# Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Writing here refers to this the activity performed with pens like the one below.

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If you're still wondering, that is a stylus tip, instead of a normal pen tip. Writing here refers to the usage of a touchscreen enabled notebook for ink input. Ever since Microsoft introduced the Windows XP Tablet PC extensions I've been using what most people would call a Tablet PC, and I build up quite a little collection as you can see here.

Along with Microsoft OneNote and my Tablet PCs I have scribbled many ideas, and system designs. While typing out a document is fine, nothing gets the juices following better than actually writing down something using a pen. Why not use paper then you say? Because paper gets lost, with my OneNote I have amassed up a notebook that contains my ideas and designs for almost the whole of my working life!

As I mentioned before, I never wanted to be without the ability to scribble my thoughts into my system. So when the time came to replace the trusty Fujitsu P1610 I was faced with a dilemma. Tablet PCs generally were low to medium spec'ed systems and still costs quite a bit, and I was now looking into Silverlight and WPF developement, which meant I needed a high spec'ed system in order to have a better developement enviroment. So for the first time in years, I got a notebook WITHOUT a touchscreen. The Dell Studio XPS 13 (which I'll get around to talking about that some time). The idea was to use the XPS for developement, and then regulate the Fujitsu U1010 as my notepad when I needed some place to scribble ideas to.

I thought I could live with that arrangement.

But I couldn't! So I decided to try and find the touchscreen gadget that Brando was sellling, locally since I didn't like paying for stuff > USD30 for unprotected shipping. I couldn't find it...

Until TODAY! Behold... the DUO pen input system!

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If you've clicked on the link to Brando's site just now you'll notice that this looks similar but not quite the same as the one that's available at Brando's so it's probably another case of rebadging/rebranding by someone. What you see here right now is the sensor unit, the pen is shown at the start of this post.

The pen looks and feels like any other digitizer pen, it has 2 buttons near the tip acting as left and right click buttons.

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And the rear cap unscrews off to reveal the battery chamber.

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Yes, the pen requires power to work properly. 3 LR41 (small ass button cells). This is different from the Wacom tablets that some of you might be familiar with but that's because they work differently. As I just got this thing a few hours ago I have no idea how long the batteries last, the only thing that's mentioned is that the pen goes to sleep after 30 minutes of inactivity. Inactivity here probably means no one pressed the button or the pen tip.

So... how does this thing work? First of all you have to stick the sensor onto the middle of your screen, the installation guide PDF on the driver disc mentioned that you can place the sensor on the sides as well but I don't understand why someone would do that since gravity might just pull it down if it's one the side.

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Of course you don't actually stick the sensor onto your screen, that'd make packing your notebook a very interesting experience.

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On the angled bracket part of the sensor (where you see the word DUO) is a strong magnet, this strong magnet is used to stick onto a metal tag which is the actual thing that you stick onto your notebook's screen.

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So.. how does this thing work? The manual just states that it uses ultrasound and infrared. I have yet to find any source of infrared that's emitting from the pen or the sensor, but if you hold the pen close to your ear when it's on you can hear a tiny whine. So what's happening it probably that the sensor acts as a sonar that is used to pick up the whine of the pen so it can know the position of the pen relative to the sensor and thus the position of the pen on screen once you finish calibrating.

The fact that it uses ultrasound means that IT CAN BE DISTRUPTED by other high frequency sounds, on the manual it states that if you see that the pen is jittering check if there are other sounds like..

  • Vacuum cleaner
  • Hair drier
  • Air Conditioner
  • Fan

And try to work in a more quiet enviroment.

Because of it's usage of ultrasound for positioning, there seems to be some problems with certain types of screens. For example the manual states that you can't use the sensor on a CRT system since the tube refresh has a high pitched whine as well. BUT.. what's most interesting is that certain notebooks have been singled out as incompatible with the system. From Toshiba A1XX, A2XX, and L3XX series. From Sony FWXX, CSXX, SXX, SZXX, CXX and 15LN series. I found it interesting that the boss/manager of All IT Low Yat (where I got this from) was telling another customer that the reason it didn't work with all these notebooks were because Sony and Toshiba were making their own Tablet PCs and didn't allow other people to make the add ons to enable touch on these notebooks.

I have a better explanation. I don't know what's the common piece of hardware between the notebooks, but it's likely that they're producing enough sound that it's messing up the sensor system.

Functionally the system works, but because there aren't any physical sensors that's used to determine the position of the pen. The accuracy does run very easily. I also experienced the weird problem that the system would not detect me lifting up the pen and I ended up drawing lines all over the place. But it still allows me to draw on the screen. So I feel like it's worth it's asking price.

Also, since they realize that people need to carry the thing around, they first made the sensor collapsible to a flatter state.

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Then they also gave a lovely little auto zip loc bag to hold all the stuff as well.

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I'm pretty sure when this thing knocks around it'll turn the pen on though...

One nice thing about it is that, it reports itself as a pen to Windows, therefore all the pen features, such as pen flicking, the pen input panel, etc. etc. Are all enabled, so that's nice. I'll talk about the Windows 7 pen features in a later post probably.

If you're planning to pick this up you have to realize that you are more or less touching a pen to your screen, while the pen can pick up light touches, do note that if your notebook doesn't have a hard screen in front of the actual LCD, when you press the pen tip on it you'll have the discoloration effect and if you see that just remember to NOT PRESS TOO HARD!

If you're interested in getting this, I got this from Low Yatt's All IT. But it seems like they only had a few in stock, so in case they're gone you can try giving the distributor a call.

Tan Alliance Trading Sdn. Bhd.
No. 29, Jalan Jintan, Taman Supreme, Cheras.
Tel : 03-91317672 / 91317984 / 91313699
Email : tan_alliance@hotmail.com

I'm guessing they're the distributor since their name is on the brochure.


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