Pen interoperability should improve by 2017 when Wacom releases its dual protocol pen and the USI (Universal Stylus Initiative) consortium brings its products to market. But in the meantime, if you're in the market for a pen-abled Active ES device or are looking for a replacement pen for one you already own, I offer this chart of my test results.

AuthorRick Rodriguez
48 CommentsPost a comment

If you’re looking for a way to spend your tax refund wisely, Lenovo has two products that might offer the best price-performance ratio in the industry.

You don’t have to be a US resident to purchase either device (or at least a close approximation), but you won’t likely find as good a deal as you will at Best Buy for the $900 Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 14 or at for the Miix 700 tablet, currently discounted $200 through the end of April.


I first reviewed the original Best Buy exclusive Thinkpad Yoga 14 in the middle of 2015 and the convertible laptop has been updated several times since then while the price has remained constant. The current version, model 20FY0002US, features a 2.3 GHz 6th Gen Intel Core i5-6200U processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD and NVidia GeForce 940M graphics. An integrated, rechargeable Thinkpad Pen Pro (Wacom ActiveES stylus) is included.

The TPY14 is not sold online at Instead, the closest equivalent is known as the Thinkpad Yoga 460 (Black). Configuring that model to match the Best Buy version will cost at least $1449 (currently discounted 10%) but does not include the discrete gpu. For reasons known only to Lenovo, none of its online offerings seems to offer an NVidia option.

The TPY14 is the nearly perfect desktop replacement convertible. You might quibble about the FHD (1920x1080) display which doesn’t boast the widest color gamut or brightest output, but I find the roomy 14-inch screen perfectly acceptable.

The keyboard is typical of Thinkpads: with comfortable spacing and nice key travel. The trackpad is improved over the earlier versions.

The laptop is equipped with 3 x USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort, HDMI, OneLink+ and 4-in-1 media card slot. Wireless-AC, Bluetooth 4.0, microphone and 720p HD webcam round out the package.

Top to bottom: the integrated rechargeable Lenovo Thinkpad Pen Pro stylus, the Thinkpad Pen Pro active capacitive pen and the recommended Toshiba dynaPad TruPen. Note the very short exposed nib on the middle pen. 

Top to bottom: the integrated rechargeable Lenovo Thinkpad Pen Pro stylus, the Thinkpad Pen Pro active capacitive pen and the recommended Toshiba dynaPad TruPen. Note the very short exposed nib on the middle pen. 

While the integrated stylus is nice in a pinch, serious users will want to purchase a full size pen. The Lenovo Thinkpad Pen Pro active capacitive pen is available for about $40, but I recommend the more expensive Toshiba DynaPad TruPen, which is now available for separate purchase from a variety of online outlets including Amazon and, whose sales are fulfilled by CDW.

The DynaPad TruPen offers a much better drawing experience, with longer, softer nibs and a much greater hover distance. The nibs seem to deteriorate quickly, but fortunately Toshiba is the first Wacom AES OEM to also offer packs of 5 replacement tips.

The soft TruPen nibs offer significantly more resistance than the standard Pen Pro, but the display is still a little slippery. I haven’t tried one yet, but a screen protector would be advisable if you intend to draw on the TPY14 full time.

Drawing performance is as good as any Wacom ActiveES device, with great accuracy and 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity. The TPY14 is also compatible with the Wacom Feel driver, so you’ll be able to configure the pen buttons and create a radial menu if you like.

System performance is excellent, with the laptop ranking just above last year’s models in various benchmarks.

For its price class, the Best Buy exclusive Thinkpad Yoga 14 is an absolute winner. Highly recommended.


Even at its regular retail price of $800, the Ideapad Miix 700 is a lower end Surface Pro 4 clone that is hard to pass up. But at $600 through April 30 for Costco members, it’s an absolute steal.

For $100 less than the regular retail price of the 4GB entry level m3 SP4, the Miix 700 boasts an Intel Core m5-6Y54 and 8 GB of RAM and 128 GB SSD. The onboard Intel HD Graphics 515 powers a 12-inch 2160 x 1440 display, equal to the SP4. A folio keyboard cover is also included but the Wacom Active ES pen is sold separately.

At its sale price, the Miix is about $400 cheaper than the less powerful Surface Pro with keyboard! There’s got to be a catch, right? Fortunately for bargain hunters, there are only a few items of concern.

It would be impossible to tell the Miix 700 apart from the Microsoft tablet except for the gold finish back and watchband hinges. The folio keyboard cover has a faux leather cover. These fashion miscues can easily be overlooked.

Unfortunately, there is one hideous marketing decision that will require significant elbow grease to rectify. The geniuses at Lenovo decided to apply a sticker to the top right and side of the tablet with a strong adhesive that leaves behind a sticky, difficult to remove residue. Prepare to spend a lot of wasted time cleaning up this mess. (Lenovo states on its forum that future Miix tablets won’t have the appliques).

