Saturday, December 17, 2016

Web browser based New Smart Music is here, sort of

MakeMusic started trialing the new, browser-based, SmartMusic back in September and has now formally launched the new version.

I'm currently booted into Ubuntu (because, why not?) and thought "awesome, I should give this new one a try." I currently use classic SmartMusic extensively in my new classroom gig and love the idea of a browser-based version as the other school I teach at has chromebooks and iPads for the kids.

I was all excited to see if it would run in Chrome on Ubuntu, but all you can do right now is sign up for a free trial. After filling out the form, I get a friendly message that they'll get back to me in 3 business days. It's Saturday. So that'll take about forever.

If you want to read more about it or sign up for your own free trial and join the wait here's the blog post.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

So, I inherited a Ukulele program...

Not on purpose, but here I am. During back to school night at my older son's new school, the music teacher kept saying things like "hopefully the new teacher will keep going with this." (I missed the beginning of her talk as the Pre-K classes are separate from the Elementary program and it overlapped a bit. I didn't technically need to attend the specials part, since the Pre-K don't participate in those classes, but I wanted to know what the music teacher was doing out of professional curiosity.) Of course, I went up to the principal to get more details immediately after. Turns out, the current music teacher's husband had gotten a job up in Oregon, so she had put in her two weeks notice the day before.

I promptly updated my resume and sent it on in. I like private teaching. A lot. But with two small children, the logistics of childcare is simply easier if I can work during the school day.

The previous teacher had already sold the school on the idea that the middle school group should play ukulele, and the school had just invested in a classroom set. So, it was pretty much expected that the new teacher would actually use them. The younger grades play recorder and have access to glockenspiels as well.

I finished Music Mind Games training literally the day before I interviewed, which significantly beefed up my tool box for general music teaching. I played recorder in the early music lab in my undergrad, so not only do I not mind teaching recorder, I actually like it. But the ukulele was one I'd never touched aside from occasionally trying to tune this fun little toy a neighbor had given us when she moved out and didn't want to take it with her.

Luckily, a favorite blogger of mine is well down this path of using the ukulele in a middle school music program. He's spun off a new blog to chronicle that journey, and share resources, called Ukestuff.

I upgraded myself to a nice tenor thanks to Amazon, and I have another on the way. Because.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Oh Yeah, the Chuwi....

I've been sitting on this for a while meaning to write more. First, it took me a while to get a pen. My eBay order was cancelled when it didn't make the delivery and the seller assumed it got lost in the mail. At least I didn't have to mess with getting a refund on my own, but I lost three weeks. The pen I ordered from Amazon did make it despite also shipping as an epacket from China. But we've had a crazy summer and I haven't had a chance to really figure out how to make this thing do all the things I keep hoping it can do.

It has so much potential to be amazing, but so far my experience with the pen has been frustrating, which is basically a deal breaker for this little guy. But I haven't had the time I'd like to mess with things and really see if I can get it working or if it's just not a good pen. It's looking like it might be the latter, in which case I'll be headed off to eBay with it, but I'm not ready to give up just yet. This thing has so much potential to be the perfect music box for both the studio and gigs.

There are plenty of general reviews already floating around the internet, so I'll just go with an overview of why it's so almost perfect for my studio uses.


Form Factor - The 12" 3:2 screen size is nearly perfect. Yes, my HP PS12 offers wider music since it's 4:3, but not significantly enough that the 12" chuwi is too small. People are still using 10" iPads at gigs. I feel like the HP is so big as to be unweildy in other scenarios and it's pretty much limited to just a reader because of it. The Chuwi is good both as a tablet in the hand, on the stand, and on the keyboard dock being a laptop.

Keyboard Dock - Since I brought it up, in spite of the terrible touchpad (which is fixed somewhat on the newer version of the keyboard dock) I really like the keyboard. I like that it makes the chuwi into a clamshell laptop. Others have complained about the key feel, but the travel is much better than something like the Surface type cover, and I like the stiffer feedback. I'm typing this on the Chuwi and my fingers are happy.

So Many Ports - There are two full size USB ports on the tablet itself and two more on the keyboard. Which is handy, since I almost always have a USB mouse plugged into the keyboard. But two full sized USB ports on the tablet! I keep meaning to pull out the old Footime pedal and try that, especially after my airturn decided to cut out during the recessional at a wedding recently. Good thing tapping the screen is still faster than page turning.

Micro USB charging - As if all those full sized ports wasn't enough, this thing charges via micro USB. The surface was fine and all, but required a separate charge. The Chuwi can use the same charge as my phone. In fact, after my phone barely lasted through some cross country travelling, I finally picked up a giant Anker battery pack. I can now charge both the Chuwi and my phone off the same charger.

