​Looking for Laptops as an Artist and Gamer (Part 1)

This week I have been continuously thinking about laptops and tablets. Even when I lie down to sleep, all I can see are laptops flying through my vision. I’ve visited Curry’s twice, and the Apple Store once.

The reason for this is that I want to upgrade my computer setup. At present, I do most of my art traditionally despite owning an external graphics tablet (several years old now, the Genius Mousepen i608x), because my laptop’s screen is too small for me to draw comfortably on, it does not have faithful colour reproduction which has led to problems in the past when I have tried to draw digitally on this, and it does not run demanding graphics tasks smoothly due to low RAM.

Not only that, but it struggles embarrassingly with gaming, an issue for myself as a frequent gamer, due to having no dedicated graphics card as well as low RAM. I manage to make it work somehow, a fact that apparently surprises my boyfriend as according to reviews I shouldn’t be able to do so at all, but where there’s a will there’s a way and I won’t be stopped by lag or having to run at minimal graphics. Still, it would be nice after years of using this setup to upgrade to something that can both run games decently, and allow me to return to digital art with vigor.

My Current Setup

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Toshiba Portege R30-A-1CQ

 

  • 4th generation Intel® Core™ i3-4100M
  • Integrated Intel® HD Graphics 4600
  • 4GB RAM single-channel
  • 500GB HDD
  • 13.3″ TN  1366×768 screen with 51% sRGB coverage (according to review below)

This is a decent review

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​Genius Mousepen i608x

 

  • 1024 pressure sensitivity
  • 6×8 drawing area
  • 2540 LPI
  • 100 RPS
  • Comes with software Paint Net which I’ve never used.

I received the laptop as part of my Disabled Students Allowance during my master’s degree, which was very welcome at the time as my previous laptop (a Sony Vaio Pro 13, by then several years old but still fairly powerful) had just crapped out for the second time and was no longer covered by warranty. I’ve used it doggedly for the past two years. The tablet is older, about four years or so, and has served me faithfully. I have no complaints, and my penultimate tablet was also by Genius, a good budget company alternative to Wacom. However, I feel it’s time for an upgrade from 1024 levels, and the buttons for the pen fell off about two years ago and have exposed the wiring underneath.

Laptop Specs for Artists

According to general consensus, an artist really needs a laptop which has:

  • at least 8GB of RAM if not more
  • an SSD
  • a good quality screen (IPS provides good viewing angles, and a high percentage of sRGB or Adobe RGB coverage provides good colour reproduction)


After looking up “Best Laptops for Artists”, I found a whole host of options being recommended to me. The same name kept popping up, the Microsoft Surface Pro 2017.

Microsoft Surface Pro 2017 – good for artists, shit for gamers

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Recommended by Parkablogs, among many others, simply google ‘Best Laptops for Artists’ and you’ll see it pop up.The Microsoft Surface Pro is a tablet that runs Windows, which can be connected to a keyboard cover to be turned into a laptop of sorts. Its unique 3:2 ratio screen can be drawn on using a pressure-sensitive Surface Pen to produce artwork, and I’ve seen plenty of TV ads for it aimed at artists.It comes in several diffeent models, but I specifically looked at the i5 model as the mid-point model:

 

  • Intel Core i5-7300U
  • ​Integrated Intel® HD Graphics 620
  • 8GB RAM dual-channel
  • 256 GB SSD
  • 12.3″ IPS 2736×1824 touchscreen with 99% sRGB coverage and 63% Adobe RGB coverage (according to review below)
  • Surface Pen comes with 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity

Good review.

Pros

  • Windows OS, which means it can run the more powerful desktop versions of applications like Photoshop, GIMP, Paint Tool SAI etc, as opposed to a pure tablet.
  • 3:2 ratio is much more natural to draw on (IMO) than a 16:9 ratio.
  • Fantastic screen
  • Good reviews from artists
  • Portable

Cons

  • Expensive!! (Currently £1,169.00 at Curry’s) – This price DOES NOT INCLUDE the keyboard or the Surface Pen, adding a few hundred pounds extra.
  • No dedicated graphics card
  • Runs games like arse, according to Notebookcheck’s review

After a trip to a Curry’s store to try it out in person, I found the keyboard cover horrible to use. Being a cover and not actually an integral part of the Surface Pro, it felt flimsy and was also strange to the touch, a sort of pebbled texture feeling that I wasn’t used to. Moving the Pro made me worry the keyboard cover was going to come off.

The Pro is held up by a stand that can ‘pop out’ of the Pro’s back cover, if you want it to stand up like a normal laptop and not lie flat – it seemed to not be adjustable, another issue. One angle only, as far as I could tell.

