As is often the case when it comes to the intriguing world of ActiveES pens, the HP website's compatibility information isn't entirely accurate.
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.
When I first saw the Huawei MatePen, I assumed there was no need to review it or the Matebook tablet. After all, how good could the drawing experience be with a pen featuring a short, broad nib that looks like the tip of a blunt pencil?
Nothing about tablet PC pens is simple, but when it comes to Lenovo it seems like the manufacturer goes out of its way to confuse consumers.
Why would anyone build pen capability into a device and then hide it from potential buyers? It's not the first time I've asked that question on this site, and it's especially one I shouldn't have to be asking myself in mid-2016, at a time where pen computing is being promoted as a vital feature of the upcoming Windows 10 Anniversary Update.
As you read this review, you should know something up front: the deal I got on the HP Spectre x2 12-inch tablet may not be available to you. I scored a $200 discount on the $799 tablet at Best Buy, which makes it feel like a great bargain, standing head and shoulders over the similarly priced Surface 3 and Toshiba dynaPad.
If I paid full price and then had to fork over another $60 for the pen, I'd have to compare the Spectre to the Surface Pro 4 and I'm not so sure that the tablet comes out ahead in that competition.
The Best Buy sale is over as I write this and the Spectre x2 is once again selling for $799 (a Core m7 version, with 8 GB RAM/256 GB SSD lists for $1150). HP is also marketing the nearly identical Elite x2 1012 tablet starting at $899, so it's entirely possible that the Spectre x2 may soon disappear from store shelves altogether.
Upon first inspection, the Spectre x2 is a silvery Surface Pro 4 clone. And the specs are virtually identical to the entry level SP4: Intel Core M3-6Y30 with Intel HD Graphics 515, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD, 3:2 aspect ratio display, adjustable kickstand, detachable keyboard cover. The Sx2's display resolution is lower than the SP4: only 1920 x 1280. But the solid keyboard cover is included in the base price, as is Verizon LTE antenna. A Wacom Active ES pen is optional (it's standard in the Elite x2).
The bundled keyboard cover is excellent. It's much more rigid than the Microsoft type cover and its island keys provide a great typing experience. The trackpad is also roomy and responsive, though not quite glasslike. The specs say that the keyboard is backlit, but I couldn't get my keys to light. (UPDATE: You just need to press F5 on the keyboard to toggle the backlight on and off. Duh.) The keyboard is cloth backed, similar to a Surface Pro type cover.
The gaudiest design cue of the Spectre x2 is the speaker grill that runs along the top of the keyboard. Quad Bang & Olufsen speakers provide a surprisingly nice audio experience for a tablet, with two on the keyboard and two on the tablet's sides. This isn't something I normally mention, but after the dreadful speakers on the Toshiba dynaPad, audio is suddenly top of mind.
The back of the tablet (above) is also distinctive (or over-done depending on your point of view). I don't care for the black accent at the top of the tablet. In these images, the "natural silver" finish looks more sedate than it truly is. The highly reflective chrome-plated kickstand is recessed in the tablet back and released via a latch on the lower left side of the display (see below left). Unlatching and then extending the kickstand takes some getting accustomed to, but the support is very good at a variety of angles.
This side of the Spectre x2 also contains a headphone jack, volume buttons, and one of two USB Type-C connectors. The right side of the tablet (below) contains a second USB Type-C connector, SIM slot and a microSD media card reader.
The Spectre x2 is very thin (.31 inches) and weighs 1.84 lbs. With the keyboard, the combination is .52 inches thick and weighs 2.68 lbs.
The combination of rigid keyboard and freely adjustable kickstand make the Spectre x2 the most lap friendly two-in-one tablet I've tested.
Performance is very good, performing neck and neck with the m3 Surface Pro 4. Looking again at these results, it's clear why I was so disappointed by the performance of the Toshiba dynaPad! The TabletMark performance of the SP4 is interesting but I have been unable to re-run those tests. The benchmark keeps hanging inexplicably on that tablet It's the only software I'm having trouble running on the device.
