Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How To Suck

Step 1.

Be N-trig.

Step 2.

See Step 1.

Okay, I suppose I should clarify things.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my laptop is a “Tablet PC” device.  Specifically, the HP TouchSmart Tx2 Notebook, a small laptop with a rotating screen that can transform from the standard “clamshell” design into a slate form factor.  Said screen is “touch-enabled,” meaning that I can take advantage of the “touch” features built into Windows 7 and directly interact with the operating system and applications by pressing on the screen.

The device that makes this – theoretically – possible is a “Duo Sense” digitizer, a thin, clear sheet laid over the display that’s able – again, theoretically – to interpret presses and gestures made either with the included stylus or with your fingers.

I say “theoretically” because the device has never worked as advertised, or rather, it’s never worked well.  In the past I had issues with the digitizer falsely detecting touches and responding accordingly.  I’ve seen the “phantom clicks” in action, and they’re actually kind of eerie, with the screen displaying the little “ripple” effect that’s designed to give you visual feedback of your touches.  The ripples jump all around the screen at random, opening whatever folder or application they happen to click on.

This is, of course, bad news, as the random clicking could eventually start doing things like uninstalling programs and features, or deleting essential files.

The only “fix” for this was to turn off the option of using your finger as an input device.  This would still allow for touch input via the stylus, but the whole point of “Duo Sense” is that you can use both.  Hence the “duo” part of it. The “sense” part is that, when finger input is enabled, it can sense whether you’re touching with your finger or with the stylus.  This comes in handy (that wasn’t a deliberate pun) when you’re using the stylus and your hand brushes against the screen.  It knows you’re using the stylus, and disables the finger input while the stylus is touching the screen, preventing you from doing something unintended.

Again, theoretically.

As detailed in other posts, I recently reinstalled Windows on the laptop and when through considerable troubles attempting to install the latest driver software and firmware for the Duo Sense.

Eventually I did get the drivers – the ones posted on HP’s site – installed, and it appeared to be stable, with no “phantom click” issues.

But then the “phantom clicks” started up again.  According to N-trig, this issue was addressed in the latest driver release. 

Sure it was.

Beyond that, after a random period of use – it could be minutes, it could be hours – the screen would stop responding to finger touches, though the stylus still worked, for a while, though eventually that, too, would stop working.

At times when I went into the N-trig control panel, I would see that it listed the firmware version as all zeroes. 

This was another issue that N-trig said was addressed in the latest driver release.

For a little while, I could temporarily fix this by disabling and then re-enabling finger input.  Then that stopped working, and at times the firmware version would be entirely blank, and neither finger not stylus input would register.  Sometimes a restart would fix it – temporarily – as would a full power cycle, or putting the laptop into sleep mode and then waking it up.

Now?  Not so much.

When I run into issues, I can’t even try reinstalling the driver – which is actually bundled with the firmware, by the way – because when it stops working, it becomes unrecognizable to Windows, which lists the digitizer as “Unknown Device,” and because Windows doesn’t see the N-trig hardware installed, the N-trig diver/firmware software doesn’t see it either, and refuses to run.

So, yeah.

Looking online, I’m clearly not the only one having these kinds of problems.

I’ve sent a blunt and unfriendly message to N-trig, which I’m sure will be ignored.  I’ll also be sending a similar message to HP.  I don’t expect any sort of response from N-trig, because, well, they’re terrible, nor do I expect any sort of assistance or support from HP, given that my warranty has expired.

But my complaint to HP is not about HP itself – beyond the miserable touch screen experience, the laptop is a solid machine and I have no real issues with it –I simply want to let them know that in the future they may want to consider working with another company besides N-trig.

And I’m posting this for the same purpose as my posts from three years ago complaining about DirecPath, the terrible, terrible, absolutely shitty company that was my cable provider at the time:  I need to complain, and I also want to give others who have had a similar experience an area where they can complain as well. 

So if you’ve had issues like mine – or, god forbid, even worse – with N-trig, let the world know in the Comments.  I can’t promise you that it will change anything, or even make you feel better, but at least it’ll be out there.

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