So, recently I decided to try something I’ve never tried before, but have seen a lot of between colleagues, YouTube and various places in-between. As a creature of habit, this was quite a big change for me and is not something I took lightly. Swapping out a “standard” mouse for a small graphics tablet.
… but why?
I’m going to preface this by saying: I am not a graphics designer, animator, 3D modeller. So “why do I want to do this” is something I asked myself a good few times before making the change. To begin with, I bounced between:
- “This will definitely be more comfortable?”
- “Cleaner desk setup?”
- “Pointing exactly where I want when I want, no desk scrubbing?”
- “No janky compounded dust to clean up!”
Note: (almost) all of the above have question marks at the end! That’s right… I still wasn’t set on the idea.
The most appealing thought to me was the “more comfortable” part. I’d be able to keep the graphics tablet still, right up close to my keyboard – no reaching, no waving around the desk and holding a pen is much more natural than holding a mouse.
Researching some viable products
After a couple of months of researching, I decided to jump in to the graphics tablet world – but at the cheaper end. I wasn’t going to fork out a few hundred pounds for something that I might not even get along with! That’d be silly!!
So, I did some research and landed on the smaller 6″ x 4″ sized tablet. This seemed to be the best fit for both my spare desk real estate, comfort and overall usability (I’m not going to be doing any large, high resolution drawing).
Naturally, the first port of call was Wacom. Whether you’ve used a graphics tablet before or not, I’m willing to bet 99% of you have heard of Wacom before.
Wacom Intuos S
The Wacom Intuos S was extremely inviting, due to the fact that it had the smaller proportions I was looking for, but also has Bluetooth built in – so no wires!
However, at the time of researching it was closer to £100 than I was willing to initially invest! That being said, if you’re shopping on Amazon you can now get this for just over £50.
Next up was the Huion HS64. Same dimensions, but slightly different layout and obviously a slightly different stylus. The thing I like about this one is that the stylus does not require any batteries/recharging – it’s completely battery free!
It is wired, as opposed to the Wacom’s Bluetooth offering, but the price is much more attractive at (usually) below £35 on Amazon. With the HS64 though, you do get 4 customisable buttons that can be programmed to do whatever you want! It’s also compatible with Android devices – not something I was looking for at the time, but an interesting concept all the same!
The budget friendlier, little brother of the HS64 was also an option, but I feel that the working space on this (4″ x ~3″) is just a little too small. You do, however, benefit from simple plug-and-play (no driver install!) and great portability… plus it’ll only set you back around £20 depending on the package you choose!
XP-PEN G640 (the one I chose)
I’ll be completely honest, I’m not sure what drew me to the XP-PEN G640. Probably the price tag initially, at below £35 this seemed to be the sweet spot. Bear in mind, this price also includes 20 replacement pen nibs!
The stylus is also battery free, so no need to regularly charge it/change the battery. The unit is wired, which also means no recharging the actual tablet itself, however it does mean a wire on the desk. This does, however, result in an extremely thin device, measuring in at only 2mm thick!
You get a very respectable 8192 levels of pen pressure, the curve for which you can customise via software, along with two buttons which can also be customised to your liking.
I’ll be completely honest, this is where things will be hit and miss depending on who you are.
First up, there’s a pretty significant learning curve – especially if you work with multiple monitors, or ultra-wides. A 6″x4″ tablet is very similar in proportions to a standard widescreen monitor (16×9 – I know it’s not the same, but it’s similar), so navigating around the graphics tablet is similar to that of where you’d be pointing on the screen.
That being said, once you’re over the learning curve, there’s a lot of benefit to using a graphics tablet vs a mouse. For starters, I do a lot of screenshotting and hi-lighting/circling of key information in that screenshot. With a mouse, this is an unnatural movement and always looked a bit janky, whereas with a graphics tablet it’s almost identical to you circling something on a piece of paper.
Navigating around my screen is now much more comfortable – I feel my wrist is lying in a much more natural position when compared to a mouse. Furthermore, movement is “restricted” to the active area of the tablet (in my case, a 6″x4″ area), which means no over-stretching to reach my mouse, no repeated strokes to get a mouse all the way to the far edge of the screen.
There’s also the added benefit of being able to digitally sign documents and having it look exactly the same as if you’d signed a piece of paper.
There are some unfortunate side-effects I’ve found. It may just be the tablet I’ve chosen, or it may be the way I’m using it – but every now and then (probably once or twice a day as a minimum), my graphics tab/pen will mis-register clicks, or not register them at all. Sometimes this goes fairly unnoticed, but I’ve had a couple of occasions where I’ve been trying to highlight a large number of files/folders, only for the selection to stop halfway through and I’ve had to redo it.
I’ve also had situations where I’ve been dragging a set of files and they’ve ended up either being dropped into an incorrect folder, not started dragging and I’ve then had to reach into my drawer to get my mouse out just to get this one task done.
This is very much personal opinion… but graphics tablets are so much more of an eyesore on a desk compared to a mouse. They’re all large, black/dark grey rectangles, some chunkier than others. Add to this the trailing black USB cable, then place it on a clean, white desk alongside a white, wireless mechanical keyboard…
I’ve tried researching some white graphics tablets, but couldn’t find any – especially not wireless ones.
The other thing, you have to have somewhere to store the pen as well. Some graphics tablets come with a pen holder, some don’t – but this is usually an upright container. In my case, I either place the pen in my drawer or tucked away in my monitor riser.
TL;DR – Worth it?
Honestly… this is hard to sum up. I, personally, find using the graphics tablet much more comfortable. My mouse has now been almost permanently relegated to my drawer.
For casual computer users – I’m inclined to say that there’s no real benefit over a mouse. The learning curve alone is likely preventative here.
For gaming/gamers – forget it. I wouldn’t consider using a graphics tablet for gaming at all. Reporting times, lag, potential mis/non-registered clicks and overall usability is a no-go.
For budding artists – absolute no-brainer! You’re probably already using one, but if not it’s worth trying out one of these “cheaper” models just to see if it suits your style/workflow.
For IT Pro’s – This is going to be down to personal preference and what you spend the majority of your time doing. I’d recommend giving it a go though, I’ve enjoyed it so far ☺️.