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The Dell stylus: born with complications
Dell's choice of Synaptics technology led to many negative feedback following the release of the Venue 8 Pro.
First published stylus reviews revealed awful results: approximative recognition, bad stylus removal detection (leading to unwanted drawn lines), weak battery life...
Dell reacted by publishing several driver and firmware updates for the tablet or the system itself, and issued a massive recall of the first stylus revisions (known as "A00") to fix hardware issues which couldn't be addressed through software updates.
This led to a massive shortage of styli during most of Q1 2014.
In March 2014, new styli, in "A01" revision, were released and made available for purchase, and were said to address most of the biggest issues encountered with the first revisions.
So, what's up now? (March/April 2014)
The Dell Venue 8 Pro being my first own tablet, and the very first one on which I could experiment with a stylus, I don't have enough experience to compare this Synaptics stylus with other brands used on other stylus-enabled tablets, such as the Asus VivoTab Note 8 or Microsoft Surface tablets, featuring the most renowned (and objectively better) Wacom technology.
As a result, I'm going to give my opinion from two different angles: first as a stylus newbie, without any comparison points or knowledge of competing technology; then, I'll temper my expectations with feedback from other users who actually compared with competition.
You'll also note that I'm left-handled; as such, I configured the stylus for left-handed operation.
From a neutral point of view (without knowledge of competing technology)
Technical review: positive facts
Technically, without any comparison knowledge, I'd have said that the Dell stylus I own, packed with all the updates released by Dell since the tablet's availability in stores, is working quite well:
- it often recognizes my handwriting pretty accurately (drawn lines correctly match the tip's movements),
- it does properly react to different pressure levels (thin or thicker lines)
- it can help you triggering some actions on the Windows Desktop (selection, "right click", etc.) with added accuracy, without having to upscale the elements or fonts; a precision level you'll hardly reach with your own finger, because of the 1280x800 pixel resolution on a 8" screen;
- the palm is often accurately detected, as well as elements' hovering on Windows (which comes in handy to display tooltips or drop-down menus on the Internet, which can't be used in a touch environment if nothing has been designed for that purpose).
Technical review: negative facts
- quite often, you'll notice that stylus removal suffers from high latency, leading to "choppy", "segmented" line ends on straight lines, because the stylus keeps "writing" on the screen, even if you don't touch the screen with the tip anymore;
- the lines often look "trembling", leading to undesired "wave" effects on straight lines. Not really an issue for handwriting, but it can be critical for drawing;
- on the Windows Desktop, a "click" on a given element is sometimes misinterpreted by the tablet, which believes that it might be a false tap and ignores it;
- the battery life remains the most unknown factor. If the bundled battery actually lasts you several months, replacing it will not be a major issue for you; but if you got a battery which dies after a few days use, you'll suffer from its rare shape, harder to find on stores, more expensive and almost impossible to get in a rechargeable variant. Which could lead you to ultimately stop using it.
When comparing with other user's reviews...
Compared to Wacom technology
The competing Wacom technology is known to perform better, and if you compare the results from the Dell, with those you got from the Asus VivoTab 8 or, even better, the Microsoft Surface tablet series, you'll notice some significant differences:
- the lines are more accurate, look sharper and, most importantly, don't suffer from any "wave" or "trembling" effects;
- it doesn't exhibit any failure with stylus removal detection, preventing it from overreacting with "bleeding" or "wave" lines;
- at least, with a battery-free stylus, Wacom has made a giant leap forward, avoiding you to change it for a pricey battery. As a side note, you'll notice that this battery-free technology is patented from Wacom, relying on electromagnetic radiation to transfer electrical current from the tablet to the stylus.
8-inch screen Windows 8 tablets competition
The Asus VivoTab Note 8 is the only Windows 8-inch tablet to be equipped with a Wacom active stylus/digitizer, as of Q1 2014.
But this product does not benefit from some features advertised by Dell, such as HSPA+ connectivity.
So, everybody will have to choose between these two, depending on each people's requirements.
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