This is the O+ Notepad with Intellipen.
Back in February 2016, I bought one on the off chance that this was the beginnings of a revolution for young artists who typically don’t have a lot of cash on them.
At about Php 18,000 ($400?) at the time of purchase from an O+ Store directly, this was supposed to be the ideal affordable 2-in-1. And with a pen! It was poised to be the poor man’s Microsoft Surface—especially important in a place where nobody actually sells the Microsoft Surface. It wouldn’t be as sleek and fancy, but it was supposed to get the job done anyway.
I have owned this for well over 6 months now. From that, I urge you reader: ignore all the I-tried-it-for-a-few-days reviews. Ignore the reviews that just listed down specs and appearances and glossed over the problems. In fact, from now on and for the sake of your soul, ignore all blogs that do that sort of manicured press release style “reviews”. You deserve better than that.
Even ignore that one guy’s long but hurried YouTube video reviewing various programs. Totally misleading.
Instead, I argue that this perspective is valuable:
- I paid for it. I’ve owned it for months, and use it regularly.
- I take care of it. I keep it on the desk. I sometimes use it for reading in bed.
- I’ve never accidentally dropped it, spilled water on it or kept it charging overnight.
- I have tried other people’s units, and they exhibit the same problems.
- I have used many pen tablets over my lifetime.
You cheap out, you realize why good products cost money.
To be fair, this isn’t true for everything. It isn’t even true for all electronics. There’s such a thing as “economies of scale”, and the complexities that go into price and build quality.
I could not blame O+ if their company and their market reach is so small that they could not possibly benefit from the same scale that Apple does, to sell iPods at $250 each and let you have a damn good experience and never have any problems.
But precisely, the O+ Notepad with Intellipen is full of problems. They range from tiny annoyances to highly suggested selling points (at the time of writing) that are absolutely false.
The pen and digitizer is garbage.
As an artist, my minimum for this was it at least work as well as, say, those Genius drawing tablets.
Here are the things that count that it failed to deliver on:
Minimum accuracy. It’s not there. This pen is only good enough to write 1-inch-tall letters on the screen, slowly. Diagrams, likewise, you need to slow down, press hard, and even then, everything is wobbly.
Minimum Activation Pressure. It’s horrendously huge. This was apparently designed for people who write with the finesse of a gorilla.
Palm Rejection. This is admittedly hard to get right. It is there, but they didn’t get it right. You have to be REALLY careful. In light of everything else though, this is the least of its problems. I hesitate to place blame on O+ for this, but this device does have poor palm rejection.
In other words: do you you want this to work with Paint Tool SAI or CLIP STUDIO PAINT/Manga Studio? Too bad. If the program manages to recognize pen pressure at all, the coordinates get flipped or do some weird stuff. Using the calibration setting in Windows just causes normal desktop operation to be upside down. Apart from being absolutely underspecced, there is something fundamentally wrong with the default setup and there’s no way to change it because there are no settings menus or driver controls.
It works in Photoshop CC, but you still need to slow down and press hard and accept the wobbly lines and pressure reading. That’s tantamount to being unusable for art. In older versions of Photoshop, your mileage may vary… likely in a worse direction.
Thankfully, it works in Microsoft OneNote. Again, accuracy and pressure problems apply, unless you like writing your notes slowly and with giant letters.
So no, you won’t find yourself happily sketching with this device. You won’t be writing sheet music on it. You won’t be writing notes for class. Despite what O+’s marketing will have you believe, THE PEN IS GARBAGE.
The battery lasts about 5-7 hours.
But you don’t know how important any sort of fast-charging technology is (which most modern smartphones have) unless you don’t have it. And with a 7500mAh battery, the O+ Notepad also takes 5-7 hours to fully charge.
Read: It takes about as long to drain as it does to charge. Any device that takes 5 hours to fully charge while it’s off is horrible. If you leave it plugged while you use it, it practically won’t charge at all.
And it’s worrisome. Using the bundled charger, charging the device causes the upper left corner of the tablet to heat up. Using any other charger seems to not work reliably. Arguably, this leads me to the next problem.
I have not abused this device. Not by a long shot.
But after my first month of normal use, its front camera, accelerometer (the thing that detects rotation), ambient light sensor, keyboard dock and wifi module have failed. They failed one by one. The device kept repeatedly playing the USB connected-disconnected sound whenever the screen was docked on the keyboard (logically accompanied by the dock losing and regaining connection every 2 seconds).
The wifi module was the last straw. What the hell do you do with a tablet that can’t access wifi?
The controllers or board for the light sensor, accelerometer and cameras may be around the upper left of the tablet. I just suspect the heat produced from normal charging tends to damage those parts.
I brought it to their service center to claim the warranty, which they thankfully honored. And the lady at the place was very polite.
But it was a whole month before I got it back.
And two months after I got it back, the problems also started coming back. Apparently, the front camera and ambient light sensor simply do not like staying in one piece.
The wifi is still there, but I fully expect it to stop working again in a month or two. It already fails to start half of the time I turn the device on. I frequently need to turn it off and on again just to get a connection.
I also fully expect to have to try to claim warranty on it because of the parts.
I generally would not care about support unless something goes wrong. I’ve had no problems with my iPod, or my Samsung monitor, or my Asus motherboard. So I would not shed a tear if I couldn’t find manuals or forum threads or proper hands-on reviews and information about it.
