Category Archives: Articles

Informational articles on various topics related to art tablets and digital art, tech news, and more.

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Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review: Let’s get small

dellxps13-2-in-1reviewDell XPS 13 2-in-1

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review: Sleek, but is it meek?

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 convertible won at CES 2017 Innovation Award. The compact 2-in-1 looks similar to its non-pen predecessor, the Dell XPS 13. I was excited to see this penabled (OK, its AES and technically only Wacom EMR is penabled) version, but it does have its compromises for those who hope to put it through its paces for art.

The build quality is sturdy and the device is attractive, though it took me a while to appreciate its subtleties–at first glance it’s another laptop–but then I noticed its thinness, sturdiness, and small bezel. Both have the Infinity Edge, a small bezel that allows the laptop to have the footprint of an 11″ laptop with a 13″ display. This model is slightly thinner than the original. This one is not a detachable, but a convertible with a 360-degree hinge. That makes it easier to type on than most detachables, which tend to have bouncy or loosely connected keyboards (the Microsoft Surface Book being an exception).

Like the Lenovo Yoga line, the XPS 2-in-1 can be set in four poses: laptop, tent, tablet, and stand.

The display is bright with wide viewing angle and rich blacks. The Infiniti Edge gives it a window-like feeling.

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The display on theDell XPS 13 2-in-1 is bright, with rich blacks.

Digitizer: Wacom AES (pen takes one AAAA battery)
2048 levels of pressure sensitivit

Pen: Dell Active Stylus (PN556W)

Processor
7th Gen. Intel i5-7Y54  to i7-7Y75


Graphics
Intel HD Graphics 615​

Display
13.3″ Full HD (1920×1080) or UltraSharp QHD (3200×1800)
10-point Multitouch
Brightness: 400 nits
Contrast ratio: 1000:1
Color” over 100% Adobe sRGB% color gamut
Anti-reflective
Wide viewing angle of 170 degrees
4GB, 8GB or 16GB LPDDR3 SDRAM
SSD: 128 GB to 1 TB
Build: machined aluminum
Gorilla Glass
Carbon fiber palm rest and deck
Steel and aluminum hinges

Dimensions
Thickness: 0.32-0.54”  inches (with/without keyboard in tablet mode) x 11.98″ x  7.8″
mm. 8 – 13.7  x 304 x 199
Weight: Starting at 2.7 pounds (1.24 kg)​

Keyboard
Full size, backlit, chiclet, 1.33 mm travel

Pen dimensions
1.9 oz without battery, 7.3 in.
Microsoft Hello fingerprint scanner


Ports
Thunderbolt 3, two USB-C 3.1 ports, microSD, headset jack, Noble lock slot

Battery
46WHr battery (integrated, non-replaceable)

Battery Life
Around 8 hours of mixed use–longer on the HD screen.

 

The full-size keyboard has chiclet-style keys with 1.3 mm key travel.

Power

Dell’s engineers developed Dynamic Power Mode, which raises the performance of the Y chip while still managing to keep the device fairly cool without fans–it gets warm but not hot. It spits out bursts of energy in a type of Turbo Boost to keep things in balance.

Though Y chips are similar to Core M, Dell has gotten higher performance here. Battery life is quite good, and you can certainly multitask. Dell has succeeded in making a thin computer that cools itself.

But it’s not as fast as competitors Surface Pro 4, HP Spectre x360, or the original XPS 13.

Portability

At 2.7 lbs., it’s lightweight, and it only takes up the space of an 11″ laptop. It’s solid, not something you can comfortably hold in one hand.

Battery Life

Good–8 hours on the i5 and up to 10 hours on the i7, both with mixed use.

Drawing on the XPS 13 2-in-1

The Dell Active Stylus glides smoothly and sensitivity is good. Palm rejection works well. Accuracy is good too as is hover range. No issues here. There’s no place to attach the pen to the computer, no magnet, clip, or anything. The Dell Active Pen is a little stubby at 7.3″ but it’s not much of an issue.

The trackpad is nice and smooth and isn’t too stiff. The keyboard is comfortable.

As scenic as it makes the computer, with the image on the display almost melding with its surroundings, the narrow bezel could prove a distraction when drawing. I suspect one reason for the Cintiq’s large bezel is to frame the art and visually isolate it from its environment, as a picture frame does.

If you want to draw at an angle, such as 20 degrees, you can use a separate stand i. Or you could place an object, such as a book, between the lid and keyboard.

The XPS 13 2-in-1 works with the Dell Active Stylus, a Wacom AES pen with 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. I tried the pen on it and found it worked well. The screen is slippery, like most laptops.