Unlike the dynaPad and Surface Pro 4, the Active Pen is sold separately for the Spectre x2, retailing for $60. You can order it on the Best Buy site or direct from HP.
Although the Spectre x2 is compatible with other Wacom Active ES pens, I thought it was important to test the native pen as well. Unfortunately, the results are very disappointing, mostly due to its poor form factor.
Significantly smaller than either the TruPen or the Surface Pen (see below), the HP Active Pen, feels more like a crayon in my average sized hand. It also ships without replacement nibs. I recommend using Toshiba's latest generation TruPen if you can find it sold separately. Although it didn't work as well as the TruPen, you can also use Lenovo's Active Stylus, which is more readily available.
Hover distance is not as good as Toshiba's dynaPad, but it is better than previous generation AES devices. (UPDATE: in ascending order from approximately 1 mm to 5 mm, here are the hover distance results: Dell Active Stylus, Toshiba TruPen (Encore 2 Write), Lenovo Thinkpad Active Stylus, Toshiba TruPen (dynaPad) and HP Active Pen).
Pressure response is excellent as I've come to expect from all Wacom Active ES pens. Due to the thinness of the display, if you press down hard with your pen, you will see a purplish ghosting as you draw. I found this pretty distracting and mitigated the effect somewhat by adjusting my pressure curve in Clip Studio Paint.
Unfortunately, if your software doesn't offer pressure adjustment, the Wacom feel driver is not yet compatible with the Spectre x2, so there is no way to increase or decrease the pen tip's sensitivity or map the pen buttons. Worse still, without a driver, there is no way to make the tablet Wintab aware, That means that users of older software that requires Wintab for pen pressure are out of luck.
I tested the Spectre x2 with both its native pen and the Toshiba TruPen in Clip Studio Paint, Sketchbook Pro and Sketchable and didn't have any issues.
One behavior I noticed by juggling between pens is that it appears Wacom Active ES pens interfere with one another when handled in close proximity. Starting work with the TruPen, for example, appeared to cancel out the HP pen. I had similar results with a Dell pen that refused to work once the TruPen was connected. I also saw errant lines and strange wobbles when using one pen while holding another. Has anyone else seen this behavior? (UPDATE: To switch pens, a reboot is required in order for the tablet to sense the new pen with a tap or two on the display).
To sum it up, if you can find the HP Spectre x2 on sale for at or below $600 (and you can live without Wintab compatibility), I recommend it over the similarly priced Surface 3 or Toshiba dynaPad. At its $800 list price, I recommend you look instead at the Surface Pro 4 or HP Elite x2 1012. Isn't it great to have this abundance of choice?
When the Toshiba Encore 2 Write 8-inch and 10-inch models were released early last year, they quickly became the darlings of cost conscious artists despite some serious design limitations.
Featuring low resolution displays, only 2 GB of RAM and a slow Atom processor, I nevertheless recommended the E2W to anyone on a budget, given its outstanding Wacom Active ES pen performance. Unfortunately, the $400 device began disappearing from stock several months ago and is now nearly impossible to find new or selling at its original price.
Now Toshiba is back with the 12-inch dynaPad, starting at $570. With this device, the company is once again vying for the crown of Windows' price-performance champion. In addition to its larger display, the dynaPad features a few major improvements over its predecessor: 1920x1280 resolution, 4 GB of RAM and an additional micro USB 2.0 port.
Sadly the dynaPad is still limited to 64 GB of onboard eMMC storage and hindered by an Intel Atom x5-Z8300 cpu clocked at 1.44 GHz, yielding virtually the same performance as last year's Encore 2 Write.
Other tablet manufacturers should be thankful that Toshiba didn't equip their dynaPad with an m3 processor or 128 GB SSD because the dynaPad is otherwise nearly perfect.
Weighing only 1.28 lbs (tablet only) and .27 inch thick, the dynaPad is the ideal portable sketchbook: slightly smaller and lighter than even the iPad Pro and significantly more comfortable to hold. The edges of the dynaPad are rounded and slightly rubberized, avoiding the sharp, slippery feel of the iPad and other tablets. Unlike the E2W, which had a thick plastic coating on its screen, the dynaPad's Gorilla glass display is clear, smooth and durable.
