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.

Notice: This work is licensed under a BY-NC-SA. Permalink: Still searching for that perfect tablet PC replacement

8 Comments

  1. Ian says:

    So did you end up with pen-abled tablet or not?
    Have you considered the HP Slate 7 Extreme?

  2. Jerry Fahrni says:

    Yes, if you read the post you would know that I purchased an Asus VivoTab 8, which is an 8-inch pen-enabled Win 8 tablet. And, if you would have read the post you would know that a 7-inch machine is to small for my taste.

  3. Emmanuel Semmes says:

    Was hoping you’d wait for the Surface Pro 3. Mine is on order. I think my search is over.

  4. Jerry Fahrni says:

    Yeah, pulled the trigger just a tad bit too soon on the Yoga 2 Pro. Going to L.A. tomorrow to visit my nearest Microsoft Store. Figured I’d get my hands on a Surface Pro 3 and play with it for a little while. I looks like a fantastic machine. I can always put my Yoga 2 Pro up on eBay and get rid of it. I should be able to sell it pretty quickly: Orange Core-i7 with 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM.

  5. Tyrene says:

    Hi Jerry. I’ve been using an Thinkpad X200 tablet to get me by in my undergrad. While it is durable and robust for the most part its battery life and CPU (on battery) are not. I primarily use mine on desk so its weight does not particularly bother me. It seems that with lightweight there may be trade-offs for many people. Have you purchased the SP3 yet? If so will you do a follow up entry?

  6. Jerry Fahrni says:

    Hi Tyrene

    I ran into the same issues with my Lenovo x201t. Great tablet PC, but it’s showing its age, i.e. the battery life is terrible and it’s running slower and slower.

    I did purchase a SP3 back in August (Core i5, 128GB/8GB). It is the best tablet I’ve ever used. It has plenty of horsepower, good battery life, offers the best pen experience I’ve ever enjoyed, and all in a perfectly sized package. However, the combination of kickstand and type keyboard simply doesn’t replace my needs for a laptop; as many others have said. And it’s simply too expensive to use as a “secondary machine” in my opinion. My daughter has been using it for college over the past few months and just last week mentioned to me that she misses her laptop. I wish someone would build a keyboard dock for the SP3.

    I stand by my beliefs that the best tablet PC is one that offers the same convertible mechanism as my x201t. I really wish Lenovo would have continued to update that line. I envision a machine with the newest Core processor technology for speed and battery live, the looks of the new X1 Carbon, the 12.5-inch 4:3 aspect ratio screen of the SP3, obvious active digitizer support, and a convertible hinge mechanism like the x201t. It’s a shame I’ll never see such a device.

    My current setup is a Yoga 2 Pro plus my Samsung ATIV 500 series tablet. The ATIV 500 is more than 2 years old, but it offers good battery life and a solid pen experience. The Y2P is my main machine and meets 90% of my computing needs. I use the ATIV 500 as a digital notepad in OneNote; it’s nearly the same size as those yellow legal pad. So far the combination has worked well for me. I continue to hope that someone will build the perfect tablet PC, but I’m starting to think it will never happen.

    Jerry

  7. Tyrene says:

    Hi Jerry,

    I came into the possession of an X201T and have been using it the last two-weeks. I do like the integration of the touchpad as I set it for custom swipes and scrolling. I must have got a better panel also because this one has better looking colors vs my X200T. I do agree that it feels a bit slow and really does not feel too far off from my Core2Duo X200T.

    Regardless I think I will hang on to it for the time being. I do like the understated design of the ThinkPads and how robust the ones I’ve used are! If I feel in a showy-mood then I will take my Chromebook out with its purple hard lid cover. Admittedly the Chromebook works very well and now that I have side-loaded Ubuntu XFCE it has become more versatile!

    For the future, in respect to tablets, I’ve been thinking of going with either a Thinkpad Yoga or the X230T. Have you had a chance to use either the Thinkpad Yoga or the X230T? If so what are your impressions?

  8. Jerry Fahrni says:

    I haven’t used an x230t, but currently use a Yoga 2 Pro as my daily driver. The Y2P is a great machine. Very happy with it, but really miss having a single machine with everything the Y2P has plus an active digitizer. I have a Surface Pro 3, which I’m using to write this comment. Fantastic tablet with a wonderful active digitizer, but I miss having a “real laptop keyboard”. Hard to explain, but I’ve read similar comments in other reviews.

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