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Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 vs. Wacom’s Cintiq Companion

Mentioned in this article: Microsoft Surface Pro 3 | Wacom Cintiq Companion

Which portable drawing tablet reigns supreme for digital artists?

Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3.

I just received a review unit Surface Pro 3 from Microsoft. My Wacom Cintiq Companion is my most used art device. It’s my entire studio stuffed into a bag. It’s going to take a fantastic piece of hardware to unseat the Companion’s position as my alpha dog for art creation.

The Surface Pro 3 is a fantastic piece of hardware.

I won’t be delving too far into the specs of the machines in this first impression write-up, but I will boil down the differences between the two that have an impact in your workflow. What are the practical realities of using these devices? Why should I get one or the other?

A few years ago, no device akin to either of these options was mature enough to even consider for professional work. These two hardware juggernauts slugging it out spur innovation. No matter which device “wins,” ultimately we, as artists, are in a better place. But let me ease your mind. No matter which piece of art hardware you choose, you haven’t made a bad choice. Both are good in different, complimentary ways.

The Companion is a workhorse. I’ve beaten the crap out of it for months. I regularly draw files north of 18”x24” at 350-600dpi for as many as eighteen hours a day.

I’ve assigned my most frequently utilized shortcut keys and tools to its hotkeys and seldom use a bluetooth keyboard while working. Zooming, panning, rotating, color picking, brush resizing, undoing and redoing are all accounted for using the hardware hotkeys.

An example of work created entirely on a Cintiq Companion.

The matte screen is relatively high PPI. At 13” and 1920x1080, it’s one of the clearest screens I own. It isn’t reflective and colors are accurate with a wide gamut. The matte screen feels more like drawing on paper than glass.

The matte nature of the screen is provided by a thin layer of adhesive, anti-glare protection which is prone to scratches. From normal use, my screen has noticeable marks in my most stylus-scraped areas. I suspect that one could peel off this coating (as I did on older, desktop Cintiq models), but then you’re left with a glass, slick surface to draw on.

Distance between the glass and the screen causes cursor offset and parallax. All Wacom Cintiqs exhibit this behavior, but the Companion has the smallest gap of all of them. If it bothers you here, there are scant alternative options with less severe parallax.

Strokes are smooth with a bit of lag, but that’s the case with all Cintiq hardware. There’s little to no jitter in slow strokes. The 2048 levels of pressure are an industry leading figure. After breaking in the stylus, the first half of the pressure levels are met within a quarter of pressure applied to the stylus. Made less technical, that means that drawing feels a bit loose at light pressure. Ratcheting up your firmness at the driver level, or using app-specific pressure curve tweaking, ameliorates the problem, however.

The battery life could be better. The Cintiq Companion uses a slightly aged Intel processor that’s less energy efficient than its newer brethren. Heavy use in intensive art apps saps the battery in a few hours, tops. I carry a portable charger in my laptop bag and resign myself to charging the Cintiq whenever and wherever I can manage.

The Companion is sized akin to a powerful laptop that doubles as a tablet monitor with a level of portability to match. When I travel, it’s in a bag with some accompanying accessories. When you do unpack and plug in that required kit, however, you have a fully capable studio on the move. It’s no more or less portable than a mid-sized laptop. It’s no MacBook Air, but it’s not a 17” behemoth either. I split my time this year between two locations and was able to carry my whole studio in one laptop bag.

The Surface is more akin to an iPad that you can draw on while using full featured art apps with extreme portability. It feels like a sketchbook in form, function, and potential capability.

The screen is an astounding 12” at 2160x1440. Pixels are entirely indiscernible. This clarity is nice, but comes at a price. At times, you can feel the Surface sputter and chug as it attempts to zoom in on a canvas of a large art file. Rendering those pixels taxes my middle specification i5 model. As an art guy, I’d rather have performance than pixel density if I could only choose between the two. Both the Surface and Companion have beautiful displays with wide viewing angles and accurate color.

The, er, surface of the Surface is a glossy, slick glass. Drawing feels slightly less accurate than on a matte surface. A screen protector would likely fix the issue. The glass isn’t prone to scratches like the Companion. This category is pretty much a draw.

The 3:2 aspect ratio of the Surface is a lot more accommodating of portrait oriented drawing than the 16:9 of the Companion. The Companion is nearly too large and cumbersome to hold in your off-hand while you draw with your dominant one. The aspect ratio of the screen, and the lighter, smaller shape of the Pro, all contribute to the digital, portable sketchbook nature of the device.

Vertical drawing on the Companion is less than ideal.

When working with the Companion I sit the device on my table or lap using the provided stand and draw in a landscape orientation. When drawing on the Surface I tend to hold the device with one hand, portrait, while drawing with the other.

