Active vs. touch: what I learned at CES


Q1_unboxing_1You know what I learned the most about at CES this week? It wasn’t about a new UMPC, a hot new handheld nor was it about some software. What I learned the most this week was that the UMPC concept has ultimately and forever changed my computer usability preferences. Due to a minor incident with my Samsung Q1 the day before the show, I had to leave the unit behind and take my ol’ Toshiba M205 Tablet PC with me. What an enlightening experience to use an active digitizer this week after eight months of touchscreen computing.

I’ve had the Q1 since late May of last year and since then, my poor and tired M205 Tablet has collected dust in my home office. She served me well for the two years prior and I occasionally called her out of retirement a few times in 2006 for some Microsoft Vista beta testing (see below). Other than that however, she’s silently watched Sammy get all the attention, never once begrudging the fact that I kicked her to the curb.


All of the posts you read from me this week were courtesy of the ol’ girl. She still gets the job done and let’s the past live in the past. Unfortunately for her, there are two factors that will keep me in the UMPC camp for a long time to come: size & usability.

After using (some would say abusing) a seven-inch tablet that weighs less than two pounds for the past eight months, I found it uncomfortable to carry a 12.1-inch Tablet PC that weighs more than double. Aside from actually carrying the extra bulk, I felt very out of sorts with the larger screen in slate mode. I had to revert to laptop mode for most of the week; not my preferred method of computing.

The biggest struggle I had was with the active digitizer. As well as they work, I simply don’t want another device with an active digitizer. With the touchscreen on a UMPC, I can use my finger to interact. I don’t have to wonder where I last put the stylus like I do with the active digitizer; hey, no stylus equals no ink on my M205. I continually kept tapping my M205 screen and wondering why it wasn’t responding. Call it a bad habit or call me a "touchscreen snob", it doesn’t matter to me. After one week on the active digitizer, I can’t wait to return to the touchscreen experience. Even better yet: after using James’ Fujitsu P1610 that uses a touchscreen with palm rejection, I have to say that every UMPC OEM should develop palm rejection techniques or license it from Fujitsu. With this feature, the real need for active digitizers diminishes and may even reduce device prices.

Sorry ol’ girl; you got me through another CES, but I have to trade you in for a younger and prettier model. ;)


Mike Cane

>>>I would love to get a lifebook 1610 but it’s just too expensive for the underpowered hardware.

Hmmm… what do you think of price/benefit ratios of OQO M2, Q1, Vega?

Kevin C. Tofel

Tony, if an active digitizer works for you, then it’s the right choice. There’s no right or wrong here because personal computing is a personal decision. The only thought I’ll leave you with is on your statement “the delicate accuracy of the active digitize is so superior when taking notes.” If you have the opportunity, give the P1610 a try and take some notes on it. It has the high res screen with palm rejection and I found the digitizer to be stellar. Thanks for the comments!

Tony M.


I typically love your analysis but I couldn’t disagree with you more. I could never imagine switching to a touchscreen – the delicate accuracy of the active digitizer is so superior when taking notes. Now layer in the need for writing even smaller on a 7″, 1024×600 screen (or 800×480 screen as the case may be) vs. the 12.1″, 1400×1050 screen on my M200 and I’m completely convinced that the active digitizer is my only solution. On my LS800, I couldn’t imagine finding any use for it if I weren’t able to take such fine detail notes.

Of course, I don’t really take notes so mobile. I just walk from conference room to conference room and plop down for an hour or two at a time. For the impromtu meetings, I keep a fully charged LS800 in standby mode nearby at all times and use the new features of Onenote 12 to keep the two devices synced. And if I’m in a real crunch, I just kick on mvoice on my treo which is always in my pocket and take notes on paper and then scan them in and add the audio notes back into OneNote at the end of the day (both my M200 and LS800 have SD slots – I don’t think there are any UMPCs with SD slots but I could be wrong).

Anyhow, it is unfair that my only post here be a rant – natural selection I guess. I never feel the urge to post how much I agree with you on other topics; a situation that happens a lot more regularly.


I hear you, Kevin. That is exactly how I feel about active screen and larger laptops compared to my Q1, and that’s the reason I’m parting with my good old Fujitsu P7120, HP 4200, and NEC Litepad in favor of Q1. I don’t have plan to replace Q1 any time soon, but if I get a new laptop, it must meet following 3 conditions: Passive sensitive(I didn’t like R2H screen) touch screen, Slate, and Less than 2 lbs.


Any idea when Fujitsu will upgrade the lifebook 1610 to be Vista Premium ready? There’s been all this talk about new products at CES but nothing to compare or compete with the lifebook 1610. I would love to get a lifebook 1610 but it’s just too expensive for the underpowered hardware.

Bill Anderson

In my experience the touchscreen on the Asus R2H is better at inking than the Q1, but not as good as the Q1 for touch interaction. I’d like to have a UMPC that has both a great inking experience and the ability to use the touch interface. Either that or I am going to have to stop biting my fingernails.

Patrick Duncan

Does this mean you’d go for a larger UMPC over the OQO 02 because of the screen? How would the OQO 02 compare in your opinion?

Evan Easton

I’ve never used an active digitizer for any length of time. But when I got my UMPC (and eo i7210) several months ago, it was only a week before I found myself accidentally touching the screens on my laptop and my Mac flat panel to make things happen. :D

When you can touch the screen with your finger, or even a stylus, doing things the old fashion way doesn’t measure up.

Carlos Lopez

Hey pipol!!

Nice CES’ coverage :) I enjoyed the iPhone article. I must have one of them.

I have a question about active digitizer and the touchscreen. I just received my ASUS R2H, (by the way it’s an amazing device, only waiting for SS hard disk to change it).

I installed an application for drawing that used to accept different levels of pressure in my old tablet (an active digitizer), in the ASUS I can’t get this different levels for painting or drawing in this app.

Is the pressure and sensitive levels something that I trade (lost) with this new ASUS?

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