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VisTablet Stylus for drawing

Using the "Vista" tablet on a Mac By Ko Maruyama
After several elementary students asked me about different stylus/tablet options, I looked into the lower cost range of tablets to see what is available in larger sizes.  One of the options that JourneyEd (an educational reseller) offers is VisTablet.  I figured I'd give the tablet a try.  Here's what you might expect on a Mac.

Although the tablet and stylus are marketed for the PC / Vista OS, it also works on the Mac OS.  As a Mac fan, I didn't like the fact that the tablet has "Windows Vista Ready" stuck to the hardware - but a diligent fingernail and some alcohol will remove that eyesore.

For you other Mac fans, you'll note that the tablet ships with an iconographic layout of functions around the outside of the drawing area.  These are PC icons, but the tablet surface can be lifted, and the paper with the printed icons can be switched out for a separate printout with Mac-like icons that also comes in your VisTablet package.

I've used Wacom tablets for a decade and continue to use an Intuos3.   I had the luxury of learning on a Quantel machine, which featured a 12x18"  Wacom tablet.  The nearest size now is the Wacom 12x19 which is about $750.  It was connected $125,000 machine - which might be a little bit out of your budget range.  The Wacom 6x11 (about the same size as the VisTablet) weighs in at just about $370.   By contrast, the VisTablet with a 6.2 x 10" active area is $130 / retail.  (If you are a student, you can get the VisTablet for $110, the Wacom will cost you $330 with the same discount).

Before I make the stringent comment that "you get what you pay for", this tablet does much more than you'd expect for something that costs one-third the price of the top of the line, professional artist's brand.

24 Separate Customizable Functions (If you're running Vista OS)

The tablet comes with driver software for the Mac, but under OS X 10.4.10, none of the function keys work on the tablet.  This means that all of those programmable areas around the outside of the drawing surface have no purpose under the currently available driver.

The pen is fairly well-balanced in the hand.  Although the plastic is a little lightweight, unlike other battery operated pens, the battery (AAA) does a reasonably good job to evenly weight the pen.  When you first unbox the stylus, you might be surprised to feel how light the construction is, until you get the battery into it.  Like many prepackaged batteries - the one that shipped with the tablet didn't seem to have much juice in it.  Replacing it with a new Duracell improved the functionality of the stylus immediately.

The tablet has 1,024 levels of sensitivity from surface to pen, but I found it difficult to gauge how the stylus was reacting to the tablet.  The click sensitivity setup preferences are defined by a variation of percentage (0-100%), but there was no perceptible difference when changing this parameter.  However, when using the tablet with software like Photoshop, Flip Boom or Art Rage 2, the stylus demonstrates a variable stroke and pressure sensitive opacity that you'd expect from a tablet.

I will be using the VisTablet in upcoming tutorials to review some low cost and free drawing software.  This tablet might be an inexpensive introduction to drawing on a computer for your children.  Although it's still above the $100 price range, the tablet has a large drawing area and allows for images to be placed under the drawing surface (allowing you to trace hardcopy materials).  At only 5mm high, this tablet it ultra thin, which is a benefit for those who need to consider storing it when it's not in use.

One impressive feature for the tablet is the company's confidence in their product.  Although the tablet is offered close to cost, VisTablet offers a two-year replacement warranty.   New tablet users might find this surprising, because once you switch to a stylus/tablet navigation, you may never go back to the mouse.

Vistablet : "When you need more than a mouse".  It is their motto, and fitting.  This is a good alternative for those who are looking for something that will navigate their desktop a little differently than a mouse will.

This is not a professional artist's tool - which might be a drawback only if you assume that a tablet and stylus only belong in an artist's hand.   This tablet is also marketing itself to the "Office" crowd - and with Microsoft behind both Vista and the Office product line, there is more functionality than you'll find on a Mac.  I am currently rebuilding my PC laptop, and hope to have a review for its functionality under WindowsXP (if at all). I suspect it may have a better function under the Windows OS.

It looks surprisingly similar (if not identical) to the Genius G-Pen F610 product (which seems to retail about $30US more than the VisTablet).

The tablet is also offered with an optional mouse which functions on the surface of the tablet.  I did not have one at the time of this article, but you can see from the preferences that the three button mouse has the options you'd expect from any 3-button mouse.

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Ko Maruyama is a freelance animator in Los Angeles.  In addition to working on film and broadcast animations, Ko teaches at Pasadena's Art Center College of Design - focusing on motion design.  When working, writing or testing software allows, you can find him lending a hand in the After Effects board and lurking among the Cinema4D, Visual Effects and Photoshop posts within the DMNForums.
Related Keywords:product review, tablet, stylus, VisTablet, vista, VizTablet, wacom


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