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I am doing work in a school and we are developing our mobile device strategy carefully.

At present we believe that devices with touch screens that support pen input may be very useful. We have several teachers who find that pen input on the Microsoft Surface range transforms the way that they work and want to make that available to children in the classroom.

Next term we will begin trials of  Microsoft Surface 3 computers in the classroom but I am also very interested in other devices that may offer pen input equally effectively.

As I understand it to provide optimum support for a pen and ink in Windows 10 a device must have a digitizer built into the touch screen. It is possible to buy a pen/stylus separately and use it with any touch screen but the results will be less than optimum. There is a good article on this here. For this reason I am only listing devices that manufacturers are marketing a compatible with their own pens.

I have found it very difficult to find reliable information on this issue, vendors’ websites and sales staff don’t know much about this topic. I have created this post to communicate what I know and to invite comments.

Devices that support pens

All information in this section is from manufacturers’ websites. Prices and SKUs are will be different when purchased through the Education channel but are relevant to BYOD schemes and for comparison.

The Microsoft Surface 3 is the reference implementation for pen and ink on Windows 10. We choose a mid-range configuration with 4 GB RAM and 128 GB storage. This is probably excessive but is simply to reduce the risk of suffering under performance in future,

  • Microsoft Surface 3 4GB

    • 2 in 1 configuration
    • Quad-core Intel Atom x7-Z8700 processor (2MB Cache, 1.6GHz with Intel Burst technology up to 2.4GHz)
    • 10″ screen 1920 x 1280
    • 4 GB RAM
    • 128 SSD(?)
    • £ 593
  • Microsoft Surface 3 2GB
    • as above but
    • 2 GB
    • 64 GB
    • £521

Alternatives include,

  • Acer Aspire Switch 10 V 2-in-1 | SW5-014 (pen discontinued)

    • 2 in 1 configuration
    • Intel Atom x5-Z8300 Quad-core 1.44 GHz with Turbo Boost up to 1.84 GHz
    • 25.7 cm (10.1″) WXGA (1280 x 800) IPS Display
    • 2 GB LPDDR3
    • 64 GB eMMC
    • 5 Megapixel (Rear Camera), 2 Megapixel (Front Camera)
    • Wi-Fi + LTE, Up to 12 hours battery life
    • £ 350 + pen = £ 400? (cost is not shown on website)
  • Aspire Switch 11 V 2-in-1 | SW3-173 (pen discontinued)
    • Windows 10 Home 64-bit Intel Core M 5Y10c Dual-core 800 MHz with Turbo Boost up to 2.0 GHz
    • 29.5 cm (11.6″) Full HD (1920 x 1080)
    • 4 GB LPDDR3
    • 128 GB SSD
    • £500 + pen = £550?
  • HP x2 210 (updated 9 June 16)
    • 2 in 1 configuration
    • Intel® Atom® x5-Z8300 with Intel HD Graphics (1.44 GHz, up to 1.84 GHz using Intel Burst Technology, 2 MB cache, 4 cores)
    • 25,65 cm (10.1″) diagonal multi touchscreen (1280 x 800)
    • 4 GB RAM
    • 64 GB eMMC storage
    • HP Active Pen
    • ~£ 371 including pen @ £60
  • Lenovo Thinkpad 10
    • 2 in 1 configuration
    • Intel Atom x7-Z8700 Processor (2MB Cache, up to 2.40GHz)
    • 10.1″ WUXGA (1920×1200) IPS
    • 4 GB RAM
    • 128  eMMC storage
    • £ 680
  • HP x2 210
    • 2 in 1 configuration
    • Intel® Atom® x5-Z8300 with Intel HD Graphics (1.44 GHz, up to 1.84 GHz using Intel Burst Technology, 2 MB cache, 4 cores)
    • 25,65 cm (10.1″) diagonal multi touchscreen (1280 x 800)
    • 2 GB RAM
    • 32 GB eMMC storage
    • HP Active Pen
    • ~£ 350 including pen
  • HP Elite x2 1012
    • 2 in 1 configuration
    • m3
    • 12″ FHD
    • 4 GB
    • 128 GB SSD
    • £ 768

Higher priced devices that support pens

Here I have shown the entry level devices, the recently released Lenovo Miix 700 is noticeably well priced.

  • Surface 4 Pro
    • 2 in 1
    • m3 and up
    • 12.3″ 2736 x 1824
    • 4 GB
    • 128 GB
    • £ 858
  • Lenovo Miix 700 Business Edition
    • 2 in 1 form factor
    • m5 and up
    • 12″ 2160×1440
    • 4 gB
    • 128 SSD
    • £ 800
  • Lenovo Yoga 260
    • Laptop that folds completely flat
    • i3 and up
    • 12.5″ 1366 x 768
    • 4 GB
    • 192 SSD
    • £ 889
  • Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 460
    • Laptop that folds completely flat
    • i5 and up
    • 14″ FHD
    • 4 GB
    • 500 GB hybrid drive
    • £ 800
  • HP Spectre x360
    • Laptop that folds completely flat
    • i5
    • 13.5″ FHD
    • 8 GB
    • 256 SSD
    • £ 900

Conclusion (5th May 2016)

If you want to spend more than £ 800 on a device for use with a pen then you have plenty of choice. The Lenovo Miix is a keenly priced competitor to the Surface 4 Pro with a 2-in-1 form factor and the HP Spectre x360 and Yoga 260 are powerful conventional laptops.

It is much more difficult to find alternatives to the Microsoft Surface 3. The Aspire Switch 11 and the Lenovo Thinkpad 10 have similar prices and functionality. These may well reflect the actual cost of making the device. Lenovo is advertising the Thinkpad 10 in education in the US and is therefore perhaps most likely to maintain stock levels and support in the long term.

If you want your children to be using a pen then you are looking at a cost of at least £ 500 per device and the Microsoft Surface 3 remains the best option.

This is a lot of money when you consider that you can get the magnificent HP Stream 13 (Celeron, 13″, 2 GB RAM, 32 GB storage) for only £ 149 and the astonishingly good Lenovo G50 (i3, 15.6″, 8GB, 1TB) desktop replacement is only £ 300.

I hope you found this article useful and welcome your comments.

Update 2016-06-23

Guest has put a really helpful link in the comments. A quick review indicates that there may be cheaper devices coming out in the UK for September 2016 these include the Huawei MateBook and HP Pavillion x2 12.1 model.

 

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