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Windows tablets moving toward more efficient writing capabilities?

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It is rumored that Asus is going to release a new tablet with a Wacom stylus, as reported on December 21, 2013. This is something students should keep an eye on because many find writing on tablets inefficient and cumbersome. Students in particular do a lot of writing for note taking and annotating while reading. One of the limitations of existing tablets is that writing with a capacitive stylus or finger is just not natural. Tablet screens use what is called a capacitive screen, which responds to touch commands when a finger is pressed to the screen. A capacitive screen does not respond to pressure, but touch when the circuit path is interrupted. Hence, a touch is interpreted analogously to a mouse click. Registering a touch requires the tip of a finger, or the use of a capacitive stylus. A capacitive stylus is a fat tipped rubber ended pen, much like a hollow pencil eraser, and mimics the touch of a fingertip. The problem is that the tip of the stylus is fat, does not always move smoothly, and obscures writing input. Further, there is a slight delay in response which becomes a bit distracting when writing on the surface of the tablet. Because of the awkward nature of writing on a tablet, few students care to note take or annotate using a capacitive stylus. This also makes reading digital texts less preferable to traditional printed books because of the difficulty in annotating. There is however an important development in the tablet market that could lead many to adopt tablets as reading and note taking devices.

A Wacom stylus works with what is called an active digitizer, which is built into the device. The stylus pen is very fine tipped, much like a pencil point. Further, the active digitizer enables an instant response as one writes. It does rival the efficiency of writing on paper. Although the tactile feel might take some getting used to because of the smooth glass surface, there is essentially no delay in the writing response. Also, the fine tip of the pen does no obscure visibility as one writes, making annotating and note taking similar to the paper experience.

One of the challenges for tablet vendors has been the cost of including a Wacom digitizer. The only tablet on the market with this feature is the Microsoft Surface Pro, which is a very expensive device, starting at $899. Although the Asus tablet is rumored to be 8 inches, it will start at just $299. Whether 8 inches of real estate is large enough to use comfortably is often a personal preference. The improvement with taking notes in class and writing while reading digital texts might be attractive enough for students to consider this device.

The Asus tablet will run on the full version of Windows 8.1, which means it can run any Windows software, including Office. The processing power is reported to be driven by an Intel Bay Trail Atom processor, which should be more than adequate to run most applications comfortably. Other features should include a Bluetooth connection, Micro USB port, and camera(s).

It remains to be seen if this device is formally introduced in January as expected, but it appears that the die is cast where Wacom digitizers might soon become a standard feature in many tablets. It is highly recommended that students look for this feature when considering tablets for academic use. Hopefully, 2014 becomes the year when Wacom becomes a mainstream tablet feature.

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