Aesthetics and self-inflicted issues aside, the only real item of concern is the keyboard cover, which is a little flaky despite a firmware fix. Without the patch, the cursor regularly jumps around randomly, making it nearly impossible to type a sentence without multiple errors. After the patch, the keyboard is more accurate, although the touchpad is hyper-sensitive. Throughout a week of use, I’ve accidentally opened or closed multiple items due to errant taps on the trackpad. Clicking and selecting is also challenging. Lastly, the keyboard is not backlit, which is a major limitation if you need to use your tablet in low-lit situations. Consequently, if word processing is your primary activity, you may be out of luck when it comes to the Miix 700.

Unlike the Spartan plain cardboard packaging of Thinkpad products, the Ideapad line is consumer oriented and the Miix 700 ships in the nicest package I’ve seen from Lenovo.

Available ports are a little skimpy: one USB 2.0 that doubles as the power input, one USB 3.0, a microHDMI output and a microSD slot tucked under the kickstand, borrowing again from the Surface Pro design.

A major selling point of the Miix is its user upgradeability. Swapping out the m2 SSD should be very straight forward and Lenovo even has a complete list of how-to videos on its site:

Marketed as a relatively low cost retail device, the Ideapad also features a lot of pre-installed crapware like McAfee Internet Security that you will want to wipe off right away. I do appreciate when OEMs provide utilities that phone home and let you know when driver updates are available. The Lenovo Companion app purports to do this, but I still had to visit support to find the keyboard firmware.

Pen support is also not enabled by default and required installation of another firmware fix. Unfortunately, although the Miix 700 works with a variety of Wacom Active ES pens, it is not supported by the Feel driver, so you won’t be able to configure any pen buttons or run Wintab applications.

As I wrote above, the Lenovo Thinkpad Pen Pro is sold separately for $40. It's not the best Wacom Active ES pen option on the market due to its very short nib and small hover distance. If you decide to stick with the Lenovo brand, packs of pen clips are also available that attach the pen via the USB 3.0 connector (a pretty big waste of a port on an already limited device).

Like the Thinkpad Yoga 14, the Miix’s screen is a little slick and could benefit from a screen protector, but using it with a Toshiba DynaPad TruPen is otherwise very pleasant.

Until Wacom releases its Bamboo Smart pen and we determine its compatibility, the Toshiba DynaPad TruPen is the best choice for Miix users.

The Miix 700’s Core m5 processor offers negligible performance improvements over the Surface Pro 4’s m3, so benchmark results are very close.  But in real world use, you’re likely to see more benefit from the extra 4 GB of RAM.

The Miix runs absolutely silently and battery life is very good. Lenovo claims it will provide 9 hours of video playback, but I got about six hours or typing, browsing and drawing.

If you are looking for a bargain and can overlook the sticker and temperamental folio keyboard, the Miix 700 is the real deal.

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. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: I've been hopelessly behind on my product reviews since January. It's been my plan to follow up my review of the HP Pro x2 612 G1 with a review of Toshiba's 10" Encore 2 Write. But then the Wacom Companion 2 was released and testing that device has been taking up all of my limited free time. Fortunately, Twitter friend and artist Eric Merced stepped into the fray and purchased and quickly reviewed his Toshiba tablet last week. With his kind permission, I reprint his findings here. Enjoy!


I tried my best to write a short thorough review of the Toshiba Encore Write 2 tablet that was not just open and honest, but informative for anyone who is in the market for either a Surface Pro 3 or the less expensive Write 2 tablet.

As an artist, my review is technically geared towards Artists looking for a portable drawing solution. However, that does not exclude anyone looking for a solid pen-based tablet.

With that in mind, I do have to say, that if you’re a heavy Photoshop, Corel Painter or Manga Studio user, you may be better suited with the more expensive and higher spec Surface Pro 3 due to the lower specs of the Write 2. And by heavy user, I mean, if you’re a painter who requires lots of memory and processor power, then the Write 2 may under perform for you.

I broke this review in two simple sections targeting the Write 2 and comparing it to the Surface Pro 3. Hopefully, this will help you decide which device is better suited for your needs.

Small and lightweight. The Write 2 basically feels like an iPad in your hands. It’s lighter than the Surface Pro 3 and feels much more solid than an iPad. I always got the feeling that if I dropped an iPad or the Surface Pro, it would be game over. While I’m not looking towards dropping the Write 2 anytime soon, I feel that it may be capable of taking a tumble or 2 much better than the iPad or SP. Also, the Write 2 feels way more portable than the SP. Again, just like an iPad, I feel better carrying this thing around versus the SP3 which, even though it’s supposed to be a tablet, is more in line with a laptop.

