Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Searching for the ever-elusive electronic sketchbook

I've been waiting a long time for someone to make the perfect tablet that I can take on the road, one that could actually replace a good old-fashioned sketchbook.  I know artists are quite a niche market, but surely there are enough of us out there that there's some demand for this sort of thing?  WACOM and Adobe seem to do alright for themselves by catering to us creative types.

Here's my tablet wishlist:
  • Pressure-sensitive stylus, ideally with buttons/eraser
  • Bright screen (for use outdoors)
  • Lightweight
  • Decent battery life
  • Can run Photoshop/ArtRage/etc. without lagging too badly
  • Some kind of keyboard, integrated or attachable
  • Decent hard drive size or expandable storage via SD card, etc.
  • Fully functional desktop-style OS
I've been getting by with a Toshiba Portege M400 for a few years.  The pen is decent, and I believe it uses actual WACOM drivers from back when they were touting their "Penabled" tech.  The laptop itself, however, is not really the ideal portable sketchbook.  It's nearly 5 pounds, the old battery dies after about an hour, it runs hot and the screen is pretty dim.  I can sit on a couch and use it while it's plugged in, and that's been useful, but I'd really love to get a snazzy new tablet that I could take to the zoo and do some animal drawing.  Now that the general public is starting to incorporate them into their daily lives, companies are tripping over themselves to come up with new models and meet demand.  It's a good time to start shopping around for my dream machine.

But while reviews for these new gadgets have been plentiful, I've been hard-pressed to find ones that are geared towards the needs of the artist.  I've spent hours scouring the internet just trying to figure out which devices have pressure-sensitive touchscreens!  Why is this so difficult to find?  We need more artists like Jeffrey at SolidSmack who take the time to give us the info that we want.  Thanks Jeffrey :)

In the meantime, in case anybody else is also in the market for a new toy, here's a roundup of the models I'm considering that most closely meet all the items on my wishlist:

All of them are fairly light and have pressure-sensitive pen capability, although the digitizer tech varies.  A few of them use N-Trig, which I hear is pretty decent given the right hardware, though I haven't gotten to try it out yet.  The Samsung models use the proprietary S-Pen tech, which I haven't been too fond of.  I assume the Surface will have its own tech as well.  And the two Asus models use WACOM.  

The Vaio and ThinkPad X230 both have keyboards attached, which adds to their bulk and weight, but also makes it so there's less pieces to worry about losing.  I'm leaning more towards the dockable or detachable keyboards rather than integrated or separate Bluetooth ones.  The VivoTab's keyboard in particular seems enticing because it adds extra battery life when attached.

The ThinkPad X230 and EEE Slate run Windows 7, while the rest are on Windows 8, in case that's pertinent to anybody.

Price points vary based on hard drive size, RAM, processor, and other factors, so the range runs from around $750 up to $1200.  If that's too steep for you, there are always older devices available on eBay, which is how I came to own my Toshiba.  Buying used tech tends to come with some risk, though - old batteries that don't hold a good charge, chewed up cables, broken USB ports, etc.  But for the starving artist, little inconveniences are worth putting up with; you can't really beat a touchscreen computer for 200 bucks.

If you have any more recommendations, please leave a comment!