In my short time with it I got an error message when trying to open OneNote. Other programs opened smoothly. The Internet worked well, with videos looking sharp on the display, with deep blacks.

When there is less bezel, there’s a pleasant blending into the surroundings.

User reactions

People who have used this for non-art use seem overall pleased with it. Its design, display, the typing, and the responsive pen have all received praise. The computer was a star at CES for its slimness.

However, one user offering a Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review complained it was impossible to turn off Adaptive Brightness, even if it is turned off in the power settings. I read they may issue a patch for this, but until they do, having it adjust its brightness on its own with no way to stop it would be detrimental to creating art. Update: They have issued a fix–thank you to the commenter who sent this. Here’s the link to the firmware update if you need it.

Color

Tests have shown that  thought brighness and contrast are good, color accuracy is not that high. It also doesn’t have Adobe RGB. It does have over 100% of sRGB.

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review

The steel hinges covered in aluminum keep the Dell sturdy.

 

 

Pros

Wacom pen
Has the footprint of a smaller, 11″ computer
Good battery life
Quiet, fanless
Light, slim, portable
Bright display
Comfortable, backlit keyboard
Handles multitasking and light gaming
includes USB 3.1 dongle

Cons

Processor not as fast as the fastest for serious digital art
Some users have experienced bugs
Adaptive brightness issue, unless Dell issues a fix
No place to keep pen
Doesn’t come with pen
Pen is a little short
Color accuracy not the best
Cannot remove battery
Front Webcam is below the screen
Need dongles for peripherals

The Verdict

The laptop is innovative in its design both inside and out. It’s aimed at consumers who want versatility, portability, and long battery life.

It’s a fine computer, and the power difference is not enormous compared to other pen convertibles. You can use Photoshop, Illustrator etc. on it but it will not be the very fastest. In concluding this Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review, I can’t say it’s a top choice for digital artists. For that, something at mobile-workstation level is better. It’s fine for moderate art use.

Dell is taking the artist market seriously with the Dell Canvas, a large tablet monitor with an array of innovations and connections to Microsoft. Perhaps Dell will come out with a more art-targeted laptop.

end of Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review

lenovomiix720review

Lenovo Miix 720 coming April 2017

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Lenovo Miix 720

Lenovo Miix 720 goes to art studio and office

Lenovo has put out several Miixes with active pens–the Miix 510, 520, and IdeaPad Miix 700. The Miixes have been somewhat quiet competition to the Surface Pro. Now the Miix 720 has come.

Lenovo has gone on a listening tour, and is trying to deliver what people want. The Miix 720’s assortment of varying USB ports makes it so you can use your existing peripherals without dongles.  

Download the Miix 720_Spec Sheet (PDF)

This tablet is aimed at artists, designers, writers, business, and general use. Its integrated graphics can handle 4K video. It has the latest Kaby Lake processor. And it has fast memory.

Storage goes all the way up to 1TB. That way, you can be choosy about what you save to the Cloud. As well, you can work offline.

Lenovo Active Pen 2

The new Lenovo Active Pen 2 now has 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity. It’s not hiked to the 8,192 of the newer Wacom Pro Pen 2 for the art-specific Intuos Pro (2017) and MobileStudio Pro, but it’s plenty. Even 1,024 wasn’t bad. 

 

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The tablet will be out in April 2017, and the Active Pen 2 in February 2017.

Lenovo has long used Wacom digitizers in its PCs. Lenovo went from using Wacom EMR to Wacom AES in laptops and 2-in-1s. It switched back to EMR in the Yoga Book (which is really a graphics tablet with a separate screen), but is continuing to use AES on the Miix.

Lenovo’s Pro Pen and Active Pen 1 and 2 are both AES. The Active Pen 2 has raised the pressure levels to 4,192.

The Miix 720 comes in two colors, Champagne and Iron Gray.

Lenovo Miix 720 vs. Microsoft Surface Pro 4

Though it’s certainly thin, the computer part is a hair thicker than the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, at .35″ to the Microsoft’s skinny-Minnie .33.” There is little weight difference. The 12″ screen is a bit smaller than the SP4’s 12.3, but the Miix’s resolution is higher. The Miix, as far as I know, will not have a version with dedicated graphics the way the Surface Pro 4 does.

The Surface Pro 4’s pen is the less-sensitive N-trig, but perhaps the Surface Pro 5 will sport the long-awaited Wacom-Microsoft pen.

The dual watchband hinge on the kickstand is adjustable up to 150 degrees, as well as aesthetically appealing.

