This review is written by Bret Melvin.
Hi again, everyone. Today we'll be taking a look at a unique and likely somewhat polarizing tablet monitor - the ASUS PT201Q. This is a written review that accompanies my more extensive video review (further) below.
THE ASUS WHAT?
Ok, let's get the obvious questions out of the way early, the first of them being..."the what?".
When I said that this tablet was "unique", I meant it in every sense of the word. Those of you who have seen the photos have either stopped reading already or are intrigued enough to at least see what this product is all about. Judging by appearances alone, there really isn't another product like this on the market. Some of that, as you will see, is good. Some of it is...well...quirky.
ASUS isn't exactly a household name in the world of Cintiq-alternative tablet monitors. The usual names are brands like Huion, Yiynova, Bosto, and UC Logic. But, ASUS has been a player in the tablet PC world for a number of years where their excellent EP121 / B121 Windows 7 tablet PC had a loyal following for some time (myself included). So, they have some credibility in integrating the functionality of pen and screen, but the EP121 used older, albeit more ubiquitous technology from Wacom. The PT201Q, however, uses an altogether proprietary technology that, based on my experience so far, functions only with its own unique digitizer pen (more on that later). Also, strictly speaking, this is not an ASUS design, but rather a SHARP product from overseas with a similarly (un) catchy product name - the Sharp LL-P202V. As best I can tell, they’re identical products, the only difference being that the ASUS is available in the U.S. and the Sharp is / was available internationally.
For the purposes of this review, I’ll be approaching it from a similar standpoint as my previous review of the Huion GT185 HD. I am currently a senior character artist working in the merchandise design field, so much of my work revolves around 3 pieces of software: Adobe Photoshop CC 2014, Adobe Illustrator CC 2014, and Manga Studio 5. We live in an amazing time as digital artists where the options for software and hardware seem almost limitless. On the user side, this makes the world of art creation very exciting, but on the hardware review side, it makes it very daunting. So, just for the sake of brevity and my own sanity, I’m going to focus my test on those 3 apps mentioned above about which I’m most familiar and most qualified to test.
Just to preface this review, I wanted to give a word about my particular setup. For my full time job, I use a Apple Mac Pro workstation with a Wacom Cintiq 22HD. My purpose for purchasing the ASUS was for the 25% of my work that I do outside the office on a windows machine - specifically a Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (SP2). The ASUS, being a driverless tablet, had no conflict with the Surface Pro and also no conflict with the Wacom FEEL drivers I had installed when I originally purchased the unit. Since that is my primary purpose for purchase and testing, this review will be focused on my experience in Windows 8.1 rather than Mac.
The important feature for me was to be able to extend my screen to a second tablet monitor whose drivers wouldn’t conflict with those already installed on the SP2. The SP2 is wonderful for sketching and conceptualising, but can be very cramped for finished work, and near impossible for detail work in Adobe Illustrator. Since the ASUS fit that unique qualification for my needs, it was a no brainer to at least give it a try since it boasted compatibility with the 3 apps I use every day for my art.
Without getting too far ahead of myself, I will say that in the specific areas for which I bought the ASUS, it has been a home run. It seamlessly integrated with Photoshop CC 2014, Illustrator CC 2014, and Manga Studio 5 with no interruptions or problems right out of the box.
There are some caveats to my experience on which I’ll elaborate, but let’s get started with the most obvious and most polarizing feature of this tablet...the pen!
THAT CRAZY TETHER - Will A Tether Tie You Down?
Let’s go ahead and just get this out of the way. The tether on the pen is going to be a deal breaker for some artists and that’s ok. It’s entirely understandable, but based on my experience with this tablet over the past 5 months or so, it’s perhaps also unjustified. The question is, “does it interfere with your work or slow you down?”, and the answer to that for me is “no”.
Not that it doesn’t take a bit of getting used to, but as far as being an interference or impedance to productivity, after the first week or so, I’d say it’s like any other corded peripheral like a mouse or headphones - you basically forget it’s there.
For those of you who’ve ever used an airbrush, the technique for dealing with the tether is going to be second nature. Just wrap the tether loosely around your wrist like you would the air pressure hose of an airbrush and get going. It’s probably the one thing that most people think would be the problem with the pen, but it’s also the one thing that ultimately matters the least when it comes to satisfaction with the pen overall.