But for all the things that went wrong with my (and other people’s) O+ Notepad, the lack of proper support really stands out. What kind of pen is it? What sort of drivers does the pen use? What batteries does it have? Where is your detailed spec sheet? I’ve contacted their Twitter, Facebook, email, phone and store people and got different answers of varying ambiguity.
Why are they acting so shady? Are they actually a front company of a money-laundering operation? Who knows? It sort of feels like it.
The little things
The keyboard is usable, but the size and placement of the trackpad makes it really annoying. In the middle of typing, your thumb may accidentally swipe down and minimize your current window. This also happens any time when you’re trying to move your cursor down. If there was some place where I could disable the swipe-down gesture on the trackpad, I’d disable it. But it’s nowhere to be found. And believe me, I’ve looked.
Front-facing speakers would have been nice too. The placement is no worse than the iPad, I guess. But don’t mistake this for a proper music-playing, video-watching device. The speakers are incredibly weak even at full volume. You’ll have a hard time hearing most things even if your head is just two feet away.
A way to disable the touch Windows button would have also been nice. In portrait mode, it’s really easy to accidentally press.
It’s also a bit heavy. It reminds me of my 1st-generation iPad. Not too bad, but for its size, it doesn’t have modern weight.
In short: this is no revolution.
I hate whaling on a product like this. I support the little guy. The small company trying to make it among the big guys. I like that.
But I also believe the saying: “We are not wallets”. Our support or disdain for a company or product or movement does not begin and end with the decision of buying or not buying. For many people, they don’t have that choice.
From my experience with their product, this is what I conclude as a purchase decision:
Definitely don’t buy the O+ Notepad. This is not a purchase for the young artist, or the young professional, not for your kid in college who needs a laptop, nor anyone who wants no problems using the computer they bought. Don’t buy the 1.0 version. Don’t buy the 2.0 version.
And I think buying any future computers from O+ will be a gamble. If you’re not up for that gamble, save your money for something of known quality. If you have money to spare and are willing to give them a chance, maybe go for it, but wait for the next thing they release.
I find this doubly important for a company now trying to open an online store. For devices, you should always try it in person and for its intended use, before you decide to buy.
Whoever designed and decided the specs of the O+ Notepad did not completely screw up. And it gives me a bit of hope that O+ or whoever made these decisions genuinely meant to make a good product.
The screen is great. It’s an IPS panel and the pixel density is excellent. I think all laptops and tablets should have a screen at least as good as this one. Though it has a strange but not unattractive diagonal grain, and if you look close enough, you can see tiny dots from what I assume to be the touch and pen digitizer layers. Those are two more reasons why I hate them. But JUST the screen, it’s awesome.
Because of that, one thing this device is good for (when it’s not falling apart) is for viewing photos or reading. Also unfortunately, Windows 10 isn’t the most ideal OS for either purposes… yet.
The overall shape and finish is also excellent and does feel premium. It feels like a good mid-tier Asus device with the metal and rubber they used. It’s one of those things that make you feel confident about your device. Unfortunately, in this case, that confidence would be unfounded.
I would give them an A+ on this area but the thought that its solid exterior serves to conceal its underlying durability problems, I almost want to point this out as a negative characteristic. At least with a cheap plastic exterior, you’d expect it to fall apart.
The inclusion of 4G capabilities is definitely great. The device came with a Smart 4G sim and a few days of free internet. I tried using it at the mall where I bought mine. I got a good 20mbps on it or something. It’s also saved me when the internet was down at our place.
And in a world where every other manufacturer price gouges you for higher capacity devices, the microSD card slot on the O+ Notepad is also indispensible.
Also, two full-sized USB ports on the dock. Really nice.
I’m sure someone worked hard designing and deciding things about this device that we don’t even notice, but its downsides make its good qualities moot.
So, no. Don’t buy this.
Instead, we wait for the real revolution.
What should O+ change about this device?
A lot of things. But to name a few very important ones:
- Switch to Wacom technology. Equally-priced tablets from Asus or Toshiba use Wacom digitizers and it’s a tried and proven, reliable technology. It won’t be amazing. But it’ll be worlds better than what the Notepad currently has. People wouldn’t care if it added a bit of cost if they knew they could rely on it. The software support and actual behavior makes it at least usable. And it would be easier to recommend. (Update (2018): I’ve tried some modern touchscreen laptops that support the new Wacom-collaborated Windows pen protocol. It’s much more reliable but it’s not as good as Apple’s Pencil digitizer support. Wacom’s actual pen screens are still worlds better than the iPad Pro though, in my opinion. But Apple seems to win out on portability, both in terms of weight, ease of use and battery life of their devices, if only to sacrifice a bit of power-user features.)
- Add faster charging. The charging and battery behavior on this device is terrible. Let me fully charge my device in 1 or 2 hours. Heck, I would accept 3 hours for a full charge. Not 6. And do something about the temperatures while it’s charging. (I understand that many “fast charge” technologies are a matter of SoC and logic board features whereas larger devices, especially ones that use actual x86 processors, have a different arrangement. But a really hot, 6 hour charge is still terrible compared to laptops and tablets.)
- For the love of all good things, do something about durability. Nobody in their right mind would recommend a device to anyone if its components fall apart before 2 months of use.