Many of us have been waiting anxiously for the Lenovo Active Pen 2 with 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity to hit the shelves. Shown first at CES along with the Miix 720, the pen was scheduled for Feb. 2017. To this day it remains unseen on U.S. shores. But is it hiding in plain sight?
Lenovo Active Pen “new release”
At a brick and mortar store, I asked about the Active Pen 2, and their system only had the Active Pen, the old one (version 1), same part number.
Lenovo Active Pen “new release”
(photo coming, WordPress uploading not working at the moment!)
But it was marked “new release,” in the store’s online catalogue. This store, which I trust, says that means the item has come out within the past month. Lenovo’s online info about THIS pen now states that it will get 4096 levels on some systems. I purchased the pen with the intention of using it on the Miix 720, but I doubt I will be able to discern the difference between 2048 and 4096 levels.
It’s a Wacom Active ES pen that takes AAAA batteries. It’s for the Miix 510, 520, 700, 720,, and Yoga 900s, but many report it works on the 2nd-gen Lenovo Yoga ThinkPad 14.
(I will have to try it on other AES systems too. They’re not always cross-compatible, even if they seem like they should be. Lenovo is only mentioning the Miixes and 900s as working with this pen, not their myriad other AES tablet PCs.)
The Lenovo Active Pen 2 is mentioned on non-US sites as shipping with the Miix 720, but the Active Pen 2 is not currently mentioned at all on the US site, which says Active Pen 1 on the Miix 720 page.
When I asked Lenovo reps, I was told that they have no idea about any of this, and they’ll get back to me. (It’s not their fault at all–Lenovo is rarely forthcoming with such info).
They did assure me that the Active Pen 2 would not have the same part number as the Active Pen 1, but they did not assure me that the entity known as Lenovo Active Pen 2 would ever be available in the US at all. They also expressed surprise at the “new release” info and asked me what store this was at (it was B&H Photo).
There are some internal Wacom photos of the Active Pen 2 here. It looks pretty much the same as the 1, though the clip may be slightly different, but that doesn’t mean much. The barrel may be a little shorter too (hard to say) but this could be a prototype.
I don’t see definite differences in the photos on the non-US Web sites, as the pen pics are not that close up.
Perhaps there will be two pens in the US, but they will look different but do the same thing, getting the full 4096 levels. Or perhaps those other countries are getting something different-looking or different in some other way, but the one in the US will be like this new release one and do what the 2 does. That would be fine. As with people, its what’s inside that counts.
What’s annoying is the announcement about a Pen 2, then not having any info about it.
Another possibility is that there is wrong info on the Lenovo site or that the “new release” info on the B&H site is wrong and this pen does not really get 4096. It is very difficult to confirm just by testing, as added levels, especially just one jump, are somewhat of a placebo effect.
If the new release Active Pen 1 gets the 4,096 levels on the tablets capable of doing that, it would indicate the pen has had an update. The box says 2048 levels, so it’s backward-compatible that way. Either way, either pen will work on the Miix series and the Yoga 900s.
It certainly is a mystery, but one likely to be resolved in coming weeks. Watch this space.
HP Spectre x360 15 review: sleek ultrabook, but HP pen falls short
The HP Spectre x360 2-in-1 with 15.6″ touchscreen was released in Feb., 2016, following 2015’s successful HP Spectre x360 13″. This larger version has some more-powerful options, such as an extremely high-resolution 4K display.
Type of tablet
2-in-1 ultrabook (tablet PC laptop, nondetachable keyboard) Digitizer: Synaptics (256 levels of pressure sensitivity) Pen: HP Active Pen (not included), or (see on Amazon)
Update: Dell Active Stylus 750-AAGN used to work on both models (13.3 and 15″) but updates have caused it to stop working.
The pen is flat on one side lengthwise, and snaps onto the computer via a magnet that’s across from the button.
Operating system: Windows 10, has Home and Pro options 15.6″ screen (diagonal) UHD Dimensions” 14.8 x 9.75 x 0.63″ (15.9 mm thin) Weight: 4.02 lb backlit keyboard brushed aluminum unibody geared hinge large touchpad with multi-gesture and customizable settings Display: 15.6″ Multitouch, backlit. IPS panel with viewing angles to 180 degrees LPDDR3 RAM
1920×1080 px full HD 2 million pixels (px)
Ultra HD 4K, 3840×2160 (8.3 million px)
Storage: 128, 256, or 512GB SSD
Miracast, which lets project wirelessly to a TV or other display
Note: This is not the OLED display you may have heard about. That one is scheduled for the 13.3″ HP Spectre x360, and the OLED screen for that has not yet been released as of this writing.
