Tablet for sheet music

Edited: December 24, 2018, 4:55 PM · Inspired by Laurie's article about the IPad pro, I'm thinking about getting a tablet for my sheet music. Living in a flat with my family forces me to limit my belongings, and I'm also tired of organizing all these prints and copies.

The drawback of the IPad and other LCD tablets is their glossy surface which reflects light from other sources and therefore is next to useless in sunlight and various indoor situations with strong external lightsources. A better option seems to be an e-reader based on e-ink technology. Battery lasts way longer, and no reflections on the display. I'd also use it for scientific literature which usually comes as epub and is tireful to read on a small display.

My current favorite would be the Onyx Boox Max 2. It comes with a 13,3" display and offers full WLAN and Bluetooth functionality. And it's exceptionally lightweight. Only thing I'd like to add is a backlight, which the alternatives in similar sizes don't include either. So one is still in need of an external light source. Reviews on the internet complain about how stupid an idea it would be to place the on-off-button at the given place, so if you put it on your music stand it would inevitably shut down. This isn't the case, since you can rotate the picture and put the tablet upside down on your stand.

The alternatives I was able to find include the PadMu (which is basically the same as the older version of the Boox Max, but offers the option of a double display which I do not need), the Sony DPT-RP1/B 13” Digital Paper (which I cannot find in stores currently), and the reMarkable. If I remember correctly there also exists a large version of the Kindle Oasis, but I don't think that this would be a comparable option for taking handwritten notes.

Anybody got experiences with one them? They're all not cheap, so I don't want to just luck out on one of these. Or, to put it differently, is there any product superior to the Boox Max 2 in your opinion? Note that I'm not interested in games, videos etc. where definitively a normal tablet would have it's advantages. It's simply about sheet music, taking notes, and reading other stuff (mainly PDF and epub) under various light settings.

Replies (45)

December 24, 2018, 5:23 PM · Can you use ForScore software with all of those? That would be a huge differentiator, as useful as reading off of PDFs can be.
December 24, 2018, 8:23 PM · I'm very interested in this topic - but surely you can not add edits to an e-reader? How then would you note fingerings or shifts?

December 24, 2018, 8:50 PM · I use an iPad Pro with ForScore, and I have yet to find a lighting condition that makes it unusable. Never had an issue with glare.
December 24, 2018, 11:55 PM · e-INK based tablets are very attractive to me as batteries life can be over a month, are way more comfortable to use for extended period of time and don't emit light that can be distracting for the public. I however never used one for music, only books.
December 25, 2018, 12:59 AM · Lydia, glad to hear that - although battery life still outbeats the functionality of the the iPad for me. With the two tablets I own as well as with the two laptops we use in our family, its somehow different.

Stephen, the Max Boox 2 runs on Android 6 and is suitable for all the apps supported by A6. Forscore is exclusively designed for IOS and cannot be used on Android, but there are several apps which work pretty well. I currently use the test version of MobileSheets. And Elise, yes, you can add your own notes, that is what makes this solution so usable. The BM2 comes with a stylus. I think your handwritten notes are stored as a sepatare layer and still can be etited any time you like afterwards. (But this may depend on the App you're using.)

