In our recent spate of tablet testing to see which units make satisfactory platforms for Active Ink software, we noticed a few salient points. One, our software doesn't use very much memory or CPU power, so a tablet does not be the top of the line to be a very satisfactory Active Ink platform. This is good news, because our customers can buy cheaper tablets than they otherwise might consider.
The second discovery we made was that ALL the "capacitive-screen" tablets we tested failed to meet our benchmark for a satisfactory Active Ink platform. This is devastating news for the economical consumer because the vast majority of inexpensive tablets coming onto the market are capacitive screen devices.
Please bear in mind that when I say "capacitive-screen" tablets, I'm referring to touch-only capacitive tablets, not machines that also employ N-Trig or Wacom digitizing technology. These N-Trig and Wacom tablets usually work quite well for our purposes, but they are currently few in number, including: the HTC Flyer, Asus ep121, Fujitsu Q550 (at left), Motion CL-900, and HP Slate 500. They should be considered in a different category than the "touch-only" capacitive screens that bear the brunt of my wrath in this post.
In the category of "touch-only" capacitive tablets I include the Ipad, most Android devices, and a number of inexpensive Windows tablets. They usually do not ship with a stylus, nor are they meant to be used with one although a number of aftermarket manufacturers (including Targus, Wacom, & Rocketfish) produce capacitive styluses for use with them. Regardless of their other merit-worthy features, the downfall of these devices lies in the imprecision of their handwriting input using these aftermarket styluses. Simply put, it sucks.
This is why -- capacitive screens triangulate a touch point when a big fat finger tip (or its prosthetic mimic) spans several sensors and therefore a fine tip stylus simply cannot work because it does not span a number of sensors. You can, of course, write with your fingertip or its rubbery prosthetic mimic, but doing so is only a marginally-successful and unsatisfying exercise. The current crop of capacitive styluses generally employ spongy, rubbery tips that are only slightly smaller than a pinky. Sensory feedback is poor, and in most cases these stubby pens produce only a vague fascimile of your natural handwriting in which most of your normal loops, peaks and crests are flattened. Without clear definition to your script, Active Ink and Microsoft's handwriting recognition engine has no contours to work with and recognition errors soar. When errors soar, handwritten fragments must be corrected or rewritten many times -- and the time-to-completion of any given form multiplies exponentially.
At the same time, user frustration levels go through the roof with capacitive screens and styluses. In our tests, the experienced tablet user who knows how "old school" tablet PC's with active digitizers can perform, will discard a capacitive screen device and its rubbery after-market stylus in seconds, declaring the whole experience useless and not worth any marginal money savings. The novice users experienced the same dissatisfaction, but they usually didn't understand why their results were so poor and often they blamed the software when the true cause lay with the inescapable imprecision of the capacitive stylus and the screen.
Let me be clear in stating at this point that Active Ink has not yet tested all touch-only capacitive tablets or all capacitive stylus. We've only tested a few of the "good" ones -- the ones that other reviewers thought were a notch above the rest. But in the end this made no difference -- even the "good" ones failed to pass our muster. All have fat imprecise tips.
In fact, our research on the net indicated that no one is satisfied with the performance of capacitive screen devices or their styluses. For example, go to the following link and see what another reviewer thought about the current crop of capacitive styluses. http://www.imedicalapps.com/2011/02/ipad-stylus-review-best-handwriting-touch-screen/
If you poke around a bit for reviews of Ipad styluses you will occasionally find Youtube raves for certain pens, declaring how wonderful they are for writing in certain art apps. But when you look closer you see that these demos are using the Ipad's full screen with giant 72 pt font sizes. This is akin to writing your name in beach sand with a walking stick. At these zoom levels, imprecision quibbles disappear because the writing surface and fonts employed are so big. But does anyone actually write business correspondence at one word per Ipad screen? A walking stick might make a good writing implement on the beach, but how does it perform with 10 pt fonts on an 8 1/2 by 11 inch piece of paper? In our opinion, these Ipad-as-a-handwriting platform reviews are simply ridiculous.
Once again, the critical test criterion with any test platform is one of speed of input. We test all our hardware testbeds using a standard form that our technicians can fill out on an "old school" Motion Computing F5 in about 35 seconds. Of course, this is a very subjective test which is highly dependent on the user. Users with better handwriting can fill out the form faster on every machine, even the touch-only capacitive screens. But regardless of the user, our test results on these capacitive screen testbeds soared to triple or quadruple the times required by active digitizers. In some cases, users simply refused to complete the test because their error and recognition rates were so high it was clear that no one would use the device.
Bottom Line: Active Ink has seen NO touch-only capacitive screen tablets or styluses that it can recommend as platforms for the filling out of Active Ink forms. All units we have tested fall so far below our basic standard of acceptability that we believe it is pointless to even consider a device that does not also employ the N-trig or Wacom digitizing styluses. (Even some of those N-trig devices -- namely the HP Slate 500 -- did not pass our muster.) Given their inherent limitations and unless significant technological improvements occur, we will decline to test touch-only capacitive tablets in the future.