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Digitizers and Styli - Differentiating the Tablet PC
By Chris De Herrera
Revised 11/10/02

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The ability to use a stylus as a replacement for a mouse and write using ink on the display, differentiates the Tablet PC from other Notebooks. This article describes the different technologies used to make the stylus work.


There are two major technologies being used in the Tablet PC.  The first is the Active Digitizer from Wacom and the other is from FinePoint Innovations. 

Resistive Digitizers

Most digitizers you have been exposed to through PDAs use an analog resistive digitizer.  The resistive digitizer sits on top of the display so you can press a stylus or your finger to send input into the PDA.

Active Digitizers

All Tablet PCs have an active digitizer.  The active digitizer uses a special stylus to send a signal to the display indicating where the stylus is on the screen.  Digitizers from FinePoint Innovations require a battery in the stylus which lasts up to a year.  You can read Microsoft's specifications for the digitizer here.

Comparison of Features

Feature Active Digitizer -
Active Digitizer - FinePoint Resistive Digitizer
Stylus Requires special stylus Special Stylus w/Battery (lasts about a year on AAAA battery, 400-500 kHz) Can use anything on screen, sensitive to additional touch such as palm.
Pressure sensitive 255 levels Required Driver 255 levels None
Hover Support Yes Yes No
Power Higher power Lower power Lower power
Digitizer Location Behind LCD Behind LCD In Front of LCD, reduces the readability of the display
Thickness Thicker package due to sensor and RF isolation Thinner Thinner
Eraser Capability Yes No No
Additional Button Capability Yes No No
Tablet PC OEMs Acer
Motion Computing
Walkabout Computers


You can use a Wacom stylus with any of the OEMs that are using the Wacom digitizer.  I suspect the same is true for the FinePoint however I have not tested this. Yes, the Tablet PC can support multiple digitizers at the same time. This is what the PaceBlade does. So now you know more about the features and capabilities of the digitizer and how it affects the Tablet PCs.

You can purchase a replacement stylus for most Tablet PCs at Amazon

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