December 25, 2018, 1:08 AM · Another benefit for reading music from the tablet is that you can do the page turning with a foot pedal. I could test the PageFlip Firefly and it's awesome! (Sure a cheaper one would to the same...)
One would have to bring along the tablet and the foot pedal, which maybe will not fit many of the violin cased, but you never have to worry again which books, sheets etc.
And I cannot remember the day when I could leave my case open without it falling over because the lid was too full with sheet music...
Edited: December 25, 2018, 8:21 PM · I am like you, Nuuska, with the Boox Max in the radar. I currently use a 10.1 Android Tablet with full version of Mobile Sheets. I am happy about that configuration, but a 13.3 screen with e-ink would be welcome (although expensive. The Boox runs at 800USD and I don't think it's worth that in hardware or software).
From the reviews I have read, there are 3 pending issues with the Boox that I would like to see confirmed/refuted by actual users: Users have claimed that the Boox screen has less contrast than other e-readers, making it difficult to read in low light, hence requiring a lamp too soon.
Second concern, as the Boox is a tablet with Operating System (Android), and not an actual reader, the battery life is not as good. Some report it as low as lasting a mere couple of days.
Third, the same why I don't like to use Ipad: Not external MicroSD Memory. I prefer that rather than working in the cloud. The Boox internal memory is riddicully small.
If those three issues are refuted, I would certainly go for it. Otherwise I see no advantages of any kind compared to other 13.x tablets.
December 26, 2018, 1:16 AM · Carlos, a couple of days would already be okay, compared to maybe 8 hrs of the iPad pro. If used several hours per day my 6" Kindle reader won't last longer either.
As for the internal memory, the normal version has 32GB, and the pro version 64GB. For PDF, EPUB or similar that seems enough to me, isn't it? I've got a 32 microSD in my Lenovo yoga tablet, and it contains thousands of jpeg and even video files as well as most of pdf files I'd use on the Boox (except sheet music) so I guess I'd get along with with 32GB well enough. And I'd do an occasional backup on an external hard drive anyway, so if necessary I wouldn't mind too much about sorting out those files I currently would not need. I won't expect the Boox to last for a lifetime anyway but would hope for the next maybe 15 years... Just wondering if I should spend the extra 100 and go for the pro version, but I think that's a luxury problem, objectively for what it is it's too expensive anyway, $400 would be adequate I'd say.
Edited: December 26, 2018, 8:11 PM · I have a Yoga (heavy, but fast and full featured editing.) I recently purchased an RCA pro 12” android tablet for around $130 refurbed. I have had to put my library on Google drive due to pdf formatting issues that I’ve never encountered before. I put the library on my lenovo and synced it to drive to get it to work on both.
That said, the RCA is light, works with my usb page turner, and cheap if I drop it. I also have a stretch silicone x shaped cover that keeps it stable on ANY music stand. I have not played out with it, but I could see where I would have used it in past hard page turns that I can now half scroll during rests.
I don’t know that I would use it when sharing a stnad in a section.
It does have a glossy finish, but maybe a matte screen protector would help?
December 26, 2018, 11:09 PM · Might be a solution as long as you do not have to play outside. If the screen protector does as expected. How long is it's battery lifespan until recharge?
December 28, 2018, 10:20 PM · Several hours. In reading mode, it’s not processing, so low energy consumption.
December 29, 2018, 12:13 AM · With several hours,you mean rather three or rather ten hours? (If the brightness of the screen is in the upper third)
Edited: December 29, 2018, 6:46 PM · I'm not persuaded by the Boox Max 2 at this point, though it's a very promising initial effort. I'd take another look in a year or two as they develop the product.

Several deal breakers for me: 1) Not backlit 2) doesn't run newer Android (it runs Mobilesheets in Android 6 but who knows about the future). 3) Costs almost as much as a new Ipad Pro and 4) Some reviews on Amazon raise questions about support and warranty.

I have owned both the Samsung Note Pro 12.1 and the Ipad Pro 12.9 and I like them both. ForScore for iOS and MobileSheets Pro for Android are both excellent.

You can get a used 12.9 Ipad for $500 on Ebay, which is cheaper than a Boox anyway. (you probably don't need more than 32 GB for sheet music).

I think Samsung Note Pro 12.1 can be had even cheaper though Samsung doesn't make it any more so long-term software support is a question mark.

If you need your tablet to be visible in direct sunlight I can see the attractiveness of the Boox. But I have never had a need for that. On the contrary, most of the time I use my tablet is in relatively dark interiors where the backlit LCD is essential.

I am not part of the Apple cult, but in this case I'd strongly recommend the Ipad for five reasons: 1) ForScore is wonderful, inexpensive (still $10) and has a big community behind it. 2) Ipads also have a large user base among musicians, so Apple is likely to continue to produce and support them. 3) The hardware itself is well built and, if treated well, should last many years. 4) Ipad Pros hold their value and if you buy one used and change your mind, you can sell it back to Ebay for pretty close to what you paid. So it's a low-risk proposition. 5) You might use an Ipad Pro 12.9 for practice at home but use a smaller one (Ipad mini? Air?) for performance -- and moving music back and forth among the devices is easy.

December 29, 2018, 10:39 PM · I want something that's not going to be totally obsolete in 3 years. I'm not buying a tablet that can't do OS upgrades, etc. It's bad enough you can't replace the battery in a tablet.

People wonder what happened to the middle class -- why we can't take our families out for pizza on Friday night. It's because we spend all our disposable income on electronic gadgets, software, and especially on telecom fees and digital subscriptions.

December 30, 2018, 2:18 AM · I have been using a Samsung Galaxy Note Pro with an S-pen, Mobilesheets Pro and a Pageflip Firefly page turner. I love being able to annotate and edit my music and especially helpful is taking a photo of sheetmusic, convert it to a pdf and display it as a full screen piece. That takes all of a couple of minutes.

