Tegra Note 7 - Android with a stylus

"It's like we said on the iPad, if you see a stylus, they blew it."
- Steve Jobs

While I can agree that a designer "blew it" if a touch screen interface requires the use of a stylus, there are some activities (writing and drawing) best suited for a stylus. One of my absolute favourite apps is Notability. In fact, it is the only app that keeps me going back to my otherwise neglected iPad. As much as I like Notability, I am frustrated that I have to use a stylus with a tip roughly the same size as my pinky finger.

Samsung capitalized on Apple's refusal to recognize stylus use-cases with their Note line of phones and tablets. The Note series have enjoyed great sales, but they are among the most expensive Android options available. In fact, most of the tablets that have good styli tend to be expensive, primarily because they use an active pen. Active pens allow for pressure sensitivity, detection of pen versus finger, and more.

Last year Nvidia released (through various manufacturers) the Tegra Note 7 (TN7), a 7-inch Android tablet utilizing a passive stylus. The use of a passive stylus, along with a mid-range screen and Nvidia's own Tegra 4 System-on-Chip (SoC), keeps the price of the TN7 to $200. Despite the use of a passive stylus, the TN7 distinguishes between stylus and finger touch, handles palm rejection, and while it doesn't support pressure sensitivity, it does recognize stroke size.

There are plenty of reviews of the TN7, so I won't go into detail about the specs and features. Nvidia is primarily known as a maker of video chips designed for PC gamers. I believe it is because of this heritage that the reviews of the TN7 are almost entirely from PC review web sites. Those reviews focus on specs, build quality, speed benchmarks, and games. In those areas, the reviews are quite positive.

I have stated that purchase price is only a small part of the story when it comes to tablets, so I think it's important to discuss some non-technical aspects of the TN7. For one, one of the manufacturers making the TN7 is EVGA. I have experience dealing with them from an RMA standpoint, and that experience was positive. As for the OS, Nvidia has included extras related to the stylus, but otherwise it appears to be stock Android. The TN7 shipped with Android 4.2, but received an update to 4.3 late last year. It isn't yet known if or when the TN7 will see an update to Android 4.4. By minimizing the changes to stock Android, it should be relatively easy for Nvidia to keep the tablet up to date. Unfortunately, only time will tell.

Note: So, I left that last bit intact, but Nvidia actually released Android 4.4.2 before I published this entry. This is the latest version of Android available. It is a good sign for future updates, but once again only time will tell for sure.

Right away, the TN7 is usable in the classroom. It can connect to a projector via HDMI, and it works very well with the Netgear PTV3000 for wireless video. This makes it a good option as a document camera. There is a very basic drawing app included with the TN7 that will take snapshots from the camera and let you draw on top of them. Having an accurate stylus, and one that can detect and draw in different pen widths, makes the experience better. The inclusion of a microSD slot makes sharing of photos easy, but you can also use Google Drive.

Android educational apps are continuing to improve, and I will be going back and re-testing some note-taking and drawing apps with the Tegra Note 7. Hopefully along the way I'll find a replacement for Notability and finally let my iPad go.

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