Category Archives: Synaptics


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




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.


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

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.


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
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.

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.

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.



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.


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.

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.


Comfortable, backlit keyboard
Choices of configurations, including 4K
Long battery life
Big screen
Slim profile
Can open it to replace battery
Not much bloatware


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.

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

See the x360 15.6″ at (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


Surface Book

Surface Pro 4

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga

end of HP Spectre x360 15 review

Acer Aspire R13 Review: bending up


Acer Aspire R13 Review: one convertible tablet, six modes

by Tablets for Artists

Type of Tablet

Tablet PC Convertible

10 different configurations of this were released, but the two most commonly sold are ones with a Core i5 processor and 8 GB of RAM, and 128 GB SSD, and a Core i7 with Core i7 and 512 GB SSD.

Acer Aspire R7. The newer, 15.6 ” Acer Aspire R7 is similar but uses N-trig. It can also be used with the Acer Active Pen. It’s bigger and heavier. Review to come.

The screen can’t be separated from the keyboard, so this is a true laptop convertible. The “2 in 1” name refers to it being both a regular display and touchscreen. It’s a Swiss Army knife of a tablet, with a U-frame design capable of six different “poses” compared to the Lenovo Yoga’s four.


Windows 8.1
13.3″ 10-pt. multitouch screen
Dimensions: 13.4 x 9 x 0.71 in. (344 x 230 x 18 mm)
Ports: two USB 3.0; one USB 2.0; HDMI; SD card slot
Weight: 3.3 lbs. (1.5 kg)
Intel Core i5-5200U Dual-core 2.20 GHz
Full HD 1920 x 1080, 220ppi, 13.3″
Compatible with Acer Active pen sold separately ($49)
Synaptics digitizer with 256 levels of pressure sensitivity
(2560 x 1440 WQHD display 13.3″ on highest-end mode)
16:9 aspect ratio
Intel HD 5500 with Shared Memory
8 GB
256 GB SSD
Ezel Aero Hinge provides 6 modes
can be used with Acer Active Pen
Skype-certified for quality voice and video chat

stand mode good for on-screen typing on lap or table


Notebook, Ezel, Stand, Tablet, Tent, Display: the six modes

Battery Life

6.5 to 7.5 hours, depending on tasks

What’s in the Box


What’s NOT in the Box







The Active Stylus is sold separately.

The stylus is compatible with the Aspire R13 (R7-371T), Aspire Switch 11 & 12 (SW5-111, SW5-171, SW5-271). You can also use the HP active stylus with this computer.


The Aspire stands on two columns, sort of like a freestanding chalkboard. The dual hinges are sturdy, and the screen stands firm, not getting shaky when using the pen. The laptop auto-rotates the content on the screen to match the mode you’re in.

The R13 is a sleek, modern-looking computer with an almost architectural presence. Some might feel like it’s trying too hard to look modern, with its Gorilla Glass-encased lid and jutting metal hinge. When the lid is shut, the hinge surrounds it on the sides and protrudes out a little, making it take up more space on the desk than its screen size would suggest.

The touchscreen is fast and responsive to touch and pen input when doing clicking, swiping, and gestures. The computer, with its dual SSDs, is also fast.

The six poses/modes are: Ezel, Notebook, Stand, Tablet (r Pad), Tent, and Display. These are more versatile than the four positions of the Lenovo Yogas. Ezel mode is useful because you can pull the screen closer to you and still access the keyboard. This solves one of the more annoying problems for artists using a 2-in-1 with a swiveling screen, or a Lenovo Yoga where the keyboard locks when folded back. In both these cases, the keyboard is difficult to access, making it more efficient to use an external keyboard. If Acer continues with this line and irons out the bumps, this design would be ideal for artists. Stand mode is good for typing, drawing, or editing art; the screen holds steady. You can adjust it to positions in-between these too.


Drawing in Stand mode



At 3.3 lbs. (about 1.5 kg), it’s pretty portable and light for a convertible but still heavy to carry around for long periods. It’s also thin and compact.


