Monday, August 25, 2008

Tabby Time

Since Christmas I've been drawing Scary Go Round on a Wacom Cintiq in Manga Studio,and hopefully the improvements have been clear for all to see. The ability to squash down someone's head that you've drawn 5% too big, or to nudge an eye over a bit at the pencilling stage, is invaluable to an incompetent like me.

But the sick fact of the Cintiq craze that has swept comickers worldwide is that they are very expensive and about as portable as an ironing board. Wacom introduced a twelve inch model for pros on the go, it cost precisely one arm and one leg, and rumour has it that when you put it in your hand luggage with a laptop, it consumes all available space that you might have used for a bottle of water, and improving book, and a clean pair of underpants.

Keen to take my show on the road every once in a while, I decided to look into Tablet PCs. Despite being a Mac user, I will use a Windows when the time is right. And as a skinflint, I like a second hand laptop. But the screens on a lot of the tablets available are rather mean - 1280x800 widescreens or even a particularly unkind 1024x768 on some models. And those vicious shiny screens! Does anybody like them?

I was going to get a new HP Pavillion 2500 thing and live with the resolution,the shiny screen and "Vista" which is apparently Windows 95 for the very young. But I couldn't spend £700 on something I'd use once a flood. So following careful research I found the Toshiba Portege M200!

Yes, this machine is my new deal. Yes, it is four years old, with a sound card unworthy of the name, one pitiful speaker and a very bad attitude toward 'hibernation'. It has no optical drive. But it has a super hi-res 4:3 1400x1040 screen that is a real pleasure to draw on and it flies in XP. Even after lavishing laptop stands, stupid flexible rubber keyboards, firewire pc cards, a recovery disk and a DVD-RW drive enclosure on it, I'd spent £320 on a machine with a nicer drawing area than the 12" Cintiq for half the price. It is my guess that you could probably do this too if you wanted to.

Best of all, it has lots of programmable buttons for your shortcuts. I like to hit the space bar and various keys to scrub around artwork quickly, but a lot of the consumer level tablets just seem to have "media buttons" that aren't a lot of help. The M200 has a little joystick that you can assign five functions to (per application, per orientation) and four more programmable buttons. If you can, you might as well just plug an external keyboard in, but it's still very handy.

I would suggest treating it like a drawing appliance and not ragging it to death (I always ragged my PCs to death back in the dangerous 1990s), but for the busy artist on the go, I would say that it more than does. It might seem strange to be writing a glowing review of an ancient piece of hardware but if you can find on e in good nick, this is still an excellent digital artist's tool.


Avatar_pwnz said...

That's cool, that's one of the computers I was looking at recently to get. Instead I decided to get a refurbished Gateway CX2756, which is the last model of tablet Gateway made. Mostly because of the excellent noise, graphics performance, and 14 inch screen. As you said the resolution is still (1280x800), but meh, I can live with it.

K said...

Oh, I want one!

Not that I have time to draw either of the comics that have been buzzing around my head lately, but, you know, shiny!

Did you get an e-mail from me about T-shirts by any chance? I think I've somehow underpaid you 1/30th of a Toshiba Portege and associated bits, and it's preying on my mind...

The T-shirts are very nice.

Roman said...

Batman is a textbook sexual deviant.

vince said...

I know how you feel about the price. But I think when I leave my current Mac to the rats I'll invest in the modbook that is unless apple actually makes a tablet computer. otherwise this seems pretty cool, if not for the huge price.

Martin said...

Toshiba has a long history of tablet computers. My first and only write-on computer was a Toshiba T200CS "pentop" ... it ran Windows 3.11 "for tablet computing" on a 640x480 16-color display. Drawing software: Paint.

aperez1997 said...

I have the same model; bought it back in 04. A few hints:
1) Mine kept rebooting randomly, solved by updating the wireless drivers
2) Couldn't get pen pressure to work with photoshop originally, had to get new Wacom drivers. This may or may not be desired.
3) Be careful with the screen. Last week I went to close the top (with my thumb on the screen and other fingers on the back), and I cracked the screen badly. Probably due to the age.

DmL said...

So it is pressure sensitive?

John A said...

If you download the latest Wacom Penabled drivers from the Wacom site, yes it is.