Toshiba sells an optional keyboard cover for $100 that looks very nice but that I opted not to purchase for this review. The keyboard offers only one viewing angle (similar to the keyboard shipped with the Lenovo Thinkpad Helix 2 and which I found very impractical).
Compared in the images above and below to the Surface Pro 4 (left) and the Encore 2 Write, the dynaPad looks every bit a premium device.
The new Toshiba TruPen that is included with the dynaPad is significantly longer than the original, which makes it feel like a great writing instrument. An unfortunate design choice is the end clip which inserts into the dynaPad body (below). While the clip definitely makes a secure connection, inserting it and pulling it out again can be a real chore.
I don't typically write about the speakers on tablets, as they're not at all essential for art, but I feel compelled to mention the atrocious speakers on the dynaPad. The two openings are located along the right side of the tablet (see one of them to the lower left of the pen in the image above). I've never encountered speakers sounding this bad on any Windows tablet that I've ever owned. Volume is ridiculously low and tinny, sounding like a cheap 9-volt transistor radio. The dynaPad ships with a Dolby audio tool but it doesn't do anything to improve the hideous sound. By comparison, the Encore 2 Write had excellent audio. I can't understand how Toshiba engineers thought it was okay to release a product with a defect this bad. How much could this choice have saved the company? Speaker quality shouldn't be a disqualifier for most of you, but be prepared to cringe when you hear every system notification.
As we've come to expect from all Wacom Active ES devices, pen performance on the dynaPad is outstanding. In the example above, see the wide range of stroke thicknesses I was able to derive from the same sized brush in Clip Studio Paint. Wacom AES offers 2048 pressure levels and it feels like I could successfully draw with each one.
Hover distance is greatly improved vs. the first generation TruPen. The pen is recognized about a half inch away from the display which should result in far less palm rejection errors and stray marks.
In addition to Clip Studio Paint, I also tested the dynaPad with Sketchable, Mischief, Sketchbook Pro and Sketchbook for Tablets and Photoshop CC 2015. Generally those programs that offer a little bit of brush stabilization performed best. Photoshop in particular seemed more difficult to control.
With 4 GB of RAM, I didn't encounter any slowdowns sketching on 11x17, 600 dpi images. As usual, some lag was evident if I pushed textured brush sizes beyond a few hundred pixels.
Real performance hits incurred by the Atom and eMMC storage occur when downloading and installing software. Windows updates can be very slow to install. Despite my very fast Internet connection, Adobe Photoshop still took 30 minutes to set up.
In benchmark tests, the dynaPad achieved middling scores of 938 in TabletMark and a 748 Geekbench (single) and 2182 (multi). The Encore 2 Write achieved 805, 702 and 2090, respectively. Better performance would definitely have been expected given the price increase. And most troublingly, the humble Surface 3 does 1253, 969 and 3204 on its tests.
If you're looking for a speed demon, the dynaPad definitely is not it.
The dynaPad ships with one spare nib and that may not be enough based on the wear I saw on pen's nib (see above). This generation of nibs is somewhat softer than last year's but I've never had a tip deteriorate as quickly as this one. Within one week of limited use, I ended up having to replace it. Hopefully this was an isolated case but it's a real concern because neither Toshiba nor Wacom market replacement sets.
The new TruPen nibs (above top) are interchangeable with the previous generation. Those older nibs are made of a slightly harder material. While the older TruPen can be used on the dynaPad, the new pen will not work on the Encore 2 Write.
One final quibble is the micro USB to to USB power cable included with the dynaPad. It's only three feet long and limits your ability to use the tablet while it's plugged in. Not a major issue, but another in a line of disturbing cut corners.
Is the dynaPad right for you? If you're coming from an Encore 2 Write, absolutely. If you've never owned a Windows tablet or are shopping for lower cost iPad Pro alternatives, you'll probably be happy with the dynaPad. If you're a power user and have a few hundred dollars more to spend, you'll probably be happier with other more powerful options.
