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MousePen i608.

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with a graphics pen on a tablet--like an artist's brush on a canvas--variations of pressure, direction, and stroke style yield different line weights or widths. For digital content creation, the use of a graphics pen and tablet offers a way to interact with photos, artwork, documents, and other content types as one might with a pencil and sketchpad. It offers an intuitive tool to mark up text, comment freehand, sketch, and even sign documents in a more natural way--rather than translating these fluid motions through cumbersome mouse movements. A standard mouse works well for navigating most computer interactions, but its shape and acceleration do not generate literal equivalents on the screen, and there are certainly work styles, applications, and outcomes in which the user would like to be equipped to paint, circle, or scrawl the old-fashioned way--albeit digitally.

Accessories maker Genius recently introduced two new digital tablets, the EasyPen i405 and MousePen i608, designed to work with both Windows and Mac computers, enabling these functions in a vast array of popular creative, collaborative, and standard office programs. The EasyPen i405 offers 28 programmable buttons with 4"x 5.5" of work area. The MousePen i608 provides 29 programmable hot keys, a 6"x 8" display, and a wireless mouse. Both units come with a software bundle and cordless pen that provides 1024-level pressure sensibility and two control buttons. Like any tablet interface, users can draw, sketch, and manage a variety of document types directly from the devices.

Genius tablets compete with devices that can cost up to four times as much, though a couple of vendors make them at this price point. Size affects price, as does sensitivity level. However, for the price, the Genius MousePen i608 offers a good sensitivity and working area. In fact, a comparably sized model from another leading vendor costs twice as much for half the sensitivity.

GETTING STARTED

Installing the i608 tablet, pen, and wireless mouse is only slightly more difficult than installing a plug-and-play mouse. The MousePen i608 ships with a page of clear, concise, printed instructions for basic setup, which comprises three easy steps: driver installation, hardware installation, and verifying the installation.

Once the driver was installed via the supplied CD, I read the hardware section, which says, "Take one end of the pen in each hand, pull apart, and then insert one AAA battery into your tablet pen." It even includes a diagram illustrating this seemingly straightforward action. So I pulled--lightly at first, then a bit harder, and harder--until tiny springs, circuit boards, plastic retainers, and metal clips rained down onto my desk. After 15 minutes of frustrating reassembly, I figured out the problem: The pen is threaded. Luckily, the remainder of the installation (including putting the other included battery into the mouse) went smoothly on a PC running Windows 2000 (on my Windows XP 64-bit station, the driver wasn't fully functional).

While the printed instructions are short and succinct, the unit ships with a much more detailed PDF guide. While providing a thorough tour of features and software, intelligibility is lost in translation. Many of the instructions are fragmented and unclear, though they are ultimately decipherable.

You can access the pen tablet controller panel by clicking the tablet icon in the tray. This allows you to program the pen, the work area, the 29 hot keys, and--new in this edition--you can set the pen to tablet pressure sensitivity through a graphic interface so that it conforms to your personal preference.

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The major change from the previous Genius tablet I reviewed is the inclusion of a wireless mouse--at almost half the price of last year's model. When I looked at the G-Pen F610 (which was somewhat bigger at 6"x 10"), one complaint I had was that the addition of a tablet to an already crowded desk might dissuade some potential users. The i608 includes a wireless mouse that, while slightly smaller than a standard desktop mouse, feels pretty good in my hand. Though the mouse must be used on the tablet surface, the tablet is now sloped, which yields an overall ergonomic improvement. While the pen still translates literally into actions on your screen, the included mouse functions anywhere on the tablet and has acceleration as you'd expect in a mouse. Thus, this time around, the i608 tablet and mouse combo could replace your standard mouse--and then some.

The pen has also been improved considerably in this edition. While it is still top-heavy given the battery placement, the pen is made of what feels like a more substantial material, includes a rubberized grip that makes it more comfortable to hold, and has recessed, easy-to-click buttons.

