Still searching for that perfect tablet PC replacement

After years of using a Lenovo x201t tablet PC as my primary machine I finally moved on and replaced it with a Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro. I thought about upgrading the x201t, but decided against it for several reasons. Unfortunately none of the current line of pen-enabled Lenovo Windows 8 machines caught my eye. The Helix was close, but Lenovo needs to upgrade to the newest generation of Core processor before I’d be willing to part with my hard earned money; I want that extra battery life. The Thinkpad Yoga might seem like a perfect solution, but I had my reasons for not choosing it, the biggest being the folding mechanism for putting the machine into tablet mode. I much prefer the twist-style mechanism for folding a machine from laptop to tablet mode when I want to write with a pen. There’s a rant there that I’m not willing to put in writing.

The Yoga 2 Pro has been a good machine, but I really miss having an active digitizer. I hadn’t realized how often I used the pen until now.

I’ve been searching for a pen-enabled companion tablet to carry in my bag for those times when I need to take handwritten notes, sign a PDF, mark up a presentation, etc. The Note series from Samsung would make a reasonable choice, but two things prevent me from going in that direction. First, I would like to stick with Windows 8 because of the seamless file management across my machines. Second, you still can’t take handwritten notes in OneNote using Android. That’s a showstopper for me.

I purchased an Asus VivoTab 8 Note, and have been using it for a while now. It’s a capable little tablet, and the price is right, but it definitely has some limitations.

  • The 8-inch form factor doesn’t give me enough screen real estate for what I’m used to doing with my tablets. That’s not a deficiency with the tablet, just a personal preference.
  • The digitizer in the Asus has some real issues around the edges, especially near the left edge of the screen when in portrait mode. From what I’ve read that appears to be common with Wacom digitizers. I never noticed the problem on my x201t because I don’t use the very edge of the screen; screen real estate issue.
  • Sometimes the tablet won’t wake from sleep. I’m not the only one that has experienced this. The problem appears in many of the forms that I visit. The problem isn’t consistent, and seems to happen at the most inopportune times.
  • The battery life needs to be better. I realize that I’m asking a lot from this little machine, but I get about 6 hours. That’s decnet, but I find that it’s problematic on long trips. Eight would be better. Battery life is the next battle to fight for the tablet industry.

I’ve decided that a 10-inch or larger form factor would better meet my needs. There are options, but none are perfect.

The Dell Venue 11 Pro appears to be a solid option on the surface, but the pen experience is pretty bad. I realize that they’ve made significant improvements with the pen, but it’s not there yet. I had an opportunity to play with the Venue 11 Pro and new pen yesterday. Pretty weak inking experience. And here’s why that matters.

The Sony VAIO Tap 11 is another option, and the pen experience is pretty decent. N-trig isn’t the preferred digitizer for artists, but I find that the writing tip is very accurate and responsive on the screen with N-trig; even better than Wacom in my opinion. I don’t like having to put batteries in the pen, but overall I was pleased with my tests on the Tap 11. It’s also very thin and light. With that said there are some things that I don’t like about the Sony, and it’s pretty pricey for what you get.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is an excellent tablet. In my opinion it has the best inking experience to date on a Windows machine; crud, on any machine. But it’s really not a companion tablet, it’s a standalone do-it-all monster. I like the SP 2 a lot. But I don’t feel that I could replace my laptop because of the design, i.e the kickstand and flimsy keyboard. I purchased a Surface RT as a test run to see if I could use the basic design as a laptop replacement. It didn’t really work for me. The SP2 is too expensive and heavy as a companion, but not quite what I need to replace my laptop. I could live with it if it had a docking keyboard setup like the Fujitsu Q584 – which is really cool (video below) – or the Dell Venue 11 Pro, or the Lenovo Helix, and so on.

I wish Lenovo hadn’t given up on the twist-style convertible tablet PC.

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