The lack of hotkeys impedes production workflows with the Surface. In much the same way that the aspect ratio and weight of the device lend it the air of a digital sketchbook, so does the lack of hardware bound shortcut keys.

I forced myself to use the Surface without a keyboard and clumsily plodded my way through tool selection, brush resizing, and color picking with my free hand using the touch screen. Apps that embrace the tablet based nature of the Surface work best. Manga Studio allows for a tablet forward interface option and it’s warranted here. Even with some apps making concessions for use on tablets, I was still slower on the Surface than the Companion while drawing. The hotkeys matter if you’re doing serious arting and the Companion has them in spades.

The most controversial aspect of the Surface ended up being one of the least worth remark. Ditching Wacom’s tablet technology, the Surface instead uses Ntrig’s art digitizer. I found touch input more reliable on the Surface than the Companion and stylus navigation outside of art apps less laggy on the Companion and slightly floaty on the Surface.

Pen pressure is reported as 256 levels but you’d never know it. I never left wanting for more pressure fidelity. The actuation pressure for the stylus feels steeper than comparable Wacom hardware. You’re lightest marks can sometimes be lost if you’re extremely light of touch.

The distance between the glass and stylus is lesser here than in the case of the Companion. Gains of accuracy that the lessened parallax might provide are lost by overall less accurate tracking of the pen tip. There’s jitter with slow strokes and a smidge more lag when drawing with the Ntrig than a Wacom digtizer. I have very steady hands. I make fast, fluid strokes. If your working style skews towards slow, deliberate mark making, bear the caveat of the jitter in mind.

Art app compatibility is a concern with the alternative hardware. Ntrig’s website has a driver update that adds WinTab compatibility to the Surface. At time of writing, I haven’t thrown a heap of apps at the Surface, but none have failed so far after installing the optional WinTab update.

The Surface Pro 3 would be better with a Wacom digitizer, but, in practice, I didn’t find the Ntrig to be a terrible detriment. Its inclusion is not reason alone to dismiss the Surface.

The Surface battery lasts for ages and uses a newer, more energy efficient processor than the Companion. I don’t bother to bring a bag when I take the Surface out with me. It, its type cover, and its pen are all I need to art on the go. It’s only slightly more of a burden than carrying an iPad and the portability trumps the more laptop-esque nature of the Companion if that’s your primary concern.

If you have a primary art workstation already and are looking solely for a digital sketchbook that’s easy to transport, has a stout battery, and runs full featured art applications, the Surface is a no brainer. If it were the only tablet monitor I had, I’d make due. It’s perfectly functional for production work.

The Companion is heavier. Its battery life gets lesser seemingly by the day. Its screen scratches easily. But it’s my personal choice for my primary art making device. The singular nature of the Companion overlaps in more areas with my needs as an artist. The pen digtizer is slightly better. The hotkeys speed up my workflow. It’s that simple.

However, you’d have to pry my Surface from my cold dead hands. It’s a sexy piece of hardware. It’s heaps more portable than the Companion and lasts longer to boot. Where I’ve taken the Companion to a coffee shop to work in the past, I’m almost certainly going to take the Surface now.

Each is a good choice. They just service slightly different use cases. If portability trumps efficiency, get the Surface. If you don’t mind losing a bit of freedom of movement and ease of toting to and fro, but need a full desktop replacement, get the Companion.

This is exactly the sort of use case where I’d rather be toting the Surface.

I’ll be offering a full review of the hardware mentioned in this article soon. In the meantime, you can support my digital art hardware reviews by purchasing Amazon products using my referral link.

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Huion H610 Pro Review

Huion H610 Pro, H610, & K58 Graphics Tablet Review

With the H610 Pro, H610, K58, and W58, Huion’s industrial design leapfrogs Monoprice’s older tablets and begs for comparison to Wacom. While the Monoprice tablets I reviewed previously were the best bang for your drawing buck at the time, these new Huion tablets offer a significant bump in specifications and fit and finish without a huge leap in price.

Huion’s line of tablets use similar technology to the UC-Logic pen digitizer found in Yiynova, Ugee, and older Monoprice hardware. Monoprice’s last-gen tablets were my highest recommendation for a cheap Wacom alternative, but there were some drawbacks. Monoprice’s hotkeys felt flimsy and the stylus was serviceable and utilitarian. No one would call the Monoprice tablets things of beauty, but it was easy to overlook these shortcomings given their price. At around ten percent of the cost of comparable Wacom tablets, with equal or better performance in many regards, the Monoprice line of tablets was my punk-rock drawing tool of choice when not using tablet monitors on my desktops.

Perfect for throwing into a laptop bag, and cheap enough to not have to worry about destroying during travel, the Monoprice filled a niche. Since that initial purchase, I’ve acquired more than two dozen additional UC-Logic based tablets and monitors for testing and possible review.