Features

Type of tablet: detachable 2-in-1
Display: 12″ QHD (2880 x 1920)
400 nits with Gorilla Glass
Digitizer: Wacom (probably will be ES), 4,096 levels
Processor: Intel up to  i7, Kaby Lake
Graphics: integrated
Build: one-piece metal alloy
dual-watchband hinge
RAM: Up to 16 GB DDR4
Dimensions
inches : 11.5″ x 8.27″ x 0.35″
mm: 292 x 210 x 8.9
With Keyboard
inches : 11.53″ x 8.5″ x 0.57″
mm): 293 x 216 x 14.6

One USB 3.1 (Type-C1)
One USB 3.0
One USB 2.0
microSD
Audio Combo Jack
Cameras: front 1MP, rear 5MP

Storage: up to 1 TB PCIe SSD
Dolby speakers

Weight: tablet starts at 1.72 lbs (780 g). With keyboard, starts at 2.42 lbs (1.1 kg)

Full-sized Backlit Keyboard
Lenovo Active Pen 2

WIndows Hello
Colors: Champagne Iron Gray

What’s included:

Miix 720
Keyboard
Power supply
Documentation

The Lenovo Active Pen 2 will likely be a separate purchase.

Battery Life:
Up to 8 hours of mixed use

lenovomiix720pin

Portability

It’s very thin. At a little over half an inch thick and a little under 2 1/2 lbs. including the keyboard, it can fit into bags and backpacks without a bulge. The penholder keeps the pen where you can find it.

It has Windows Hello, the somewhat creepy facial-recognition program that keeps you from the sweat of typing in a password. It’s optional. Here’s some privacy info about Windows Hello if you’re concerned.

Here’s a neat factoid from Lenovo: 20% of 2-in-1 users use a pen every day.

With the Thunderbolt 3 has a download speed of 40 GBps, you could attach this to a 4K monitor for video feed, and download stuff at the same time.

Keyboard

The keyboard is full-sized and has 1.5″ of key travel, just a shade (.1″) over the Surface Pro 4’s detachable keyboard. Unlike the Surface Pro 4’s bouncy slab, the Miix’s keyboard is rigid, and fully backlit.

Kickstand with dual-watchband hinge

miix720kickstand

The kickstand goes up to 150 degrees, which is almost upright, so you can watch movies or videoconference. Or you can adjust it down to draw on.

Multimonitor

You can use this in a multi-monitor setting, connecting up to two displays.

If this is as it sounds, if the price is right it could be pretty appealing.

Lenovo Miix 720 review to come

Right now the Miix 720 is a bit ahead of the Surface Pro 4 on most counts but a Surface Pro 5 is probably around the corner.

It’s still early (Feb. as I write) but I’ll update with a Lenovo Miix 720 review.

 

Wacom+Intuos+Pro+Paper+Edition-2

Intuos Pro Paper Edition hits the stands: Hands on

Intuos Pro Paper Edition: Take note

The Intuos Pro Paper Edition is here, joining the ranks of tablets that add real paper and pen to the mix. It comes in only Medium and large, and is a regular Intuos Pro except for the addition of a paper pad and fine-tipped pen.

Like the paperless model, it comes with the Wacom Pro Pen 2, which gets an eye-popping 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity.

The regular Intuos Pro has also been updated.

Intuos Pro Paper Edition

Intuos Pro Paper and pens. Image courtesy Wacom

New Intuos Pro and Paper Edition features

The new Intuos Pro, including the Intuos Pro Paper Edition (as they’re the same tablet)  is thinner than the old version and has a smaller footprint. The pen stand is now smaller, the pen case is updated. Then nibs sit in the pen holder, which is now flatter and cookie-like.

You also get three Texture Sheets that you can use to get the look of three drawing textures.

The Paper Edition still has touch, the ExpressKeys, and Rocker Ring as controls.

It also includes the 0.4mm Finetip gel ink pen, which is also an EMR pressure-sensitive pen.

Inkscape App

Like the Bamboo Slate and Spark, the tablet comes with the Inkscape app. (Though the app is free to download, eventually it becomes subscription-based).

intuospropapereditionreview

Intuos Pro Paper with Pro Pen 2 and new, thinner pen stand

Besides the gel pen, there’s an optional ballpoint pen. Wacom says that in mid-2017, there’s going to be a pencil option. Yippie! Wonder if it will have an eraser end.

With the app, which works on mobile or desktop, your drawings get digitized and you can store or share them.

intuospropaper

You can use the Paper Clip (that thing on top) to attach your favorite drawing paper to the Intuos Pro Paper Edition. Or you can use the tablet as a regular Intuos Pro.

