During Build 2015 Microsoft handed out a special version of the HP Spectre x360 to attendees and it is a well-built device with terrific performance. You can read Rod’s review of the device here and I wrote up instructions for how to get updates for the device.
One of the features this device has is support for not only full 10 point touch but also pen input.
Since I have never used a device that supports true pen input I decided to grab the HP Active Pen ($60) and put the x360 through its paces using the pen and inking.
The HP Active Pen is a good match aesthetically for the Spectre x360. They are both made of similar material and the colors almost match perfectly.
The HP Active Pen does have a flat side which keeps it from rolling around plus it has a magnet on that same side that allows you to attach it to the lid of the x360. Unfortunately the sides of the device are not metal so the magnet does not work there. I have found that the front edge of the lid, which has magnet on the left and right sides for holding the lid closed, are the best places to stick the pen.
Unfortunately, it is not strong enough to hold the pen in place if you pick the Spectre up so while it is handy as the laptop sits on your desk it does not provide much functionality past that.
The HP Active Pen comes in the box with an AAAA battery and various documentation.
Setup of the device is simple. Just insert the battery and then power up your Spectre. The first time you attempt to interact with the laptop using the pen you will be prompted to set it up although the only step you take is to select whether the pen has one or two buttons.
The remainder of the setup screens simply show you how to use the pen. The second screen is misleading because the HP Active Pen I received does not have a button/cap at the top of the pen. It is metal like the Spectre case itself and if you flipped it over and rubbed it against the screen it would most certainly scratch it up.
I have found in Windows 8.1 that I click the button to shift between writing and erasing modes with this version of the pen.
The final screen confirms that the x360 supports palm rejection so you can rest your hand on the screen while using the pen.
Since I have never extensively used a stylus with a tablet/laptop using the HP Active Pen was an entirely new experience.
I had to find what use cases worked best for me and allowed me to use the pen to be productive and not just as a pen shaped mouse. It is just as easy to use your finger for system interaction and does not need you to have an extra item in your hand either.
I am not an artist so using the pen for drawing is not a usage scenario for me and that leaves using it to write on the device.
Windows 8.1 has an inking input panel that can be selected as the default keyboard when you are using a stylus and it pops up on screen anytime you tap the pen into a text entry block.
I can even use it to write this sentence in Microsoft Word.
Windows 8.1’s handwriting recognition is superb and even interprets my messy on screen penmanship.
While this is handy for short input situations such as a single sentence in Microsoft Word or a Tweet of less than 140 characters it is not nearly as productive compared to using the keyboard.
Of course I also opened up Microsoft’s OneNote and used the inking capabilities and those can be quite useful for marking up images and taking quick notes.
Once Windows 10 is released the pen will also prove very useful for using the new inking features to mark up and share web pages from Microsoft Edge.
The Spectre x360 is a 2-in-1 device, sometimes called a convertible, and can be used in tent mode or folded over in tablet mode. I have found these are the best positions to use the device in when utilizing the pen.
During his review Rod discovered that the commercial version of the HP Spectre x360 normally ships with a USB network adapter since the device does not have a physical network port. This is due to limitations with the size of the x360’s case which does not support a CAT5 port.
At the time Rod tweeted that the Spectre should include the Active Pen instead of the USB network adapter and I agree with him. While its price is comparable to the Surface Pen, which now retails for $50, it is an expensive peripheral that many will skip due to its cost.
I think the usage scenarios are greater for pen use then they are for needing wired network access. With Wi-Fi is so readily available these days the USB network adapter is more of a niche usage situation then the pen is.
Once you get the pen into people’s hands they will develop their own style of usage and make it work for them.
For me personally, I am discovering that pen use is a great change of pace for when I am casually sitting on the couch in consumption mode with the x360 and doing a little social media related work/tweeting.
Thanks to one of our commenters for pointing out that I did not mention a couple of important areas when considering pen/inking with a device.
One is the performance of the HP Active Pen and the other is how the pen felt against the digitizer and if palm rejection worked well.
This addendum will remedy those missing details.
The pen performed well; no lag; smoothly moves across the digitizer with no drag on the screen that I was aware of. Palm rejection worked well and did not interfere with inking in OneNote or doodling in Fresh Paint.
The ink line on the screen appeared quite close to the tip of the stylus as I used it and it never missed any of my strokes that I was aware of. As I mentioned earlier, Windows 8.1 has some impressive handwriting conversion capabilities, so even if I missed part of a letter it was able to accurately figure out the word I had intended.
The pen's shape is quite strange with the flat bottom on one side and the button being on the exact opposite side so I still find myself holding it in weird positions at times because like many of you I do not hold a pen/pencil/stylus in one position when using it.
I have found that the best method for maximum functionality is with the flat part to the left and the button within reach of the index finger on the other side. That allowed me easy access to the button as necessary.