Aside from Yiynova’s U-designated line of graphics tablet monitors, few of those purchases have been noteworthy enough to warrant additional spotlight. I’m pleased to say that the Huion tablets reviewed here replaced my older Monoprice tablets as my go-to, portable drawing solutions.

And since, Monoprice has replaced their UC-Logic digitizer based offerings with rebranded Huion parts. Huion is the OEM of the latest generation of Monoprice tablets. If you’re buying a new Monoprice tablet, chances are it’s a rebrand of one of the pieces of hardware outlined below.

Hardware Specifications

The H610, K58, and W58 all have a digitizer with 2048 levels of pressure, 4000 LPI, and a report rate of 233 reports per second. The H610 Pro improves upon that slightly with 5080 LPI, a textured drawing surface, and a rechargeable styli. All tablets have detachable mini-USB cable connections and all but the H610 Pro come with battery operated styli.

The H610 and H610 Pro include eight user-programmable hotkeys and has a 10” x 6” active working area.

The K58 and W58 have a smaller, hotkey-less active area of 8” x 5.” In the case of the W58, an internal Li-Ion battery claims 30 hours of use before needing to be charged via it’s included mini-USB cable. The W58 can be used as a wired tablet while charging via your systems USB port.

The P80 is a rechargeable stylus with an internal Li-Ion battery that comes bundled with the K58. It claims 800 hours of continuous use before needing a recharge. In practice, I found the stylus held a charge for a few days at a time. Recharging is done via a USB cable that has a proprietary connector on one end that plugs into the stylus.

The P80 can be used with the other Huion tablets, but must be purchased separately.

Installation and Setup for the H610 and K58

Like all the other UC-Logic hardware I’ve tested, the biggest obstacle is neither price nor drawing capability, but initial setup. Make sure to download Huion’s customized UC-Logic driver directly from their site. Install it before plugging your tablet in for the first time.

In OS X, the tablet can behave strangely if you have third party mouse-steering apps installed. Logitech drivers and USB Overdrive are repeat offenders. An engineer at Adobe contacted me when his UC-Logic tablet’s cursor stuck to the top left corner of his screen and, after a few days of painstaking processes of elimination, we determined that his third party mouse app had stymied the tablet.

In Windows, be sure to install the drivers before plugging the tablet in. Windows has insidious default tablet drivers it will install otherwise. They don’t work well and you’ll swear there’s something wrong with your hardware. There isn’t. Deleting your HID stack in Device Manager is the only help here and even it may not work. You may have to reinstall a fresh copy of the OS. Additionally, in Windows 7 at least, disable Tablet PC services from the services menu. Uninstall Tablet PC components. Uncheck “Support Tablet PC Features” from the tablet driver icon in the system tray. Minimally, disable Pen Flicks. All of these things impact drawing performance.

One side effect of doing these reviews is that I’ve become defacto technical support on a whole host of common problems associated with nearly all graphics tablets. I can’t help everyone, but I do try. Please take my advice. Install the drivers before plugging the tablet in. Don’t use third party mouse mods. Graphics tablets everywhere will thank you. And so will I.

Installation and Setup of the W58

The wireless capability of the W58 is unique. The tablet works in both wired and wireless modes, but the initial setup is the same as its corded brethren. Aside from being finicky about software-before-hardware installation order, I encountered no installation issues in Windows.

In OS X, I was completely unable to get the W58 to work. When drawing a stroke, the beginning and ends would blob out to full pressure regardless of how light I pressed. While in wireless mode, attempting to open the PenTablet driver app in Applications would result in system freezes and application crashes. I tested the W58 on three MacPro towers with OSes ranging from Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion, a 2012 MacBook Air, and a new Mac Mini with the same results.

I wrote Huion asking for advice and they sent a second piece of hardware along. During testing, they said to try and use the tablet without any drivers installed. Despite this sounding entirely counterintuitive, I gave it a shot. No dice. The same problem occurred. Strokes blobbed out at their beginning and ends while appearing to respond accurately in the middle of their marks.

As it stands, I cannot recommend the W58 for OS X users. It’s a shame. The hardware was small and light enough that tossing it into my laptop bag as my default, laptop-centric graphics tablet solution would’ve been a no-brainer otherwise.

Performance in Graphics Applications

The H610 Pro, H610, and K58 performed well in both Windows and OS X. Slow, deliberate strokes showed some jitter and diagonal lines drawn at near 45 degrees seem to exacerbate the issue. This is a behavior common to all the Huion and UC-Logic-alike hardware I’ve tested.

I personally haven’t had issues with jitter as I tend to draw fast and loose with long, sweeping strokes. I seldom hover slowly and deliberately while mark-making a single line. If you are a hesitant line-maker, bear this possible caveat in mind.