WIth the paid app, you get 50 GB storage instead of 5; you can convert text to notes, collaborate with others, or turn raster into vector. It costs $3.56 per month as of this writing. The basic app is free and can be used on its Web platform or as an Android and iOS mobile app.

newintuosprogelpen

Intuos Pro Paper Edition Bamboo gel pen

The Intuos Pro Paper now has this whole new functionality. While I like the ink pens, can’t wait for mid-2017 when the pencil comes out in time for summer sketching.

 

Dell Canvas 27: Hands-on at CES

dellcanvas27review

The new Dell Canvas 27″ tablet monitor, slated to hit the shelves at the end of April 2017, was on display at this year’s CES 2017. I was fortunate enough try it out. It’s the first large art tablet monitor made by Dell.

Dell-Canvas-and-UltraSharp

Dell Canvas 27 (bottom) and Ultra Sharp monitor (top). Photo by Dell

Dell Canvas uses Wacom EMR pen

The Canvas is a bit like a Surface Studio except that the Canvas is a tablet monitor, not a 2-in-1, so it’s more similar to the Cintiq 27″ and has the same resolution. Dell states the Canvas pen is Wacom EMR. (Dell’s recent products have used Wacom AES, and before that they used Synaptics).

EMR is the most sensitive and what Wacom uses on its own Cintiqs. This pen was thick but comfortable and had two buttons. Its girth and simple barrel shape reminded me of pens by Huion more than the skinnier, shapelier pens used by Wacom and Microsoft.

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It only does Windows

The Canvas has to be connected to a computer, and that computer has to be running Windows. This is a big difference from any other tablet monitor, as most will work with Windows PCs or Macs out of the box. (Maybe Apple will fight back by coming out with its own tablet monitor or all-in-one with Apple Pencil!)

Dell partnered with Microsoft on the Canvas, and the Canvas will work with the Creators Update, and will run with AVID. Dell, naturally, suggests using the Canvas with the Dell Precision workstation, which is powerful enough to create VR content.

The Canvas is protected by Gorilla Glass. It has some cool functions like virtual desktops, and it comes with two kinds of “Totems” (ahem, Surface Dial clones) that you can twist and turn.

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Display overlay shows open programs. Photo: tabletsforartists.com

Dell’s initial idea was the SmartDesk, where the two monitors would interact, but it’s not clear if that will come to fruition or if it will be the regular routine. In this case, there are actually three monitors–the laptop, the Canvas, and the eye-level monitor.

2.5k display resolution

The display has a 2560 x 1440 QHD resolution (111 PPI). A close competitor would be Wacom’s 27″ Cintiq, with the same resolution (2.5K). The all-in-one, 28″ Surface Studio packs 4500 x 3000 (192 PPI). So the Canvas is pretty high resolution, but it could be higher. However, the 2.5K will have an easier time working with more Windows computers than a 4K or higher would.

The Dell Canvas’ wide color gamut covers 100% of Adobe RGB, which is a welcome feature for pros who print their own work.

Palm rejection worked well. The stand is adjustable, and I like that it can lie flat as a desk, something the Surface Studio’s hinge does not allow.

As you can see, the pen is accurate with no jitter. It also had no detectable tilt sensitivity (which could change) or perhaps there were tilt settings I needed to adjust.

Two Totems for the Dell Canvas 27

To me, two Totems plus the pen and multiple monitors is a lot to think about and the idea of the 20-point multitouch, which can accommodate an extra person or two, starts to seem a bit left-brained. Right now there are not a whole lot of apps for the Totem and Surface Dial, but these are in their early stages.

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Totem with contextual menu. The Canvas comes with two kinds of Totems. Photo: tabletsforartists.com

The whole thing is very BUSY pus there are lots and lots of on-screen menus. It’s not exactly Zen, but it offers a lot of options. Right now the levels of pressure sensitivity are not clear, nor are other specs.

For now, my hands-on experience with the Dell Canvas 27 leaves me feeling like it’s not a huge leg up over other 27″ tablet monitors as far as hardware.

The jury’s out on the software, as that’s such a big part of this, and it is impressive. But what are the specific benefits? Do all the accessories and tools make the designer’s workload easier, or is this an exercise in deconstructing and fragmenting workflow?

For most users who draw, having the top monitor is not needed. It looks cool, and there are good reasons to use it, but the Canvas doesn’t need it. For multimedia design, or if you want to make sure colors match, or you want to see your work higher-res, it makes sense. But it’s part of the packaging of the Canvas.

