Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Gadget Goodies 14 – The Search for Perfection

I’ve had several friends change devices because of finances.  Sell one, then buy a less expensive replacement.  At the same time, my finances have gotten tighter.  While I’m not ready to change what I’m using for other devices just yet,  there will definitely be replacements in the future.  Maybe sooner than expected, maybe later, depending on the need.  So, that started the hunt for the ideal set of devices, based on combining function with cost cutting.

My two present devices are a Galaxy Note 2 and a Nexus 7 (2013).  For various reasons, I’m hooked on Android.  And that’s after a number of different platforms over the years.  I’ve mentioned in the past that I like my devices to mimic each other as much as possible.  That way I’m not doing the same thing differently on different devices.  I don’t have to remember which way I do something on any given device.  I was looking for a tablet that would function much the same way as my Note 2, could replace my Galaxy Tab 10.1, at a size that was easily readable yet highly portable.

My first thought was the Galaxy Note 8.  It had software and functionality to match my Note 2, including the pen functions.  Although my mind said yes, my wallet argued loudly. Which meant I needed to look for an alternative. And that became easier when I realized that, after the initial exploration of the Note 2 functionality that I didn’t use the pen that often anymore.  My main appreciation for the Note 2 was the screen size combined with usability.

The other thing I realized was important was that I’m not a mobile gamer.  So, while I can appreciate great specs on a device, I don’t necessarily need the latest and greatest to run the newest resource hogging games.  My usage was more toward the passive end of the computing spectrum.  Browsing, social media, communication, reading, writing, a little media streaming.

With those things in mind, I had seen a lot of talk about how great the new Nexus 7 was.  The Hisense Sero 7 Pro also looked interesting, especially on price.  But it lacked on some important specs, particularly storage.  The $100 lower than a Nexus 7 was tempting, otherwise.  And that’s where the Nexus 7 shined.  The specs were all top notch, the screen is dazzling, and the price is over $100 cheaper than the Note 8.  All three are wifi models, at those prices.  There were many praising the benefits of basic Android over manufacturers’ versions that had layers of UI over the real experience and tons of bloatware, strong points in favor of the Nexus 7.

So, the Nexus 7 found a home, here.  And it didn’t disappoint.  It’s so good and so portable, that I’m finding myself not wanting to go many places without it.  All the apps I’ve installed work smoothly and well, the display is the best available.  But what about the pen stuff?  Although I don’t use the S pen all that much, it’s really handy to be able to quickly jot a note down.  The typical alternative to the S pen is the bulbous rubber tipped one we’re so used to seeing for iPad and Android.  It’s good to a point, but inaccurate.  If you try writing, the line is thick (Most of that’s software.), the same as a finger tip.  And neither one lets you see exactly where you’re writing.  Forget accurate drawing.

Several companies have come to the rescue.  Adonit has the Jot series of stylii and DAGI has a similar line.  A third is Musemee.  In a nutshell, all have a clear round flat tip.  The Adonit system has that attached to a small metal ball.  The DAGI uses a spring tip to attach the clear disk.  The idea is that the user can see through the tip to get a more accurate written or drawn line.  User reviews on Amazon for Musemee weren't close to those the Adonit or the DAGI, so I didn't explore further.  The top of the line in unassisted stylii for Adonit is the Jot Pro at $29.99 USD.  That’s also their most popular.  DAGI’s top dog is the P508 at $25 USD direct ($5 cheaper on Amazon).  Both companies have versions that include a pen on the other end, both apparently proprietary and replacement refills priced accordingly.  Adonit has several much higher priced electronic assisted models that seem to be Apple only.

The Adonit Jot Pro had a few complaints about scratching the glass.  Along with that, it's reported to feel rougher in going across the glass than a rubber stylus, especially if there’s a screen protector.  There were a number of comments that noted that the tip tapping on the glass that was distracting to those around the user.  All of which may relate to the inflexible ball tip the rubber disk attaches to.  The DAGI P508 had none of those complaints, had consistently (if fewer) top reviews, and was $10 USD cheaper on Amazon.  So, that’s what I bought.  It’s designed like a fountain pen, with a cap to protect the tip.  When you use the stylus, the cap doesn’t sit very well on the other end.  It’s much less distracting and more comfortable to leave it completely off when you’re writing or drawing.

We’ve all been to stores with payment terminals where you sign on the glass for credit/debit transactions.  My handwriting isn’t that great to start with.  And it’s much worse on many of those terminals.  I’m not sure if it’s angle or software, but there are some where my writing is consistently good.  Writing on a phone or tablet is a similar activity and experience.  It can be a joy or totally illegible.  Before showing others your handwritten notes, I’d suggest practicing a lot before deciding if you want to share.  It is a learning experience, including how to hold the stylus so your hand isn’t writing on the screen, too.  In my case, I may be neater on my Note 2 than on the Nexus 7.  But practice is beginning to allow me to write notes on the Nexus 7 that I'm not afraid to show others. The DAGI does work on both devices.

What can be done and the line size both depend on software.  Papyrus, which has been my favorite, will use the stylus on the Nexus 7, but only the S pen on the Note 2.  NoteIt and Lecture Notes can use the stylus on either device and also recognize the S Pen on the Note 2.  All three have ways of user selecting line size, they can share notes between devices, and all three use the notebook paradigm for organizing notes.  Papyrus is free and simpler,  NoteIt will use stylus on both devices and also the S pen on the Note 2.  It’s close to $5 USD.  Lecture Notes, also close to $5 USD, will use both S pen and stylus on the Note 2, but adds some additional features.  Those include switching between writing, keyboard, and drawing on any device.  It's easy to copy verses from several of my Bible apps.  So Lecture Notes is my new favorite.

EDIT: Correction.  There is a setting in Papyrus to select either a stylus or an active pen.  But it's one or the other.  And there doesn't appear to be able to change line width.  There is a $2.99 USD upgrade for drawing, but nothing in the description indicates line width is one of the additions.

If you do a lot of drawing or handwriting on your devices, especially if what you do is going to be shared with others or displayed publicly (such as a presentation for class or meeting), a device with an S pen could be your best bet.  If you only write notes for yourself, an Adonit or DAGI stylus will do the trick.  And practice may get you surprisingly close to the S pen output.  Consider that a Nexus 7 and an unlocked Nexus phone are hundreds of dollars cheaper than a Note 8 combined with a Note 2 or Note 3.  With the right accessories and software, that could be very compelling. Whatever your choice of devices, the Adonit and DAGI fine point stylii bring a whole new set of possibilities to the standard tablet or smartphone.

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