Tablets are becoming ubiquitous, the rise of the iPad and its Android competitors has pushed Microsoft to develop a ‘re-worked’ tablet PC by getting Windows to work like IOS or Android. Windows is now something you can drive with your finger, it uses swipe, pinch and pull gestures just like any other portable platform. Microsoft have committed to the idea with their own Surface product and a family of ‘consumer’ tablets is growing. This is no longer a specialist field dominated by expensive utility hardware, the tablet PC is moving to the mainstream. This is good news for me as, at last, cheap, functional Win 10 tablets are available- so cheap they can almost be considered disposable when compared to the price tag of ruggedised devices.
Being so light a bracket for the tripod can be a simple affair but caution is advised as the touch interface can require a fairly positive ‘push’ at times.
What you get for your money: In sifting through the new tablets on offer I ended up with a Linx10 tablet PC for site CAD with TheoLt.
It’s a 32bit Windows 10 device on a 24GB SSHD with 2GB of ram; well below the recommended resource to run current AutoCAD but its accepts Micro SD as additional storage and this can be used to run the hefty Autodesk installer for a minimum features install.
It is a remarkable, if fragile, unit: I bought it along with my groceries from my local supermarket; something that would be unthinkable until the current boom in tablet devices. It’s cheap (€ 200) and runs for about 6 hours before it needs charging. It has drawbacks, the touch interface is tough in CAD and I needed to buy a micro SD card to expand its tiny memory but for wire-frame capture in CAD it works well, to save power (Bluetooth is available) I ran the TST by USB cable via a micro USB adaptor.
Having lived with it for a week (including hauling it along with a TST and a weeks worth of laundry on and off the trains of Europe) there are things I really like about it:
- Battery life
- Screen size
- Screen clarity: no problem seeing what you are tracing indoors.
- A4 form, fits in a small bag
- Light weight
- Generic 5v 2A charger
- Runs TheoLt & CAD
- USB port
- Touch ‘pen’ cheap to replace (I lost one on the way home, they are 90p each)
- Generic slipcase easy to find for a 10″ tablet
and some I don’t:
- Fragile, it feels like it could snap like a biscuit!
- Touch in CAD is a bit tricky
- Funny power switch (press- hold- release to start awkward)
- Fiddly USB adaptor
- Tiny SSHD/RAM spec: can’t expect image/point cloud processing.
- Seems to forget some settings if you run the battery flat
- Hibernate/sleep modes can be tricky
- Touch keyboard doesn’t always ‘snap’ to CAD screen (I think this is a Win 10 issue)
I got a semi rigid cover for it which gives it a more stable fit to a tripod bracket. It is so light I think a rubber band to hold it down on windy days would be a good idea. I reckon it’s light enough to velcro straight to the bracket if needed.
On balance the cost wins out, a Motion CL900 is a much more durable device but costs almost ten times as much and is expensive to look after (replacing a failed battery is €200 alone). Provided you don’t expect too much from them, these are a great tool for the money. The alternative Microsoft Surface family are good devices to run point cloud, 3D CAD and image processing as well as TheoLt at around 5x the cost of the Linx.
Optimising CAD for Touch Out of the box Brics16 is stable on the touch interface but some things take some getting used to…
- Use big buttons or ribbon interface
- get a short cut buttons set up for realtime pan
- get an ‘esc’ key by adding the full keyboard option to the touch keypad in ‘Typing options’
- make a custom ‘big button’ tool bar for the most wanted commands
- keep your hand well clear of the ‘X’ (close window) button when navigating menus.
Toolbar size : Large Icons is a context menu option in BricsCAD which helps with the finger work. Zoom works by pinch and pull gestures, real-time pan doesn’t so a button is needed.
Optimising TheoLt for Touch The current release does not rescale for hiDPI screen resolution so it’s a bit small for finger pudging: switching tabs doesn’t work too well.
- Use a ‘pen’ to get more precise pointing
- Do ‘one time’ CAD and coms settings with a USB mouse before fieldwork
Win 10, like Win 8, has restricted access to the root C drive. The working path in TheoLt needs to be moved to an appropriate folder for the snap command to do its thing.
Bluetooth 4 coms. There are issues here. Leica Bluetooth compatibility with Win 8/10 is known to be device specific. Flexline and Viva models do not support Win8/10 but older TCR units do. The workaround is by USB serial cable GEV 189. Win 10 requires a re-start to effect BT port number changes.
Power saving. I ran the Linx10 in aeroplane and power save mode to conserve power, running Bluetooth comms I’d expect the runtime to be reduced. I got 7 hours a session out of it. Re-charge is slow, around 6 hours.
A back to back comparison with a Surface 3 shows screen brightness to be about the same and the daylight readability is similar, the glare off the screen in direct sunlight also about the same.
The Linx10 is already updated to Linx10.1 (faster chip, slightly smaller size, USB charger, Win 10 pre-installed and protective case available) at about the same cost as the earlier version- this is a rare case of cheap really being cheerful!
More info on TheoLt is here