12-inch Windows-powered tablet measures just 6.9mm (0.27 in) thin and weighs only 1.28 pounds
Delivers precision digital inking technologies by Wacom for a truly natural handwriting experience that feels like writing with pen on paper
Suite of Toshiba original business applications inspire creativity, productivity and collaboration
Available for pre-order starting today direct from Toshiba and at Microsoft Stores in late January for $569.99 MSRP
LAS VEGAS – CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW – January 5, 2016 – Toshiba’s Digital Products Division (DPD), a division of Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc., today announced the availability of dynaPad™, a light and powerful tablet powered by Windows 10 and engineered to deliver the natural feel of pen to paper so you can work and create freely.
“Precision digital inking technology is the next frontier of truly personal computing,” said Philip Osako, senior director of product marketing, Toshiba America Information Systems, Inc., Digital Products Division. “Advances in engineering and pen technology have enabled us to create an amazingly thin and light tablet that’s ideal for instant creativity while also offering the versatility to immediately transition to a clamshell form factor for productivity. Toshiba dynaPad is the ultimate digital notebook.”
Remarkably Accurate Pen Experience
Built with professional-grade digital inking technologies by Wacom®, Toshiba’s exclusive Active Electrostatics (ES) TruPen™ with Wacom® Feel delivers pen precision and accuracy, so note-taking, sketching and drawing feels like writing with pen on paper.Ideal for designers, artists and note-takers, it is also great for highlighting and writing notes directly on webpages through the annotating features in the Microsoft Edge browser. Featuring a sophisticated metal design, this fine-tip digitizer pen supports 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity and writing or drawing capabilities from extreme angles with virtually no latency. And because the pen is battery-powered, it can last for more than 1,000 hours so there is no need to carry a separate charging connector.
“Our Active ES solution continues to deliver a best-in-class writing and drawing experience on tablets like the Toshiba dynaPad,” said Masahiko Yamada, president and CEO of Wacom Ltd. “Toshiba’s TruPen stylus delivers unprecedented accuracy and speed and allows users to create intricate details, just like they would with a pen or pencil on paper.”
Dynamic Full HD Display Precision Engineered for Handwriting
Toshiba dynaPad features a 12-inch Full HD+ (1920x1280) TruBrite® display1
remastered for handwriting. To achieve a digital canvas that best replicates the natural feel of pen to paper, Toshiba bonds two sheets of high-quality glass with a metal mesh sensor and incorporates Corning’s Gorilla Glass 3 with Native Damage Resistance™, plus an anti-fingerprint coating to deliver a sturdy surface that accepts fine lines and pressure-sensitive strokes – all while delivering a crystal clear 2 million pixel-perfect view.
The World’s Lightest 12-inch Windows Tablet
The innovative slim and lightweight design of dynaPad – 6.9mm thin and 1.28 pounds – makes dynaPad the lightest 12-inch tablet that is powered by Windows. Sized to mimic a traditional A4 paper size, dynaPad’s design complements the large display area with a carbon fiber housing and a sophisticated, rubberized finish to give it a solid feel in hand, while reducing flex. The device also offers an optional ultra-thin, full-size keyboard with a 19mm pitch and 1.5mm stroke for easier typing and a well-sized touchpad ideal for Windows navigation. Attached by magnets, users canquickly convert the tablet to a clamshell laptop for productivity applications. The TruPen neatly attaches to the side of the tablet.
“Toshiba’s dynaPad is a great example of a device that highlights how Windows 10 can help people do great things,” said Peter Han, vice president of Worldwide OEM Marketing, Microsoft Corp. “Toshiba’s TruPen with Wacom Feel technology is fantastic for taking notes and highlighting on webpages in the Microsoft Edge browser and the detachable keyboard combined with Continuum on Windows 10
enables you to use it as a tablet or laptop.”