I’ve had a few questions from artists in regard to using a 3rd party stylus and as best I can tell, there are no other pens that are compatible with this particular tablet. The tether carries both information and power to the stylus, so there’s no need for a battery.
Boasting an industry accepted (though not industry leading) 1024 levels of pressure, I’d say that right out of the box, the pen performs as promised. There’s a generous and linear pressure curve from light to full pressure and its overall feel is comparable to the previous generation Cintiq models, the 21UX and 20WSX (which I use on my Mac at home).
The rubberized grip is nice and there are two programmable buttons which you can assign in the “Digitizer Pen Utility”.
I really liked the length of the stylus tip. Wacom pens tend to be rather fat towards the front and can block your view of your drawing cursor. With the ASUS, it feels almost like drawing with a Sharpie with a long, black, very visible tip you can follow. It’s not a selling point or a deal breaker, but it is a distinction I haven’t seen on any other competitors.
Also, because it isn’t as “front heavy” as the typical Wacom pen, you can grip the ASUS stylus differently. This allows you to adjust your grip to variations other than the typical “handwriting grip” you’re forced to use with Wacom.
The “Digitizer Pen Utility” is the only piece of software you’ll have to install for the ASUS. It isn’t a “driver” per se as the ASUS uses the standard Windows Tablet PC drivers to register pressure. It’s more of what it claims to be - a utility where you can tweak the pressure curve and program the 2 stylus buttons.
THE BAD (ish)
The one caveat to the pressure sensitivity, however, is that the initial activation force for the pen, where it registers the lightest touch, is a bit too stiff for my liking. After the first hour or two of use, I noticed that my wrist began to ache because I was having to exert additional pressure on the pen, causing strain.
TWEAKING THE TIP
This issue can be remedied, I found, but not via the “Digitizer Pen Utility” menu where you adjust the pressure curve once the initial activation has been registered. Instead, it was solved by unscrewing the tip and reconfiguring the springs, by adding slightly more tension to the front spring. It would be difficult to describe this process in writing, but here’s a link to the section in my video review that shows how I accomplished the simple modification. It’s nothing that would void a warranty or break anything, so don’t worry. It’s more like tightening a shoelace than “hacking”. It’s also completely undoable and redoable, so you can adjust the tension to your liking.
REPLACEMENT PEN TIPS
Update 22 September 2015: ASUS are now selling replacement pen tips
The other negative I’ll point out from the onset is the questionable availability of replacement pen tips. Ask 10 different times and you’ll likely get 10 different answers. On one of the recent reviews on Amazon, an ASUS rep replied to a negative comment about the lack of replacement tips with the following:
You be the judge. I think it really depends on who you talk to and which day you ask. So far, however, I don’t have a firm answer one way or another as to if / how to actually procure a replacement tip. I’ll update the review if / when I find out.
OTHER PEN FEATURES
The hover distance on the ASUS is incredibly generous. Whatever technology they’re using for pen tracking provides between 1”-2” of hover distance at least.
The lack of parallax on the ASUS was probably the most pleasant surprise overall. I’ve used Wacom products in one form or another for years and I’ve simply gotten used to drawing “off the cursor” a bit and simply tracking my movements by the cursor rather than the actual pen tip.
With the ASUS, the cursor tracks so closely to the pen tip, that there have been several times where I’ve chosen to draw with the cursor either completely hidden or reduced to a single dot. On parallax, the ASUS might be one of the best in terms of connecting the tip to the cursor.
Edge fidelity, like parallax is another area where the ASUS really shines, tracking with the tip of the pen all the way to the very edge of the screen without drifting. It’s really pretty remarkable. I test this a bit in my video review here (6min 18s): (apologies ahead of time for the camera...it was trying to focus on the screen and my hand simultaneously)
As with ALL, yes ALL tablet monitors, there will be some line jitter when drawing slowly, especially diagonally. This is present to one extent or another, even on my Cintiq 22HD. On the ASUS, the diagonal jitter is present, but workable. It’s slightly more pronounced than the top end Cintiq, but as you can see, by simply speeding up the strokes slightly, the jitter all but disappears. There are times when painstaking marks need to be made, but I’ve found that they are always difficult, regardless of tablet monitor.
For slow, meticulous, mechanical linework, I use Adobe Illustrator. If you need a bit more stabilization, Manga Studio is always a great alternative due to their built in stabilization.
