Perhaps it's due to the overwhelming volume of gadgets I've got clattering around the SurfaceProArtist labs or just my advancing old age, but it's getting increasingly difficult to remember all the gear that I've reviewed and exactly when I reviewed it. Fortunately, despite the somewhat awkward design of the Squarespace template behind this site, everything I've ever posted here is only a keyword search away.

So as the year draws to a close, I thought it would be fun to revisit my last twelve months of reviews and see if my conclusions then have withstood the test of time.

In many cases, the time I invested while writing the review was about as much as I ended up spending with the device for the entire year, so I'll try to distinguish between the gear that I've really put through its paces and the stuff I only ever skimmed.

N-Trig DuoSensePen2 The first of a couple of products on this list that disappeared shortly after their release, these replacement pens were N-Trig's first foray into standalone consumer products. It was nice to see an option in case your Surface Pro 3 or Sony VAIO pen went missing, but I didn't care for the short body. When Microsoft bought N-Trig's pen technology later in 2015, the pens vanished.

Monoprice 22" HD SmartTouch Drawing Display - This touch capable drawing display was Monoprice's second attempt to entire the Wacom - Huion - Yiynova fray, but it also disappeared unceremoniously shortly after release. I still use it occasionally, as its attached to my second desktop. It's really not a bad value and I hope that Monoprice and its anonymous Chinese suppliers take another stab at it in 2016. UPDATE 12/24/15: In the comments section below, reader Vachel Shannon informed me that the Smarttouch pen display has resurfaced on Monoprice's website. You can find it here:


Toshiba 8" Encore 2 Write - TabletPCReview member Precurve did a great job capturing the virtues of the 8-inch version of what was the best pen computing value of the year.

Lenovo Thinkpad Helix 2 -
I expected to love the Helix 2, but I didn't, thanks to its high pricetag and crappy keyboard. Had it been discounted a couple hundred bucks, I might feel otherwise. When the Ultrabook Pro keyboard was ultimately released, it cost a ridiculous $400.

HP Pro x2 612 G1 - Because I reviewed it so closely to the pricey Helix 2, I probably ended up inflating my rating of this tablet. I admit I grade on a curve for lower cost devices, but there's something about this ugly duckling tablet that reminds me of the Surface Pro 1 that got this blog started. UPDATE 12/24/15 : Vachel Shannon also let me know that refurbished i5/8/256 HP Pro x2 612 G1s are on sale over at Woot! for only $399 until supplies last. This is an exceptional value.

Toshiba 10" Encore 2 Write I never got around to writing my own review of the TE2W, but Eric Merced did the honors here. The TE2W is the first Wacom ActiveES tablet I owned and it's an exceptional value.

Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 - I'll admit I haven't gotten as much use out of the CC2 has I had imagined/hoped when I first purchased it. I'm spoiled by having so many other options at my disposal and I consider the CC2 too large and loud to use outside of the office. But performance is fantastic and it's still the one to buy if art is your foremost concern.

Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 14 My credit cards were able to take a break during April and May, and they were taxed a little more lightly by this Best Buy-exclusive offer. The laptop is my daily driver at the office. I've changed out the slow 1TB HDD for a much more responsive 512 GB SSD. You won't need to make that additional expense if you purchase the latest model, which has been updated several times since I purchased it. The TPY14 offers the best price-performance ratio on the market. It's not a style champion, but the Skylake version is essentially an i5 dGPU Surface Book for half the price.

Lenovo Thinkpad Active Capacitive Pen - The pen that accompanies Lenovo's Wacom ActiveES devices has since been rebranded as the Lenovo Thinkpad Pen Pro. But it remains a must-have for anyone buying one of the new penabled devices, as the bundled rechargeable pen is too small for serious artists.

VAIO Z Canvas - I was a reluctant buyer but the performance of the VAIO Z Canvas really won me over. It's been discounted $500 in recent weeks and is really hard to pass up at that price.

Microsoft Surface Pen - A must-have for any Surface Pro 3 or 4 owner. The new pen and softer nibs are a huge improvement over their predecessors.

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 - I purposely decided to review the low end m3 SP4 because I was looking for a fanless option. I love it and find I'm using my i5 SP3 less and less often. This is the perfect digital sketchbook Sorry Apple.

Miscrosoft Surface Book - Early growing pains have almost been resolved. This is a beautiful prestige device, but I think it's a less than ideal form factor for digital artists.

Apple iPad Pro & Apple Pencil - Coming soon. Trying to take my time so I don't come off like an Apple hater or Microsoft fanboy.

So that's it. Funny doesn't seem like so many gadgets when you put them all on one page. I don't know how many I'll get to review in 2016. You guys were great the first couple of days I began my appeal for donations, but that's all died down now and revenue is no where near where it needs to be to pay for this site. So if you haven't yet, please consider a small contribution or click on as many ads as you can. Also, remember to begin your Amazon shopping sessions with a click on one of our Amazon links and we'll receive a small kickback.