The Verdict–for now

Because at the time of this writing, the product has not yet come out, this Dell Canvas review is focused on testing the pen, examining the screen, speed of the computer, and more. For now, I’m not sold on the Totem/Dial, though that could change, and no one’s forcing me to use it. Microsoft’s Surface Dial is an optional purchase, unlike the two Totems, suggesting that Dell feels they’re integral to the software.

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The display is certainly pleasing and I like the idea of the eye-level monitor, though that’s an individual choice. For drawing, I would probably just prop up the Canvas to 20 degrees and use that.

Dell released a lot of innovative and award-getting products at CES, including a super-thin 8k monitor and the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, which uses Wacom AES.  Dell has put out numerous tablets, but somehow you didn’t hear about them all that much–most of them have been small portables, such as the Venue series. They had a rocky journey with three versions of a Synaptics pen before switching over to AES.

The pen and digitizer information on their site seems to confuse people, as I can tell from the questions I’ve gotten, but this is de rigueur with large companies who didn’t focus on pen tablets. Now, Dell has stepped into the limelight with this large art gizmo.

Now Dell is working with Microsoft and incorporating Wacom, aiming to get in more seriously on the art action. I particularly like the software, such as the overlay, and look forward to seeing the finished product.

2016 Digital Artist Holiday Gift Guide

2016  Digital Artist Gift Guide

Hard to believe it’s that time again–winter holidays of 2016! 2016giftguidepin

 

If you’ve got a pixel artist in your life, they’re probably looking for ways to enhance their creativity, work in comfort and style, travel with their tablet. They love traditional art supplies, too. To that end, we bring you our 2016 Tablets for Artists gift guide.

Will be adding to this page, so check back for more!

 

Apple iPad Pro

Elegant portable drawing solution with highly sensitive, tilt-enabled Apple Pencil (which needs to be purchased separately). Can be used as Cintiq-like input device with a Mac using the Astropad app.

 

 

Copic Markers

Sometimes you just need the smell of markers. Copic Markers are great for manga, marker rendering, sketching out logos, and everything else. Copics are alcohol-based, which is less toxic than solvent-based markers, but we like to keep a window open.

 

Tombow Dual Brush Pens

Tombow markers can be combined with water for beautiful blended effects. Tombows are water-soluble. The dual brush have a marker brush on one end and a marker tip on the other.

MAKING COMICS

by Scott McCloud. Learn to create comics, manga, and graphic novels from a master.

 

TONED TAN SKETCHBOOK

Drawing on medium-toned paper can make all the difference in your art. The Old Masters did it, and so can you.

Wacom Bamboo Slate

lets you create digital art or take notes, starting on paper. The notebook has its own memory, so you don’t need to snap a photo of your page. You open your pages in a mobile app. Wacom Inkscape lets you save to the Cloud. Comes with EMR digitizing pen. The older Bamboo Spark is similar.
The Moleskine Smart Notebook uploads your paper drawings from this classic artist’s sketcbook to Evernote after you you snap a photo using an iPad app. It then converts it into an SVG. There’s also a version with Adobe Creative Cloud.

SwissGear Travel Gear ScanSmart Backpack

A laptop backpack with extra pockets for a portable tablet that’s ready for airport security is a blessing. Most airports won’t make you take the laptop out, saving you time and hassle. It also has RFID protection from those trying to steal your info electronically.

 

Wacom graphics tablet

Read this post to figure out which one is best for your artist.
intousartpentouch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handmade Leather iPad Pro Case

Beautiful and durable.

 

Case Logic WMBP-115 15.6-Inch Laptop and Tablet Backpack

 

Fujifilm INSTAX Mini 8 Instant Camera

Who doesn’t love instant photos? Take pics and have them on paper immediately with the . It has automatic exposure and a high-key setting perfect for portraits.

 

Aeropress Espresso Maker

Coffee! Without it, modern civilization wouldn’t exist. Whether that’s good or bad, we still need our fix. The Aeropress delivers a pungent cup in one quick blast. Geeks love it.

 

Computer Arts Magazine

Magazines keep artists on top of the latest developments. Computer Arts is a good one to follow to keep up with constantly changing tech.

 

Clip Studio Paint


Clip Studio Paint is an inexpensive art software program with a great brush engine.

 

Books on Creativity, Art, and Careers

BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO CREATING MANGA ART

This fascinating genre requires a lot of study,  but it can be learned.

This season will be special with creative gifts. And remember to check back, as I’m scouting for more swag.