Wednesday, February 18, 2015

4K and Touch Screens, Part Two: is AutCAD/LT up to the task?

In our last post we discussed the new trend of 4K High-res displays and how they work in Windows 8.1. We continue with our review with hands-on use of AutoCAD/LT 215 and see if there have been any improvements with it and the use of Touchscreens.


With the retirement of my last full Windows 7 touch screen tablet due to fading battery life, it was time to purchase a replacement. My criteria have not changed: modest screen size (no larger than 13") so I can use it in tight spots like airplane trays, job site shelving/sheet-rock stacks, overall light weight, long battery life, Windows 8.1, USB3 ports, built-in keyboard that can disappear when I don't need it (AutoCAD is still very keyboard-centric), and equipped with a high speed processor: light weight and small power brick if possible would be a bonus.

A 2-in-1 360-degree rotating keyboard laptop quickly became the ideal choice for me. A full laptop that could be converted easily to a tablet without the need to keep track of additional loose peripherals is going to be what I needed. After some effort reading reviews and trying out many units at computer stores and trade shows, I chose the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, equipped with the latest generation Intel mobile processor, a High Res display, 512GB SSD harddrive, thin, light weight, long battery life, and a great built-in keyboard that tucks away. Unlike the Surface Pro and other Tablet-only mobile PCs, the keyboard is solid, built-in, not a plastic cover "Bluetooth" that doesn't work in your lap or while standing with it in your hands. It flips away when I only need to use the device in Tablet/Touch mode.

The experience you’ll have is all about the size of the High Res/4K display and how your computer’s operating system can deal with it. For example, if you have a small High Res Display like that on the Microsoft Surface Pro or this Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro, everything will be extremely tiny on it. You’ll fit a lot of content on the screen, but at the cost of barely being able to read any of it — only if you get up close and squint.
Windows OS and many applications offer a variety of tweaks to make life better on the higher-resolution displays popping up on High-Res laptops and tablets. These features help fix the problem of tiny interface elements, making them appear larger — but still sharper than they’d look on a lower-resolution display. Windows 8.1 Update has the best scaling features of any version of Windows yet, and even it isn’t perfect. Many applications — even Microsoft’s own applications included with Windows — look blurry when they’re blown up to appear larger on a high-resolution display.

AutoCAD/LT is one program that offers little to help fix this problem. Here is a screenshot of AutoCAD/LT2015 running on my Lenovo without any 3rd party fixes, click on it to enlarge so you can see the issues:

This TIP here helped fix AutoCAD/LT, click to this image to expand and compare with the one above:

Besides fixing the text and icon sizes, it also made everything in AutoCAD/LT a little 'bigger' and kind of robbed me of some screen real estate. AutoCAD/LT also complains on startup that the screen display settings are below it's minimum requirements when it's obviously not:

Since this is not a laptop/tablet used for production, these limitations do not bother me as much but it does illustrate the need for Microsoft, in conjunction with Autodesk, to address this display issue urgently and in more detail. Microsoft does offer tips to address these limitations for Surface Pro users, but based on reports and feedback posted online to date these also appear to be partial measures.

AutoCAD/LT Usage

So how does AutoCAD/LT 2015 work? As good as it did on my previous Windows 7 Tablet: average use time on battery is over 2.5 hours with a mix of AutoCAD, MSOffice and light Illustrator/Photoshop use while I'm on site, in a car or on a plane. AutoCAD still is not designed for touchscreens, even with the added "Touch Select Mode" button that appears only on touchscreen-equipped computers/laptops. Zooming, Panning and Moving objects is similar to my previous experiences with tablets, but this time being able to have a full time keyboard at the ready simply speeds up drafting immensely. Right-Clicking is a chore on touchscreens using your fingers, and precision drafting/moving/copying is all but impossible with a finger unless yours as the size of a child's. I use a stylus equipped with a small rubber tip to navigate and draft in AutoCAD: the Ribbon makes touch-use easier to do, but if you are an AutoCAD user still stuck on classic toolbars/buttons and pulldown menus your frustration level will escalate rapidly and may help turn your tablet into a free-flying frisbee sooner than you wish or can afford.

Here is how to simulate the use of a tablet PC on your desktop PC, so you can understand personally what the challenges I mentioned above are:
  • Move your keyboard out of reach. Really, out of reach.
  • tape up/do not use the mouse right-click button: if you have a scroll wheel you can use it, it will replace a touchscreen's easy zoom in/out and pan ability.
  • Now use AutoCAD to draft your next half-dozen tasks in your file.
  • Every time you need to use the keyboard, move the keyboard to type, and as soon as you hit move it back out of reach before you continue on screen.
  • Repeat working like this for 15-30 minutes.
  • Now raise your hand if you still want a Tablet without a built-on hardware keyboard.
Do you use a Windows OS Tablet like the Microsoft Surface Pro with AutoCAD? What's been your experience? Leave a comment. ◦