Insane Battery Life - Not like I ever need to charge this thing anyway, the battery lasts nearly forever. Battery Bar in windows still says I have a 13 hour run time even though I've tried to run it all the way down several times to get a more accurate reading. I don't think I really have 13 hours, but I don't charge it daily, even when it's the only machine I use in a day.

Dual Boot - I need Windows for the studio, but I prefer Android for gigs. I like having the full versions of One Note and SmartMusic rather than just apps. But MobileSheets Pro is really best for gigs. I've tried running virtual Android machines over windows, but that's a clunky solution. Windows may not be a speed demon on an Atom processor, but native Android is really smooth. For day to day use, I tend to stay booted into Android. It's actually quite usable as a laptop OS on a screen this size. I'd be running things full screen no matter which OS.


The Pen - womp womp. This is a deal breaker unless I can figure out how to make it not suck. Right now, the lag in initial activation is such that I lose the entire first letter of whatever I write. Accuracy is not super hot either and my letters come out all squished. I'm spoiled by the older generation of Wacom EMR screens and still have one in my Samsung note 8. It's really hard to use anything else.

The Qualcomm pen on the HP PS12 is close. My writing looks good, but it's got some quirky drift issues unless you wave it around over the screen to catch all the microphones every single time you bring it back to write. It got me through a few summer conferences, but it's annoying.

I'd use the Samsung for notes, but the screen is too small for some things and I'd prefer Windows for studio notes. Also, the battery life on the Samsung is getting poor. It's no spring chicken at nearly 4 years old now I think. It's possible to pop it open and replace the battery, but more trouble than I think I want to invest.

There's really nothing that compares to the Chuwi in terms of a dual boot machine with this screen size and an active pen. But if I can't figure out how to make the pen not suck, it may not matter.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

About that giant dual screen eInk sheet music reader

So, this thing has shown up in my news feed from several of the sites I frequent. Now that I have some experience in the news room of a major tech news site, I understand the perspective many of these bigger tech blogs are covering this from. Someone who used to play an instrument back in high school (yes, many authors cited this as their experience) is handed a press release and told to put together a news item. They have 30 minutes and a "this looks neat" attitude. And it does look neat. Unless you've been doing this for, oh, say, the last 7 years.

What is this thing? This thing is two 13.3" Mobius eInk screens, running 1200x1600 (the same resolution and slightly larger than the HP PS12 I use now), on unkown internals, with unkown software. But hey, it's got a Wacom digitizer! You can totally write on your music! So revolutionary! And you can turn the page with a tap, so much faster than flipping a physical page!

A few things based on my years of experience:

1. We've moved beyond tapping to turn. If I have to take my bow off the string to turn, it's a step back from where I am now. Yes it has Bluetooth, but the press release only says "a variety of accessories can also be connected". It's probably not a big leap to assume that would include foot pedals for page turns, but it's still a leap.

2. Two screens != better. First off, just one of these screens currently translates to an $800 price tag, so two of them is going to be unreasonably expensive. If I'm not willing to put a $1000 iPad Pro on a stand, there's no way I'm going to put a $1600 reader out at a gig.

2a. Speaking of price, at least the $1000 iPad pro can do about a million other things. Likely paying more than that for a single purpose device? Nope. My current tablet was under $300 and runs full Android.

3. Okay, so back to the two screens thing, with foot pedals and half page turn options, it no longer matters that I'm looking at one page of music versus two. I don't have to stop playing to turn, that's one of the major benefits to going digital. Loosing half page turns is a huge step back.

4. eInk was cool some years ago, but we've moved past it. I'm using my HP PS12 in the pit right now. While there are arguments that I should still have my stand on, illuminating the space around the lit up tablet screen to make things easier on my eyes, I don't need the stand light. That's one less thing for me to carry and potentially forget at gigs. But eInk isn't backlit, you'll still need that stand light, just like paper.

4a. Also, eInk flashes when it refreshes. As eInk has improved, it no longer needs to flash each page turn, but it will inevitably be the one where you really need that next page RIGHT NOW. See why I don't want to give my half page turns? I can turn several lines before I actually need the next page.

5. OMG a pen! You can write on your music! my TC1100 did that many years ago. This should be a standard feature of anything (including apps) purporting to replace paper sheet music. But given how many apps don't even support annotation, I suppose it is still a big deal.

Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh. I mean, it's great to see companies trying new things and inveseting in this space. But we've long past the "let's emulate paper exactly, just digital" and into "how can we make the experience of carrying/reading/performing from so much sheet music better." Just slapping together two giant eInk screens is not better than the current digital solution, even if it's a step up from paper.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

China cheapies - Chuwi Hi12

When first tier manufactures move on to new and better screens, or just pass the exclusive on the screens in the their latest and greatest, second tier Chinese manufacturers get the chance to use them. You can now get a dual-booting, Windows and Android, Intel Atom based tablet behind an iPad retina screen from the likes of Onda, Teclast, Chuwi and others you've probably never heard of, all in the $200-$300 range.

You won't see them at BestBuy and you'll pay a premium if you want to get them from a place like Amazon or eBay. Your best bet, if you're brave enough, is to order direct from China through a place like GeekBuyingBangGood, or GearBest (see a theme?).

But, it's been a while since I've been willing to tolerate a 9.7" screen for sheet music, so while the idea of Windows/Android on that screen is interesting, it's not particularly useful to me, especially since none of them support pen. However, now that Microsoft has moved to a bigger, higher density screen for the Surface Pro 4, the Surface Pro 3 screen is now available to these Chinese manufacturers.

Chuwi has slapped one of these Surface Pro 3 screens on their Hi12, packed it with an Atom processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 64 GB SSD for a fantastic sub-$300 price. Of course you have to order direct from a Chinese deal site like banggood or gearbest and hope you get a good one, since things like warranty support and quality control will also be second tier. It might be worth it in the case of the Chuwi Hi12 to get a 12", 1440p screen with, get this - an active digitizer!

So of course when one showed up on my local craigslist, how could I not get it? I mean, I totally don't have the patience to wait for shipping from China, but if I can just email some random person and go buy it, that's totally going to happen. The guy suggested a dessert place near his local BART stop, so we loaded up the kids and headed out. The kids loved the restaurant and I'm typing this on my shiny new-to-me Chuwi Hi12.

You'll notice it came with a mouse. If you're reading this, you've probably got another tab open with reviews. (I highly recommend techtablets to learn more about these machines) and everything you'll read about how terrible the trackpad is is true. I actually like the springiness and stiff feedback of the keyboard itself, but the trackpad is really terrible.

If I were buying new, I'd skip the keyboard and grab the HiPen (yes, that's what it's called) instead. Stock comes and goes on those, so to get one in a reasonable amount of time, I went with one listed on Amazon. It's still shipping from China, but it was in stock and ready to go. It'll probably be another week before it shows up, and I'll have a more in depth look at the tablet then.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

It's kinda quiet in here

But I've been a bit busy. Because someone thought it might be a good idea to take on a show with a tech week the same week as the last week of school, culminating in a run from the school concert to the opening night of the show. Since traffic is so beyond messed up here in the Bay Area, leaving the city to head south during evening commute was no big deal since everyone is going the other way - from jobs in the valley back to SF. I was just hugely bummed to miss  out on the after-concert chatting time with students and parents.

The other reason I haven't posted much is because I've got a set up that Just Works. I mostly have material for the blog when I'm testing stuff, or interested in the Next Big Thing. For now, my HP Pro Slate 12 is doing all I need it to do.

There are two other standard size iPads in the pit and they're just so tiny looking. Several musicians have expressed interest in my set up, especially because I'm using not-an-ipad. The cellist said he's wanted to find out more about the options, but everyone he's seen is just using an iPad and he doesn't want to go that route (either too little, or too pricey). He's now stalking the one HP PS12 on ebay. It seems I grabbed mine at just the right time, as they haven't come up much recently.

I should also mention that the two iPad players in the pit are also reading inserts off of paper. I scanned my inserts, used Xodo online to merge them into main show book, used thumbnail view in Xodo on the PS12 to move them into the correct place in the score, deleted everything I didn't need, then exported the completed book. I still like to perform out of MobileSheetsPro because of the half page turns, but I could have just as easily kept it in Xodo and performed it from there.

I do have a new tablet kicking around the house right now that I'll write more about soon. It's not quite as big as the PS12, so it's not going to replace my main reader, but it'll be fun to play with and should prove an interesting Surface alternative for those who don't want to be limited to Android.

Also, the latest post over at techinmusiced has me interested in learning more about XML again. I abandoned experiments in scanning years ago, but if it's so easy to convert from PDF to XML now, I need to look into it again. And it looks like there's an app that'll cover both.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Turn page loudly

I guess I'll just have to cough a lot.

Friday, March 25, 2016

13 e-ink reader with Wacom? Maybe...

