Category Archives: Accessories

hpspectre15review

HP Spectre x360 15 Review: sleek ultrabook deserves a better pen

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.

hp spectre x360 15 review

HP x360 Spectre 15.6″. See it at Best Buy

Notice that the screen is squarer than most laptops. The touchpad is about 6″ wide. My phone fit neatly on to of it. Notice the shiny hinges.

hpspectre360-15 4kscreen

 

 

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See the HP Active pen at Best Buy

The pen is flat on one side lengthwise, and snaps onto the computer via a magnet that’s across from the button.

Features

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

Display options

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.

Processor/graphics

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

 

Ports

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.

Battery life

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)

hp spectre x360 review

The HP Spectre x360 15 has a 3:2 aspect ratio. Most laptops have 16:9. The iPad has 4.3.

 

Design

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.

Tablet mode

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.

Usage

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.

Keyboard

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.

Trackpad

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.

Pen

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.

drawinghpspectre

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.

User Reviews

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.

Pros


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

Verdict

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.

 

See the HP Spectre x360 15.6″ 4k and other x360 models at Best Buy

See the x360 15.6″ at HP.com (the 4K here is referred to as UHD. You can configure your own specs on the HP site)

See the HP Spectre x360 13.3″ signature Edition at Microsoft

Comparable:

Surface Book

Surface Pro 4

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga

end of HP Spectre x360 15 review

dell-active-pen-new-venue

New Dell Active Pen and Stylus: Wacom ES for New Venue 8 and 10 Pro

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.

New Venue 8 Pro 5000 (see at Dell.com):

dell-active-pen-new-venue

Dell New Venue 8 Pro

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.”

dell-active-pen

Manufacturer Part# : N1DNK
Dell Part# : 750-AAMI
PN556W

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.

dellactivestylus

 

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.

Here’s the Bamboo Smart Stylus on the Wacom site.

 

dell active pen 5055

New Dell Venue 10 Pro (5055)

The New Dell Venue 10 Pros also have 2GB and 4GB models with a 10.1″ screen.

These tablets, which run on Atom processors, are for sale only at Dell. See them

See our review of the old Venue 8 Pro

Comparable: Asus VivoTab Note 8
Toshiba Encore 2 Write
Samsung Galaxy Tab A with S Pen

flipsteady cases

A talk: Isaiah Coberly of Flipsteady Handmade Cases for iPad, Cintiq, more

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.

designeripadcases

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.

 

handmadeipadminicase

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

 

vegan leather ipad case

Cintiq Companion case on knee

Stand

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.

Materials

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.

handmadeipadcase

Cintiq Companion case

FlipSteadies are for sale only at flipsteady.com. Use the tabletsforartists during checkout for $5.00 off.

 

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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. 

i pad cover

Custom-carved moldings

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.

handmadeipadcover

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.

luxuryipadcase

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.

designeripadcase

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.

bambooipadcover

DIY FlipSteady kit

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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.

ipad2leathercase

Isaiah in his studio, a line of FlipSteadies behind him

There’s lots more videos at the  FlipSteady YouTube channel and more photos and info at the FlipSteady Facebook page.

Here again is the audio link.

designeripadcases

 

And here again is the FlipSteady site where the cases are for sale. Use code tabletsforartists at checkout to get $5 off.

 

 

 

See our iPad Pro review
See our Surface Book review
Read iPad drawing stylus reviews

 

 

 

 

 

Wacom Bamboo Smart stylus: Universal AES

Wacom Bamboo Smart Stylus

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).

bamboo smart stylus

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.

 

ipadpencilreview

iPad Pro review: the Pencil is mightier than the stylus

iPad Pro review: the Pencil is mightier than the stylus

ipadprofordrawing

by Tablets for Artists

Features

12.9″ (diagonal) Retina display, LED backlit, multitouch
4GB RAM, 32 GB and 128 GB models (memory not upgradeable)
Wi-fi and cellular models. Wifi superior to regular iPad
Resolution: 2732 x 2048 (5.6 million pixels, 264 ppi)
Colors: silver with white faceplate, gold with white faceplate, Space Gray with black faceplate
Adjustable refresh rate increases speed
A9X chip with 64‑bit architecture, fast enough to edit 4K video
Speakers directly in unibody enclosure; four hi-fi speakers
Magnetic connector connects keyboard and other accessories
8MP camera
Sound adjusts according to tilt

9.7″ iPad Pro:
2GB memory
2048 x 1536 resolution (also 264 ppi)

What’s in the Box:

iPad Pro
Lightning to USB Cable
USB Power Adapter

Optional Accessories:

Apple Pencil
Apple Smart Keyboard or third-party keyboard

ipadproreviewpin

 

Overview

Update: Additional info about the 9.7″ iPad Pro further down the page. The main advance of the smaller one is the display.

The first thing I noticed about the iPad Pro was how much lighter it feels than it looks. It’s rail-thin, but has a sturdy build. The screen real estate is generous, giving 78% more space than the iPad Air 2, and there’s enough bezel to let you hold the tablet by it. I like the subtle silver trim, a bit of tinsel for the holiday-season release. There’s even a matching silver band near the charger end of the Pencil.