For my purposes, it hasn’t been a huge issue. The ASUS performed FAR better than the Huion GT185 HD in Photoshop CC 2014. I’ve migrated most of my sketching to Manga Studio over the past year because of Ray Frenden’s amazing brushes, so for my purposes, it’s not a deal breaker either way and has been completely workable.
MANGA STUDIO 5
The ASUS really shines brightest in Manga Studio. As you can see, even the slightest adjustment on the stabilization slider yields a dramatic decrease in jagged edges and jitter without slowing the brush tracking down. As MS5 grows in popularity, there are increasing numbers of artists who use Manga Studio 5 exclusively.
For those artists, I’d say that the ASUS PT201Q might be a near perfect fit, especially if you can get it on sale (more on that towards the end).
There’s really not a lot to say about the ASUS’ performance in Illustrator. After tweaking the sensitivity of the pen tip, it’s perfectly workable in precisely placing and editing vector paths. A tablet monitor isn’t everyone’s choice for vector work simply because the pen tip tends to cover the control points. Personally, I prefer using a combination of pen and mouse. But, for everything I’ve needed it to do, the ASUS has proved itself perfectly competent for my routine Adobe Illustrator work including vector character inking, type layouts, etc.
Great sensitivity after pen tip tweaks. Questionable availability of replacement tips. Tether might be a deal breaker, but is easy to adjust to. No 3rd party pens. Strongest performance in Manga Studio 5. Feels different than a Cintiq, but lives up to its expectations.
3.5 STARS OUT OF 5
TABLE MODE / LAP MODE / EASEL MODE...NOT CONNECTED TO THE STAND MODE
This, for me, is a PHENOMENAL feature that I wish more tablet monitors had. The ASUS allows you to productively use the tablet detached from its base so it can lay virtually flat on a desk, propped up slightly by the convenient pop-out kickstand.
This is a feature that Wacom has adapted into their most recent 27” Cintiq flagship monitor as well. It may not be something that you use all the time, but it is really cool. The lay-flat position combined with the extremely low parallax gets me as close as I’ve ever gotten to that “sketchbook” feeling while drawing digitally.
Interestingly, the ASUS is light enough that you can also flip it vertically and set it onto a desktop easel or full size easel. I’ve begun exploring its use for live digital caricatures and have found that it’s actually a very natural fit. The ability to hold the pen in different positions allows you to more comfortably and practically work in a vertical setup than you otherwise would with a heavier monitor and stylus designed for the “handwriting grip”.
(Pictured Above) The ASUS can be removed from its stand and laid flat with its built in “pop-out” kickstand. Great for capturing that “sketchbook” feeling of drawing.
MULTI TOUCH - 5 out of 5
Multi-touch on the ASUS works as you’d expect. In software that supports multi-touch, it worked the first time with no problems. There’s not much on which I can elaborate since it honestly works exactly like it says it will.
One surprising feature that I also wish other manufacturers would adopt, however, is that the menu system, including color adjustments, brightness, and even volume for the built in speakers is ALSO multi-touch.
Anyone who’s gotten frustrated with endless button-based menus on every other tablet monitor on the market will appreciate this immediately. Press the menu button on the side to bring up a touch menu where you can toggle between the 3 modes of pen / touch, brightness, color temp, volume, etc.
Its smartphone-like controls immediately make the menu system on other tablet monitors seem antiquated. Want to adjust the brightness? Touch the menu button and just slide the brightness slider on the screen, just like your smartphone. It’s really great.
Summary: Multi-touch works exactly as described. Unique smartphone style touch menus are unique and incredibly useful!
Proprietary cables as a means of gouging the customer are just one of those things that we’ve gotten used to over the years. So, it was refreshing that the ASUS uses standard HDMI, Displayport, and Micro-USB to USB cables for their PT201Q.
Again, here is a nice touch on the ASUS. Well thought out clips to hold and secure the cables in place are a welcome and user-focused feature to help contain an otherwise overwhelming tangle of cables.
The screen is refreshingly matte. In an age of gorilla glass and shiny everything, for actual graphics work, the screen on the ASUS is phenomenal. It has a scratch resistant coating on the screen itself, so there’s no need for an additional screen protector. Even with overhead fluorescent lighting in an office environment, the screen reduced glare significantly better than any other tablet monitor I’ve used.
The colors are rich and bright, especially after calibrating them with an X-Rite ColorMunki.
