(Graphic) Tablet fever

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There's been a lot of talk lately about Apple's rumored tablet computer. And while it's fun to speculate on whether or not this product will come to pass and when, why not focus on tablets that actually exist in the here and now? The Mac market has plenty of graphics tablets available that appeal to everyone from professional graphic designers, artists, and photographers to businesspeople and the scrapbooking crowd.

And they can certainly come in handy, even for people who've opted for a total keyboard workflow in order to avoid mousing. Mouse refugees have various reasons for giving up on the things: mice are kind of clumsy and don’t provide enough precision; some artists who are used to drawing with a writing implement such as a pen, pencil, marker, or charcoal stick, can’t stand the thought of pushing a mouse on a tabletop. And there are those who, for ergonomic reasons, learned to use a graphic tablet to avoid repetitive stress syndrome (the kind where every click registers in the shoulder or neck). Whatever the reason, tablets can be fun to use, and an increasing number of them are targeted to general consumers and businesspeople. While I personally would love to use a pen and tablet instead of a mouse, I have a left hand-right hand issue that prevents that from happening. (In case you’re interested, I’m one of those lefties who mouses rightie. So while I can navigate through documents and do general selections with my right hand, any detail work such as photo editing would have to switch to my left hand, and all that switching back and forth is awkward.)

Here at Macworld, when someone says “tablet” we think “Wacom.” There’s a good reason for that. For the longest time, Wacom was practically synonomous with graphic tablets for Mac users, and in terms of sheer numbers and variety, Wacom continues to dominate the Mac graphic tablet market. Today, Wacom sells several varieties of tablets for different segments of users: There’s the high-end (read: pro-level and expensive) Cintiq, the middle ground (read moderately priced business and professional) Intuos 4, and the consumer oriented (read entry level, and cheaper) Bamboo line. It also has a wireless (bluetooth) Graphire model. Other companies such as Adesso also offer Mac-compatible tablets. All these come with pens, and some even ship with a companion mouse too.

Some brand new entries into this arena come from Genius, which has just released a couple of consumer oriented USB graphic tablets. The EasyPen i405 ($79) and MousePen i608 ($99) are designed for for business folk, graphic designers, and artists. The EasyPen i405 has 28 programmable hot keys while the MousePen i608 has 29. These give you instant and easy access to common Microsoft Office and internet functions, according to the company.

The accompanying cordless pen (which requires a AAA battery) features 1024-levels of pressure sensitivity and two buttons for controlling shapes and thickness while drawing or writing. The EasyPen i405 has a 4-inch-by-5.5-inch working area for portability such as use in a car, coffee shop, or mobile office. The MousePen i608 has a larger 8-inch-by-6-inch working area and includes a cordless mouse with an integrated scroll wheel.

Both tablets can be used to write, draw, sketch, or sign documents. You can use the device to edit photos, make comments, personalize documents, and navigate your workspace. The tablets work on both the Mac and the Windows OS, but may be a tad alienating to us because the software bundled with them is targeted to the operating system that is not ours. Nonetheless, they do ship with a Mac driver. Right now, absent any real testing, I can’t say how well the Genius tablets actually work, but stand by. We’ll get back with you on that soon.

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