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If you are in the market to buy a touch screen laptop, chances are that you’ve read about passive and active digitizer touch screens. I’m frequently asked; what is a digitizer?  If you’re like most people who are new to touchscreen laptops, you’re probably pretty confused about what you actually need to look for when making your purchasing decision.  Let’s take a moment and discuss the difference between passive and active digitizers.

Passive digitizer touch screens have sensors in the screen to recognize pressure which causes a change in the electronic current going through them at the location the screen was touched.  With a passive digitizer touchscreen, you can use your finger or a non-electronic stylus to write on the screen and make input selections.  One problem that people have been facing with passive digitizers is that touchscreen laptops often have their screens folded over so that the user can write on them like they are writing on a regular piece of paper.  The problem occurs when the user rests their hand on the screen like they would rest it on a piece of paper while writing, this causes the computer to think that the user intended to make a selection with their palm.  This can cause all kinds of input errors and can be quite frustrating.

The advantage of a passive digitizer touchscreen is that you don’t have to use a digital pen when writing on the screen or when making selections.  It’s sometimes nice to just be able to reach up and touch the screen and press the send button with your finger when you finish writing an e-mail.  The problem is that the screen just isn’t smart enough to know that you didn’t intend to make an input selection if your palm accidental rubs against the screen.  Engineers are working at developing ways too get passive digitizers to ignore bumping the screen with your palm but they aren’t there yet. 

It’s a challenging task because many people are beginning to become familiar with what is called multi touch functionality.  Multi-touch screens make it possible for users to touch the screen at more than one point at a time and the screen will recognize both input points.  This is commonly used when manipulating photographs on the screen.  The user can touch the photograph with two fingers and rotate their hand and the picture will actually rotate in the screen. This is just one example of a mulit-touch gesture. There are many more.

Active digitizer touch screens require the use of an electronic pen.  In days past, electronic pens were tethered to the computer with a cord that had a wire imbedded inside of it.  Modern day digital pens generally have a small battery in them and are self powered.  The advantage that active digitizer touch screens have over passive digitizer touch screens is twofold.  The first advantage is that handwriting is recognized much more clearly on a touch screen laptop that is equipped with an active digitizer.  The pen strokes that are displayed on the screen are much smoother and they closely represent your actual handwriting style.  Another advantage is that the screen only recognizes input from the electronic pen.  Therefore, if you have your screen folded over and you are writing on your touchscreen laptop like you would write on any old paper notebook, the computer won’t be confused by your hand rubbing against the screen.

Only you can decide which type of touchscreen will best suit your needs.  The best way to know for sure is to get your hands on both computers with types of systems and play around with them for a while.


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tablet_computer
  2. http://mobilepcwiki.com/mpc/index.php?title=Getting_Started:_Active_or_Passive_Digitizer

I receive compensation due to affiliate links or endorsements on this website: Disclosure of Compensation