You can keep the screen print-free by using the Apple Pencil, whose sleek, white surface brings to mind a pipette. I’ve always found inspiration in the sight and smell of worn graphite nubs with their flaking ochre paint. But this colorless, plastic implement feels just familiar enough, and its blankness begs you to add color and life. Whereas the MacBook had a pressure-sensitive, Touch Force touchpad, the iPad Pro put that into the screen, and integrated it with the Pencil. It brings to mind Steve Jobs’ pronouncement: “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” (I think we can move past his anti-stylus stance at this point). But for all the great design, it isn’t a complete artist’s paradise, as we will see.

The Pro’s size is the main difference from an ordinary iPad tablet. It’s a heck of a lot faster, too, with performance rivaling many desktop computers, both Apple and PC. It has a powerful graphics and adjustable screen refresh rate, which lengthens battery life. The high-res retina display screen has great color and is sharp as can be. You could probably find a needle in a photo of a haystack.

The ppi is 264, about the same as the Surface Pro 4.

Portability

At about a pound and a half, it’s light enough on its own to carry around easily, but not that comfy to hold in one hand, or hold up to read in bed. The size requires a bag big enough to hold a laptop. And after adding a protective hard cover and keyboard, you end up with as much weight as a laptop.

Drawing with the Apple Pencil

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Apple Pencil. (Click image to see it at Amazon)

 

 

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Apple Smart Keyboard keys

 

The long, elegant Pencil, powered by Bluetooth, has terrific accuracy. There’s no parallax or jagged lines around the edge, no skips or stepped lines. The processor uses Force Touch to provide pressure sensitivity. Tilt and rotation feel natural. You even draw using the Pencil with the tip on its side to do shading. The line is quite soft and natural looking, like a 4B pencil. It’s the best stylus for drawing that there is. Kudos to Apple for continuing to innovate.

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Soft, natural-looking pencil lines

Below are lines and shading done with the tip and then, going toward the bottom right corner, with the side of the Apple Pencil.

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Palm rejection works well, unless you put several fingers down at the same time, then it gets confused, but that’s to be expected.

In keeping with the minimalist creed, there are no buttons on the Pencil, and no eraser–a cap covers the non-drawing end, and you take off the cap to plug in the Pencil to charge it. There aren’t settings for the Pencil, you just pair it with Bluetooth and that’s it.

The Pencil is comfortable to hold, though I think it could feel heavy after drawing for long periods. One neat thing is that you can grip the pencil near the non-tip end and use some wrist action to draw loosely, as you might with a charcoal pencil. This is made possible by the shape of the tip, and the weight helps. Because a fair amount of the tip can leave marks, the Apple Pencil reminds me a bit of a woodless graphite pencil, which I enjoy using in my non-digital time.

Some of the brushes took time to settle into a shape slightly different from what I’d drawn, as if to impart the effect of liquid ink. There was no such delay or change using the Pencil for pencil lines.

There’s no “tooth”; the glass screen is slick. The Pencil’s tip has a hint of cushioning but is pretty hard. It’s difficult to say if or how much the tips will wear down. So far, Apple is not selling replacement tips. If it shows signs of wear, you can rotate it while drawing to keep it sharp, as artists often do with graphite pencils.

One annoyance is that there’s no way to attach the Pencil to the iPad Pro. There’s no pen loop, USB holder, slot, or magnet, as on the Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4.  There’s no ridge to stop it from rolling should the iPad be resting at an angle. You gotta have a plan for that.

Worse, the little cap that covers the charger can easily get lost, leaving the charger vulnerable. It would be nice if the cap could fit over the pencil end while the pencil is charging, but it doesn’t.

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Is that a charger cap in your hand, or an aspirin for when you lose it?

You can’t use the Apple Pencil on other iPads, only the Pro. Bluetooth styluses and keyboards will still work; the Pencil pairs with the iPad Pro via Bluetooth.

You can draw with the side of the tip of the Pencil. Drawing at a less sideways angle with the Pencil brought better and more realistic results. Drawing directly with the side didn’t look so much like a pencil mark as a soft, spongy brush or big crayon.

 

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This dog is practically drooling over the Lightning Connector.

You can use your finger to make playful marks while also using the Pencil.

My handwriting looked pretty natural, but it felt like a bit more effort to write, and when writing in cursive the letters flattened out a little. That doesn’t happen with Wacom.

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You can put your John Hancock onto documents.

In the Notes app, you can pull up a virtual clear plastic ruler and move it around with the Pencil or your fingers, and use it to draw straight edges. Very cool, and useful for drafting. You can use apps that have layers, such as Sketchbook Pro.

You can only use apps, not full desktop programs. There’s no easy way to access your files to open them in different apps, and, annoyingly, no central way of saving them.

Here is a video with Jony Ive, chief Apple designer, showing the Apple Pencil.

Display: 12.9″ iPad Pro vs. 9.7″ iPad Pro

The gorilla glass is pretty slick, and the Pencil slides across it, but it isn’t as slippery as some screens. Colors look great.