The lid is sandwiched between layers of anti-reflective Gorilla Glass, which gives it a nice sheen, but attracts fingerprints. Luckily, it’s easy to clean. The lid is designed to be opened with one finger, but it helps to have small fingers or it might be a bit of a struggle.


The screen shows up fairly well outdoors if the sun is not too bright, and offers good viewing angles. It uses two layers of Corning Gorilla Glass 3, one at the surface and one behind. The two layers of Gorilla Glass cut reflections, protect from scratches, and make the screen easy to clean. The images look crisp. Turning off adaptive brightness may help you get brighter colors. You will have to calibrate the colors to get better color accuracy than it comes with. With the more high-resolution model, Photoshop icons will look smal. You can scale the sizes of icons and fonts using Acer’s calibration tool.

One slight downside of the innovative design is that it takes up as much space on a desktop as a 14″ laptop, since the base is larger than the screen. A 13″ laptop sleeve will be too small to put this laptop in.


Acer Active Pen

The Acer Active Pen works well at the edges and, similar to N-trig, handles parallax well, meaning there is only a small space between the tip and the line on the screen. The Active Pen takes an AAAA battery.  Using Acer’s Hover software, you can open a menu that allows you to access apps by hovering the pen. Some have complained about the Active Pen going through batteries quickly, as well as connectivity issues.

You can convert handwriting to text.


Usually we don’t talk about keyboards much, but it seems needed because this is a problem area with the R13. Though I don’t know the reason the computer was discontinued, there were many complaints about the keyboard typing double characters and other problems. One Acer Aspire R13 reviewer reported that when hitting the edges of a key, the key would depress but not register the character typed. Some people got tricky touchpads, as well. Though hard to find in brick-and-mortar stores now, The R13 is still for sale online.

The bluish backlighting of the keyboard prevents glare. The backlighting turns itself on, which is a nice touch.

Stand Mode is the one Acer says is best for drawing. I’m not sure I agree, because in Stand it’s harder to access the keyboard than it is in Ezel. But it is a good mode if you don’t really need the keyboard or can use the on-screen one. I like that in Ezel, In the screen is closer to the eyes. The computer easy to hold in the lap, too. If you’re one of those work-on-the-bed artists, the Tablet pose may be the most efficient.

Drawing on the Acer R13

The line sometimes skips if you draw quickly. Some people had problems with wobbly lines as well as with palm rejection. Even though the Synaptics drivers have improved a lot, and the parallax is good, the R13 still lacks the accuracy of Wacom or N-trig. In short, this is not the worst tablet to draw on, but it’s not the best, either. The R13 is better if art is not the primary use for it, but is fine for sketching, annotating, or taking notes. With handwriting, it also skips a line now and then. The 256 levels of pressure sensitivity vs. Wacom’s far greater amounts is not an issue unless you are using a brush larger than 256 pixels. It is relatively slim and light, and powerful, but if you’re a professional artist, all that doesn’t compensate for the drawbacks. If you are mainly a hobby artist this laptop is OK.

The driver runs on Windows Ink rather than Wintab, so older versions of programs such as Photoshop that use Wintab drivers won’t give pressure sensitivity.

User reviews

A lot of people do not like the small Caps Lock key and small delete key. Many really like the computer itself with its speed. Reviews of the pen functionality are mixed, with some finding it adequate. One Acer Aspire R13 review written by an artist said that


Six modes
Sharp design
Good build quality despite being plastic
Screen size
Small power brick


Potential keyboard and touchpad issues
Sometimes skips lines when drawing fast
Potential battery issues with pen

The Verdict

If you get one without a wonky keyboard or trackpad, this is a very nice computer. Not as good artwise as Wacom, Wacom ES, or N-trig, though. We hope that Acer will continue developing this design and pen with artists in mind.

Read more info and reviews about the Acer Aspire R13.

Read more info and reviews about the Acer Aspire R7.

Also check out these other convertible laptops:

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 12.5

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga 14

end of Acer Aspire R13 review