The H610 Pro does a better job at mitigating this diagonal line jitter during slow strokes thanks to its upgraded internals and is my recommendation if you’re a slow mark maker.

The bundled, AAA-powered stylus is a bit stiff out of the box. I’ve owned over seven of these Huion styli and a stiff pressure curve has been consistent among them all. The harder pressure curve is a welcome change from the mushy, easy-to-blow-out pressure curve of Wacom hardware, though is a smidge stiffer than I would like.

The Li-Ion, rechargeable, aftermarket stylus has a pressure curve unique to any other UC-Logic styli I’ve tested. It feels in-hand like a Wacom stylus and has a pressure curve to match. The only drawback being that light pressure strokes blow out to full pressure without much effort. If their goal was to replicate a Wacom feel, warts and all, they’ve done it. The light pressure being so touchy is not a preference of mine and I didn’t use the rechargeable stylus much as a result. I’ve owned three of these rechargeable styli and all exhibited this behavior.

For the W58, performance in Windows was good. An occasional jitter or wonky mouse movement occurred with long use. I suspect those rare hiccups had to do with the 2.4ghz, wireless nature of the device. I enjoyed being less tethered to my workstation. I’m a big fan of workspace minimalism and the W58 appeals to the lizard cortex of my brain. If I’d managed to get the W58 working in OS X, I’d have been ecstatic.

Closing Thoughts

The H610 lived in my laptop bag for six months and the H610 Pro improved upon the H610 in enough small ways to warrant replacing it. It boasts 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity. The LPI is better. It has a detachable mini-USB cable. The industrial design of the stylus and tablet surface is akin to the Wacom tablets I cut my teeth on. The overall fit and finish feels high-end and not at all indicative of the price tag.

In all measures save for price, the Huion H610 Pro, H610 and K58 could be placed on a shelf next to Wacom tablets and the average on-looker would guess they were equals. If you’re in the market for a budget Wacom-alternative, the Huion H610 Pro is easy to recommend.

As per usual, shopping on Amazon using my referral link helps support my efforts to review digital art hardware.

Note: This is an update to my previous Huion review corrects some numbers previously listed incorrectly by the manufacturer and adds the H610 Pro to the review lineup.

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Review: Monoprice 19” Tablet Monitor - Wacom Take Heed

Wacom has long held the crown as the top maker of graphics tablet hardware, but they have not iterated upon the technology in meaningful ways. The products have remained staid and safe and prices are high as ever. Graphics tablets are a market ripe for disruption.

The Monoprice 19” Tablet Monitor is poised to blow that market open. The extremely aggressive $389 price point is paired with the best overall hardware quality of any Cintiq competitor I’ve reviewed to date.

Hardware, Software, and Performance

The Monoprice uses the same digitizer technology as the Huion H610 which I reviewed highly. It has a 19” 1440 x 900 resolution TFT LCD, a pen digitizer with 5080 lpi resolution and a 200 RPS report rate, a rechargeable, lightweight stylus with 2048 pressure levels, and both DVI and VGA inputs. The monitor’s build quality is better than its sub-$400 price tag would imply and the stylus feels as light in hand as a comparable Wacom stylus despite its internal battery.

The unit is small, sleek, and streamlined in appearance. The glass is flushmounted to the plastic bezel and the display has a glossy finish. The included, VESA mount compatible stand allows for tilting the display forward and backward from nearly flat to almost vertical viewing angles.

The included VESA-mounted, adjustable stand.

The stylus responds quickly with little perceivable cursor lag in either OS X or Windows. Pressure input felt a bit loose. The Monoprice stylus is a rebranded Huion P80 stylus. I’ve owned several of Huion’s rechargeable styli and the one bundled with the Monoprice was the loosest of the bunch. Ratcheting up the firmness in the driver’s options ameliorated much of that feeling, however.

The drivers are a utilitarian affair with the requisite pressure curve and monitor mapping knobs and switches with one caveat. Multiple monitor support is currently absent in Windows. Multiple monitor setups work fine in OS X. Right and left click are the only assignable keys to map to the stylus side buttons in OS X, but middleclick is mappable in Windows. As there are no hotkeys on the monitor, you’ll be using a keyboard with your free hand anyhow, so I didn’t find the sparse options too limiting.

The utilitarian driver menus of the Monoprice 19” Tablet Monitor.

