What's the best machine for digitizer pen AND keyboard input?
February 2, 2015 1:07 PM   Subscribe

I like to draw, I like to code, and I need a new laptop. Because of points 1 and 2, I'm looking for something that both has a good, lap-friendly keyboard AND has a digitizer pen. What's the best machine that fits both of those criteria?

I have been using a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 to take notes and draw on, and I like it a lot, but I find the Android OS somewhat limiting. I'm now in the market for a new laptop, so I figured I could find one that accepts digitizer pen input and thereby get the best of both worlds.

I've looked at the Helix or the Thinkpad Yoga from Lenovo, and at Microsoft's Surface Pro. Lenovo's offerings are a bit clunky but have good keyboards, while the Surface Pro gets generally rave reviews but is apparently annoying to use on one's lap (even with the new kickstand on the Pro 3.) Are there other options out there I haven't considered? I'm willing to wait a few months if there's something cool coming that hasn't been released yet.

I've been looking to spend around $1k on a refurbished machine, but would be willing to go higher for something brand-new (and therefore hopefully more future proof) or just really awesome.
posted by fermion to Technology (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The Surface Pro is annoying to use because the kickstand cuts into your leg. However, putting a book under it or using some sort of lap table inelegantly solves the issue.
posted by Quilford at 2:06 PM on February 2, 2015

the guy who draws penny arcade was actually a pretty big fan of drawing on the surface pro that they gave him.

THIS is what I had my heart set on but ultimately just went with a desktop and a new intuos, because it turns out I really never need to take my computer anywhere.

this looks decent too
posted by euphoria066 at 2:09 PM on February 2, 2015

The surface pro has destroyed the bang/buck ratio of everything else on the market. All the other Wacom enabled type convertible tablet stuff costs >$1000 now because it's a niche product, and probably won't include an ssd stock, uses a crappier digitizer, etc.

If you want to save some cash get a surface pro 2. But the 3 is better in every way(although some people gripe about the digitizer, it's just not as good as the old one which was the best. It's still very good).

Don't buy the base model i3 version. Also be aware the 2 has the same cpu as the midrange 3. The 3 has a better screen, design, shape, is lighter, better kickstand, better keyboard, more tuned for using on your lap, etc.

I have a surface 1, but I never had the "kickstand cuts in to leg" problems. I also have gigantic captain America musclethighs though so that might help.

Microsoft gave it 110% making the device you want. It almost feels as nice as my MacBook pro. No one else is really even trying to compete with it since its such a weird niche thing.

Oh, be aware the trackpad sucks. It just does. This is true of a lot of other(and similar, Lenovo yoga is also in ewww territory) windows machines. I find myself typing then using the touch screen a lot. The touch screen itself is the best one I've used not on an iPad for what it's worth.

The Lenovo yoga is also an ok machine, and I believe there's a version with a pen digitizer. It feels way cheaper, but it might be available on Lenovo outlet for well... cheaper. You can't beat the retina screen on the sp3 though.

If an irl friend asked me this question, I'd tell them to wait for a sale on the sp3. I think there's a $100 off deal at best buy right now still, but there's been much steeper sales. Like $650 for the $999 model(which is the one you want)
posted by emptythought at 2:23 PM on February 2, 2015

Oh and to be clear, the type cover is a perfectly fine keyboard, even on a lap. It's just an assy trackpad. It feels about like the MacBook air keyboard to me. Less travel than some, but not junk. I could write long stuff on it(and am very used to low travel apple keyboards for that)
posted by emptythought at 2:25 PM on February 2, 2015

Get a Surface Pro 3. Its a great device, and is really unbeatable when it comes to being used as a notebook for writing, and notebook for computing.
I saw someone who had gotten a case for it, for which one side was hard, so that it could be used as a hard surface when typing on your lap.

If you are near a Microsoft store, ask them to let you play around more with the device in the store. At my local store, I've seen them let people sit with it in a variety of situations to play around.

That being said, if you are ok with the added weight and the bulkiness, I would go with Lenovo. If the surface has greater writing capability, lenovos are better for lap use.
posted by troytroy at 2:36 PM on February 2, 2015

Another vote for the Surface Pro 3. The higher res screen should strongly sway you towards a 3 from a 2.
posted by Diddly at 3:04 PM on February 2, 2015

I looked into this some months ago, myself. I thought it was 'interesting' that the Cintiq 24HD is not only expensive (~$3500), it's also heavy (~64lbs).

I'm waiting for the i7 Surface Pro 3 prices to go down.
posted by doctor tough love at 3:37 PM on February 2, 2015

I bought a Vaio Flip 13 in the fall (they're discontinued but you can still find them.) It's comparable to the surface, but has a folding laptop form factor. It's a good option, and is nice, but half of me wishes I'd spent the extra to get a Surface pro 3.

Of course if I'd gotten an SP3 I might be saying the same thing in the other direction...
posted by Wulfhere at 4:18 PM on February 2, 2015

Oh, I found this page and the linked spreadsheet unbelievably useful while shopping for a tablet with digitizer.
posted by Wulfhere at 4:19 PM on February 2, 2015

I am writing this comment on a Surface Pro 3. I often use the on screen touch keyboard. I have the Type cover, but for serious typing I'd probably use a wireless usb or bluetooth keyboard because the Type keyboard isn't quite shaped for me. I like that it integrates into this case with really great shock protection. The Type cover acts as the screen protector. Many covers obscure the keyboard.

If you get a Type cover, the good quality used ones are about half price on Amazon. Also get the Microsoft warranty, you can get it up to 45 days post purchase. We got the above case after my husband's Surface fell and cracked the screen/digitizer. With the warranty it would be covered, as it is we'll buy and replace the screen/digitizer.
posted by bookdragoness at 5:59 PM on February 2, 2015

Wulfhere, that spreadsheet looks immensely useful, thank you.

Lots of love here for the Surface Pro 3, but it sounds like using it on your lap with a keyboard is passable at best. The Lenovo Helix has about the same specs, aside from the screen resolution, so I guess I'm still leaning toward that.
posted by fermion at 11:00 PM on February 2, 2015

With the Lenovo Helix 2 and the Lenovo Flex 2 pay attention to what keyboard version you get; I think there's a mushey keys version and a solid, nice keystroke version aka the standard Thinkpad keyboard.

Or something; I've casually read some reviews about the machines, and that's something that's popped out at me.

laptop magazine has a bit about it.
posted by sebastienbailard at 11:41 PM on February 2, 2015

I was able to get my mits on a Lenovo X220T about 4 years back and I've loved it.

It's a computer first, tablet second, with a screen that can flip around and let you write on it with their digitizer. The screen is also multitouch. I use it to take notes in class -- it's also a great coding machine running Ubuntu.

I would definitely buy a Lenovo again, though I don't know much about the Yoga series they have going. They look a little sexier and a little more flimsy than my X220T.
posted by lalunamel at 6:15 AM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

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