Intel Skylake 6th-Gen. Dual-Core, Intel integrated graphics with these options:
i5-6200U with HD Graphics 520 and 8GB RAM
i7-6500U with HD Graphics 520 and 8GB or 16GB RAM
i7-6560U with Iris Graphics and 16GB RAM
Three USB 3.0 Type A (you can still us 2.0 devices and get 2.0 speed) USB-C port, no Thunderbolt support Full HDMI mini DisplayPort SD card reader headphone jack
No Ethernet port or CD/DVD drive.
HP states up to 13 hours for the full HD version and up to 9.5 hours of mixed use for the highest configuration. The 3-cell lithium-ion polymer battery gives this exceptional battery life. Portability
4.02 pounds is very light for a 15.6″ screen. While it may be difficult to carry it around all day, it’s quite portable. Its slim .63″ profile and compact power brick makes it more portable. Screen
4K is very high-definition, over four times as many pixels as full HD. It doesn’t look pixelated even from up close. Your content has to be as high-res as the screen to get the effect. It’s not yet common to have this high a resolution on laptops, but it’s getting more so. The colors are good with 72% of the Adobe color gamut sRGB. The display is very sharp, but doesn’t seem super bright. The screen is smooth, but not super glossy.
The Spectre 15’s screen has a 3:2 aspect ratio, which some may find better for drawing than the video-centric 16:9 that’s on most laptops. 3:2 is a bit squarer. Surface Pros and the Surface Book are also 3:2, as is the Chromebook Pixel, which is not an art tablet. The iPad and iPad Pro are 4:3, more like a sheet of paper, and perhaps more natural-feeling to hold and draw on. (The Spectre x360 13.3″ model has 16:9)
The HP Spectre x360 15 has a 3:2 aspect ratio. Most laptops have 16:9. The iPad has 4.3.
The Spectre x360 is sleek and comfortable to hold in two hands. Its unibody aluminum chassis gives it durability and dissipates heat. There are generous-sized, aesthetically pleasing vents on the side.
The aluminum chassis was carved with CNC (computer numerical control–see on Wikipedia) machines. Used by the aerospace industry, these machines cut with great precision. These cutting tools give the Spectre an elegant look. The shape tapers, getting thinner as it goes toward the user. At its thickest, the bottom part is thick as a pencil and considerably thinner as it gets toward the trackpad. The thin profile is remarkable for the large screen size. It’s a thin as the 13″ version. The most noticeable thing about the x360 is the thinness.
The 360-degree “flip and fold” design is a LOT like a Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga. Like the Yoga, it’s even poseable into four positions of stand, tent, tablet, and notebook. The keys do not retract the way they do in the Yoga 14 (do they still work)?? You can open the HP to any angle, including flat.
When you fold it to Tablet mode with the keys facing away from the tablet, the keys do not lock in place, but they disable themselves. The keyboard backlight goes off and the keys no longer function. So if you’re drawing in that mode, you’d need an external keyboard to use shortcuts (anyway, it’s inconvenient to use the keyboard even if they still worked in that position, but easier).
HP has put a lot of engineering muscle into the geared hinge. It makes the tablet stays in its positions. The hinge is encased in stainless steel to keep it clean and functional. It can be a little bit stiff as you push the lid upward.
There are no discrete graphics, but the 4K model has Intel Iris graphics which are powerful enough to do video editing. Photoshop will work fine in any of the models. If you’ve got high-res video, it will display in all its glory on the 4K. But for intensive or professional video editing, a computer with discrete graphics would be better. Similarly his computer is best suited for light gaming. The thinness leaves no room for the cooler that discrete graphics requires. If you want to do a lot of video editing, this probably isn’t the right computer. Photoshop will work fine.
The backlit keyboard is island-style with chiclet (separated) keys. It has no numerical pad, though it could have had one with all the space.