Once upon a time I had a nook. I loved the e-ink screen. I dreamed of putting music on it. A parent in my studio had the big Kindle and I dreamed of putting music on that, but he lamented how clunky the annotation options were, and that was just text. E-readers have mostly fallen out of favor since light up screened tablets can do everything and books, so unless you read enough for the light up screen to bother you, an e-ink reader is just one more thing to have to carry.

I've still dreamed of a giant e-ink reader, but after the big Kindle died, that was kind of it. Then, years later, Sony did their giant thing. But it's seriously pricey for a single purpose device when you can get an iPad Pro for not much more that does soooooo much more.

Good e-Reader is one of those niche site with a good forum and community that built up during the e-reader boom. I hung out there some when I had a nook to play with, and again when I briefly had an Entourage eDGe. Actually, it was probably the mobileread forums. I forget, sorry.

They're still around and going strong and are actually about to pull off one of those things that internet communities like to talk about. They wanted a device that no one else was making, so they decided to make their own. And they're very nearly full funded on Indiegogo.

They've got a good set up, as it will only take 60 pre-orders to go to manufacturing. The Good e-Reader 13.3 is built off a reference prototype that Netronix was showing off at CES, so the hard work is nearly done. Their work has been more about tweaking the software.

Sadly, that software is stuck at Android 4.0.4. While it has the google play store, and can run apps like Mobilesheetspro, it can't run Microsoft Office apps, which means no OneNote. That's hugely disappointing on a 13.3" e-ink screen with a Wacom digitizer.

Another huge missing piece is Bluetooth. So, even if you put Mobilesheets on it, you'll still have to tap to turn. Admittedly, it's still faster than flipping a paper page, but you have to turn every single one of them, not just every other one.

The real attraction is the 13.3" Mobius e-ink screen. The 1200x1600 resolution is good, but not great in this post-retina-display era. Also, the 4GB of storage and 512MB (yup, not even a gig) of RAM and quite outdated at this point. Even though they plan on making the firmware available to the community as open source, it's unlikely that will result in more recent versions of Android running decently on such old hardware.

Just yesterday, they blogged about how great it would be for sheet music, but I'm left disappointed by the refresh during inking and seeming lack of accuracy. They don't try to write fingerings and music they try to hand write looks sloppy, like they can't draw small enough to even get notes into a staff space accurately. But watch and see what you think:

I was quite tempted to pre-order one to play with, but while the $699 asking price is better than the Sony Digital Paper, it's still no small chunk of change.

If you want to see more, check out the Indiegogo page and watch the intro video below.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

All the Android music readers I'm not using

If you search the Google Play store for sheet music reader, you'll turn up lots of options. Unlike the multitude of readers for the iPad however, the selections for Android are mostly useless. Here are the ones I've tried and the deal breakers that resulted in prompt uninstalls. There are two main types of readers, ones that are connected to a digital publisher, and ones that let you read your own music. 

You'll also see lots of apps for music composition and notation as well as apps to teach music reading and improve sight reading. I'll look at some of those in another post.

In the BYOM (Bring Your Own Music ) category:

The simplest of the readers also has the simplest name - Sheet Music.
It can display music stored locally on your device or SD card and can also connect to Dropbox. And it can auto scroll the music at a set-able speed. That's it. No bookmarking, no set lists, no library management, no annotation, no editing, just scrolling display.

The slightly more feature full Orpheus does all of those things (minus auto scrolling) and includes set lists and basic annotation tools. There is no way to create a bookmark or otherwise define a location in a large PDF, so each tune has to be brought in as its own file. The real deal breaker here is that the annotation is limited to one very fat red pen. You cannot change the color, nor can you change the thickness. The developer has addressed this in the FAQ's - Orpheus is built on the muPDF tools and as such, is limited to those tools. So, unless there are plans to rewrite Orpheus from the ground up with a new PDF engine (highly unlikely), the annotation tools will always be limited to this unusably fat red pen.

And in the Read Only Music From Our Service category:

Music Notes
The app is an extension of the online store. They have some interesting music - most notably nice arrangements of pop music useful for gigging groups and student ensembles, but selection is otherwise limited and expensive. Even if I were to buy a few pieces from MusicNotes the publisher, I would most likely put those PDFs in my Dropbox and open them in the reader I'm using for everything else (MobileSheetsPro).

It should be noted that music from MusicNotes does have some neat tricks that uploaded PDFs can't do. You can change key and tempo and some music supports karaoke-style light up as you go notes.

This is an extension app of the service. I did purchase an annual membership some time ago and downloaded lots of nice clean PDFs of solo and chamber music. Yes, I could have downloaded everything for free from IMSLP, but the clean formatted PDFs were worth the small annual fee to me. Sadly, larger collections are not free with the annual membership. But, now that my membership has expired, I can't use the app to sync songs I've downloaded in the past. So, once again, I'm going to just take PDFs I've downloaded from this service, drop them into my Dropbox, and open them MobileSheetsPro.

