Zaxcom Nomad Touch

For those of you interested in acquiring Zaxcom's new Touch software and pairing it with a tablet to run with your Nomad 12 (N12), here is a writeup of my experience acquiring and setting up the Touch software and WinBook TW700 tablet, along with some setup tips and thoughts about the Touch in general. 

Full Writeup & Link to Discussion Group Here: ---> Zaxcom Touch on JWSound

Acquisition -

First, you must order the Touch software and cable set from a dealer of your choosing, as well as determine which tablet you wish to use and of course order the tablet itself. Nomad Touch is available now from the Usual Suspects, and I received mine within one week of placing my order. 

Tablet Choice - 

You have the ability to choose from many tablets, but I opted to stay with the WinBook TW700 which is what Zaxcom advises on their website (smaller of the two choices they recommend, WinBook TW700 vs. TW800 - 7" vs. 8" screen size). You should acquire a tablet which has the proper connections in order to take full advantage of the Touch software, and the TW700 was the most affordable option which I could find which fit that criteria, listed on Zaxcom's website as follows:

  • 2 x USB ports, or a USB port and a charging port for simultaneous operation and charging
  • SD or MicroSD slot for immediate transfer of MP3 audio files to a physical card to hand off
  • Audio input jack for recording MP3 files, you’ll need this to input the audio
  • Audio output Jack to use the Nomad Touch playback feature
  • WiFi capable / Internet ready to upload MP3 files

I just couldn't see spending hundreds more for a much better tablet for this purpose, meaning that for me at least, getting Nomad Touch up and running has a price ceiling. Each user will view this choice through their own captain's chair.

Once you receive your tablet, Touch cabling and software code, you are ready to begin setup. When your Touch arrives, what you are actually receiving are the specific cables required to connect your tablet to your N12, as well as a software code which the dealer you order from will provide to you.

Note that when you place your order, your dealer may opt to send your code via email instead of physically with your interface cables, so be on the lookout for that code. 

Upgrade Code -

To enter your upgrade code, enter the ENG menu and go to the Advanced section. The manual is unclear about how to properly enter this code, and if you do it incorrectly you will see a screen that keeps saying 'Demo Mode Has Ended' when you try to connect your tablet and open the software.

The proper way to enter the code is as follows:

  1. Go to ENG menu
  2. Go to Advanced menu within the ENG menu
  3. Find the screen which says Upgrade Code
  4. Using your 'soft keys' on Nomad, enter your alpha-numeric code (numbers and letters correspond with single vs. double key presses - meaning, to enter the letter 'C', you would press the ZNET key twice in rapid succession. You will upon the first press of ZNET see '3', and upon the second press of ZNET the number will rotate to the letter 'C'. Just look at the face of a Nomad and you will see what I mean. After each entry of a letter or number, the curser will automatically shift to the next entry point. You can go backward or forward if needed by scrolling using the menu knob.)
  5. DO NOT 'enter' the code by pressing the menu knob in after the code has been entered
  6. Wait for your Nomad to 'digest' the code for a moment
  7. At the bottom of your screen, Nomad will prompt you that the code was entered correctly and that it is time to reboot
  8. Reboot only when prompted
  9. Note that the Nomad manual states clearly that, "Warning by randomly entering in code numbers can cause your Nomad to lock up." Mine did not lock up, but my advice is to go slowly and try to enter the code correctly the first time. 

Once the Nomad has been upgraded, you are free to connect all Touch cabling to your tablet and begin setup.

Setup of Tablet - 

The TW700 is an incredibly flawed piece of equipment. I despise having to use this piece of gear. I would much prefer to be able to use an Apple product for an interface vs. any Windows based unit. At this point however, I do not see other Windows based options within a reasonable price range for this setup (the better tablets are significantly more expensive), but I will continue to look and will happily replace this tablet as soon as possible.

