Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Holiday Performances and the aftermath

Years of going back to Ohio for Christmas followed by a few years of drowning in little kid and I'm very out of the loop when it comes to the holiday gigs out here. It's been nearly a decade since my last Messiah and I've managed to have never played Nutcracker. Like ever. I know! But anyway, I did have a concert with the Pops and my trio played a short holiday program for a retirement home.

I played the Pops concert from the Surface Pro 3 and Xodo docs as usual and it went off smoothly. I'm getting comfortable in that set up. Our bass player had an iPad Pro. He had pre-ordered it the minute it became available. He did not have a Pencil however. He's comfortable with the workflow of using stamps and typing notations and doesn't feel the need to have more than a capacitive stylus for other markings. He's also very quick with the zoom/write/zoom flow to get more detailed markings. I don't even like switching in and out of edit mode, so adding zooming to the flow really wouldn't work for me. But everyone's flow is different. It should also be noted that he's one of two bass players, and is usually the only one, so bowings aren't really something he has to worry about. Last minute bowing changes are the number one thing I need to scrawl out in rehearsal, and it usually needs to be done as it's happening.

The vast majority of our trio gigs are weddings or parties where we're just background music, so we read from our gig books which I have scanned, and I do it all from the Surface. Since this was a legit concert where folks actually sat down and listened to us, we pulled out the Mozart Divertimenti and other trio sonatas. I haven't scanned those, so I decided to just go with it and use the paper parts. I grabbed an actual pencil, like the kind with lead in it, and marked a few fingerings and bowings. I've forgotten how easy on the eyes paper music can be.

I still practice off paper parts a lot as I haven't gone through and scanned my solo library. I don't really need to as I don't carry it all around with me all the time. The primary purpose of the Surface is to allow me to carry more music with less bulk. Half of my practice routine is memorized anyway, so pulling a sonata and the Bach Suites off the shelf isn't much bulk. But I haven't performed from paper parts in years.

It's made me wish epaper took off more. It kind of fizzled out as demand for ereaders that could be used as full on media consumtion devices took off. The Kindle DX was an exciting device and I often wished it had pen input. Sadly, there was never a big enough eInk screen with pen input. Sony did make a few ereader with a stylus and Entourage made the eDGe, which was an interesting device combining an android tablet and an eInk screen in a book like case. The eInk screen had a Wacom pen. But it was an idea ahead of the technology and the Android side was woefully behind standalone tablets of the time. The company went under and the devices are no longer supported.

Sony has an amazing 13" Digital Paper tablet, but it's $830 and who knows what it's running. Then again, that's what an iPad Pro would cost and if you're only real need is to eliminate paper clutter, that might not be a bad option. As it is, that's not in my budget. In fact, it looks like my budget for the forseable future is about to be blown on a nearly 150 year old piece of tech as I've fallen for a rather old viola. It's had some questionable repair work done, so I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but it plays so wonderfully.

I just have to make my decisions before the end of year so I can deduct whatever I decide on. ;)

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Surfacebook Clipboard vs. iPad Pro screen size

Okay, so it's not a picture of the real things, but it's a good illustration of the size difference of the actual screens. It's easy to come by the dimensions of the tablets themselves, but finding stats on just the screen is a little harder. Since the aspect ratios are different (4:3 on the iPad Pro vs 3:2 on the Surfacebook) comparing inches to inches diagonally doesn't tell you which will be wider in portrait mode, which is generally what matters most for music reading.

Thankfully, there are forums full of people willing to do the math for me and website that will nicely line up these little boxes. Thanks to Marty on the tabletpcreview forums we can see how the screens actually compare.

Even though the IPP has less area (79.88 in² vs 84.12 in²), it's got .3" in more vertical landscape space (7.74" vs 7.49")
For more reference, the surface pro 3 I use now is about 6.6" and the 3rd gen iPad is 5.75". At nearly an inch wider, the Surface Pro feels roomier when reading music. The Surfacebook would give me nearly another inch, and the iPad Pro would give me a little than an inch extra. I'm not sure the .3" difference between the two would really make much difference. The aspect ratio only really comes into play if you've scanned A4 orchestral music at full size. Then the extra height of the Surfacebook would come in handy. Most of what I read is in 8.5x11 PDFs, so it's a wash. Either would make a good upgrade.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

So, I went to the Apple Store....

Specifically one that had iPad pros listed as in stock, because, why not?

I really wanted to see how Forscore worked with the Pencil and since Best Buy doesn't have that set up, I needed to head to an Apple store to find that out. I walked out without anything new. It was, in a word, disappointing.

First off, the Pencil. Glossy plastic may look pretty in press renders, but it's not comfortable when you've come from years and years of matte and soft touch stylii. It's also long, really long for how thin it is. The proportions felt awkward to me. That combined with slippery glossy plastic made it something I suppose I could tolerate, but not something I liked.