When drawing slow and diagonal lines, a small amount of wobble and jitter seeps in. Comparable to the performance of Intuos 3 era tech, this is nothing that will keep you from making detailed art, but, if you’re the sort to labor over slow, less decisive marks, you will likely notice some shake. I was able to complete all of my client work on the Monoprice and often hopped back and forth between it and my Cintiq Companion with no discernible break in workflow. Cintiqs are smoother with a slightly laggy, buttery feel. The Monoprice has more snap and less lag, but the strokes are more raw because they have less line correction at the driver level. Drawing on the Monoprice feels a bit better than drawing on Yiynova’s MSP19U though they have nearly identical internal hardware.

The weakest aspect of the Monoprice is its TFT LCD panel. The LED backlighting is clear and bright, brighter than all but the most recent Cintiqs, but viewing angles are shallow and the unit is best used at either a down-on-your-lap or nearly vertical angle. The more parallel you can keep the screen and your face, the more accurate the screen is going to look. I recommend picking up a monitor arm if your budget allows. Being able to position the unit at an optimal angle is important enough to warrant one. Colors skewed towards the cool, but were easily combated with a quick trip to the on screen settings menu of the display. If this unit had an IPS panel, I’d have little to critique.

I mounted the Monoprice on a monitor arm to combat the lackluster viewing angles.

Conclusion

For a price lower than a large Intuos tablet, let alone a Cintiq, and performance equal to the more expensive Yiynova MSP19U, it’s hard to go wrong with the Monoprice. Hell, you could disable its screen entirely and use it solely as a graphics tablet for another monitor and still come out ahead, dollar wise.

Would I recommend the Monoprice? Yes. In fact, of all the Wacom alternative hardware I’ve tested, it’s the easiest for me to give a thumbs up. There are caveats to the hardware, but the price is hard to argue against. The Monoprice is a worthy product that steals the crown away from the MSP19U as the best bang for your buck in graphics tablet monitor hardware, full stop.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.

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The Bosto Kingtee 22HD - A Warning

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An exclusive, early unboxing of the Monoprice 19” Tablet Monitor.

It’s lighter and smaller than the MSP19U with a better fit and finish to boot.

Monoprice’s 19” Tablet Monitor Enters the Fray, a History

In April of 2012, I wrote a review of Monoprice’s graphic tablets that went a bit viral. After being picked up by Drawn!, it was reblogged over 40,000 times.

I loved that little punk rock tablet so much that it inspired me to start ordering other relatively obscure hardware for review. There were undiscovered gems like the Monoprice tablets out there and I wanted to find them.

I’ve reviewed dozens of graphics tablets and tablet monitors in the time since and found that Monoprice’s tablet used UC-Logic digitizers. I tracked down other vendors selling UC-Logic-alike hardware such as Yiynova and Huion.

When reviewing the Yiynova MSP19U (the third Yiynova I purchased that year and the first to abandon its previous, terrible Waltop digitizer internals for UC-Logic tech), the dream of a cheap Cintiq alternative had come true.

Since, Yiynova has stumbled a bit. Their tech uses outdated VGA connections and their prices have raised significantly concurrent with their higher profile in the art community as result of the reviews.

With that history in mind, I’m happy to say that Monoprice is releasing a new, incredibly affordable 19” tablet monitor. Where other Cintiq alternatives in the category cost $700, this new monitor starts at around $390.

I’ve been in contact with Monoprice and hope to receive a review unit.

These alternatives were made possible by the vigilance and curiosity of the art community as a whole. So good on us.

Bosto Kingtee 22HD Review

The Bosto 22HD’s hardware is hit and miss with users and their customer support is awful.

I’d like to give you an indepth review of Bosto’s 22” tablet monitor. But I can’t. You can’t review something you can’t use. See, the unit I received didn’t work in OSX worth a damn and it fared even worse in Windows.

Most of the time, the tablet monitor didn’t recognize pen input. When it did, to describe the behavior of the cursor as jittery would’ve been an understatement. The cursor would leap half of the screen height randomly in either OS and shoot around like a ballet dancer in a paint mixer under the best of circumstances. It often took more than five attempts to hit menu icons or position the cursor in a fixed point with the intent of making an accurate mark. Even when it did, the results speak for themselves.

Drawing on the Bosto Kingtee 22HD was a nightmare on either OS with my unit. These were supposed to be circles.

I’ve never reviewed a single piece of art hardware that was this nonfunctional. But don’t take it from me. Take this statement from Bosto as the single best warning away from a product I’ve even seen a company release about themselves.

Bosto tells users that their units are too jittery to use for lineart.

I emailed Bosto about my issues. Anyone can get a lemon. In response, they assured me that new drivers were in development and that an update should come in about thirty days. In slogging through the dozens of angry consumer posts on Bosto’s official Facebook page (see Posts by Others there), they make this nebulous claim of driver support over and over again.

They contradict themselves often. They claim Mac support in one post only to tell another user that installing Windows on their Mac is an easy and recommended solution if you use OSX. You can’t tell consumers a product is compatible with an operating system only to pull the rug out from under them later. Subsequent promises of fictitious driver support don’t help.

