Ever since my first exposure to Photoshop, I’ve dreamed of owning a digital sketchbook, a portable device that would allow me to draw directly on its screen with a pen. There are two devices on the market today that closely fit my fantasy: the Wacom Cintiq 12wx and Apple’s iPad. With the money I’ve made this summer, I’m hoping to buy one or the other, but I haven’t been able to make up my mind so far.

The Cintiq :

Pros:

  • Natural-feeling stylus with pressure sensitivity, good precision, and response to pen angle. Basically what Wacom’s been good at for years.
  • Programmable “express keys”: shortcuts for any menu items you use a lot (cut, paste, transform)
  • Screen size: the 12wx has 12.1″ of screen to the iPad’s 9.7″.

Cons:

  • It’s cumbersome. It comes with 3 cables and a box, which all need to be plugged in to various things for it to function. It needs an external power source. I wouldn’t be able to just take it around with me for some quick life drawing.
  • Screen jitter: It has trouble keeping track of the stylus near the edges of the screen. This isn’t a difficult problem to avoid, if one just draws towards the center of the screen, but it could be annoying.

The iPad:

Pros:

  • Portability. No cables required, it can last up to 10 hours on a charge. You can carry it easily in a bag, it’s lightweight, and it doesn’t need to be hooked to a second device.
  • Intuitive touch controls: though I’d mainly be using a stylus for drawing, some of the touch controls are really nice. Two-finger resizing, for example.

Cons:

  • As a touch-screen device, it’s designed to detect fingers, not pens. The styluses on the market currently all have big, smushy tips that don’t allow for a lot of precision- very little pressure sensitivity, and no angle recognition at all.  Unfortunately, there may be no way to make a smaller-tipped stylus  function on the iPad- it’s designed to reject screen activity below a certain surface area as anomalous “blips.” Without a much higher resolution of touch-sensors, it just won’t be able to detect a fine tip.

Inconclusive factors:

  • Price:  The cheapest used cintiqs cost about $700. The beefiest (64G) iPads cost $700 without 3G capability, $830 with 3G. New cintiqs are $1,000. The 21ux is $2,000, out of my price range. I don’t think I’d care enough to spring for 3G connectivity on an iPad- 3G coverage isn’t that great in most of the places I tend to be, and all iPad models are WiFi-capable.
  • iPad possible poor line quality: I actually got to play with an iPad just recently at Best Buy, and I looked at some of the little free sketch apps. There weren’t any styluses available, unfortunately, so I used fingers. What I saw was not impressive- fast strokes were noticeably poor quality, visibly chunky strings of line segments. However, none the stylus-based demos I’ve seen on YouTube involving paid apps (especially SketchBook Pro) seem to have this problem, even when viewed in HD. Are the chunky lines only a problem for crappy apps? Or are the YouTube demos deceptive? Without physically using a stylus with a better-quality app, I have no way of knowing.
  • iPad’s other capabilities: it also functions basically as an e-reader  and a netbook. While that carries a very high cool factor, I’m not sure I really *need* an e-reader or a netbook. I don’t read recreationally as much as I’d like to, but  I don’t think owning an e-reader would remedy that particularly. When I read, I read paper books. When I want to do internet things, I bring my laptop. My phone has as much internet and fun little game capacity as I’m likely to want out of an iPad.

So that’s all I have to say about that. I’m curious to hear from anyone who owns/has interacted with either or both devices, or anyone else who has an opinion.