That said, ink is beautifully accurate and smooth in Forscore. I'm not a graphic or visual artist, so I can't speak to the pressure curve or any other fancy, artisty type needs, but for scratching bowings in to a part before anyone has noticed I dropped out for a bit, it's great.

BUT! And this really big but has tempered my excitement over the device - you still have to long press, or two finger tap, or whatever your shortcut of choice is, to enter edit mode. A long press or two finger tap to edit isn't the end of the world, but for me, it's enough of a trip up to be annoying. It takes me out of the rehearsal and into the device. Or out of "play the music" and into "do stuff on the tablet" mode. Gears I don't have to switch to write on the Surface.

Another biggie is the lack of an erase button. Sure, the Surface pen's "eraser" isn't really, it's just a shortcut to OneNote button. But there are two other buttons on the pen under your thumb, one of which IS an eraser. That means I don't even have to turn the thing around to erase, let alone tap on the erase tool from the toolbar in edit mode.

Oh! And there's that little thing where Forscore kept freezing and then crashing when I tried to erase stuff. I would have chalked it up to being and evaluation version of the app, but the iPad mini did not crash when I loaded it up with markings and then erased them with my finger.

Well, all of those things and the fact that the Pencil isn't really available yet. An apple store employee mentioned they get a few in at a time, but they sell out very quickly. The website still shows a 4-5 week shipping delay.

At least we were able to have some fancy-pants boutique grilled cheese sandwiches for dinner while we were down there.

UPDATE: It has been pointed out that as of yesterday, an update to Forscore allows direct inking. Thanks Techinmusiced. Maybe there is an iPad Pro in my future after all...

Saturday, December 5, 2015

So I went to Best Buy...

And man is the new iPad Pro big. Like, BIG. Wow. All the pictures on the internet can't do it justice. It made the iPad air next to it look like a toy. It also kind of confirmed how I've felt about the iPad since I first saw the first gen one in a Best Buy years ago - it's too big and too small.

We still have our first gen iPad. It's currently got about a dozen toddler games on it and a lot of restrictions and my three-year-old loves it. He gets a little iPad time when the one-year-old naps and I get some much needed quiet time. But it's really big to him. He doesn't really hold it, he just sets it places.

I tolerated that iPad for two years as a music reader, then upgraded to the retina iPad hoping the higher resolution and clearer text would make reading easier. Not really. But the thinness and battery life (especially the batter life) made it worth not going back to the various windows tablet pcs I had tried along the way. But it really was too small.

I've also had a handful of 7-8 inch tablets over the years, and for me, 8 inches is the ideal size for reading. I currently have a Samsung Note 8 that I'm currently working through Man In the High Castle on (which I'm sadly pretty disappointed in - the story, not the tablet, love the tablet). I've used the stylus plenty in the short time I've had it. Now that One Note supports inking in the Android app, the Galaxy Note 8 makes a fantastic little notepad device, but much thinner, lighter, and with longer battery life than even the best of the 8 inch windows Intel Atom BayTrail based tablets (and I got to try and review pretty much all of them during my time at PCWorld).

So the 10 inch iPad was always too big to be a good reader/companion notepad and too small to be the music reader I really wanted. But the iPad Pro....on man, that thing's the perfect size. It's SO BIG. It's a good thing the Pencil still shows as shipping 4-5 weeks out on Apple's website or I might have already picked one up. As it is, we're considering heading out to an Apple store later this afternoon so I can see how the Pencil works with Forscore. The displays in Apple stores are supposedly running Forscore and have the Pencil available to test. Best Buy did not have either of those things.

BUT! Best Buy also had a Surface Book. As if the iPad Pro wasn't awesome enough. I had less than a minute to oogle the Surface Book before I had to go wrangle small children, but man is it also nice. AND BIG. As much as I like my current hybrid tablet set up, I'd pick up a Surface book in a hot minute if it could be had for under $1000.

But alas, the model I want is $1899. Do I really need a dedicated GPU? Not really, no. But my Sims sure would look pretty. So, realistically, I could go with the $1699 model, but it's out of stock. I've already tried using a machine with a 128GB SSD as my main machine and it was maxed. I can store stuff on a microSD card, because windows machines can do that (side eye going to you Apple). But it was tight. So, theoretically, I could make the $1499 model work. But that's still too much.

And I'm still left with the dilemma that I'd rather not have my primary computer sitting on a music stand at every gig. I'd like to consolidate. I have too many machines. But I don't think I'm ready to commit my primary computer to do double duty as a gig machine. I'm not willing to trade my Surface Pro 3 for an iPad Pro until the Pencil is available, and that's only if the Forscore will see the Pencil as pick up and write and not require tapping into edit mode.

So, I'll sit here and try really hard to not buy things. Must. Not. Buy. Things.