Today’s Trivial Tablets… Graphic Tablets!

Talking about tablets nowadays can be easily construed as those along the lines of the iPad, the Galaxy Tab, the Transformer, and the multitude of slabs of glass which perform mobile computing functions; There was a time however when these meant an entirely different class of devices, those that allow you to draw or sketch on the computer with an accuracy unequaled of that given by a mouse.

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As an illustrator myself, I find the impending need to get myself one of these before they begin to disappear from market shelves due to the lack of demand; Graphic tablets after all appeal to a very specific demographic and can take up a lot of space on store shelves which retailers might want to use for more profitable / saleable items.

Unlike the mouse which you would have hundreds to choose from, tablets can almost be accounted for with a single hand. In the country, at present, there are only three brands with this offering namely: Wacom, Genius, and Kanvus… I used to see a Manhattan variant but I guess they pulled out.

Wacom comes with two offerings: Bamboo – is the more basic, entry level tablet line and Intuos – is their professional line. There is also the Cintiq which features on-screen drawing for a more natural feel but we will only focus on those without screens for now. Genius has the GPen, and Kanvus has 4 tablets of different sizes and names.

There are three characteristics which make a tablet good and they are: pressure sensitivity (of which the highest is 2048 levels), the pen itself (whether it’s battery operated or not and whether it has enough functions on its body), and the mat (which tends to lend itself for use undermining the presence of a physical keyboard altogether).

Further focusing the comparison onto the 6×9 category which is the average size we see only four candidates:

  • Genius GPen F509 at 3,100 (there is an F610 but I cant find any yet)
  • Kanvus Life106 at 6,900
  • Bamboo Pen and Touch CTH-661 at 10,000
  • Intuos 4 Medium at 19,500 / Wireless at 22,800

The huge disparity between the prices is quite interesting and is what’s currently keeping me from taking one from out of store shelves. There is a direct proportionality to the usability of these devices to their prices: the main ones being battery free operation, guided customizable buttons, specialized paper-like surface, multiple nibs and ambidextrous design.

For a technology that has been around for more than three years, for the manufacturers most recent iterations, these designs have been very persistent. Looking around forums you wont be able to find much about any future plans for these technologies, the most recent being a wireless version of the Intuos 4. And even though wireless usually equates to a minute, often unrecognizable, lag, this seems to be the best choice for a workstation setup.

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Artistic preference also come into play with this purchasing decision. Some swear by the smooth glass-like surface of the earlier Intuos 3 rather than the paper-like surface of the 4 saying that the nibs are greatly affected by these and causes more wear and that they’d much more likely take home a second hand Intuos 3 instead of a new Intuos 4.

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Of course the only real evaluation would come from testing these myself and finding out my personal preference. The continuous innovation of touch technologies continue to change the computing landscape; however, there is very little accuracy that can be offered by finger painting. No matter what major software manufacturers such as Adobe and Autodesk try and compensate for this using extensive brush controls, the fine tip of the pen and its operational feel cannot be so simply replaced.

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