I should also mention that both of these publisher's apps simply open the website for many tasks, like purchasing more music, so they really offer nearly zero value over just opening the website in a browser and using another app to display the PDFs after you've downloaded them.

So, what am I using? MobileSheets. Go get it. It does everything and then some (I'm still poking around and finding new things even after performing with it a few times now.) There's even a free version that's only limited in library size so you can really poke at all the features to see if it will work for you. Seriously, if you have an Android tablet and even a passing interest in using it for music you need MobileSheets.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Huawei Matebook - this looks promising

CES was full of new 2 in 1, 12" Windows tablets. Sadly, the budget-friendly Toshiba Dynabook makes way too many compromises to hit its low price while staying super thin and light.

Now it's Mobile World Congress time, and surprise! More 12" 2 in 1s. Huawei is more known for phones and the tablet looks like an overgrown phone in a good way. It's very thin and light with nice rounded edges, and it's the same thickness as an iPhone 6.

There are some questions as to what the pen technology is (Wacom AES? Synaptic?), but there's definitely an active pen available as an accessory. Oh, and the pen has a laser pointer. That should keep your conductor cat on his toes.

Even the lowest configuration comes with an Intel core m3, vs the atom in the DynaPad, so hopefully, performance will be more than adequate.

For more information and some amazing photos from hands on time at MWC, check out the Verge article.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

HP Pro Slate 12 vs Samsung Galaxy note pro at the Pops

Okay, okay, last size comparison for a while. But one of the other violists at the pops was reading from a Samsung note pro (left), so I grabbed a photo. She's also using MobileSheets. The screen is actually taller than it looks in the photo (same height as the PS12, just narrower), but with the music fit to width on a 16:10 screen the bottom of the display is empty space. It means she has room to keep the toolbars open during rehearsal without it pushing the music out of the way. She's very happy with the setup.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

HP Pro Slate 12 vs iPad Pro at the Pops

Our bass player uses an iPad Pro, so I grabbed my HP Pro Slate 12 (half a dozen blog posts later and I am getting so tired of typing that, so it's going to be the PS12 going forward) and took it back at the break for a photo op.

Yes, the iPad screen is that much brighter. I like keeping things a little less bright on our not so bright stage anyway, but even with the brightness up, the PS12 screen is yellower and not as strong as the iPad. And, either the iPad Pro backlight is that uneven, or it's a poor scan, but since none of my pages look like that, I'd be concerned about the backlight on that iPad.

I also take advantage of the highlighter tool to light up my repeats. The crazy extra markings around repeats are photocopied/scanned in.

The tablets are relatively close to the same size. The PS12 loses some screen space to the android nav bar at the bottom and it's a slightly smaller screen anyway. But the way MobileSheets auto-crops makes up for it and my music ends up displaying a bit bigger.

Using MobileSheets also made reminded me of how awesome half page turns are. I don't like having to enter edit mode, and a I really dislike the way the erase tool works, but grabbing bowings as needed (and highlighting up some repeats) didn't interfere with playing. I mark bowing changes in blue ink, making it really easy for the next stand to see what was changed.

Either way you go, this whole 12" 4:3 screen size is fantastic and I hope it starts showing up in more and more tablets.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

MobileSheets on the HP Pro Slate 12

After many years reading my sheet music off an iPad, I had gotten pretty comfortable in Forscore. There is nothing like it in the Windows store and only one app that comes close in the Google Play store for Android. Yes, there are several other apps designed for sheet music, but only one with proper annotation tools - MobileSheets.

In the interim, I used Xodo docs on the Surface Pro 3, and luckily that app is cross platform. I can use Xodo on the Pro Slate and it functions more or less the same as it does on the Surface. This makes for an easy transition and a nice back up plan. The biggest pro - pick up the pen and write. 

But I wanted to give MobileSheets a proper look. I've messed with it on various devices here and there, trying to keep tabs on things, but I've never been able to really follow through with it. But I'm using it tonight, so I can finally get an idea of how it works beyond the surface level poking around I've done so far.

Why am I willing to dive into unfamiliar software like this at a rehearsal? Two reasons mainly:
1. I have Xodo as a backup. I've performed from Xodo on the Surface before and can switch over at any point to something I know how to make work. Also, it's rehearsal. There will be paper binders if there's a catastrophic failure and I really need something to fall back on.
2. I've managed a few practice sessions with it, so I have a basic handle on the two things that matter - navigation and annotation.