Although a potential deal breaker for some, the monitor is TFT rather than IPS. Though IPS is, on the whole, a superior technology, the quality of the image on this monitor is actually VERY good and I’ve already done quite a bit of very color-sensitive professional work on it. The viewing angles are quite generous as well and I haven’t found a comfortable working position yet that has caused the image to begin showing signs of washing out or color banding.
You’ll notice that the bezel is also quite small, giving the monitor itself a small footprint on the desk and an elegant look overall.
There are no hotkeys, however, as a trade off for this streamlined appearance.
DISPLAY SUMMARY - 5 STARS OUT OF 5
Amazing color after calibrating, despite being TFT. Great viewing angles. No hotkeys. Small bezel and small overall footprint on desk. VERY matte coating on screen. VERY resistant to fingerprints. TIP: Using a higher quality HDMI cable impacts image quality DRAMATICALLY.
THE STAND - 4.5 STARS OUT OF 5
The stand is competent and sturdy. It attaches via 4 allen-wrench style screws.
It holds itself in place by its own internal tension, so there’s no adjustment levers to worry with. It’s somewhat similar to what you’d find on the Surface Pro 3, but the tension is VERY firm. I’ve yet to find that the screen bounces or flexes with pressure. The rubberized feet on the stand prevent it from slipping once it’s in place. It can lay VERY flat or stand VERY straight.
Overall, the stand is probably one of the best, easiest to use stands I’ve ever used. There is no option for rotating the screen once it’s attached to the stand. With the ability to spin the canvas in virtually all graphics software, however, the need to physically spin your hardware is less important. The stand on the ASUS is not as robust as what you’d find on a Cintiq, but it’s stable and MUCH lighter.
Probably the most inconsistent aspect of the ASUS is its price, ranging anywhere from $500-$1000 on Amazon depending on anything from the time of day to wind direction. I have yet to be able to discern how or why the price fluctuates so much, but if this seems to be a product you’re interested in trying, I’d recommend checking the price at least once, maybe twice a day until it gets into the low $500 range.
I don’t know that it’s worth $1000, but it is MOST DEFINITELY worth the $545 I paid for it, especially given my specific, albeit limited needs (Photoshop, Illustrator, Manga Studio).
IS IT WORTH IT?
For me, the answer is an easy “yes”. It has added significant functionality to my Surface Pro 2 setup and has allowed me to create a true “mobile office”. It works reliably and without conflict on the 3 apps I use most - Photoshop CC 2014, Illustrator CC 2014, and Manga Studio 5. Full list of compatible apps here.
Is it worth it for you? It really depends. My advice is always that if you can afford it, you should buy the best Wacom Cintiq you can. If you can’t afford new, find a factory authorized refurb from a retailer like MacMall. They are, quite simply, the best products money can buy and will work with virtually every software available. If your needs are for the widest compatibility across Windows and Mac, 2D and 3D, just do yourself a favor and spend the extra money on the Cintiq. They are absolutely worth every penny.
But, if your needs are a bit simpler and more modest, there are products available like the ASUS that integrate with industry standard graphics software competently, reproduce colors accurately, and provide professional level pressure sensitivity for 75% less than a Cintiq 22HD touch (which retails around $2000).
In conclusion, the thing I’ll say about the ASUS is that I wouldn’t call it a “Cintiq-Alternative” or a “Cintiq Clone”. With the unique combination of multi-touch, original design, smartphone-like controls, and the lowest parallax I’ve ever seen, I’d say the ASUS deserves to stand on its own. It really stands apart from the competition of clones in a lot of ways - some good and useful, some quirky and polarizing.
It won’t fit everybody, but for those whose needs it does fit, it fits them VERY well. I sincerely hope that ASUS continues development of this product. If they’re willing to respond to customer feedback and make some necessary tweaks to availability of replacement parts and greater software compatibility, I think the ASUS PT201Q may start popping up on a few more desks.
Is it enough for you to “cut the cord” with Wacom only to reattach it with an ASUS? I’d love to hear you experience in the comments section!
For more info, please check out my comprehensive video review below or check out the ASUS site.
Thanks for reading, everyone!
Check out more reviews for the ASUS PT201Q Digitizer Tablet Monitor on the Amazon product pages below. The ASUS PT201Q is also available in UK, Germany, France, Italy and Spain.