that could be resolved. Here's what I learned...

    N-trig is something Microsoft acquired and has been plugging into their surface devices. HP dropped Wacom in favor of this cheaper license.

    Wacom AES is what Wacom made to compete with Microsoft's (apparently cheaper) battery powered pens.

    Wacom EMR is the older technology. No batteries required. Given its longevity, they've had time to really perfect it. Even though it's older and the drivers are stagnant, neither 'active pen' technologies have caught up.

    ------

    When I begrudgingly returned the Spectre, I demoed a handful of other computers in a similar price range. Most notably, the MS Surface, Lenovo Yoga 720, and Samsung Notebook 9 Pro. These used N-trig, Wacom AES, and Wacom EMR respectively.

    The Samsung was, hands down, the winner. Sure, the Spectre had all of them beat in the hardware department but, for artwork, the Notebook 9 Pro was phenomenal. The pen was exceptionally responsive and even had tilt support. It's worth noting that I also tested an iPad pro -- It was as good as the Samsung, possibly better. No idea what technology they're using, but the pen is battery powered. Unfortunately, it's limited to watered down iOS apps, so I don't really see it as an option. The Lenovo with Wacom's new active pen was ok but still not close to EMR.

    ------

    So there ya go... a long winded rant about the first attempt to upgrade my tablet.

    I went back to my aging touchsmart for the time being and kept researching potential replacements. I heard that HP was planning to release a newer model of the Spectre in October that had tilt support. I hoped that meant they were switching back to Wacom, but it was more likely that they would just update to a newer version of N-trig. Honestly though... no amount of tilt support can polish that turd.

    In early October, HP announced their update. As I suspected, it still used N-trig.

    So I settled for the Samsung Notebook 9. It wasn't impressive, but it was cheaper. So I pocketed the difference and decided that I wasn't going to replace all of my computers after all... Just the tablet.

    It felt like a temporary solution...

    After two weeks of use, I felt like the digitizer still wasn't quite on par with my old touchsmart. And the screen was disappointing. Low res, poor view angles and lots of light bleed. Even so, it was an overall upgrade and a compromise I was willing to live with, especially since no other manufacturer (aside from Wacom) was selling an EMR screen in my price range.

    The lackluster machine served me well enough and I really had no intention of giving it up but, on the 18th, HP dropped a bomb.

    With two days left in my return period, they announced the zBook x2. This was the Spectre I wanted, and more. They integrated a Wacom EMR digitizer instead of an active pen. The hardware is on par with the Spectre, and they included two thunderbolt ports, something the Notebook 9 was lacking. Seems like everything about it just got better and better as I read. A detachable bluetooth keyboard, an Nvidia Quadro, multiple ram and hard drive slots... Wow.

    I was baffled and frustrated. I thought HP had already made their big announcement with the upgraded Spectre! I couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was everything I wanted; one machine to rule them all!

    After much deliberation I begrudgingly returned my Samsung Notebook 9. I'm back on the Touchsmart, for now... After having spent a few weeks on different machines, this digitizer feels amazing, though I can't say much for the resolution or view angles... If the Spectre screen was a 10/10, then the Samsung was a 7/10... and my old Touchsmart... well... 1/10 might be a little generous. At any rate, this is a temporary measure and I I think I'll be a lot happier in the long run.

    ----

    For whatever it's worth, here are some rough reviews of the various tablets I've been testing:
    (Prices are based on similarly specced machines, where possible)

    HP Spectre x360 - $1,400
    ██████████ - Hardware
    ██████████ - Screen
    ██████████ - Digitizer
    The hardware in this is outstanding, and priced better than most other options. I fell in love with the 4k screen. The view angles were perfect and it had amazing color reproduction. Easily the best screen I've ever seen in a laptop. Unfortunately, the pen was heavy and battery powered. It used N-trig, which is not good for art or precision. Microsoft really tried to make this technology look good on their Surface line, but it falls short if you're used to Wacom digitizers.