I'm bummed that annotation requires entering a specific mode. I've got it set up for a two finger tap and for better or worse, MobileSheets has a pretty cluttered interface, which at least than means edit mode is only a single tap away. It comes up quickly enough (much more quickly than my aging 3rd gen iPad could enter edit mode in Forscore), so I think it'll be enough.

Why am I trying MobileSheets when I know Xodo works? MobileSheets is an app with a dedicated music reading focus, so unlike a general PDF reader, it supports setlists and other organizational tools that will prove very helpful when it comes time to turn an alphabetical binder into a show order set. It also has tools like a metronome and media playback.

But the best thing about MobileSheets? It can crop PDFs on import. And it does a pretty decent job of it. I adjusted a few of the crops, but in general, you can let it do its thing and have a file that's an even better fit for your screen that just opening it in a PDF reader. Unfortunately, that's the only PDF manipulation it handles well. I used Xodo to create a version with all the blank pages removed as MobileSheets has a quirky work around to the fact that it can't delete pages that I'm not a fan of.

I've paired my AirTurn and verified that it'll turn in both Xodo and MobileSheets.

I'm not worried about file organization too much right now because I can chop up the part and reorder the turns later with annotations intact.

So, I'll give it a go tonight. I'll be reading on the HP Pro Slate 12 using MobileSheets and my AirTurn BT-105. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

HP Pro Slate 12 vs Surface Pro 3 vs iPad in pictures

I was just about to post about how I've been practicing with the HP Pro Slate 12 and I realized that, while I've posted comparisons to the size of paper music, I haven't posted comparisons to the other devices I've used to read music so you can see how much of a size upgrade this screen represents.

Left to right: iPad (3rd gen), Surface Pro 3, HP Pro Slate 12

Top to bottom: iPad (3rd gen), Surface Pro 3, HP Pro Slate 12

The Qualcomm pen (top) comes with a cap and has an interesting grid, which I assume is speakers for the ultrasonic stuff. It's a little weird for holding, but it's nothing that can't be gotten used to. My poor surface pen (bottom) lost its clip when the toddler tried to pick the surface up by the pen while the pen was slotted into the case.

Left to right again: iPad (3rd gen), Surface Pro 3, HP Pro Slate 12

The VSM edition of the Bach solo cello suites for viola on all three, open in Forscore on the iPad and Xodo docs on both the Surface and the HP Slate. I have no idea why the color is so different other than that's just how the screens are. The warmer tone of the HP Slate should be nice on stage, I guess. I'll find out tomorrow when I use it at a Pops rehearsal.

The iPad seems so small. It's hard to believe I put up with that for years. I'm so glad bigger screen slates with good aspect ratios are becoming more of a thing now. 

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Update on the Toshiba DynaPad - Nevermind

The reviews are coming out, and it's not looking good. Apparently, this tablet has speakers that are so atrocious, reviewers are actually commenting on the speakers, which are normally not even discussed on pen tablet that would primarily be used for drawing/writing/notetaking/not listening to things. Additionally, the Atom processor paired with eMMC storage is disappointing.

This review from AMDtechreviews sums it all up pretty well:

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Henle Library - Urtext in an app, digital sheet music done right

And they are doing it right. This is the future of digital sheet music. Henle is doing so much more than just providing Urtext editions in a PDF reader with some basic annotation and bookmarking, they are truly embracing the potential of the digital format.

The app will include many options for customizing the text in ways that you just can't do with paper. You can resize staves and change how many appear on each page. You can add or remove the solo part or the piano part in chamber music.

Annotation options include not only text or ink, but the ability to add markings using a "comprehensive Henle character font." The biggest innovation here is that all markings are basically in separate layers. You can layer on fingerings and bowings done by a long list of performers, editors, and pedagogues, or you can just remove them all and start completely clean. Henle promises an elegant experience switching between these layers as well.

There will also be a full suite of practice/performance tools like foot pedal support, a "professional" metronome (whatever that means), and the ability to record yourself as you play.

Another really exciting practice/rehearsal tool will be the ability to easily switch between your part and the same passage in the score. No more frantically digging through the score or turning everyone's stands around when you want to see how something lines up.

Since they're not bound by how much paper is or isn't being used up, you can buy individual parts instead of having to buy the whole score with all parts if you want a quartet. They'll also write out A sections that repeat after a B section like in a Minuet and Trio, so you don't have to flip back to the Minuet after the Trio, the Minuet will be written out again.

The iOS app is coming on February 3rd and they're also promising an Android app in May. So I'll have to wait a little longer to see how it works on the giant HP Pro Slate, but iPad Pro users should be really happy really soon.