Toshiba’s Suite of Original Apps Designed for the Way You Work
The dynaPad also includes updated versions of Toshiba’s exclusive suite of original business applications that enable users to easily collect, organize and share notes, images and files and integrate them seamlessly with Microsoft Office. The suite includes:
• TruNote™: A simple, yet powerful handwriting app lets you effortlessly take lecture or meeting notes, create detailed hand drawings, search handwritten messages, manage multiple notebooks and more. Smart settings allow for left- or right-handed use to maintain a normal writing style.
• TruCapture™: Easily capture images and text from whiteboards, textbooks, newspapers and more, at any angle for simple importing into presentations and sharing.
• TruRecorder™: A powerful voice recording application for meetings, lectures and interviews that can recognize the speaker’s voice for easy playback.
• TruNote Clip: Easily capture screen clips and mark them up for easy sharing.
• TruNote Share: Turn the tablet into a real-time whiteboard that can be shared with up to 40
Performance for Creativity and Productivity
The tablet features the Intel® Atom™ x5 Z8300 processor with up to 4GB of RAM and up to 64GB of flash storage delivering snappy performance for navigating Windows 10, using apps and getting work done. Offering a range of connectivity options, dynaPad includes two Micro USB 2.0 ports, a microSD card slot that supports up to 128GB cards and a Micro HDMI® port for connecting to external devices. In
addition, the device includes ultrafast 802.11ac Wi-Fi® and Bluetooth as well as a 2MP front-facing camera and dual-array TruTalk™ mics for video chatting and an 8MP rear camera with auto-focus.
Pricing & Availability
Toshiba dynaPad is available today for pre-order starting today direct from Toshiba at toshiba.com/us and at Microsoft Stores in late January for $569.99 MSRP.
From Direct2Dell, the company's official corporate blog:
Introducing More Choice: Dell Introduces Venue 8 Pro and Venue 10 Pro Tablets
Dell’s focus on continued innovation in this space is enhanced with two new professional-grade tablets we will be making available in mid-November: the Venue 8 Pro 5000 Series and the Venue 10 Pro 5000 Series - both designed to further expand the capabilities offered for organizations in the healthcare, retail/hospitality, education and manufacturing spaces. Each deliver:
- Best-in-class security with the Dell Data Protection suite that encompasses comprehensive encryption, advanced authentication and leading-edge malware prevention.
- Speed, reliability and fanless design, built on Intel® AtomTM Quad Core processors.
- Advanced manageability through automated and streamlined system deployment, monitoring and updating, Dell Configuration Services and product lifecycle planning.
- Outstanding reliability with MIL-STD testing for real-life conditions, backed by the industry’s leading support and coverage with Dell ProSupport Plus.
- Unmatched Dell expertise as the Microsoft Partner of the Year, ranking No.1 in Windows deployment; built on the foundation of Windows 10.
Active pen featuring Wacom technology for a true writing experience with accuracy and natural feel.
- 2x2 Wi-Fi, LTE and optional NFC so workers can stay connected.
- Accessories and imaging for specialized verticals.
Venue 8 Pro 5000 Series Tablet
With a thin and light hand-held design, weighing in at under one pound, the Venue 8 Pro was created for companies that require specialized applications and on-the-go productivity. Some key Venue 8 Pro features include:
- Handheld design for use on-the-go
- 8-inch HD (1280x800) & FHD (1920x1200) touch display
- Optional NFC support for additional security
- USB Type C docking (coming in 2016) so users only need one cable for power, data, video and a desktop experience
- 2x2 AC WLAN and optional WWAN
- Starting at $299 in North America
Venue 10 Pro 5000 Series Tablet
With an innovative 2-in-1 keyboard, the thin and light Venue 10 Pro is ideal for workers who need a balance between mobility and intensive productivity. The Venue 10 Pro offers:
- 2-in-1 keyboard that delivers an exceptional Continuum experience for a seamless transition between tablet and desktop modes
- 10.1-inch FHD (1920x1200) touch display
- High quality dual speakers and microphones for easy and reliable interaction with the Cortana personal virtual assistant
- Multiple ports, including USB Type C, USB Type A, microHDMI, headset jack, microSD card reader and noble lock slot (on tablet)
- 2x2 AC WLAN and optional WWAN and NFC
- Starting at $429 in North America