    Microsoft Surface - $2,000
    ██████████ - Hardware
    █████████ - Screen
    ██████████ - Digitizer
    The hardware isn't too shabby, but the price makes it hard to justify. We're talking 1.5x the cost for the same hardware you can get in the Spectre. I've got no complaints about the screen. It's not 4k, but it's not 15" either, so the density feels right. I won't speak highly of the pen or drawing experience. It's more N-trig stuff.


    Samsung Notebook 9 - $1,250
    ██████████ - Hardware
    ██████████ - Screen
    ██████████ - Digitizer
    Compared to other options, there is a lot of compromise. It's mostly non-upgradable and somewhat underpowered next to other laptops in it's class. After a few weeks of use, the view angles started to bother me. The colors stayed fairly accurate, but there was a lot of light bleed. The redeeming quality was the sPen; Samsung's fancy name for the Wacom EMR digitizer. The pen feels good to draw with, but I think it could have been better if Samsung had used Wacom drivers.


    Lenovo Yoga 920 - $1,300
    ██████████ - Hardware
    █████████ - Screen
    ██████████ - Digitizer
    This is about on par with the Spectre. Perhaps slightly better with the AMD video card, but the chassis felt a tad cheaper. The downside was that it also had a battery powered pen. Wacom AES, in this case... That made for a better drawing experience, but it still suffered from parallax and pressure ramping issues.


    Wacom Mobile Studio $3,000
    ██████████ - Hardware
    █████████ - Screen
    ██████████ - Digitizer
    I had an opportunity to test one of these. It felt really nice and it does have an EMR digitizer, but the price is harder to justify. It's purpose built -- which limits general versatility. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I'd rather go for the zBook if I'm spending that kind of money.


    Apple iPad Pro - $1,000
    ██████████ - Hardware
    ██████████ - Screen
    ██████████ - Digitizer
    It's Apple, so the quality is about as perfect as it can be. iOS is smooth as butter, but it lacks any truly professional software. That alone is a deal-breaker, but I gotta give this props for having an outstanding screen and exceptional digitizer. This may very well be the best pen I've used, and it's battery powered! Microsoft should take notes.


    HP Touchsmart tm2t (2012) - $60-200 on ebay
    ██████████ - Hardware
    █████████ - Screen
    █████████ - Digitizer
    Everything has failed... No battery, no ports, just wifi and a digitizer. This thing is hobbling along with a broken install of Windows 8. The view angles are abysmal and color reproduction sucks. The digitizer only has 256 levels of pressure sensitivity and yet, it performs better than most of the newest tablets I've tested. For all it's faults, I have a hard time taking this thing for granted.


    HP zBook x2 - $2,500
    Has yet to be seen, but I'm optimistic that it will compete with the Mobile Studio. Unfortunately, it'll cost almost as much with comparable specs. But, for what's included, it's a little easier to justify. Besides... I've saved a little more money and shifted my goal from simply replacing my aging tablet to replacing my desktop, laptop and tablet with one machine. I'm about six years overdue anyway...
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2017
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  2. heeman

    heeman Pen Pal - Newbie

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    Thanks for the post. I really love the charts. I have a question. It seems like iPad pro is best. Why can't you use iPad Pro? What type of work (professional) are you doing that requires window machine? What softwares are you using? I'm really curious.
     
  3. juicedesigns

    juicedesigns Pen Pal - Newbie

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    Photoshop, Illustrator and Clip Studio Paint are my go-to drawing programs. I know iOS has a handful of well made apps; Procreate, for example... but they don't fit my workflow.

    I would absolutely take MacOS or Linux over Windows if that were an option. Unfortunately, Apple won't make a convertible pc so long as iPad sales are up, and Linux doesn't support half the software I rely on.

    I know there are programs (paid) available that make the iPad behave like a cintiq, but I need something more self-contained.
     
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