Both the larger and smaller iPad Pros cover and slightly exceed the whole sRGB gamut. The 12.9″ iPad Pro has excellent color accuracy, and the 9.7″ very good, with a very bright screen, about 430 nits. The larger Pro is less bright, at about 375 nits. The smaller one, though, has TrueTone color, which adapts itself to your surroundings, and is supposed to emulate paper. Don’t worry, you can disable TrueTone in the settings if you want.)

It also uses a second color gamut, the DCI-P3 Wide Color Gamut. That’s what’s used in 4K UHD TVs as well as digital cinema. It also has Night Shift, which takes out the blue light that keeps you up (similar to fl.ux, a free Windows app). The smaller iPad Pro has virtually perfect color accuracy.

So is the amazing screen a reason to choose the smaller one? Maybe, but I still prefer the larger screen. Hopefully Apple will make the next version of the larger one with an equally great display.

Lightning Connector

Now instead of just charging your iPad, the Lightning Connector is bidirectional–it can give, and take, power. On the iPad Pro, it serves to not only charge the device, but to connect a keyboard and charge the Apple Pencil.

Battery Life

The Pro has 10 hours of battery life, and the Pencil lastsfor 12 hours on a full charge. And charging the Pencil for just 15 seconds, a deed akin to sharpening a wooden pencil, gives you 30 more minutes of drawing.

The charging port is on the side of the iPad Pro, so that the Pencil point sticks out at a perpendicular angle into the air–so be a little careful in crowded coffee shops.

User Reviews

The iPad Pro pushes pressure-sensitive tablets into the mainstream. Some users are finding that it substitutes for a laptop and a tablet, while some who already have a laptop and tablet can’t find much use for it and think the size is awkward. It wears many hats (caps?)–people are using it as a TV, a newspaper, ebook reader, a way to get work done on planes, trains, and buses, and a not-the-most-efficient laptop once you connect a keyboard. One iPad Pro review by an attorney praised it for saving a lot of paper, as you can pull up and sign PDFs so easily. It is ideal for paperwork. Professional artists doing an iPad Pro review seem to pretty much agree that it’s a sketchbook, not a substitute for a computer with desktop apps. Using the Apple Pencil for drawing is a hit with most people. Many iPad Pro and Apple Pencil reviews rave that the Pencil beats Cintiq pens. I do agree that it gives a new level to the digital drawing experience, and is fun as well.

Pros

Pencil has excellent accuracy
Tilt and rotation sensitivity, including using the side of the tip
Excellent palm rejection
Good for note-taking
Generous size
4:3 aspect ratio
High-res screen
Fast
LTE options
Good for tasks such as signing documents, dealing with PDFs–can replace a lot of paper

 

Cons

Not that many apps that take advantage of the Pencil (this will undoubtedly change)
Cost of device and of Apple Pencil
No way to tether Pencil to the iPad, or the end cap to the Pencil
Lack of eraser tip
OS doesn’t allow for convenient file management
Cannot use full programs such as Photoshop
no USB port
No SD card slot; storage not upgradeable
Can’t use mouse or touchpad

Optional Accessories

 

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Apple Pencil. Click image to see at Best Buy
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Apple Smart Keyboard. Click image to see at Best Buy
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The Verdict

Is the iPad Pro a substitute for a laptop? Not really. Even using the iPad Pro with a keyboard is limiting. The keyboards for it can’t provide touchpads, you can’t use a mouse, and you can’t adjust the angle of the screen.

Is it a substitute for a Cintiq? Not really. You can only use apps with the iPad Pro, pressure sensitivity is app-dependent. The Pencil is not the issue here, nor is the screen. It does supply more of an “experience,” and solves the small, irritating issues with lines that affect Wacom, N-trig and other digitizers. But the OS is limiting. You can’t use full Photoshop or Illustrator or do efficient file management.

On the positive side, I think anyone could pick this up and intuitively go with the flow, just draw, without any learning curve, and that’s motivating. Drawing could get pretty addictive, especially with the ability to share the drawings so easily. Even the Wacom Cintiq 6D art pen doesn’t perform the side-shading feat. Beginning or hobby artists would love this, and professional artists would enjoy it as a very cool-looking digital sketchbook. I have no doubt it will be popular.

Apple hasn’t deigned to tell us how many levels of pressure sensitivity there are. Guess we shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about it.

See the iPad Pro on Amazon

Alternatives

If you’re looking for a less expensive digital sketchbook, we recommend the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 9.7″ with S Pen, an Android tablet with a Wacom digitizer. While it’s not high-resolution, it offers a lot for the price. The Toshiba dynaPad, a mobile Windows 10 tablet, is also one to consider if you’re seeking a portable sketchbook.

The Surface Pro 4 is probably the main competition to the iPad Pro as far as non-art issues; the Pro 4 will let you use Photoshop.

Accessories

If you’re looking for a handmade iPad Pro case that with an amazing set of positions, read our post about the FlipSteady.

end of iPad Pro review