Full news from Henle here.

Sign up for information about the launch here.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

HP Pro Slate 12 vs Paper Music

OMG, you guys! It's SO BIG!

On the left is the Peters edition of the Bach Solo Cello Suites for viola and on the right is the Virtual Sheet Music edition of the same piece on the HP Pro Slate 12. Yes, that's the whole page displayed, no lines cut off the bottom. The music is actually bigger on the tablet because it's designed to be printed on 8.5x11 paper and the Peters edition is in a slightly larger than 8.5x11 book. (The tablet is actually about the same thickness as the book too.)

In fact the tablet, minus the speaker grills at the top and bottom, is almost exactly 8.5x11. The bezels are about what you'd expect decent margins to be, so the resulting image should be just about the same size as if it were on 8.5x11 paper.

It's basically awesome.

The pen has some quirks, as does Android as a sheet music solution (more on that soon), but for now, I'm really enjoying this tablet.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Oops, I bought another tablet

Actually, I bought 2, so double oops. But probably not what you'd think based on my holiday posting spree.

I admit I've been spending way too much time reading tablet pc forums again, but the long thread about the surface book at has played a big role in keeping me away from trying one. Forums tend to turn into echo chambers of problems, but reading about what was going wrong was enough to keep me grounded in the fact that it wouldn't really fit my needs anyway. But someone else mentioned picking up an older tablet on ebay for cheap to get a good ink experience (Wacom EMR, which you don't see on anything new except Samsung's note line anymore) until the kinks get ironed out of all this new hardware/Windows 10. I was intrigued and headed over to ebay. Oops.

So, what did I get?

First tablets first: I found an hp 2760p with the core i7 on ebay for a stupidly low price, then I made a low ball offer, and it was accepted. I had a 2730p once upon a time and really liked it. The 2760p was the last update made on the 27xxp platform. It's a second gen core i7, but some benchmarks are faster than the core m I use regularly now. I'll be interested to see how that plays out.

These machines are coming off corporate lease, so there are actually a ton of them out there now for cheap, but many have had their vitals pulled for security. The one I got has no AC adapter, hard drive, or hard drive caddy, but the AC adapter and caddy were easy to come by and inexpensive. I have a 1TB drive sitting around that should work, and I can upgrade to an SSD if I end up really liking it. It only has 2GB of RAM, but that's also easy enough to upgrade. It supports up to 16GB. The important thing is that it's got the core i7 in it, as that can't be upgraded.

It's a fun project more than anything. It'll scratch that itch. If I like it, I've gotten a great deal on a good machine. And if not, I can put it right back on ebay, but as a ready-to-go machine with a hard drive and AC adapter, I'd likely profit. So it's a win either way.

But then.....I don't even remember how I found the next one. It apparently came out just about a year ago, when I was drowning in infant/toddler/lawsuit/PPD so I didn't really pay attention to it. Also, it was expensive and ran Android. At the time, I wasn't interested if it wasn't Windows, but now that OneNote on Android supports ink and I know I can work comfortably in Xodo docs, which is cross platform, I'm more interested in Android based tablets.

And it's got a giant 12.3" 4:3 screen with an active pen!

Meet the HP Pro Slate 12

Or at least, we'll meet it next week when it gets here. Again, I need to keep off ebay. The asking price of the tablet new is not completely unreasonable at $569. It's still a good deal better than the iPad Pro. But I'm cheap. And I found a refurb outlet on ebay that had a few left. In fact, they've got just one more if you're interested. (Disclaimer, mine hasn't even shipped yet since I bought it on Friday afternoon, so I have no idea if this seller is any good.)

It uses Qualcomm's ultrasonic pen technology, which they showed off at CES in 2014, but hasn't really shown up in consumer hardware much. The pen emits an ultrasonic pulse that is tracked by microphones in the tablet. It looks good enough in reviews for handwritten notes and annotating PDFs, although it's not liked for art applications. The neat thing is, the microphones can track the pen outside of the tablet's screen, so you can write on a pad of paper next to the tablet (using the ink side of the reversible nib in the stylus) and have it digitized as you go. Not that I'm likely to use that feature, but, neat!

Details are sparse as it's marketed as a business tablet, so it hasn't seen many reviews and there aren't 200+ page threads about it on forums. But techradar has an interesting review and Lisa Gade of mobiltechreview has a nice long video with the tablet.