I also have a glare free screen protector that completely eliminates reflection and glare, but actually I never had an issue with before I put it on.
That solution would work on the iPad as well.

I especially like with Musicsheets Pro enlarging my music and scrolling a half page at a time with the Pageflip. That saves me of needing to use my reading glasses :)

While it's convenient and simple to use once set up, and actually more efficient, as I have my ensemble music set up in set lists that can be added to or edited quickly as well, for performance I still prefer paper sheetmusic. I mainly use it for practice, lessons and rehearsals. I still don't trust electronic devices for live performances as I've read of countless train wrecks on stage due to tablet glitches, freezups etc.. And have witnessed a couple myself.

As to tablet options, if within your budget, I see many musicians going to the Microsoft Surface Pro. It is a very versatile 13" tablet/laptop with detachable keyboard and now offered with an amazing 15" screen as well. Ram, storage, speed, battery life, resolution and versatility make this a no brainer except for the price. If I was going to go totally paperless and when my Samsung bites the dust, I think that's what I would shoot for.

December 30, 2018, 3:38 AM · Skip, the Microsoft Surface Pro runs on Windows 10. The usual sheet music apps run on Android. I'm no tech geek at all, so please forgive me the stupid question.
If I was going to use my laptop for reading sheet music (it's from the hp spectre x360 series which is a bit heavy but can be turned into tablet mode and should be fine enough on a solid music stand), I'd like to have a solution that would allow me to transfer not only my sheet music library to an android device (which is rather easy), but also the annotations I made. The easiest solution seems to me running an android app on windows 10. But is this possible, and how?
I'm considering waiting for the next Boox max generation, too - mainly because I miss the backlight.

Another topic that makes me desparate - would it be possible to sync an iPad with a non-IOS device? I'm not part of the Apple universe and run completely on windows and Android...

The issue with direct sunlight isn't too big for me either. Especially with sheet music it's almost neglectible. Rather because I'd also use it for reading other stuff, like scientific journals or things like that. My job binds me about 60 hours per week indoors to mostly darkened rooms, so I'd really like to do at least the paperwork in daylight, and be it only at a train window. It's this option that attracts me most at the Boox. And since I'd also (officially I'd say "mainly") use it for my job, I can deduct it from tax purposes, which really makes it very much cheaper in a country where income is massively taxed... (So Pizza is still available, but I totally get your point, Paul!) This maybe isn't an option for me with an ordinary tablet, since I've got the hp Spectre in my tax return of 2017... But that's a different topic.

December 30, 2018, 7:17 AM · Did it. 14 days return policy, so what... I'll keep you tuned!
December 30, 2018, 1:08 PM · Nuuska, MusicSheets, Mobilenotes and a couple of others I've seen are all compatible with Windows 10 devices. Also, Musicsheets has a companion app for Windows to sync your music and library with your Android device to save and store your music. It's a separate app from the Windows music reader version.

I have a cellist friend who switched from an iPad Pro to the 15" Surface and loves it. What she loves most with the 15" screen is it allows her to display sheet music to full size and still have borders large enough to write notes and annotations in. Also the ability to make the sheetmusic larger than standard for very busy pieces of music which she says is much easier to read from her stand.

Edited: January 6, 2019, 5:04 PM · Bigger is better! I'm a little jealous of a Surface 15, which is upgradeable.
As to RCA Pro 12 battery, so far I have not run it down. I would estimate at least 5 hours, but have not checked.
Google drive is still being a little funky going between android and syncing on Windows. It took the cd sheetmusic files that I put into a new file system and collapsed my new folders into unusable files. Most of my other files are ok.

Update: I was trying to sync to two windows computers- apparently drive gets confused when you do that. It works fine now that I’m only syncing one.

January 2, 2019, 3:01 PM · I have a related question. These devices are great, and yet sometimes they hesitate as they manage memory. This is fine if you’re surfing the web or reading a book, but page turns have to be absolutely reliable, every time. Have any of you actually gone for the next page and had the device make you wait while it “thinks?” Just curious....
January 2, 2019, 3:20 PM · A little delay may be even good for better control, as long as it is not too much. The Boox can be set to a mode with shorter delay, but then it doesn't refresh the whole page before showing the next, which can lead to some kind of memory shadow. But as much as I could see on several videos, the normal delay should be fine for sheet music page turns. An analogue page turn also takes it's time, and you'll never have to get your hands off the instrument again.
I already had my tablet stop and freeze several times. This never happened to my Kindle. And since I do not plan to install any app for more than reading, writing, occasionally looking up something in the internet, and eventually a tuning and metronome app, I expect the Boox to perform similarly. No excessive background processing...
Edited: January 2, 2019, 3:22 PM · But anyway I'll keep you updated - either if I'll send it back immediately, or after a few weeks of usage. There are already several hundred files waiting for an upload!
January 2, 2019, 6:58 PM · I don't think any tablet will be immune to lag at one point or another. My wife's iPad Pro will lag a page turn if she has other apps open in the background, some being more memory or processor hogs than others.