My advice to you is to first understand that the touch screen capabilities of the TW700/800 are almost non-functional for general setup of the device and for downloading and installing the Touch software. Use a mouse. This is the first and most important thing to get you up and running. If you try to set this tablet up without using a mouse, then good luck to you, I bid you well and suggest you grab a stiff drink. 

If your tablet starts talking to you like mine did as soon as I powered it up, Google how to turn this talking nonsense off. Once you shut the machine up and get past the ridiculous anti-virus pop-ups that start immediately upon powering up the tablet, and once you find your way around for a few minutes and complete your general setup, you may then setup your WIFI and navigate to Zaxcom's website using your tablet.

Download the Touch software and save it to the Desktop. At this point you should open the Zaxcom Touch Manual and find the section titled 'Setting up the PC'. Follow these directions exactly.

Once your software has been installed, you are ready to follow the directions in the manual for 'Connecting Touch with Nomad'. Connect the physical cabling per the instructions exactly.

IMPORTANT: Your cabling has a 'Nomad' end and a 'PC' end. Do not connect the cable wrong or you can damage the cable. Once connected properly according the the manual, make sure everything is powered up and open the program link on the desktop of your tablet.

Touch should open and you can being to play.

Hardware & Ergonomics Impressions - 

After getting the software up and running, and after 'winning' my battle with the TW700 the first thing I noticed is that the Touch is definitively a setup which requires antenna distribution in the bag. I am unable to even access my tablet's screen with my antennas sticking up out of the bag. As I don't yet have an antenna distribution system, Touch is automatically shelved for me until this occurs. I simply can't use it in the field with antennas sticking up in the way. This may seem like a very obvious thing, but it's something I only fully realized upon setting the Touch software and tablet up. 

My tablet came with a very long, overly thick power cable. Aside from not wanting to carry around a long power cable that is heavy, my tablet's connection to that power cable was loose and the tablet would lose power constantly upon any wiggling or moving of the cable and would power down when the battery was low. I switched power cables, but now it appears that it's the physical power connection on the tablet because I have to keep the power cable perfectly still to prevent power loss. I'm going to have to tape this down somehow or else the tablet will die within a couple of hours of a full charge.

It should be noted also that the power and audio cables sticking out of the side of the tablet are not at all protected, and are both fragile and easy to disrupt. At some point, right angle or short connectors would be ideal. I am currently not a fan of this type of open and physically sensitive setup for gear, and would not consider this reliable in the field. My personal preference will be to route these cables and protect them in a manner that makes this setup more robust. Time will tell how people are getting around this, or if it even proves to be a problem in the field.

I am also unable to power my tablet through my Nomad directly, and have to use my BDSv4u's USB power port, which means I lose the ability to charge a phone throughout the day. I dislike this, but it's something I can get around with some modifications to my BDS setup. This one is one me I guess.

It is well known that this next point is in process, but I would indeed like to be able to continue to use my FP8 with Touch. At this time, that is not possible.

I also suggest that you immediately replace the 1/8" audio cable Zaxcom sends you with one that is much shorter and lighter and which fits your bag. The one I received was about 10' long, simply unnecessary for this purpose.

Software Impressions - 

First, the software looks excellent. I love the aesthetics of it. I love the coloring, will get used to the layout and I very much like having a massive screen to look at and work with. Conceptually, this is what drew me to Touch in the first place; the idea of having an easy-to-use interface that is both fun and fast to use to enter meta-data and make routing and other workflow changes due to its touch-screen capability. My goal with Touch was to make my workflow faster and easier.

Some minor issues and opinions:

  • At two times so far the Touch software has randomly disconnected from the tablet and displays a message that says 'Offline' and then after about 30 seconds or so it says 'Found Nomad' and then Touch automatically reconnects. I'm not sure if this is hardware or software related, but it's random at this time. I'll keep testing before I bring it to the field and will see how often this occurs. So far, the process to 'fix' this is to simply wait for Touch to reacquire Nomad. 
  • I would very much like the ENG panning screen in Nomad to be available on Touch in its same format if possible. This screen in Nomad simply does what it is supposed to do extremely well, and much faster and more intuitively than I am able to do using the Touch software's output routing matrix. 
  • Scene and Take are not reflecting properly between Nomad and Touch for me. 
  • Track names on the Home screen do not mirror actual track names unless I switch from the Home screen to the Output Mix screen and then back again. Probably a simple bug, and I definitely was able to get the track names updated properly after doing this.
  • To view my output meters, I must select them on the bottom of the Home screen, but I really want a view which is like the view Nomad which shows my tracks as well as outputs 1-2. In this way, I can see my output levels and tracks at the same time.

