An Introduction to Digital Tablets

The major parts of this hardware are a mouse, a tablet, and a pen. For general navigation, the mouse that comes with the tablet is completely capable of replacing your old mouse. Its size, shape, and capabilities are the same as a regular mouse; only this one doesn't work off of the tablet. If you prefer to do so, you can combine your current mouse with the new tablet and pen. For a really good time, plug both mice in and roll around with both hands. Dance, little pointer!

Next, the tablet generally acts as the pad for the pen and mouse. Sweeping either of the two tools over the surface enables the creation of lines or repositioning of desktop items, among many other things. The tablet has a mapped out area of space on it that coincides with positions on the computer screen; meaning that if you place the pen on the lower left-hand corner of the active space, the pointer will move to the lower left-hand corner of the screen (this action doesn't work the same way with the mouse, however, because the mouse doesn't follow absolute positioning).

Finally, the tablet pen looks, feels and works like a regular pen would. However, the pen has a completely different relationship with the tablet than the mouse does. It takes a while to get used to the action of the pen. The absolute positioning is so different from the relative motion of a mouse that it can get confusing; but then again, the function of the pen is for drawing while the mouse is more a navigational tool. However, there is a side button that clicks and renders the same actions as a mouse button. Sometimes the pen turns in your hand and the button ends up under a finger, causing some trouble when in the midst of illustrating or doing something precise.

If you are a big fan of using a pencil and paper to create special details and textures, the tablet's drawing functions might not be good enough to replace your usual artistic endeavors. The tablet does make some sketching easy, though hardly as beautiful as hand-drawn art. But, if you don't care as much for the extreme details, the tablet works very well to replace the traditional pen and paper.


We compared three tablets in the sub-$150 price range, all meeting the entry-level requirements for this roundup.

Each of these tablets is connected to the computer via a USB cable. Aiptek's HyperPen models provide a generous 6 feet of cord from tablet to computer, while Wacom's Graphire3 offers a potentially problematic 4 and a half feet.

Index Wacom's Graphire3
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  • AMD4ME2 - Sunday, December 7, 2003 - link

    cool.. I've wanted one for a long time... continue to explore this avenue.. I would like to see just how good the top of the line tablets all.... Oh and .. what kind of drugs were taken during the testing of these tablets.. cause that creature is "Jacked-Up Like a Soup Sandwich"
  • Adul - Sunday, December 7, 2003 - link

    You are close Virge ;) well it is soon-to-be
  • clevere1 - Sunday, December 7, 2003 - link

    You can also use tablets as a mouse replacement. I use the Intuos (I think it's the older brother of the Intuos2) for everything I do on the computer, except for 3D games like Quake and such.
  • ivwshane - Sunday, December 7, 2003 - link

    I do really hope for a mid level tablet review. I'm considering getting a tablet for casual use and to expand my artistic skills. After talking to an artist friend I got impression that any tablet will do but after this article it appears not to be the case. I would really like to have an accurate drawing tool but I don't know if it's worth the price difference to go with the intuos2 over the graphire3.

    Tablets have been around for a while and it's about time someone did a round up:D
  • Redviffer - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    Wow, I didn't know Anand knew all those cool people. :)

    I think that at the prices (sub-$150), they are still a little pricey "just to have", that is unless you can really put this to good use. I know I'd actually like to get one, as I can see my kids really having a blast with drawings. I'll keep an eye out, as with all things, the prices will drop. Thanks for the article.
  • AgaBooga - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    Same as #4
  • ViRGE - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    Sorry to go off-topic, but I noticed the new author(Laura Wilson). I take it she's Derek's wife?
  • Doop - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    I just bought a Wacom Intuos 2 (model up from graphire) as a Chrismas present for my graphic designing girlfriend, who currently draws then scans in line drawing then touches them up with a mouse in photoshop.

    I was a little worried that the pen wouldn't be accurate or sensitive enough for her to use comfortably, basically that it wouldn't live up to the hype.

    If the Graphire is that good (thanks for the review) then the Intuos 2 I bought should be totally sweet. She'll be so happy there'll be no picky remarks about my heavy drinking over the yule tide period. Nice.
  • AgaBooga - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    Gaming isn't something tablets are designed for. I have one at home and they're really light, easy to draw on, and are very portable with long battery life. Those are the main selling points of a tablet IMO on top of the ability to write on them
  • Shalmanese - Saturday, December 6, 2003 - link

    Did you try gaming with the tablet?

    I don't know about 3d games but I imagine games like C&C might benifit enourmously from tablet use.

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