A digital tablet is something of a life-changer for some people, depending on what they do with their computers. Those who want to draw, write, practice new language characters, or sign documents find that having a tablet is essential—one of those “once you’ve tried it, you cannot go back” sort of things.
The problem with digital tablets is they have always generally come in three flavors: sort of cheap and almost useless, very expensive, and insanely expensive. Those who are professional artists (that is, the tablet is a tool which generates revenue for them) are smart to invest in a professional tablet. The Catch-22 with that situation is that someone who would benefit from a tablet (and might become more productive if they had one) might not be able to make the jump into the tablet world because of the prohibitive cost. Students, entrepreneurs, and hobbyists fall into this category.
There is definitely a mid-range market for tablets; Wacom markets the Bamboo Create, which is $199.00, for example. There are compromises in this mid-range, though; the size is much smaller and the resolution and sensitivity are lower than many professionals can realistically deal with.
Genius has released a product in this exact mid-range, but they want to have fewer compromises. They’re marketing their new EasyPen M610XA to budding professionals, students, and others who want the benefits of a high-quality digital tablet without having to spend hundreds of dollars. The EasyPen M610XA comes in at $169.99, and at least according to the specs, should out-perform the $30 more costly Wacom equivalent. Let’s check it out.
- 1024 sensitivity levels
- 200 PPS polling rate
- Active area 6” x 10”
- OS Support Windows® 7/Vista/XP/Mac OS 10.4 or above
- Digital pen accuracy ±0.25 mm
- Resolution(LPI) 4000 LPI
- Transparent overlay sheet
- Software hot keys
- Software bundle: Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, Corel Painter Essentials 4, PenSign, PenDrawer
The tablet build quality is good. It doesn’t feel cheap, and the transparent overlay sheet is a very nice touch for those who prefer to trace. The included pen runs on a single AAA battery and feels good in the hand. The buttons on the tablet are substantial and have a very positive click, as well as a brushed steel finish.
The major downside is that the USB cord is attached permanently to the EasyPen. It’s not clear why they chose to do this, and it’s not a great idea. Just as one example, I’ve had cats that used to love to chew on cords. A replaceable USB cord is kind of a no-brainer with any corded peripheral, especially one that gets heavy use like a tablet. Most particularly, a tablet isn’t going to be constantly hooked up to the computer for many. It’s something you hook up when you want to use it. Having the USB cord attached to the device itself is a pretty poor design choice.
Another downside is that the pen is not double-ended. That is to say, you can’t flip it over to erase like you can with the Wacom Intuos (admittedly, a much pricier device). If you want to erase, you need to press a physical button on the tablet to turn erase mode on and off. It’s not a big deal and you get used to it fast, but it’s not as natural as the ingrained habit of turning a pen upside-down to erase.
The control panel for the EasyPen is spartan, but totally functional. It’s not nearly as confusing as Wacom’s, just for comparisons’ sake. You can calibrate the sensitivity, program the “soft” buttons with a series of pre-determined functions. The defaults are probably the most useful anyway: Undo, Erase on/off, Zoom In, Zoom Out.
The bundle includes a full copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, a last-gen software package that is nonetheless absolutely functional and powerful. It also comes with Corel Painter Essentials, another really excellent program for almost any art needs that aren’t production-level professional.
The EasyPen, once installed, operates extremely well. The sensitivity is really quite remarkable. Having some years of experience with Wacom (both entry-level and mid-range), I was quite surprised to find that the less expensive EasyPen tablet performed exactly as well as its more well-known competitor. Put another way: She’s got it where it counts.
The pressure sensitivity is the real killer app here; at 1024 levels of sensitivity, it feels extremely natural once you get over the disconnect of drawing in front of you while your eyes are on the screen. The professional-level 4000lpi resolution handshakes with this nicely, giving an extremely natural feel to the actual sketching.
However, there are some places where the Genius EasyPen falls flat. It’s difficult to explain if you’ve never used a Wacom Intuos, but things like quick-switch buttons to bring up the brush dialog, move the canvas around, zooming, and other simple functions that are commonplace when sketching and painting are slightly less natural-feeling with the EasyPen. You can still do all of the same things, but they are usually one extra button or step. For most people, this is not a problem. For professionals in a high-speed workflow situation, this is probably kind of a dealbreaker. Then again, if you’re a professional, you’re not shopping for $169 drawing tablets.
This device fits exactly where it’s aimed: a niche where people who are willing to have a slight less elegant workflow experience can save a ton of money and get a good, high quality drawing surface. Yes, you lose some of the refinements of the better-known brand, but the actual guts of the tablet are excellent. This is a perfect tablet for anyone willing to sacrifice some features and functionality while focusing on what’s important: the drawing.
I’ll handily award the Genius EasyPen M610XA the Icrontic Stamp of Approval for a product we recommend.
The Genius EasyPen M610XA is available for Mac and PC. Buy.com has them on sale for $119.99 right now and Amazon has them for $126.99.