But I've been enjoying playing with OneNote and Xodo docs with the active stylus on a Samsung Note 8 and I'm very interested to see how it works with the Qualcomm pen on this much larger screen. And at just under $300 (even with stupid CA sales tax), it's the kind of tablet I can haul around to any gig and not have to worry about. I haven't had a 12" 4:3 screen since I got to test a Motion LE1600 forever ago. This should be the perfect size.

Now I just wait. Both tablets should arrive late this week.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Toshiba DynaPad - an inexpensive, lightweight, big screened, Wacom based slab of potential

The DynaPad is basically a netbook in the Surface Pro form factor, with a Wacom pen. Which is basically the ideal sheet music reader (for my workflow at least). I really like the size of the Surface Pro 3 and the workflow with Xodo docs on Windows 10, but even the i3 is really overkill for just reading/annotating PDFs (and checking Facebook in the break).

Toshiba's DynaPad won't win any benchmark awards with it's Atom x5, and 64GB of eMMC storage isn't spectacular, but at least they went with 4GB of RAM. I'm hoping this is a general trend in the race to the bottom specs - 32GB of storage and 2GB of RAM is really just not going to cut it anymore. Although I have no experience with the latest generation Atom x-series chips, I'd imagine they'd be up to the task of PDF display, unless you have some crazy high DPI scans with layers and layers of markup.

The big plus to trimming back the specs to bare minimum is that you get a crazy thin and light slab for a good price. It's the same thickness as the iPad Pro (6.9mm) while coming in lighter (1.25lbs vs 1.57lbs for the wifi only iPad Pro).

The screen is the same size and aspect ratio as the Surface Pro 3 (12" 3:2), just a lower resolution, 1920x1280. The IPS display has an anti-glare and anti-fingerprint coating and should be just find for music at that resolution. Remember, I started with the original iPad at 1024x768 (after a brief stint with the TC1100, also 1024x768), and while it wasn't the most beautiful screen in the world, it was plenty readable.

Initial news reports mentioned an asking price of $570, which would have been great, but it looks like they've chosen to bundle the keyboard, driving the price up to $650, still not bad at all. Less than an iPad Pro, a little less than the discounted Surface Pro 3, and just a bit more than the 64GB iPad Air 2.

The Wacom AES pen should deliver a writing experience as good as any of the higher end tablets and comparable to grabbing a pencil off the stand to mark up sheet music.

There aren't really many reviews out yet, but there are some hands on videos from CES. It's shipping now though, so I'll be keeping an eye out for actual user reviews.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

My newest oldest gadget/toy

After all that wondering if I should consider this tablet or that tablet, I found something I liked. It's old. In fact, it takes the cake for the oldest thing I have now. It's estimated to be from the later 1800s, German, and it has clearly lived an interesting life. It must have been smashed at one point because it's got seams and lines all over it. It's full of cleats and all the cracks seem well repaired from what I can tell. I took it to another shop for a second opinion (while also dropping off plenty of work for them) and they agreed the repairs are solid. They'll need to be because I'm not going easy on this little guy. 

It's a petite 15" viola with the most comfortable neck I think I've ever played on. It's so lightweight too. The sound isn't huge, commensurate with the size of the body, but I think it'll be enough for my purposes. It's got Thomastic Visions on it right now and they've felt cold to me on other instruments. I think it's a good candidate to benefit from the new Evah Pirazzi Gold strings, which supposedly offer a good balance of power and warmth, so I'll put a set of those on when my business account has had a chance to recover from the shock of this purchase. 

The most important thing is that it's petite, lightweight, has a string length similar to my primary instrument (which is actually short for it's size), and puts out enough sound to balance in the groups I play in. My previous "little viola" which I traded for this one didn't put out enough sound to be useful for anything other than the amplified gigs. It always had the pickup on. This new one I enjoy playing on it's own. And it's just so easy to play. It's really sparked a new energy for playing. 

I'm not ready to let go of my "big" viola just yet, although I very nearly had it for sale after my back issues flared up. But, I finally dragged myself into a chiropractor and several adjustments later, I can play the big one again without pain. But this little one will let me play more with less effort so I don't risk more injury.

I also took advantage of the holiday break to haul all my stuff down to the shop for adjustments. I also had three bows that needed new hair. It's amazing how all that stuff can pile up until you realize you need to get your business deductions in before the new year. Anyway, it turned out that my big viola had an open seam. Oops. That explained my feeling that it was starting to sound like it was full of cotton balls. 

Mine's a 1980 Erdasz and it turns out the shop had an Erdasz of their own, one with the cut away shoulder. I couldn't resist giving it a try. It was fun playing that one. It really plays a lot like mine, it's just a bit easier to get the sound out since the cut away is a 16.75" and mine's only 16.25".