Twelve days after ordering direct from Lenovo, the new $40 Thinkpad Active Capacitive Pen arrived last night.
The Wacom Active ES pen is currently only compatible with the new Thinkpad Yoga 14 convertible laptop sold exclusively at Best Buy in the US (model number 20DM008UUS) . A 15-inch penabled Thinkpad Yoga is also being sold in other markets but has not yet made it to these shores.
The Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 14 ships with Wacom Feeldriver version 7.2.1-25 pre-installed. The latest version available for download on the Wacom site is 7.2.1-24. It's theoretically possible that installing the newer driver on other Active ES devices like the Toshiba Encore 2 Write will enable the pen but for now we will have to assume that AES pens are not interchangeable.
When I tried the Lenovo pen on my Toshiba (running 7.2.1-24), the tablet detects the pen within a very narrow hover range, but it disappears before the tip contacts the display. Playing with the button settings in the driver, I was able to trigger the radial menu on the Encore 2 Write, but then I couldn't get it to close because I couldn't tap the close icon.
The Lenovo website claims that the Active Capacitive pen will "provide a premium pen experience with all ThinkPad capacitive touch screen enabled devices" but it doesn't list any specifics. I tested the pen with the first generation Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga (12) and the Thinkpad Helix 2, both of which are traditional Wacom EMR devices. Neither recognized the Active Capacitive Pen.
But enough about compatibility: how does the pen perform?
I've only had a brief time to test, but my verdict is generally positive. Wacom Active ES claims to provide 2048 levels of pressure, but the experience of using it is much closer to N-Trig than to other Wacom tablet PCs like the aforementioned Thinkpads or original Surface Pros.
The nib on the AAAA battery powered pen is shallow and very hard. It doesn't appear to be replaceable. As a result, writing on the TPY14 screen is very glass-like. A screen protector might help a lot, although I don't know how or if the Active ES pen will be affected by the separation from the actual display surface.
Due in part to the slippery surface, it hasn't been easy to get precision strokes. Very slow diagonal strokes show evidence of wobble, but it's not so bad to be a showstopper for me. So far, I've only tested with Manga Studio and Sketchable. The effect may be worse in other art applications. I'll update this post if I find that to be the case in further testing.
Setting tip firmness to its highest setting in the Wacom driver, I was able to draw barely perceptible pen strokes in Manga Studio. That is a major improvement over N-Trig which tends to require greater pressure to begin registering. However, I had difficulty with medium pressure. The strokes seem to reach maximum pressure too quickly. (Note to developers: please add a pressure gauge to your drivers so we can better detect how much force we're applying. I know I've seen that on past Intuos tablet drivers.)
Hover distance is very shallow so programs that don't explicitly disable drawing with touch will likely suffer from stray marks unless you where a drawing glove or are able to keep your hand off the display at all times.
I didn't notice any significant lag except when I cranked brush stabilization up beyond 45. If the optical illusion of waiting for cursor to catch up with your pen tip bothers you in the Surface Pro 3, the issue will be less noticeable here. There is still a delay but it's very slight.
The $1040 Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 14 laptop and Active Capacitive pen combo offers excellent performance for the price, especially given its NVidia Geforce GT 940M graphics card. The convertible form factor isn't as convenient as tablets like the Surface Pro 3. And if you're very picky about your drawing experience, the Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 is worth the premium. But if you're budget conscious and aren't seeing ultra-mobility, my verdict for the Lenovo Thinkpad Yoga 14 and Active Capacitive Pen is a qualified thumbs up.