Tablet 101


A lot of you may have come across these two terms around the internet. You will see them in use frequently in the tablet market and particularly the lower end Android device spectrum. As the technology is maturing we are seeing Capacitive screens becoming the norm and resistive touchscreens are becoming increasingly rare.

Resistive is the older technology and it relies on pressure. On a resistive touch screen there are multiple screen layers. Pressure on the screen pushes back on the layers and causes layers to touch. This pressurized touching creates a circuit which is then registered by the screen. This information is registered and the device interprets where into an action. Say for example pressing a url link in the tablet browser. Most resistive screens rely on a stylus for interaction. As the technology has improved there are screens that are much more sensitive but the technology is seldom confused with a Capacitive touchscreen. 


Capacitive touch screens are a newer technology that do not interpret pressure to trigger a pressing or swiping action. These touch screens instead use the microvolt energies provided in the human finger or less commonly a stylus to cause a response. There in an insulator layer typically of glass, which has a coating of a conductive materials that is necessarily clear. The micro volts of the human finger are enough to register with this technology which negates the necessity of a stylus which had long been staples of devices like the Palm Pilot, or Microsoft Windows Tablets.

Nowadays Capacitive screens have become almost the norm and allow for easy care free manipulation and control of most modern tablets. It would be an oversimplification to state that Capacitive is a superior technology to Resistive. If you require precision and are in a creative trade the lack of a stylus results in reduced control, accuracy, and most of pressure sensitivity. Almost no digital artist works without a Wacom. There are other companies that make pressure sensitive screens/tablets and stylus (N-Trig being the most popular) but I have consistently found them to be of inferior quality and prone to buggy behaviors and drivers.


Benefits of a Resistive screen:

  • Artistic uses such as Adobe Photoshop, Autodesk Sketchbook Pro for sketching/storyboarding/digital painting
  • Increased pressure sensitivity for applications where applicable (see applications above)
  • Environments where Extreme precision are required: CAD
  • Cold weather application where a bare hand may not be safe.

Negatives of Resistive Screen:

  • Use of a proprietary tools, can result in extra expenses
  • Screens seemingly lack the responsiveness levels of Capacitive

Benefits of a Capacitive Screen:

  • Easy to use with no extra tools required
  • Low effort touch and swipe actions are easy to learn and control
  • Responsiveness is currently superior in most every way except Pressure/Artistic level accuracy

Negatives of a Capacitive screen:

  • Lacks the pressure sensitivity seen in higher end devices like a Wacom Cintiq 21UX or Cintiq12WX
  • Lacking the precision of a Pen tool for drawing, or handwriting or signing.
  • Still slightly more costly than a Resistive screen

Bottom Line:  Unless you know you are going to need a higher end device with Wacom penabled pressure sensitivity you should buy a tablet with a Capacitive screen.  There are pens coming out that are claiming this quality (pressure sensitivity) but the Apps and the technology are not fully baked yet.  If you are a creative by career or pursuing that goal buy a Resistive Wacom Cintiq (12WX or 21 UX) Tablet as soon as you can and don’t look back until the technology catches up and there are serious improves in software and hardware.