New units purchased from Bosto have a fourteen day return period. If you wait for the oft-promised, but undelivered driver updates, you’re stuck with the unit. To say that this is a shady proposition is an understatement. And folks are getting stuck with units.

I emailed Bosto a number of times about my problems with the unit, but they’ve not returned a correspondence since October 16th.

In short, stay away. Even if my unit was abnormally defective, their business practices and customer support are awful. If you’re spending this much money on a piece of hardware it either needs to work without breaking or have excellent customer support in case it does. You can’t have neither and expect to take on the other players in the market.

If you’re looking to buy a tablet monitor, the MSP19U remains a great overall value and Monoprice has a 19” tablet monitor coming out in December that will sell for around $390 that I’ll be reviewing it soon.

With competent devices that work in both Windows and OSX available at the same or lower cost, why even take the chance on these units? Their official Facebook page is crowded with users complaining of unreturned emails and faulty units with half-baked, long-promised driver updates. It’s been more than a month and I’m still waiting for my return email.

Post Review Schadenfreude

There are some choice exchanges between Bosto and users or insightful complaints about the hardware and customer support below.

The drivers are coming, we promise!

We can’t support you - you should’ve bought a more expensive tablet if you expected that!

Our tablet can’t possibly be defective. You must be a scammer!

Is Bosto even going to be around to support products in the future? Their comment above is nebulous at best.

I’ve taken screens of dozens more of their awful customer support exchanges that I could post, but you get the idea.

Review Update: Yiynova’s Revised MVP22UHD v2

A few months ago Yiynova sent me review hardware for the MVP22UHD. (Read that original, in-depth look here.) Drawing on the unit felt on par with its cheaper and smaller MSP19U, but the LCD panel’s viewing angles were poor and the image quality was sub-par.

Panda City, the US distributor for Yiynova products, reached out to me for advice. They wanted to do right by their growing userbase. They decided to take the MVP22UHD back to the drawing board.

Fast forward. I’ve received the second revision of the MVP22UHD for preview. What’s changed?

The MVP22UHD’s LCD has been upgraded to an IPS panel. Viewing angles and color accuracy are vastly improved.

The display adapter is still, oddly, a VGA plug, but a VGA to mini-displayport adapter is now included in the box.

The digitizer’s chipset has been upgraded to the latest tech UC-Logic has to offer. Some users of UC-Logic tablets and tablet monitors experienced line jitter when drawing at slow speeds. This update addresses that problem. Slow strokes felt much more natural. Diagonal strokes, also affected with jitter on some tablet models, are also improved. Drawing feels fast and accurate. The MVP22UHD feels very natural to draw on as a result.

The stylus previously required a little too much effort to actuate to full pressure. After reading my review, Yiynova took a look at their tech, saw the flaw, and corrected it. The pressure curve (the amount of pressure required to go from resting pressure to full pressure variance when pressing down on the stylus tip) is best in class.

Fonts rendered poorly with little to no hinting. I looked into what could cause such an issue in OS X. Some monitors improperly report themselves as CRTs and font smoothing is turned off by default. By using the following terminal command, I was able to force font smoothing and things seemed better.

defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 2

You’ll know the terminal command worked if your LCD smoothing option changes from a checkmark to a dash in System Preferences.

Taking a screen capture doesn’t, and can’t, show you this effect. Only taking a photo with a camera can. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to get a clean photo that gives a sense of the scope of the problem. The images included are my best attempts.

Note the inconsistency in the font-rendering of the i’s and l’s in Willing.

This is sort of a hard problem to combat as I suspect the relatively low pixel density of the display has a lot to do with it. I’ve been taking macro shots of various monitors and the way they handle font smoothing in OS X for weeks and I’m just not coming up with a satisfactory answer for specifically why text looks subpar on the MVP22UHD.

It’s a shame that, with all the great improvements to drawing and screen quality, this single flaw keeps me from giving the tablet monitor a glowing recommendation. If it weren’t for the font rendering problems, the LCD panel quality and drawing feel were about on par with Wacom’s Cintiq 22HD at half the cost.

Which budget Cintiq alternative should you get? As it stands, I recommend the MVP22UHD over the MSP19U if you don’t mind slightly wonky font rendering in trade for a large display and an improved feel to drawing. If you’re not one to make slow, labored strokes and can deal with worse color accuracy and viewing angles, the MSP19U is cheaper and a totally viable option.

I have both the MVP22UHD v2 and MSP19U in my studio and, despite the odd way fonts seem to be smoothed, I’ve been gravitating to the MVP22UHD. The larger screen, better color accuracy, and vastly improved viewing angles are nice additions.