The key travel is 1.5mm, which is the same as the keys on larger, full-size notebooks, so they are very comfortable to type on–they felt a bit far apart at first but I find that my typing accuracy was better on it than with keys that are closer together and my (small) hands appreciated the big keyboard. The silvery painted characters on the white keys can be a little bit hard to see, unlike the white paint on black letters of laptops such as the ThinkPad Yogas.
Other than the contrast, this keyboard makes typing comfortable and could boost productivity.
The large Synaptics trackpad is about 6″ long, and you might find yourself hitting it by accident. It’s very responsive, and can even be adjusted via its own driver settings. It supports multitouch gestures, so you can use it to pan and zoom. The part you click on is only on the bottom half.
HP Active Stylus
Takes one AAAA battery, which is included. For a replacement, you may need to go to an electronics store to find these, or buy them online. The end of the pen unscrews to put the battery in. The pen is round but has a flat part that goes the length of the pen, to keep it from rolling away. It snaps magnetically to the laptop’s frame or cover.
TIP: If you have trouble getting the HP Active Pen to work,download the touchscreen firmware from Spectre x360 15 product page. (LINK)
Dell Active Stylus (750-AAGN), takes one AAAA battery. Lighter than the HP Active Pen and works better on the x360, tested on the 13.3″ version so far.
Drawing on the HP Spectre x360
The metallic pen feels solid and similar to the Surface Pen. It could feel heavy after holding for long periods. The black that bounces up and down, sinking when you draw with it, which gives it less of a “hard” feel on the screen. To get any mark on the screen, you have to press even a little harder than with N-trig (Surface Pro). As with the Surface Pros, if you very gently run the pen over the screen, you will not get a mark. Scribbling on the screen with the pen brought on an annoying, though not very loud, squeaking sound. You can get a light mark with some practice.
I found the pen to be pretty bad for drawing. You have to press down quite hard ( a high initial activation force). There are no parallax issues, but still, handwriting isn’t that accurate unless you make an effort. There’s not any more jitter than on an N-trig device.
Drawing, it felt like I was battling the pen to get the line I wanted, and got some skipped lines. he palm rejection faltered once in a while when I was bringing my hand down quickly and I got some weird lines. It’s definitely not as good as the Surface Pro 4, and a bit worse than the Surface Pro 3, which also has 256 pressure levels.
Here’s an example of a skipped line, (top) in drawing an oval.
Dell Active Stylus on HP Spectre x360
UPDATE 6/16: Updates by HP have caused the Dell pen to stop working. I have tested the Dell Active Stylus (the Synaptics one, 750-AAGN, see on Amazon) on the Spectre x360 13.3″ and the Spectre x360 15.6″ and it works MUCH better than the HP Active Pen. It requires a little more force than Wacom EMR to make a mark, but much less force than the HP Active Pen, and there’s a little jitter when drawing slowly. It flows great, pressure sensitivity works well, and there’s little parallax. It flows as well as Wacom but with slightly less accuracy.
Handwriting was okay, but the letters seemed flattened down. Drawing worked better than handwriting, as differences in one’s own handwriting are more noticeable. Using the Dell on this is not the equal of Wacom EMR or ES, but I think exceeds the Surface line with N-trig pens in terms of drawing–this of course is a subjective opinion.
Most HP Spectre x360 15 reviews are very positive about the computer, praising its design, build quality, and value, though most don’t go into the drawing part that much. One exception was Mobile Tech Review, and I’ve included their video drawing demo below.
One criticism I’ve heard mentioned (though it was for a refurbished model) was about cracking. The computer is well-built but very thin. I don’t know what caused the cracking, but this very pretty laptop should be handled with care.
Comfortable, backlit keyboard Choices of configurations, including 4K Long battery life Big screen Slim profile Can open it to replace battery Not much bloatware
Cons Trackpad big enough to get in the way of typing HP Active Pen not that great Synaptics less accurate than other digitizers No discrete graphics available Cannot upgrade memory yourself Thin, not flimsy, but should be protected
I can’t give this HP Spectre x360 review a negative verdict because it’s a very good computer,. You can use Photoshop and any art software, and it’s great that even the starter configuration has 8GB RAM. It’s a pleasure to type on, and a nondetachable keyboard means you won’t have any connector glitches, though it also means you can’t have a separate tablet.
