My Gig Rig

A couple of days ago, I posted the following picture across my social media accounts, which garnered a bit more of a reaction than I was expecting

Loving my new tablet.

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There were lots of questions about specifics and functionality of my new set up, so I thought I’d list the details and offer a bit of a review now that I’ve had the chance to try it in a performance setting.

So first, the details:

  • Tablet: Samsung Galaxy View, $340 refurbished
  • Foot pedal: AirTurn BT-105 bluetooth pedal & Boss FS-5U footswitch
  • Software: MusicSheetsPro Mobile Reader, $13

AirTurn currently offers a variety of footswitch options. I got my first rig 6.5yrs ago (the AT-104), upgraded to the BT-105 (they are now on 106, I think), and kept my original pedal.

The good:

The screen is huge and I love love love it. There is simply no comparison to the 9.7″ screen on my old iPad 2 that I was using before. The Galaxy View is an 18.4″ screen (diagonally), which comes to about 16.3″ x 9.2″ of real estate. With margins cropped away in pdfs (easily done in the software), I can look at two, nearly full size letter pages. That not only makes it easier to read in general, but cuts the page turning in half, which was one gripe I had with using an iPad before.

And as a wonderful bonus, landscape scores (and I have a few that were formatted for 11×17, are absolutely gorgeous. My scan of The Time Curve Preludes is particularly nice.

One complaint I read about the screen before purchasing was that the resolution wasn’t astounding (1920 x 1080), especially compared to an iPad Pro (2732 x 2048), which is much smaller. That said, I had no trouble whatsoever reading score details. If this is primarily going to be a score reader for you, I don’t think you’d have any trouble with resolution.

The battery life is also astounding. Samsung had plenty of room in this huge thing, and they must have used a chunk of it on the battery. They advertise 8hrs of battery life, but that’s assuming you’re doing something a bit more intensive than looking at pdfs. I used it for over 6hrs one day between practicing and copying markings from my papers scores, and I only used about 40% of the battery (~15hrs of battery with that level of use). Granted, most of you don’t play 5hr pieces like I tend to, so that might not be as big a consideration, but extra security in the battery department is always a good thing.

I also had no trouble bringing my old footswitch to the table. I synced it up, and it’s worked flawlessly ever since. Moreover, the software allows you to set the delay between a first and second tap to avoid double page turns (something I struggled with before), giving some added security.

Learning a new app after using ForeScore for quite a while took some adjusting, but overall I’m pleased. Without touching the manual, I was able to do everything I wanted with relative ease. A nice bonus was the ability to colorize my score a bit, so that the stark white of a pdf could be softened with a sepia tone. Aside from being a bit more aesthetically pleasing, it did seem to easy eye strain compared to the harsh, blue light that screens emit so strongly.

I have nothing to say concerning its functionality as a tablet, save that I browsed the internet and watched some netflix. My assumption would be that you aren’t going to find the functionality or power with smaller, more expensive tablets, but all I wanted was a good score reader, and I found it.

The built-in stand also works nicely to just set on the piano. I had a couple of questions about stability, and I can now report that it didn’t even wobble even while I played loud passages. (And I do mean fff passages, not just “loud for a Wandelweiser performer” sort of a thing.) That said, I haven’t tried it with a stand. It probably is ok once you find the right angle, but I could see the rounded back being a bit of an issue.

The bad:

This thing is huge, and kind of heavy. It clocks in at 6lbs, which doesn’t seem like much, but take your suitcase and think of adding a 5lb dumbbell to it. It becomes noticeable quickly. Plus, it can be hard to lug around.

Hmm. I’ll have to grab a different suitcase, I think.

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One of the issues is that the back of the device has this lump, which looks fine until you’re trying to pack it away somewhere.

The stand is attached, but can easily be removed, and I managed to make it all work, but I think I’ll end up buying the special case Samsung sells for the thing. I’m not anxious to lug around a giant case that I can’t put anything else in, but it is probably better than hauling it around in something else as I recently tried to do.

Another potential problem with the device is that it doesn’t reorient to portrait mode. That is to say that it is essentially stuck on “orientation lock” without a way to turn it off. Scores can be rotated in the app, so it probably isn’t a huge deal if you need to read in portrait, but it is not something that is automatic.

Oh, and there isn’t a way to turn off the screen lock that I’ve found so far; you can only set it as high as 30min before the device locks up. Again, probably not a problem for most, but until I figure out a workaround I can’t use it to perform November.

If you’re looking into foot switches, I’d stay away from the Boss switch that I have. My biggest complaint is that it can be a bit noisy if I’m trying to use it quickly. Again, for most of y’all that isn’t going to be a huge deal, but if an errant noise will distract from your quiet performance, I’d look elsewhere.

I also have one grief with the software (at the moment), in that there is not an intuitive way to move around the score while annotating. You have to click a specific tool to move around the score, which adds a layer of input to what should be something extraordinarily easy to do. Also, they refer to all the pieces as songs. Not cool guys. Not cool.

So the bottom line is that if you are looking for a big score reader at a pretty cheap price (for tablets), this is the way to go. There are lots of considerations if you are not a pianist as I am (I keep thinking about how awkward it might be on a stand with the rounded back), but after a week of use in practice and performance situations, I have to say that I am over the moon with my new setup. Should things change, I’ll let you know, and if I didn’t answer a question, tweet, facebook, or email me.

And if this little post proves helpful, I may do a similar post on what I’ve been experimenting with for Facebook Live concerts. 😀

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