Samsung Slate PC Series 7 – Wacom alternative?

Earlier this year I was craving the ability to draw directly on the screen. I had some animation work lined up and I knew my Wacom Intuos wasn’t going to cut it. It’s seen me through many years of animating and while I find I can draw pretty well with it and love colouring with it, animating on the tablet always seems to trip me up. I get the job done but it takes forever and I’m constantly redrawing frames. The disconnect between my hand drawing “down” on the tablet whilst looking “up” at the screen seems to be where I feel I come unstuck. Remembering back to my TAFE animation days of traditional cel animation, I never encountered any issues like that. That’s why I thought something like a Wacom Cintiq would solve my problem. After looking into them and reading reviews and feedback (lack of brightness, crazy cost for extending the warranty, no dead pixel warranty etc) I felt pretty uncomfortable about dropping $3K on one. I started to look around at some alternatives when a friend mentioned the Samsung Slate.

Having used Wacom tablets for almost 15 years I really didn’t want to move away from the brand but this Slate had a few features going for it. While obviously a lot smaller than the 24″ Cintiq it was also less than half the price (around the same price as the little 12″ Cintiq Wacom offers). And with the added bonus of being portable I got pretty interested. Early reviews sounded favourable so I popped down to my local retailer and had a play. I’ve never used a Cintiq so I guess I don’t know what I’m missing, but even sketching on this Slate in MS Paint with no pressure sensitivity, was a great experience. The forums over at PC Tablet Review have a wealth of knowledge on just how to tweak the S7S to get it to perform at it’s best.

Samsung Slate Series 7 Drawing with Pen

After having used it for around 6 months now I’m still happy with it. It probably doesn’t perform as well as I’d like to imagine a Cintiq (or at least future versions) might, but without using one I can’t be sure. I certainly don’t regret getting it. I get a little over 3 hours full time Photoshop use from it’s battery before having to charge it. Of course if you’re near a powerpoint that doesn’t matter. I initially used one of the onscreen keyboard shortcut apps that worked pretty well, but I really missed being able to press a tactile button without needing to look away from what I was drawing. I ended up purchasing a Razer Nostromo gamepad and loaded it up with all my most frequently used shortcuts. It’s surprising how many I use because while it has 16 available buttons, I still find myself wanting a few more (for tweaking levels or saturation etc, rather than all the drawing based ones I’ve loaded).

Samsung Slate Series 7 using the Razer Nostromo Gamepad

One downside of this smaller tablet compared to the larger Wacom ones is resolution. If I’m creating anything remotely high res I need to zoom out to see the whole piece. The various parts of the image end up being quite small. Then when I start to draw the lines, theres some very obvious resolution issues where the pen/sensor/program doesn’t have enough detail to draw nice clean lines. Instead I end up with rather jagged or stepped lines. I’ve tried to illustrate this below.

I’ve tried drawing the same circle at various levels of “zoomage” :) When I’m zoomed all the way out to 12.5% I get a very ugly chunky circle. I’d never encountered this with my Intuos but I just tried the same test from 200-12.5% zoom and get the same issue on my PC (I was a little surprised). I guess I’ve never come across it before as my PC monitor displays a lot more of the image without needed to zoom out. Something to keep in mind with the smaller 1366×768 resolution. It’s not a massive issue for me as most of my linework these days is done in Illustrator but it might trip up anyone wanting to do a lot of high res linework. Still, the tablet is great for doing rough sketches in Photoshop before moving to Illustrator to “ink”.

There’s a few other little issues I’ve found with it – occassional minor screen flickering while charging, the power button (the only button to wake it as well) is around the side and is a little hard to press (it’s recessed to avoid accidently presses), random toolbar/home screen launches (though that may be related to some clashing with inputs after I disabled touch so my hands wouldn’t register while I was drawing) ┬ábut the positives totally outweigh the negatives. I’m sure there’s going to be even more impressive tablets out soon and I’m keen to see how the Microsoft Surface performs for artists, but for me this Slate will keep me happy while I keep saving (and waiting) for a perfect Cintiq.

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