But as an art tablet, the Synaptics digitizer doesn’t measure up to Wacom. It’s maybe a bit smoother than N-trig for drawing, but harder to get handwriting that really looks like your own. Synaptics is okay for note-taking, drawing, or drafting. But if you want to exact, delicate, freehand drawing, it’s not a top choice. I do think your hand would adjust and I would consider this a good contender for a drawing tablet, less so for note-taking.
New Dell Active Pen and Dell Active Stylus: New Venue 8 Pro and Venue 10 Pro get Wacom ES
Dell unveiled revamped Venue 8 and 10 tablets at CES 2016 in January. They included the New Venue 8 Pro 5000, now with a Wacom ES digitizer and the New Dell Venue 10 Pro (5055) and Venue 10 (5050).
“New” is part of the name of the New Venue 10 Pro, but not part of the name of the revamped Venue 10, though they refer to it as a ‘new’ Venue 10 with a lower-case “n” in the product info. Sigh. So, in with the New.
These new models are currently sold only through Dell.
The New Venue 8 Pro comes in 32 and 64GB storage and 2GB and 4GB RAM, runs Windows, and has an Atom processor and 8″ screen.
Dell Active Pen
The New Venue 8 Pro 5000 (5855) now uses a Wacom ES pen, the Dell Active Pen. See it on Dell.com. The pen is sold separately. You cannot use the Dell Active Stylus from the old Venue Pro line on the New Venue Pro line. The old ones used Synaptics tech and Dell has now switched over to Wacom and is using the term “pen” rather than “stylus.”
The Dell Active Pen is also compatible with some other Dell 2-in-1 laptops and tablets. It uses Bluetooth and takes an AAAA battery and 319-type coin-cell batteries. It has an LED light that indicates pairing. Its tip is 3 mm, which is still pretty fine-tipped.
Here is the list of compatible Dell devices:
Inspiron 7568, Latitude 11 5715, Latitude 11 5179, Latitude 7275, Venue 10 Pro 5056, Venue 8 Pro 5855, and XPS 12 9250.
The new system is an improvement over the old Venue Pro line. The new one has 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity and good palm rejection.
New Dell Active Stylus for New Venue 10 Pro
There’s also a new Dell Active Stylus, the 750-AAIZ, (click to see it on Amazon) for the also-revamped Venue 10 (5050) and Venue 10 Pro (5055). “New” is not part of the name of the stylus. Same name, different stylus than the old one. Double sigh.
Wish they could at least call it “Dell Active Stylus 2” or something–they already caused heaps of confusion with the three versions of Dell Active Stylus for the old Venue Pro. Maybe “Son of Dell Active Stylus”? If you’re confused now, try finding info on their site–it’s a haystack! So I’ve compiled the relevant info in this post.
The new “universal” Wacom Bamboo Smart Stylus, a Wacom ES pen, will work on the Venue 10 5000 Series (5050) and the Venue 10 Pro 5000 Series (5055). That one comes with two swappable tips, one firm and one soft. Since the tablets don’t come to a pen, you could get this one instead, then you would have the two tips.
Even though the new Dell pens are both Wacom ES, they are not interchangeable.
A Conversation with Isaiah Coberly of FlipSteady Handmade Cases for iPad, iPad Pro, and Cintiq Companions
Looking for a handmade iPad case? Now you can have one that’s not only handmade, but opens like a Transformer, folds and unfolds like origami, and has an adjustable stand that can rest on a tabletop, lap, or knee.
If you’d like to hear our recorded interview with FlipSteady inventor Isaiah Coberly in which he talks about his ideas and and the meaning of being a small, independent designer and inventor in a world of mass production, click the button above for the audio.
These unique, artisanal cases are available for iPads, iPad Pro, and Cintiq Companions. The FlipSteady is the brainchild of Isaiah Coberly, whose home and workshop are in Tacoma, Washington. His company is called New Pencil.
FlipSteady with iPad mini
You can get a FlipSteady case for:
iPad iPad Pro iPad mini 4 iPad Air iPad Air 2 Cintiq Companion 1 Cintiq Companion 2 Cintiq Companion Hybrid Coming soon: Surface Pro 3 and 4 In the works: FlipSteady for a paper pad
Cintiq Companion case on knee
The cases stands up on many surfaces, including your lap. You can work on a plane, on a park bench, on the sofa, or in bed. Just open the cover and set it down. You can stand it up in portrait or landscape. You can rest it on your knee as an elevated desk with a rotating stand.