It’s times like these that I wish Wacom would correct the terrible light-pressure blowout in their pressure curve. I would gladly pay top dollar for their hardware if making light strokes didn’t feel so god-awful. The lightest of taps register at nearly half pressure on all their tablets and tablet monitors.

My conclusion?

Yiynova is attempting to match the drawing feel and image quality, if not the industrial design, of Wacom’s tech. Yiynova isn’t there yet, but, with each hardware iteration, they’re getting closer.

At least there’s competition in the market place that listens to the art community and adjusts accordingly. I’m hopeful for the future, but stuck in the present.

MVP22UHD V2 available on Amazon.

If you want to support my digital art hardware reviews, buying anything on Amazon after visiting this referral link is greatly appreciated!

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Huion H610, K58, and W58 Tablet Review Round-up

Cintiq 13HD… Reboxing?

I was talking a bit about the pros and cons of a Surface Pro 2 versus a Wacom Cintiq Companion yesterday on Twitter. I asked folks which they’d rather see me review first.

And then this happened.

Guess I’ll be reviewing one of those!

I was talking a bit about the pros and cons of a Surface Pro 2 versus a Wacom Cintiq Companion yesterday on Twitter. I asked folks which they’d rather see me review first.

And then this happened.

Guess I’ll be reviewing one of those!

Huion H610, K58, and W58 Tablet Review Round-up

With the H610, K58, and W58, Huion’s industrial design leapfrogs Monoprice’s tablets and begs for comparison to Wacom’s offerings. While the Monoprice tablets I reviewed previously were the best bang for your drawing buck at the time, these new Huion tablets offer a significant bump in specifications and fit and finish without a huge leap in price.

Huion’s line of tablets use the same UC-Logic pen digitizer technology as Monoprice’s tablets. Monoprice’s hotkeys felt flimsy and the stylus was serviceable and utilitarian. No one would call the Monoprice tablets things of beauty, but it was easy to overlook these shortcomings given their price. At around ten percent of the cost of comparable Wacom tablets, with equal or better performance in many regards, the Monoprice line of tablets was my punk-rock drawing tool of choice when not using tablet monitors on my desktops.

Perfect for throwing into a laptop bag, and cheap enough to not have to worry about destroying during travel, the Monoprice filled a niche. Since that initial purchase, I’ve acquired more than two dozen additional UC-Logic based tablets and monitors for testing and possible review.

Aside from Yiynova’s U-designated line of graphics tablet monitors, few of those purchases have been noteworthy enough to warrant additional spotlight. I’m pleased to say that the Huion tablets reviewed here replaced my Monoprice tablets as my go-to, portable drawing solutions. You’d still have to pry my Note II or Yiynova MSP19U from my cold, dead hands, but, in the graphics tablet space, Huion’s tablet line won me over.

Hardware Specifications

The H610, K58, and W58 all have a digitizer with 2048 levels of pressure, 5080 LPI, and a report rate of 233 reports per second. All tablets have detachable mini-USB cable connections and come with battery operated styli.

The H610 includes eight user-programmable hotkeys and has a 10” x 6” active working area.

The K58 and W58 have a smaller, hotkey-less active area of 8” x 5.” In the case of the W58, an internal Li-Ion battery claims 30 hours of use before needing to be charged via it’s included mini-USB cable. The W58 can be used as a wired tablet while charging via your systems USB port.

The P80 is a rechargeable stylus with an internal Li-Ion battery that comes bundled with the K58. It claims 800 hours of continuous use before needing a recharge. In practice, I found the stylus held a charge for a few days at a time. Recharging is done via a USB cable that has a proprietary connector on one end that plugs into the stylus.

The P80 can be used with the other Huion tablets, but must be purchased separately.

Installation and Setup for the H610 and K58

Like all the other UC-Logic hardware I’ve tested, the biggest obstacle is neither price nor drawing capability, but initial setup. Make sure to download Huion’s customized UC-Logic driver directly from their site. Install it before plugging your tablet in for the first time.

In OS X, the tablet can behave strangely if you have third party mouse-steering apps installed. Logitech drivers and USB Overdrive are repeat offenders. An engineer at Adobe contacted me when his UC-Logic tablet’s cursor stuck to the top left corner of his screen and, after a few days of painstaking processes of elimination, we determined that his third party mouse app had stymied the tablet.

In Windows, be sure to install the drivers before plugging the tablet in. Windows has insidious default tablet drivers it will install otherwise. They don’t work well and you’ll swear there’s something wrong with your hardware. There isn’t. Deleting your HID stack in Device Manager is the only help here and even it may not work. You may have to reinstall a fresh copy of the OS. Additionally, in Windows 7 at least, disable Tablet PC services from the services menu. Uninstall Tablet PC components. Uncheck “Support Tablet PC Features” from the tablet driver icon in the system tray. Minimally, disable Pen Flicks. All of these things impact drawing performance. I haven’t tested any of these devices on Windows 8 as yet.

