malcooning >> my tablet of choice was a refurbished Motion Computing 1400 with a View Anywhere screen that I purchased on EBay from a local seller for $1300, taxes and shipping included. I recently upgraded it to 1 GB of ram(I highly recommend this), and it is running Windows XP TabletPC 2005.
CALIBRATION AND ACCURACY!! Please read this!
TabletPC's (and WACOM Cintiq displays) all suffer from less-than-accurate calibration. This means that it's VERY hard to get good synchronization between where the on-screen cursor and your physical pen-tip line up. Often, it's a few pixels off, and it's enough to drive you batty. I've lost sleep over this situation so for the time being, I am slowly training myself to keep my eyes on the cursor, not my pen-tip (A hard thing for a die-hard fountain pen user) It also interferes with my tactile sense a bit because with a real fountain pen I can put lines exactly where I want even with my eyes closed.
TILT SENSING (or lack therof!)
TabletPC's and any of the Cintiq 18SX or 15SX models do NOT support tilt sensing either. The new Cintiq 21UX does, however, but it's stylus is not compatible with the tabletPC or any of the older Cintiqs as it relies on Intuos3 technology.
I say these up front because these are my BIGGEST beefs with any tablet-display screen and I don't want to have anyone run off and buy a tabletPC or Cintiq without at least being warned about this...
Now that the bad news is over with, the good news is that I can use a Cintiq 15SX, Cintiq 18SX or the built in stylus with my tablet PC. When it comes to pressure sensing, all three styluses behave the same as they would on my Cintiq.
At home in my studio, I have a Cintiq 18SX and I sometimes work with a tabletPC in one hand with the Cintiq 18SX beside me. It's nice not to have to swap for different styluses to work between the two computers!
In addition, all of the accessory tips that you can get for Intuos3 tablets (felt nib, stroke nib) are compatible with the Cintiq styluses and the stylus that comes with the tabletPC. The felt nib is fantastic and really helps things feel like pencil-on-paper on both the cintiq and tabletPC. They wear out quickly though! The stroke nib adds a springy feel to the pen, but I'm not so hot on it because it skids too easily just like the standard plastic nibs
Don't ever drop your stylus! The tip contains a very sensitive strain-gauge -- like a micro-scale. If you drop it, you could knock it outta whack and your pen will behave very screwy. Styluses for active digitizers (such as in the M1400 and Cintiq) can run you as much as $90 a pop! So don't drop 'em! However, I still manage to go through them like sharks teeth so I have a spare one always at the ready because if an important job comes in I can't be crippled with a busted stylus.
Now, if you were to compare the difference between any tablet display technology pressure sensing versus a traditional tablet(without an integrated LCD flatpanel display), you'll find right off that the tablet displays will require MUCH less pressure to "max-out" the pen, whereas on a traditional tablet, you can press like a caveman before the pen "maxes out".
(intuos3 technology boasts something like 1024 pressure levels and CintiqSX/TabletPC technology has only 512, which is irrelevant since TVPaint only goes up to 255 as far as I know from working with the SDK)... but regardless of all that fine print, there is a limit to how hard you can press on your stylus before the brush just won't get any bigger or more opaque (not like in real life where if you keep pushing harder and harder to get a darker and more solid line until your pencil busts or you punch a hole through your paper/canvas)
For tablet displays, WACOM makes the pressure sensitivity much more delicate so neanderthals don't wreck their screen scrawling really freakin' hard. Besides, the felt nibs won't take that sort of abuse and I never push that hard using any traditional media.
This thing is 12"x9.5"x1" and weighs only 4.1 lbs with a battery in it. In layman's terms, it's a little bit smaller than the sketchbooks I normally tote around but a little bit heavier. This thing is also a SLATE tabletPC -- there's no keyboard, which is what makes it so thin. There's a sexy hardtop cover that snaps over the screen to protect it when it's in transit, and you can snap it onto the back when you want to work. However, working with a slate effectively takes a lot of adapting to, which I will explain later.
There are several physical buttons located beside the screen, some of which can be assigned to various hotkeys. Of special note is a directional pad for up/down/left/right/enter which after some use, is a bit tricky when it comes to hitting Enter. I fear that I may break it with constant use. There is also a bit of a raised edge around the border of the screen that I don't like... I can already see various bits of detritus taking up permanent residence in the gap, and it makes drawing and writing difficult when my hand bumps into it.
The shell of the machine itself is mostly made up of some magnesium alloy and there are some durable plastic end caps on it. The stylus it comes with vanishes into a socket on the machine -- although I would make sure not to get into the habit of stowing it in there with half of the pen sticking out. That's a good way to snap your pen in half.
I was absolutely adamant that I was to get a "View Anywhere"(VA) screen. VA display technology(Motion Computing claims it is adapted from the military) helps to help reduce glare to make it easier to read the screen in outdoor conditions or in situations where there is a lot of ambient light coming from the side.