The cases are made of fine-hand Majilite synthetic leather and synthetic Toray suede, the same materials found in yachts and high-end car interiors. The stand is made of 50/51 aluminum, which is thin and pliable, yet rigid. The glue is a non-toxic, water-based glue that’s a recent innovation from 3M. Isaiah was familiar with these materials from years of working with his friends at the upholstery department of Belina Yacht Interiors. Belina spares no expense when it comes to quality, and Isaiah shares the same ideal.
FlipSteady cases are vegan-friendly, including the glue.
Cintiq Companion case
FlipSteadies are for sale only at flipsteady.com. Use the tabletsforartists during checkout for $5.00 off.
The story of FlipSteady
Isaiah is not new to tech. His background is in CAD and CADCAM software for architectural and industrial design. In the 1990s, his inventor’s mind saw a relationship between those 3D design programs, mostly used by architects and industrial designers, and art programs such as Alias Wavefront’s Maya and Pixologic’s ZBrush.
He realized a way to use these art programs to fabricate actual sculptural carvings. Word got out, and furniture and interior designers of custom high-end carved interiors began calling. They flew Isaiah back and forth to California where he programmed automated wood-cutting machinery to carve sculptural moldings 20 to 30 feet long, installing these in ritzy homes and casino interiors.
But he grew dissatisfied. These beautiful interiors were not shared with the public. He wanted to do work that made a difference.
Around that time, he also worked alongside artist Ulrich (Rich) Pakker to create several monumental sculptures. These metal and glass structures could withstand absurd amounts of wind, some standing as high as 25 feet in the air. The sculptures still live in public places around the continent.
“Working with Rich was pretty satisfying, but the work became less frequent. I didn’t want to go back to doing custom interiors so I kept kicking around ideas to make my own things. I kinda always new that I would eventually invent something. I don’t even really know that the FlipSteady is that thing,” says Coberly.
He started FlipSteady with a successful Kickstarter campaign in late August, 2012, raising nearly $30,000. He shipped backers their first-generation cases within a week of the scheduled delivery time, unusual for this type of project, which often runs late.
Isaiah Coberly working on a FlipSteady case.
Moment of Discovery
In the spring of 2011, when the iPad came out, Isaiah excitedly got one. Examining the Smart Cover available for it, he noticed some shortcomings: you needed two hands to hold it, and they only had two positions, both landscape.
He thought, “there has to be a better way.” As he was walking from his car to his home, the idea hit that a case could be made with a different cut pattern that would make a better stand. He went home, grabbed a shoebox, cut it up, and using duct tape, assembled a case. The first FlipSteady prototype was born. Here’s a video of Isaiah with the prototype.
By 2012, he had learned all about the materials and automated machinery needed, and started a beta production process. Belina Yacht offered him floor space on weekends. Recruiting his friends to the shop, they turned out 300 or so FlipSteadies in two weekends. These were shipped all over the world.
Since then, it has been a process of refinement. Coberly is constantly investigating and experimenting with ways of improving the cases.
Cintiq Companion in FlipSteady case, portrait mode
Being in the arts, he decided to only make cases for artists, so besides the iPad cases, he chose art tablets that lacked case solutions, such as the Cintiq and Cintiq Companion, which only had sleeves available. He also made a case for the Samsung Ativ 700t, a 2-in-1 Windows art tablet.
Once the FlipSteady came out, artists came out of the woodwork. FlipSteadies are used by many well-known digital illustrators, fine artists, designers, animators, CG artists, and even tattoo artists. Coberly even did a line of Lenovo Helix cases for corporate clients that supply employees with the hybrid laptop, which detaches from its keyboard to become a tablet with a Wacom digitizer.
DIY kits to help others help themselves
Coberly has a vision of using his cases to help others by creating do-it-yourself computer and paper-tablet cases that people such as artists, those with disabilities, and pregnant women can put together and sell. The case is a totally new way to express his invention using bamboo ply, suede hinges, and recycled rubber components. He’s designing the kit so that it can be made by any able-bodied person with a bottle of super glue and a razor blade. He explains in more detail in the recorded interview.