Closing apps not in use, periodic cache cleaning and periodic reboots help keep everything tidy and responsive.

That being said, many stand-alone readers are low in memory and processor power and will page-lag no mater what you do. I have read several reviews of dedicated sheetmusic readers having page and refresh lag as a chronic issue.

My Samsung Note Pro 12" is dedicated to music only. I periodically reset it, clean the cache and never have unnecessary background apps running, and as to date have never had any lag or delay issues using the Firefly page turner.

Another note, based on a previous complaint of tablet page turning and not being able to see the upcoming page until it appears on screen. Unless you have a Samsung View tablet, which is large enough to display two full pages at a time, my solution has been to enlarge my music size and display in landscape format, and with Mobilesheets scroll half pages as I play. This technique allows me to always read ahead.

I have also used tempo scrolling in landscape, which allows for a larger display than normal and will automatically scroll the music to the set tempo. The main problem with this method is with repeats, DC, DS and Codas. To deal with that, with songs I really prefer the auto scrolling on, is to add to the sheet music additional pages of those particular items in sequence of the music to be played. It actually works quite well. I've done the same thing when using the page turning pedal as it prevents me from making a mistake in back pedaling and possibly overshooting a page I needed to back up to. It keeps things simple, although so far with the Firefly, I haven't had a problem quickly backing up to a Segno on a different page.

January 3, 2019, 3:24 PM · Tom, I've got to store 1,2 meters of piano sheet music, 1,35 meters of violin sheet music, and about 40 centimeters of viola music. About 50% are copies and printouts, and the pile is growing rapidly thanks to ensemble playing and Petrucci Library. I don't mind the money if it is about the purchase of contemporary or modern classical music, but first I don't like markings in the originals, and second the rapidly increasing copy/printout section is a pain to organize. (My overloaded shelf still lacks a built in search function.) I'd be happy if the Boox would enable me to reduce or even dump this section!

And since I'm not the most proficient ent player no matter on which stringed instrument, I am really busy enough with me and my viola. In ensemble playing page turns often occur when one needs them least. (Especially in one ensemble whose conductor sets his own scores.) Will be a nice side effect to use a foot pedal!

Edited: January 3, 2019, 3:27 PM · (Not that I'd consider a sheet music pile of not even three meters as "too much" - but ask my wife.... and it's growing...)
January 3, 2019, 3:30 PM · (... and it's a bit tricky always having the right scores with you, no matter if for strings ensemble, orchestra 1, orchestra 2, violin lesson or occasional viola lesson... especially when there's no time to prepare, but always a hurry to get home from work, grab some stuff, and arriving on site just in time when all the rest is already done with tuning...)
January 3, 2019, 3:43 PM · But I also do understand thse who stick to paper and pencil. There is a reason why these reMarkable, Boox max etc. claim to be "like real paper"...
January 3, 2019, 7:59 PM · I’m still not a 100% convert. Agree with the small and slow and squinty comments.
What I DO like it for is having parts for the several instruments I paly in one handy place AND being able to scroll through bad page turns.
What I prefer is reading from and marking up a full sized page that I can print even larger as Iget older.
January 4, 2019, 1:17 AM · I will be very interested on your hands-on review of the Boox Max, Nuuska. Let us know when you get it.
Edited: January 6, 2019, 5:22 PM · Tom, on my 12" screen when I am using the tablet in portrait mode, standard size sheet music is displayed at original size because I crop the borders, no squinting. Many musicians use 10" tablets in landscape with larger fonts than standard sheetmusic. I normally have to use reading glasses for playing but now that I use the tablet in landscape mode and scroll half pages, my music is so much larger than normal I no longer have to use my reading glasses. That's a definite plus for me.

As for display, I find it actually easier to read the music on the tablet compared to paper in all light conditions because of the ability to change the background hue and font boldness, and no stand light needed. I also find under some conditions it's much easier on the eyes compared to paper to use night mode.

