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The DP10U - A Portable, Cheap Cintiq Alternative

The Yiynova DP10U is a 10” portable Cintiq alternative with 2048 levels of pressure sensitvity and a price on par with an Intuos 5 medium.

Does it live up to the high bar set by the 19” MSP19U?

The Story so Far

In the past, my first step in Wacom alternative art hardware reviews was to spew a preamble explaining what these devices were and what the history of their discovery was. After my Monoprice graphics tablet and three Yiynova tablet monitor reviews, knowledge of UC Logic digitizer based art devices has spread. I’m happy to say we’re nearing the day where future art hardware reviews needn’t focus solely on comparisons to Wacom tech or contain lengthy explanations about who these alternative manufacturers are.

Yiynova can’t keep the UC Logic powered MSP19U in stock. The product is good, the price is fair, and the demand is high. People get it. That device sets the stage for its smaller cousin, the DP10U.

Who’s the Market for the DP10U?

With the 19” MSP19U cheaper than the 12” Cintiq 12WX, let alone larger Wacom models, I see the DP10U catering more to those looking for a portable drawing solution than those who want a stationary tablet monitor for their studio. The budget conscious may still opt for the DP10U independent of its portability, but the leap between it and the MSP19U in price is relatively small. The leap in usability between the two is a wider gap.

With four Monoprice tablets, two Huion tablets, and a Yiynova MSP19U in my studio, I’m up to my ears in drawing devices even after selling my Intuoses and Cintiq 20WSX. Did I need another device? Where does it fit in? My hope for the the DP10U was to toss it into my laptop bag with my 13” Air for serious production work outside of my studio.

Hardware and Software

The DP10U is thin and light and weighs in at 1.49 lbs. To give you a sense of scale, an iPad weighs 1.44 lbs and the Cintiq 12WX weighs 4.4 lbs. The DP10U’s frame fits just inside of the silhouette of my 13” Macbook Air.

The DP10U has a battery powered stylus with 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity. The 12WX uses older Intuos 3 era technology with 1024 levels but requires no battery. Batteries lasted months in my other UC Logic styli and I expect the same to be true here.

The DP10U uses one USB connection for all its power and a second USB connection on its dual-ended cable for pushing video. The combined USB dongle on the unit is a mixed bag. On one hand, it represents the single biggest coup of the device. Video and power via USB means there’s no external power brick or plug to carry and no video adapters needed. By comparison, the Cintiq 12WX requires a video port, a USB port, and external power.

On the other hand, the DisplayLink tech which drives the USB monitor is the flakiest aspect of the device. The drivers performed inconsistently across my test hardware over the course of several weeks. On my Macbook Air, Mac Mini, and two iMacs running Mountain Lion with the latest Alpha drivers from DisplayLink, the unit never let me down. It acted as a perfect external monitor. On four different MacPros with older versions of the OS and multiple external monitors, results varied.

A MacPro running Snow Leopard and two other monitors would drop and redetect the DP10U’s third monitor leaving me to watch blinking, blank, blue screens as OS X would find and lose the device repeatedly. Another MacPro running Lion would work fine for a while, drop connection to the pen, and then start the same flickering dance. Unplugging the tablet wasn’t enough to get the pen back. I had to restart the machines. If you’re a MacPro owner, I recommend avoiding DisplayLink technology and getting yourself the MSP19U.

[Note, 3-30-2012: The latest DisplayLink drivers seemed to have solved all the problems I was having with Mac towers.]

Working with the Unit

I draw from my shoulder and elbow more than wrist, but the 10” screen didn’t feel too restrictive. In my experience, embracing the smallness of the screen and turning it into my primary monitor, graphics app palettes and all, provided the best workflow. The UC Logic drivers for the DP10U don’t provide the ability to toggle between which monitor is the active tablet on the fly, though there is a setting in the actual driver panel one can toggle manually.

In any case, drawing felt good, and was consistent with all the other UC Logic tech I’ve reviewed. In OS X, as was the case with the MSP19U, there is no pointer calibration option. Unlike my experience with the MPS19U, the cursor tracking felt a little off center depending on how extreme my viewing angle was. It took some getting used to. As is true with every tablet monitor I’ve owned, Cintiqs included, tracking worsens near the edges of the screen and introduces some jitter on the margins. I did not experience shaky lines anywhere else on the unit except when the DP10U’s dual USB cable was connected via hub to a single USB port. Given the amount of bandwidth the video is probably soaking up, this isn’t surprising. Expect to dedicate two USB ports to the device. If you’re using a Macbook Air like me, there are no two adjacent USB ports within reach of the dual ended cable and you’ll need to buy an extension cable. I have a 1.5’ extension cable and it’s the perfect length for my 13” Air.

In use, the hotkey for turning brightness down stuck once. I watched as the display got dimmer without my input. While I applaud any device that takes manual labor upon itself freeing me for other tasks, I was fine with one or two clicks worth of dimming. I told the DP10U to let me handle the button presses from there on out and, luckily, haven’t had that singular instance of key sticking reoccur.

The TFT LCD panel is the single weakest aspect of the hardware. Viewing angles are miniscule. You’ll need to operate within a few degrees of the optimal viewing angle before screen darkening and color washout creep in. You’ll fidget and fuss and find yourself hunching over the unit scrutinizing what the best compromise between color and clarity and usability is. Even when found, that optimal angle is still a compromise.

As if to affirm the validity of recreational choices made by the headless folks in Apple advertisements, an iPad in your lap on the couch viewing angle works well. Assigning four programmable hotkeys (of six total) to the zoom, rotate, pan, and color picker tools kept me from reaching for my laptop too often.

Closing thoughts

Though it’s not the unqualified hardware success of the MSP19U, there’s an easy argument in favor of the DP10U. It sports 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity with a price cheaper than Intuos tablets.

If you need a portable tablet monitor, the DP10U’s minimum system requirements of a single USB port for power and another USB port for video make it a better choice over the Cintiq 12WX for many users. If you’re looking for a permanent, stationary fixture to plop into your studio, for a few dollars more you can get the MSP19U.

What was my personal conclusion? I’ve opted to pack my Huion 10”x6” graphics tablet in my bag when working portably. It has the same 2048 levels of pressure, an aftermarket, rechargeable, lighter Li-ion stylus, a detachable mini-USB cable, and more hotkeys. I’m a bit of an anomaly, though. I’ve been using tablets for so long that the cognitive dissonance between drawing with my hand down on the tablet while my view is directed up towards a standard monitor doesn’t hamper my ability. I’ll be keeping my DP10U; there’s nothing wrong with the unit and I like drawing on it quite a lot. It’s just not the best fit for my use case.

A Note About Yiynova Products

Since posting my original MSP19U review, I’ve noticed two things which require addressing. One, the monitor is continually out of stock. As soon as a shipment arrives, it sells out. My Amazon referral link supports this conclusion (coincidentally, buying any of the tech I review with my referral ID is the easiest way to support my digital art hardware testing efforts). Two, some folks are accidentally buying the in-stock, non-U-designated MSP19 and DP10/DP10HD. Don’t do that. Those units aren’t any good. The Waltop digitizer they sport has such a low LPI and report rate that only the fastest of lines are rendered with any fidelity. If you make a steady, measured stroke, the line quality will shake like a Bumble Ball in a paint mixer. Look for the U.

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