Windows 8 Desktop Apps in a true portable experience. The allure of the SP3 and the Write 2 is the fact that you can have Windows 8 desktop apps in a portable device. And I’m not talking about desktop equivalent apps here, I’m talking about the actual desktop apps, like Photoshop, on a tablet. With the Surface Pro 3, it’s almost not much of a big deal because, like I mentioned beforehand, the SP3 is like a smaller laptop more than it is a tablet. With the Write 2, you really get the impact of running full Photoshop or Manga Studio in a tablet (as a matter of fact, Microsoft compares it against the Apple Macbook Air and not the iPad). To be honest, there’s more of a wow factor with the Write 2 than there was with the SP. And again, that has to do with the fact that this feels like an iPad. A real tablet. I think every iPad owner that’s a digital Artist really dreams of an Apple solution to the SP and now, the Write 2. As a Mac OSX user myself, I wish Apple would get with the program and create a true portable OSX experience like Microsoft has done with the SP and now, their partners like Toshiba, with the Write 2. I can’t express how awesome it feels to have Photoshop or Manga Studio in such a small device without much compromise. I can truly start something on my desktop, sync via Dropbox, and continue on my Write 2 on the go, or vice versa.

Good battery life. The Write has really good battery life. I can go almost a full day using it without the need of plugging it in. However, there’s a downside which I’ll touch on in the 2nd portion of the review below.

The pen (Stylus). The Write 2’s pen is such an improvement over the SP3’s pen by leaps and bounds. First of all, when you first set up a SP3, you need to hold down the SP3 pens top “eraser” button until the SP recognizes the pen via Bluetooth and automatically pairs with it. It takes a few seconds to do this and you get a prompt on screen that it will take as much to set up. The problem with the SP3’s pen is Bluetooth. It’s not a reliable connection and, at times, it will say that the pen is not connected yet you can still use it.  (NOTE: It was pointed out to me by a reader that, as a matter of fact, the Surface Pro 3 pen does not need Bluetooth to function. The Bluetooth is there for the top button which activates Onenote. Thanks Sven!). It’s a wonky set up to say the least. With the Write 2, I can’t recall a set up process. Maybe there was, maybe there wasn’t. I honestly don’t remember. The fact is, it’s been a hands off and painless experience. The pen just works right out of the box and, I’ve had no connection issues. As a matter of fact, a quick look at the Bluetooth section of the PC Settings and you won’t find any choice for connecting or disconnecting the Write 2’s pen. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Neither the N-Trig pen on the Surface Pro 3 nor the Wacom ActiveES pen on the Encore 2 Write require pairing in order to work, except for the limited cap button functionality cited above.)

Tracking is on par with the SP3. You notice the cursor drag behind the pen if you move fast but this has no noticeable impact on drawing/writing that I’ve noticed.  Yes, you do encounter lag at times with Photoshop or Manga Studio, but it depends on the brush you’re using. I use a lot of custom brushes in both apps and these brushes, at times, require some power to work. But for the most part, the lag is very minor. And as a reference point, I generally work in 8.5x11 or 11x17 at 300dpi’s. And yes, it does have pressure sensitivity which works great in both Photoshop and Manga Studio. Note: I did encounter a lot of frustrating lag when I installed the Wacom Feel Driver. I was told on Twitter that the latest version, as of this writing, did introduce some issues so keep that in mind.

Side slot to store your pen when not in use. This is so cool. The SP3 has a magnetic side where the pen clings on. You can’t use it when you’re charging the SP and, in both my experiences with the 2 units I tried, the magnet’s not even that’s strong. The Write 2’s solution comes via a clip on the side of the pen that you can insert into a slot on the side of the tablet. It works exceptionally well and diminishes any fears of it accidentally slipping out. I do wish it had the same in body slot the Samsung tablets have but, this works well. Also, the cap on the pen is a bonus. Not only does it protect the tip when not in use but, according to Toshiba, it helps with conserving battery life.

A full year of Office 360. Ok. I don’t know why I even added this as a good stuff. Or, yeah, ok. I did write this review on Word but, ok. Fine.

Affordable. The lower end Surface Pro 3 will run you $799 while this will run you $400.

Slow charging. Yes, it has good battery life but the downside is, in my experience, it takes looooong to charge up. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the Nexus 6’s fast charge up time.
Low resolution screen. The only reason I’m even adding this here is because others have brought the point up. Yes, the Surface Pro 3 has a beautiful 12” screen. The thing is just gorgeous and a delight to work on. But the low resolution screen on the Write 2 may not turn you off. At least it didn’t turn me off. As a matter of fact, it’s a non issue for me.