It was clear that the Surface Pro was more like a glorified tablet than a replacement for my regular laptop. Fine for those who want such a thing, but along with its poor game performance I would only purchase the Pro as an addition to my regular laptop, not a replacement for it – and at over £1000 that’s a hard price to justify when you’re a poor artist.

I realised I needed to add some further specifications to what I was looking for, because not only was I an artist, but as a gamer I clearly was looking for something more.

For those purely looking for a laptop to produce art on, and do not care about gaming, Parkablogs’ rundown mentioned earlier is a great resource. 

Laptop Specs for Artist and Gamer

​So, here were my upgraded specs:

  • at least 8GB RAM
  • SSD
  • IPS screen
  • good sRGB/Adobe RGB coverage
  • dedicated graphics card
  • decent game performance (here notebookcheck became an invaluable resource, as they run game performance checks on every review.)

After painfully going through laptops recommended for artists and seeing if any of them had decent reported game performance, I came across the Lenovo Yoga 720.

Lenovo Yoga 720 – an artist and gamer solution?

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The Lenovo Yoga series are competitors to Microsoft’s Surface series. The Lenovo Yoga 720 is a 2-in-1 convertible laptop, meaning it has a 360 degree hinge which allows you to flip it over and transform it into ‘tablet mode’. The screen can be drawn on using the Lenovo active pen to produce artwork. What called me to the Lenovo Yoga 720 is the fact that it is one of the few convertibles that can also run games decently, from my research.It comes in several different models. Only the i7 models come with the dedicated graphics card, which come in 13″ or 15.6″ screen models. I opted to look at the 15.6″, since my current laptop has a screen of 13″ which is too small for my needs.

 

  • Intel Core i7-7700HQ
  • Dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 Graphics
  • 8GB RAM single-channel
  • 256 GB SSD
  • 15.6″ IPS 1920×1080 touchscreen with 90% sRGB coverage and 59% Adobe RGB coverage (according to review below)
  • Active Pen 2 comes with 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity​

Good review.

Pros

  • Good laptop which feels more solid than the Surface Pro’s “Tablet Plus” design
  • Decent gaming performance plus dedicated graphics card
  • Good colour coverage
  • Good reviews
  • Best convertible that can also run games (from my research)

Cons

  • Justifiable price for what it is, but still expensive if you’re on a budget (£1299.95 from John Lewis including the Active Pen)
  • 16:9 screen ratio less natural to draw on when in ‘tablet mode’
  • Bit strange to have the keyboard against the back of your hand as you’re drawing
  • Heavier to draw on due to not having a detachable keyboard
  • 15.6″ models are only available online so cannot test in person

“This is the one!” I thought excitedly as I visited Curry’s to test it out. As mentioned above, the 15.6″ model is online-only so I could only test the 13″ model. The screen looked crisp, I liked that the keyboard was non-detachable as it meant it felt solid when it was in ‘laptop mode’, although others might prefer otherwise. When I flipped it over to try it out in ‘tablet mode’ it did seem a bit odd to have the keyboard on the back, but nothing you couldn’t get used to. Unfortunately, the store I was in didn’t have a compatible pen to try out, so I can’t say anything for the Active Pen’s performance, but Youtube reviews show a promising experience.

Here was my only issue, a personal preference I discovered while trying it out. When I flipped it into ‘tablet mode’, it was fine to draw on in landscape orientation. However, as soon as I turned it over to portrait orientation, it seemed… Strange. At a 16:9 ratio, it was tall and thin, like drawing on a strip of paper. The bezel on the left was much thicker than the bezel on the right, so that the screen would be raised above the keyboard when in ‘laptop mode’ and stop the keyboard blocking the screen, but it was odd to have this uneven border when drawing. I couldn’t see myself drawing naturally like that.

Looking at a nearby Lenovo Yoga 520 model, with a 14″ screen, I found the issue was less pronounced with a slightly bigger screen. However, the 720 does not come in 14″, and after fiddling around with non-Lenovo 15.6″ laptops I swiftly came to the conclusion that a 15.6″ just seems abnormally large for my uses, especially as a portable device. 14″ seems to hit the sweet spot for me, but seems to be a screen size that not many laptops come in these days.

Dissatisfied with My Options…

​After this realisation, I came to the conclusion that maybe a 2-in-1 laptop was not the best solution for both my art and gaming needs. It seemed that there was no satisfactory solution that made a good compromise between a traditional notebook and an artist’s tool, at least not without spending upwards of £1500. Perhaps it was better to go for a conventional laptop for gaming, and to seek something else for my art needs. A monitor tablet like a Cintiq, perhaps? Or an android/apple tablet that I could bring around portably to draw on? Or maybe it was better to keep it simple and to buy another external graphics tablet to plug into my laptop.

Check out part 2 of this blog post to see what I thought of next – coming to you soon, hopefully!

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