Output meters viewed separately from tracks:

Conclusion -

In my opinion, the weakest link in this chain is far and away the consumer tablet required to interface with Nomad in order to use Nomad Touch. Yes, the entire idea is to interface a preexisting piece of gear within our workflows and I completely understand that it is impossible and impractical for Zaxcom to create a proprietary tablet for example, but using consumer grade gear poses problems in the real world. The thing I value above all else when using professional gear in the field is just that, that it is professional. Professional gear should be rugged, easy to use and trustworthy. The WinBook TW700 is none of those things. I have already spoken to other mixers who feel similarly about this tablet, and at least one mixer I know of has had their TW700 tablet die completely after just a few short months of use. One thing I have to experiment with is the 'when the tablet dies' scenario. How do I bail in a timely manner while on location?

One thought that I keep having during this learning process is that I am now required to learn a completely new interface that is set up so differently than my Nomad menu structure. Yes, theoretically the interface has a much larger screen and is easier and faster to use, but honestly I have spent a long time getting fast at problem solving and making changes in my Nomad. Now I am volunteering to learn another menu structure all over again. Again, it could be argued that it's easier, but even if things are easier to see because the screen is larger, everything is now in a different place and that does require some memory to use in a fluid manner under the stress of location sound mixing.

Of course the argument is that with any piece of gear there is a new learning curve, and it's something that can be tackled over time, but at this point in my experience with the Touch (remember I have not yet used it in the field for reasons stated above), my overwhelming question is 'when do I want to use this and why?'.

Conceptually, the types of jobs I intend to use the Touch with are sit down interviews, corporate work and other such jobs where monitors and a full cart setup are not required, but which exceed the single boom and lav days where I'll simply opt to run my Maxx. So in other words, jobs that for me fall in between very simple and very complex are the target of this setup. However, I'm already beginning to think about the days when I have a sit down interview setup and the producer asks me to throw on a harness and do a quick walk and talk down a hallway or around an office building, for example. Again, I have yet to experience this request with the tablet attached to my bag, but this is something that happens every now and then in the field and something to consider.

Without any intent to sound negative or rigid, my thought process keeps guiding me toward the following line of questioning: Why should I complicate my field workflow when I already have a completely reliable machine of which I understand and know the menu structure? What is the added benefit to me to add this screen to my kit for jobs which I can already handle excellently with an FP8 and my existing Nomad screen? Does it indeed make things easier on me in the field having the touch screen capability, or have I now introduced a consumer grade machine which complicates a previously simple workflow simply for the advantage of a beautiful display? These are questions I will continue to ask myself as I evaluate my experience.

More simply put, the major question for me is:

Does the Touch make my location workflows and setups easier, or am I trying to solve a problem that I do not have? 

Make no mistake, Nomad Touch is a great advance in how we interface with our digital audio recorders, but this technology is still in it's infancy and not all of the software and hardware issues have been solved. As with any new technology it will take time to iron out the details and workflow, and each person will view it in their own light.

I hope I don't sound like I'm bashing the product or even the concept. I truly commend Zaxcom on this type of innovation, I'm very excited to get past my own personal 'sticking points' and I really do intend to use the product in the field. After all, I put my money where my mouth is and bought all the gear to do it. My hope is that with a few adjustments on my end, a few software tweaks and the right job, I am able to sit comfortably behind a beautiful screen and 'wow' myself with this product.

Updates to follow as my use of Touch progresses.