Even though Wacom is the name in graphics tablets, I decided to go with a brand I hadn’t heard of. My primary reason was because the Wacom tablet I wanted was a couple hundred dollars more than I wanted to spend. I possibly would have bought that one if I could have tested it in a store and been sure I would be able to effectively use it. I ended up buying the Genius MousePen 8×6 tablet from NewEgg for just $44.99.
First, I’ll cover the Windows experience. I plugged in the device and installed all of the software that came on the CD (I don’t really care if my Windows install becomes more bloated, it’s the first time I’ve booted into it in about a month), so I could have the “full experience.” The tablet comes with a trial of Corel Painter 8 (which is apparently old, because their site has the X version), so I was curious how well this software worked. The kindergarten-style painting I did was a 15-minute job without knowing how to do anything in the program. I am rather impressed. The pressure sensitivity controls the opacity of most of the tools (you can use brushes with different types of paints, pencils, felt-tip pens, etc.), which is more fun than you would think. It’s better than most video games I’ve played lately… Comparatively, Photoshop adjusts the size of the brush based on pressure, which is decidedly less useful. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was an option to change this, but I am getting away from commercial software and this was just a quick test.
Ubuntu Feisty (Linux)
I actually tested the tablet in Ubuntu first, but had some issues. It “worked” just by being plugged in, but it didn’t work well. The tablet is supposed to be a representation of your screen, so pressing on the center of the tablet would be like clicking on the center of the screen. Unfortunately the tablet and screen did not agree on any positions and continually changed (one minute the right edge would be the right edge, the next minute it would be the center). I looked around and found a Linux driver that sounded promising. I tried to follow the install instructions and it broke X. After a lot of fussing around, I was able to fix my mistakes and I came across a more accurate guide. After some more work, I finally had some success: the tablet was properly working! It correctly mapped the tablet to the screen (there is even a calibration tool for this).
After some quick tests, it is working well in both Inkscape and Xara Xtreme, but pressure sensitivity does not appear to function. I’ll have to play around with it some more, because that’s a very important feature when creating detailed work, but the lack of pressure sensitivity shouldn’t affect my work on comics too much. We’ll see…
I’m sure I’ll post more about this later, but my initial impression is good. One thing to consider is that some reviews said there were problems with this tablet (and many others) on dual monitors. I haven’t tested it out with the other monitor attached, so I can’t confirm that, but it wouldn’t surprise me. I haven’t been affected by using the “normal ratio” tablet with my widescreen laptop, but dual monitors poses a bigger problem with that and other issues. With the Linux driver, you could adjust the calibration (this may be possible in the Windows driver too, I didn’t try), but it would probably still be a bit awkward.