No small, slow or squinty issues at all. More organized, ALL my music immediately at hand, quicker retrieval and access than paper, able to organize multiple set lists using some common pieces without needing additional copies, better lighting, options of quick flip page turning or using a wireless pedal, hands free, ability to edit, highlight, annotate and transpose on the fly etc..

All the above being said, and although I have yet to have any tablet issues, I still don't trust a tablet for important or crucial performances.

As to the Boox Max2 I've read several good reviews on it and as far as E-ink readers go, one of the best. I would normally be very interested in it but a few features I consider important to me using a tablet, are missing on the E-ink tablets so far.

No backlighting (stand light needed for low light), no camera (I currently can take a quick photo of sheetmusic and immediately convert it to pdf for immediate use), refresh rates are considerably slower than non-Eink tablets (may or may not be an issue but complaints abound), and lastly, no color capability for highlighting or using color annotations/notes (not critical but I do use it a lot and like it). There are many who can definitely use an e-ink tablet for sheetmusic and serve them well but for me they just aren't versatile enough yet. With faster refresh rates, backlighting and a camera I'd be swayed.

January 6, 2019, 5:12 PM · Skip- good points. I use an old copy of acrobat to crop and rotate on my mac and windows laptops.

Paul- as to obsolescence, nothing is going to fit that bill. except maybe a new mac either book or pad. you’ll get more than three years with those. That’s why I went with the cheap RCA 12” pro: no tears if it’s problematic or broken. By putting everything on the cloud server, the device is less an issue, it’s only the interface and can have any pieces downloaded at any time.

January 6, 2019, 5:37 PM · Edward, true with the RCA Pro and obsolescence. I got my Samsung Galaxy Note pro 12" off ebay for $150 to experiment with a tablet for sheetmusic use and although it is still on Android 5.0.2 and will remain so, I've been using it over a year now with no app or software issues, and don't foresee any in the near future.

The only apps I'm concerned with are for music and document use and so far are all backwards compatible and working great. Even my new Firefly had no compatibility issues with it. There are definitely great deals to be had with tablets in excellent condition but on older OS updates,that will be functionable and usable for years to come.

January 6, 2019, 8:05 PM · To hell with tablets. Why not just get a laptop with a touch-sensitive screen? Nice screen and you could convert a music stand to a custom holder. Battery life ... is that the issue? TigerDirect has some nice refurbished 2-in-1 convertibles coming in under $600.

HP Spectre Pro X360 G1 Convertible PC - Intel Core i7-5600U 2.6GHz, 8GB DDR3, 512GB SSD, 13.3" Touchscreen, 3x USB 3.0, Bluetooth, Win 10 Pro, 1 Year Warranty, Grade A Refurbished - KIT-HP-58249, US$579.00

January 8, 2019, 12:09 AM · Paul, I have a touch screen 2-in-1 14" screen Asus laptop that has great stylus function that I've tried as a music reader and while it performs as well if not better than a tablet, it is heavier and just not quite as comfortable to handle or toss in a music bag.

Now a Microsoft Surface Pro with detachable keyboard is a different story. If I continue to use a tablet as a music reader, I plan to eventually switch to a Surface. I got to use a friend's for a week and she already had it set up as a music manager/reader and it worked amazingly well in every aspect. I prefer the 15" screen, and it will outperform any tablet in memory, processor, graphics refresh, storage and versatiliy. But for now, my current tablet is serving me well.

January 8, 2019, 11:32 AM · Paul, is there any dedicated sheet music reader app that would run on win10? Actually I own a hp spectre convertible and tried to use it that way before starting up the eReader experiment, but I didn't now how to get my annotations onto the pdf files...
January 8, 2019, 9:29 PM · Paul, My lenovo touchscreen yoga laptop is sooo heavy and it scares me when it’s teetering on a music stand.
January 8, 2019, 9:38 PM · Edward surely that depends on the stand. But I also have in mind non-solo use where your stand will be at the shorter height for seated playing.
January 8, 2019, 9:39 PM · Timothy did you write all your own backing tracks or are you using a robot/app (such as iRealPro).
Edited: January 8, 2019, 9:42 PM · As far as dedicated software, I don't know about that. I thought MobileSheets had a Windows app, but I'm not sure. There are lots of programs that will allow you to mark up PDF. As you might expect the better ones are offered by Adobe.

Skip -- the PRICE of that 15" surface pro?

January 9, 2019, 3:59 AM · Latest findings: there is a dedicated MusicSheets version for Win10. And the best: all devices (no matter if Win10 PC or Android tablet) can be synchronized via Google drive.

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