Now. here's the thing. It's ANTI-GLARE, not ANTI-REFLECTION. The screen already cuts down on a fair bit of reflection, but if there's high-noon sunlight streaming over your shoulder or a direct source of light incandescent light bulb, burning torch, cow-mutilating UFOs and the screen is angled to bounce the light into your eyeballs, it will be distracting. However, if light is coming from the side, say you're sitting under a tree outdoors on a sunny day and you're wearing a dark shirt, the screen is quite readable. I've even had direct sunlight coming from sideways and the screen was still pretty readable (although I would be limited to working with just line work. I wouldn't try to paint)
In addition, you can sit off to the side and still read the screen, it has a very wide angle to it, so the ViewAnywhere screen technology is really quite cool technology, especially when I compare it to my old laptop screen.
After a lot of extreme use (This is the third time I've taken this thing ton life drawing) it heats up a fair bit. this will cause your hand to sweat a bit and stick to the monitor. I suggest getting some inexpensive cotton gloves and trimming off the thumb, index and middle fingertips. This will allow your hand to slide a lot more naturally and will help reduce smudging of the screen. The screen cleans easily enough with a micro-fibre lens cloth and some lab grade (denatured) ethanol(booze alcohol). I found that even 99% pure isopropanol (AKA rubbing alcohol) leaves a residue that smudges badly. Lab grade Methanol (wood alcohol) is the absolute best for-cleaning but it is a known carcinogen.
However, unlike my laptop, which has 15" screen with a 1600x1200 native resolution, my Cintiq18SX is an 18" screen with only 1280x1024, and the M1400 TabletPC is a 12" screen with only 1024x768.
Now, the physical size of the monitor doesn't bug me, because a standard A4 8.5"x11" piece of paper is 14", measured diagonally. However, at 1024x768, things will get cramped VERY quickly if you don't manage your interface. This means turning off any palettes, toolbars or other display stuff that you're not using while you draw. I will explain more on how I can manage to work this way on a slate when I answer cresshead...
cresshead >> Okay, so how does one get along with a lower resolution and no keyboard? Well...
Since you have to work at a reduced resolution, you have a lot less space (or I should say NO space) to spare. Unused palettes, toolboxes and other windows should be hidden when not in use. Also, since this is a slate tablet pc with no keyboard (you can get USB or Bluetooth keyboards but they defeat the purpose of a slate) you have to resort to alternate means to hide or show various parts of the interface. Windows XP TabletPC edition comes with handwriting recognition built into the OS as well as voice recognition software.
These all work great for writing letters in conversational English but they are cumbersome for dealing with hotkey-driven applications. So, I use a combination of alternative input methods: first of all, the M1400 (and many other tablet PCs) have hardware buttons built into the display. These can be customized to trigger various hotkeys, but Windows by default does not provide much flexibility when it comes to making them context-sensitive for all the different applications you may be running on your slate.
Second, there is a utility (free for noncommercial use) called StrokeIt that allows you to trigger hotkeys via intuitive stylus gestures. This program allows for a lot of flexibility and customization, especially in regards to making it context sensitive to applications you may be using.
Thirdly, there is a utility (donation war) called Autohotkey that is driven by a scripting language and allows for VERY powerful control, but it has a steep learning curve associated with it.
Finally, there is a stylus gesture plugin for TVPaint that I wrote several months ago. Together with an Autohotkey script, I can use the slate's hardware buttons to control the timeline in TVPaint or even perform oldschool-style roll + flip animation without the use of a light-table.
Also, by installing WACOM's Penabled driver, I can use all of the sideswitches and erasing functions on a Cintiq pen! So, when I work, I'm frequently showing/hiding various windows and palettes with stylus gestures, and invoking often-used functions with the slate's hardware buttons. Just yesterday, I wanted to see how well TVPaint fared on a Tablet PC by colouring a bit of lineart. It was quite challenging to adapt to (a rarity for me!) but I was still able to produce a satisfying result in the end. Rather than leaving the Tool Settings window open at all times, I found it much better to create a few toolbar macros for just the tools I needed, and automate other actions as much as possible.
A sticky issue I ran into was that the subpixel tablet mode did not work for any screen orientations than the default one. I do a lot of work in "Portrait" mode, especially when working on comic books, and the default screen orientation results in the slate's buttons being located on the right side of the monitor. This is also very inconvenient for me because I can't make full use of the button-stylus combinations. Turning off subpixel mode fixes this, but there is a noticeable drop in the smoothness of line quality.
TVPaint does not have the most optimal interface for Slate Tablet PCs straight out-of-the-box. However, the level of customization possible allows users with an advanced knowledge of TVPaint to address most of this. I will continue to create tools to aid in using TVPaint (and other graphical software programs) with Slate TabletPCs, and probably pester poor Hervé in the process!
To finish this review off, I have just come back from a life drawing session where we drew a nude model for 1, 5, 10 and 15-minute poses. I started out using ArtRage, but later on during the long 15-minute break, I set up some toolbar macros to do some drawings using the shape tool. I was then able to get rid of most of the clutter except for a skinny toolbar and it worked out great!
Okay, now my hands hurt...
- Done during the break...
- drawing_001_00.jpg (11.44 KiB) Viewed 4958 times
(Win7x64, TVP Pro 9.5 32-bit)