One side effect of doing these reviews is that I’ve become defacto technical support on a whole host of common problems associated with nearly all graphics tablets. I can’t help everyone, but I do try. Please take my advice. Install the drivers before plugging the tablet in. Don’t use third party mouse mods. Graphics tablets everywhere will thank you. And so will I.

Installation and Setup of the W58

The wireless capability of the W58 is unique. The tablet works in both wired and wireless modes, but the initial setup is the same as its corded brethren. Aside from being finicky about software-before-hardware installation order, I encountered no installation issues in Windows.

In OS X, I was completely unable to get the W58 to work. When drawing a stroke, the beginning and ends would blob out to full pressure regardless of how light I pressed. While in wireless mode, attempting to open the PenTablet driver app in Applications would result in system freezes and application crashes. I tested the W58 on three MacPro towers with OSes ranging from Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion, a 2012 MacBook Air, and a new Mac Mini with the same results.

I wrote Huion asking for advice and they sent a second piece of hardware along. During testing, they said to try and use the tablet without any drivers installed. Despite this sounding entirely counterintuitive, I gave it a shot. No dice. The same problem occurred. Strokes blobbed out at their beginning and ends while appearing to respond accurately in the middle of their marks.

As it stands, I cannot recommend the W58 for OS X users. It’s a shame. The hardware was small and light enough that tossing it into my laptop bag as my default, laptop-centric graphics tablet solution would’ve been a no-brainer otherwise.

Performance in Graphics Applications

The H610 and K58 performed well in both Windows and OS X. Slow, deliberate strokes showed some jitter and diagonal lines drawn at near 45 degrees seem to exacerbate the issue. This is a behavior common to all the UC-Logic hardware I’ve tested.

Post OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.3, some Mac users reported jitter issues with UC-Logic hardware. I found that installing Smooth Mouse to disable the cursor acceleration and alleviate the lag present in how the operating system handles mouse movement seemed to help. I personally haven’t had issues with jitter as I tend to draw fast and loose with long, sweeping strokes. I seldom hover slowly and deliberately while mark-making a single line. If you are a hesitant line-maker, bear this possible caveat in mind.

The bundled, AAA-powered stylus is a bit stiff out of the box. I’ve owned over seven of these Huion styli and a stiff pressure curve has been consistent among them all. The harder pressure curve is a welcome change from the mushy, easy-to-blow-out pressure curve of Wacom hardware, though is a smidge stiffer than I would like.

The Li-Ion, rechargeable, aftermarket P80 stylus has a pressure curve unique to any other UC-Logic styli I’ve tested. It feels in-hand like a Wacom stylus and has a pressure curve to match. Light strokes blow-out to full pressure without much effort. If their goal was to replicate a Wacom feel, warts and all, they’ve done it. The light pressure being so touchy is not a preference of mine and I didn’t use the rechargeable stylus much as a result. I’ve owned three of these rechargeable styli and all exhibited this behavior.

For the W58, performance in Windows was good. An occasional jitter or wonky mouse movement occurred with long use. I suspect those rare hiccups had to do with the 2.4ghz, wireless nature of the device. I enjoyed being less tethered to my workstation. I’m a big fan of workspace minimalism and the W58 appeals to the lizard cortex of my brain. If I’d managed to get the W58 working in OS X, I’d have been ecstatic.

Closing Thoughts

The H610 has lived in my laptop bag for six months. Its hotkeys feel firmer than the Monoprice 10” x 6.25.” It boasts 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity. The report rate of the digitizer is higher. The LPI is better. It has a detachable mini-USB cable. The industrial design of the stylus and tablet surface is akin to the Wacom tablets I cut my teeth on. The overall fit and finish feels high-end and not at all indicative of the sub-$60 price tag.

In all measures save for price, the Huion H610 and K58 could be placed on a shelf next to Wacom tablets and the average on-looker would guess they were equals. If you’re in the market for a budget Wacom-alternative, the Huion H610 is now the one I’d recommend.

My contacts at Huion tell me they’re working on a new tablet monitor and, after spending half a year using their products daily, I’m very excited to see what they do next.

As per usual, shopping on Amazon using my referral link helps support my efforts to review digital art hardware.

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Cintiq 13HD… Reboxing?

Good news!

I just received word from my contact at Panda City that Yiynova wants me to consult on a revamped MVP22U that takes into account my early feedback.

The updated model slated for release near October may include an IPS panel and a new, enhanced UC Logic digitizer.

I’m editing my review to reflect the changing nature of the story.