It’s not a powerhouse. In comparison to the Surface Pro 3’s lower end model (see spec comparison below), the Write 2 is no power house. If you’re a heavy Photoshop user who does some intricate paintings that require a lot of processor and memory power, you might want to look at the higher end SP3’s because the Write 2 will disappoint you. With that said, it’s suitable for the kind of work I do. You’re just going to have to take a look at your work and workflow and decide which machine is best for you.
The charger cable is too short. I’m used to charger’s with a good amount of length on the cable. But for whatever reason, the Write 2’s charger is a bit short which makes for an annoyance when, say, sitting on a sofa and needing to plug the charger in while you continue to work. I may actually look into an alternative charger if possible.

No alternate choices for pens. With the Surface Pro 2 I had the choice of using the horrible stock pen or, what quickly became my favorite, the Wacom Feel pen. With the SP3, I believe that changed and your choice was limited to the stock pen. The same is true for the Write 2. I do wish I had a choice of 3rd party pens. While I really do not dislike the stock Write 2 pen (I actually find it better than the SP2’s pen) I do wish I had options. But for now, it will do just fine.

Surprisingly, that’s it for the bad stuff!

So in a nutshell,
Q. Is the Write 2 a suitable replacement for the Surface Pro 2 or 3?
That depends on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for the same power you get from the SP2 or 3, then you might want to look at the latest SP3 models. If you’re looking for a much more portable solution with OK processing power, then the Write 2 might be what you’re looking for. If you don’t mind a smaller screen, again, the Write 2 is what you’re looking for (I do suggest the 10” model over the 8”). However, if you crave for a slightly bigger screen than that of the Surface Pro 2, the Surface Pro 3 has a beautiful 12” screen that does not disappoint.

Q. Is the Write 2 a suitable replacement for the Cintiq?
No. Look, in all honesty, if you have the cash to get your hands on a Cintiq Companion, stop reading this. Go get that darn Cintiq Companion. To this date I have not found a tablet that has the feel of the Cintiq screen. The SP2 or 3 did not have it nor does the Write 2. Drawing on these machines is like drawing on glass while the Cintiq’s have a premium textured feel to it that truly feels like drawing on paper. Also, the Cintiq Companion is much more powerful than the Write 2 and as an added bonus, you can plug it into your computer to use when not on the go.

Q. Will it run Photoshop, Manga Studio and or Illustrator?
Yes. Yes and yes. The Toshiba Write 2 basically runs on Windows 8. The same OS you get on desktop, you get in this portable little tablet. It’s friggin awesome. But keep in mind, there’s some squinting to be had. Not every app is optimized for Windows 8 mobile. I think Manga Studio and Sketchbook Pro have the best mobile UI’s out there. And on the Write 2, please stay away from Adobe Photoshop’s experimental UI features for now. They were designed more with the Surface Pro’s screen in mind.

Q. Does the pen have replacement tips?
Yes. And no. It comes with one additional replacement tip but I have not looked online to see if I can order more so, for now, I’ll play it safe and say no.

Q. Is the Write 2 a suitable replacement for the iPad (as a digital portable sketchbook)?
Um, how do I say this politely…. HELL YEAH! Look, iOS has some really amazing apps. Among my favorites were Procreate and iDraw. Unfortunately, you can’t find those out of iOS. But where iPad fails as a digital sketchbook is in the pen department. Bluetooth and pressure sensitive pens are not the best of solutions at the moment. I’ve had plenty of frustrations when dealing with them. But, it’s getting better. Still, when you use an iPad and iOS you’re basically using mobile apps that are not as powerful as desktop apps. I don’t care what opinions you may have about Procreate, you can’t produce high resolution art on it the same way you can in Photoshop. So the iOS experience on the iPad is a very limited one at the moment (fingers crossed on those iPad Pro rumors going around). In the meantime, if you’re looking for an iPad replacement, I highly recommend the Write 2. Windows 8 is a different beast than iOS and it takes some getting used to, but the ability to run desktop apps on a tablet will diminish any gripes you may have with the OS.


Display: 12” (2160 X 1440)
Processor: 4th generation Intel Core
Memory: 4, 8GB options
Storage: 64, 128, 256, 512GB Options
Weight: 1.7lbs
OS: Windows 8.1

Display: 8” (1280 X 800)- I’m not even going to consider the smaller version here because I’m highly recommending you go with the bigger model.
Processor: Intel Atom
Memory: 2GB
Storage: 64GB
Weight: 13.4 oz
OS: Windows 8.1

So there you have it. I hope this review has been informative and helps you decide what machine to get based on your needs. While I really would have settled for a Surface Pro 3, and would still own one if the first or second units I bought hadn’t turned out defective, I have absolutely no regrets from buying the Write 2. In the end, I saved a lot of money and got a slightly more portable machine that still gives me the abilities to do the things I would have on an SP3. While not as powerful as the SP3, it still works great for my workflow and style of art.

See more of my work at


AuthorRick Rodriguez
7 CommentsPost a comment