So what was your favorite gadget of 2015? What are you most looking forward to in 2016? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 

"If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all."

Never has that memorable quote from Bambi's pal Thumper felt so appropriate.

Like most of you, I've been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new Monoprice Interactive Pen Display since it was released last month. Though I just got the Yiynova MVP22U, I couldn't pass up the offer of an under $400 tablet monitor with similar capabilities, especially coming from a trusted name like Monoprice from whom I've purchased many cables and thingamajigs over the years.

To add to that excitement, expert artist and trusted tablet guru Ray Frenden posted his own very positive review of the device this weekend. 

So when it arrived this morning, I quickly trumpeted the fact on Twitter and set out to do my usual quick unboxing and first impressions post.

But here it is eight hours after its arrival and I'm regretting my words. I love technology. I know this stuff is almost magical. And when it doesn't work as expected or as others have led me to believe it would, I feel a deep sense of disappointment. And this tablet monitor may be the most disappointing device I've ever used.

Why? Because I know UC Logic digitizers deliver (see my Yiynova posts). Because Ray Frenden has written very highly of Huion, the Chinese manufacturer who builds the other tablets sold by Monoprice. Because it looked so good out of the box: nothing cheap or homemade about this device.

But then I had to go and power it on.

Frenden's review mentions that viewing angles are bad and even recommends using the display on a monitor arm. But in my estimation, the Interactive Pen Display only seems to have one acceptable viewing angle: head on. The slightest tilt immediately results in color and brightness shifts that are readily apparent and reproducible (see photos below).

The rest of the issues I've had are software related and I've reached out to Monoprice to see if I can access development drivers that work better than the ones shipped in the box or that are available for download on the Huion website. Suffice it to say that the Windows 8.1 experience so far has been pretty painful. I won't elaborate until I hear back and will update this post as soon as I do.

Stay tuned for hopefully more positive news...

The Monoprice Interactive Display ships in an attractive box that promises a professional experience.

The 19-inch pen display includes Mac and Windows manual, a driver installation CD, the pen and holder, a power supply, power cord, USB pen charging cable, VGA cable and USB cable.

Out of the box, the tablet monitor is as attractive and well-made as any higher end display.  The VESA stand provides a wide variety of support angles. Unfortunately, color representation is not accurate at this angle.

This is the monitor stand's most upright position, just shy of 90-degrees. I don't like to work with the monitor at this angle, but it is the only that delivers an accurate color display.

The pen and holder are wonderful, much better than the stylus that ships with the Yiynova.  The entire pen is rubberized and the buttons are firm. No extra nibs or nib extractor is included. The pen is battery powered and rechargeable.

The connectors (USB, power, VGA and DVI) are a little hard to reach. You'll want to set the monitor on its face to plug everything in.

Unlike the Yiynova, all the buttons are easily accessible and located on the front lower right corner.

Connected to the Surface Pro without a docking station, the USB and VGA cables can be unsightly. I am using a miniDisplay to VGA adapter. The resolution of the Surface Pro has to be lowered to 1440x900, the pen display's maximum resolution. Mac users do not have to mirror their displays. This is a Windows only limitation. You can see some of the color banding in the darker colors on the upper right of the Monoprice screen. 

On the Surface Pro screen above, note how the color is uniform from top of the display to the bottom.

At approximately the same angle, note how the colors shift on the Monoprice.

This is a typical screen shot head-on. Colors are saturated and even.

But looking down from above or from any other angle, that same screen fades to white. 

I'm hoping that Monoprice will point me (and you) to development drivers. The default click sensitivity is set so light that any tap results in 100% pressure. The pen display is supposed to work with Windows 8 automatically, but the pressure setting makes it impossible to double click on any items. The pen only becomes usable as a navigation device with the drivers installed. Unfortunately, this conflicts with the Surface Pro's Wacom drivers, so the two cannot be used at once. For the rest of my driver tests, I was using a non-touch Windows 8.1 laptop.

The drivers also allow 4-, 9- and 25-point calibration. But the calibration didn't work on my system. Before I could click the upper left calibration point, it would click itself. The results were unusable. Fortunately, you can turn the calibration off by unticking the box.

AuthorRick Rodriguez
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UPDATE: We've got our own unboxing and (disappointed) first impressions here.

* * *

I expect to get my Monoprice Interactive Pen Display to review next week, but tablet guru Ray Frenden got his a few days early. 

This should be an excellent option for you Mac owners out there. Windows users beware that the device can only run in mirror mode, so you will have to run your pc in 1440 x 900 mode to use it. Apple users will not have that limitation.

But for only $400, perhaps this isn't a dealbreaker...

I unbox the new Monoprice 19" Tablet Monitor Cintiq alternative a few days before they officially go on sale. Check out my digital art tool reviews here:

AuthorRick Rodriguez