DIY FlipSteady kit
The DIY case
While he gets asked about cases for the Surface Book, he feels that particular case is too identified with the keyboard. But he is at work making cases for the Surface Pro 3 and 4.
Recently, he was contacted by a rep from Apple Business Development, a concierge for local Tacoma businesses that use Apple products for work. The rep strongly believes in the cases and wants to use his connections at Apple and hopes to get the FlipSteady into Apple retail stores everywhere, right alongside Apple’s own cases.
Shark Tank… almost
Isaiah is used to enthusiastic reactions. “I love to give demonstrations of my invention in bars, cafes, and wherever I go…. It never mattered whether I was showing a cardboard-and-duct-tape prototype, or a carefully finished product. I flip the invention out onto a bar and I’m guaranteed to see jaws dropping like dominoes in a row. From my end of the bar, it always looks to me as if everyone has just seen a glimpse of the future and is now in a state of shock. “You’re going to be rich!” “You should go on Shark Tank.”
He DID almost go on Shark Tank, the famed reality show where small businesses vie for seed money from a panel of wealthy investors. He was approached by the show and got the 29-page application packet, but he had doubts. It didn’t represent what he believed in. Listening to his inner guidance, he decided against it.
“I personally feel humbled to be a maker of things”
Isaiah encourages others to follow their dreams. “I believe that it’s my job to encourage these shy ghosts of ideas to materialize themselves and take their place under the spotlight….
“I think hands are doomed to be underutilized in a time when people make less of their own things. There seems to be a common belief that creating things is reserved for rare talent, those trying to be famous, or the less educated. On the contrary, I personally feel humbled to be a maker of things and remain dedicated to the mastery of my craft.”
Besides showing people the FlipSteady in “bars and cafes,” he gives talks to schoolchildren to inspire them. He says, “I tell my kids all the time, you will eventually master whatever you practice enough at, and I hope they practice good things.”
So if you’re looking for a unique and versatile handmade case for your iPad, iPad Pro, or Cintiq (complete list above), check out FlipSteady, where you can purchase the cases. Use the code tabletsforartists to get $5 off.
Isaiah in his studio, a line of FlipSteadies behind him
The Wacom Bamboo Smart stylus is one of the smallest, yet biggest developments unveiled at CES 2016. It’s a universal stylus for AES devices–well, not totally universal, since Wacom is only listing 5 devices it has tested it on, but it’s a great start, as that’s a good chunk of existing AES devices. And, perhaps it will work with other AES devices as well.
AES, Active Electrostatic, has really caught on in digitizers. It’s less expensive for companies to make than traditional Wacom EMR, and it’s more sensitive than N-trig as a drawing and note-taking pen. It’s a happy medium between N-trig and traditional Wacom EMR.
The long name for the pen is “Bamboo Smart for Select Tablets and 2-in-1 Convertible Devices,” (really trips off the tongue, huh?) which should not be confused with the Bamboo Smart for Samsung Galaxy Note, though they look similar. (To avoid other potential confusion, if you’re using a Wacom Bamboo graphics tablet, it will not work on that, it just uses the name Bamboo).
The Bamboo Smart stylus will be compatible with the Dell Venue 10 and Dell Venue 10 Pro 5000 series, the HP Elite X2 1012 G1, the Lenovo ThinkPad P40 Yoga, and the new Toshiba dynaPad N72.
It’s a bit fancier in build than a regular Wacom pen and has two programmable side buttons. The nibs are replaceable. The top has a cap that actually fits on the bottom (take that, Apple Pencil). The AAAA battery should keep you inking for a year if you use it 3 hours a day (of course, a lot of people might use it far more than that, so it’s good to have rechargeable batteries or keep spares). Note: AAAA batteries aren’t always for sale at the local drugstore–to find them, you might have to go to an electronics store or order them online.
The pen has 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. It does not offer tilt sensitivity.
This is a valuable development, as is anything that makes life simpler. While people won’t necessarily need the smart stylus, it’s good to have an extra stylus other than the one that comes with a device.
It will be released from Wacom sometime this month (Feb. 2016) and I will update this post when it’s out.
You can see it Bamboo Smart Stylus in its packaging on the Wacom blog.