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SOFTWARE BUNDLE

Among the software bundled with the i608 is Pen Commander, which allows you to write a command symbol directly onto the tablet to execute commands or open programs instantly. For example, to open word, I draw a W on the tablet; to open Excel, I draw an E; and to open Internet Explorer I draw an e. Drawing an M opens a blank email, and the software can be configured to work with the email client of your choice, as well as other software programs you routinely use. To minimize a window, simply draw a line from the top right corner down to the bottom; to minimize all windows, draw an L from top to bottom and to restore, redraw this symbol on the desktop itself.

PenSigner opens up a simple toolbar that allows you to use the pen as, well, a pen in any program such as Word, Outlook, Adobe, etc., so that you can annotate, comment on, mark up, and sign documents, images, and more. PenMail opens a sheet of "stationery" on which you can handwrite notes or emails and sign them for a more personal touch. PenNotice lets you touch up pictures on the screen or insert text and pictures when doing a presentation, for example.

For those who like highlighters, the i608 provides alternatives to the mouse-based tool available in Word and many other programs. With the MousePen selected, your highlights will be the same as with a pen (you can select color or line thickness before you start to write). With Pen, the thickness of each stroke remains the same from end to end. However, if you select Florescent Marker, mark up is translucent and similar to those drawn by a real marker, which allows you to emphasize certain highlights. While you may be wondering why you'd ever need such a variety of markup tools, consider the pen aisle of the average office supply store--thousands of pens, inks, widths, opacities. It isn't only artists who have specific tastes for getting their message across.

An interesting aspect of the hardware that I didn't consider last year was that the tablet features a lift-up transparent plastic sheet, under which a sketch could be placed so that it could be traced and digitized. This could prove handy for those inclined to scribble first drafts on cocktail napkins or notepads, yet who must also participate in today's digital workflow.

TABLET AT WORK

As with the previously reviewed Genius Tablet, the i608 includes 29 programmable hot keys, 13 of which are preprogrammed with commonly used functions, such as "new," "open," "exit," "email," etc. Defining your own hot key is easy: Open the Pen Tablet Control Panel, tap an undefined key on the tablet with your pen and click Define. Your options are to open a program or a document, go to a website, or send an email. Alternately, you can program a hot key as a key combination such as Ctrl-F, which you label as "find." Then--when you tap that hot key within any program in which Ctrl-F would work--the find dialog box opens up. If the hot keys don't suit your style, you can toggle off the hot edges, which increases the usable area of the tablet.

As with last year's G-Pen, the i608 functions as expected and is up to par in a variety of programs, including a range of Adobe and Office products (though this edition is enhanced by the addition of Annotate for Word), Corel, Google Maps, and more. It's good news that the mouse works as well as well as any other entry-level mouse. However, be sure to unplug your old mouse, because the devices will conflict with each other. Not surprisingly, only one input device--either the supplied pen or mouse--can be used on the tablet at a time.

Ultimately, this Genius tablet is certainly an improvement over its predecessor. While it may not set sensitivity or size records, it functions well for a creative business professional, if not a professional artist, at a very attractive price.

COMPANY Genius

PURPOSE

Graphic Tablet and Mouse

STARTING PRICE

$99 MSRP

REVIEWER'S VIEW

With the MousePen i608, Genius has made some nice enhancements over last year's model, particularly the inclusion of a mouse and an ergonomically improved tablet. While there are bigger, more sensitive tablets on the market, the i608 will enhance a creative professional's workflow at a very attractive price point.

KEY FEATURES AT A GLANCE

6"X 8" ERGONOMIC WORKING AREA

Large sloped working area that is more comfortable than flat tablets

1024-LEVEL PRESSURE SENSITIVITY

Highly sensitive pen allows great control of line thickness

STORE-N-GO

Tablet features a slot to hold the pen when traveling

HOT KEYS

Twenty-nine customizable hot keys around the work area; 13 come preprogrammed for common tasks

CORDLESS MOUSE

Three-button mouse with scrolling middle button that tracks on the tablet

BUSINESS PROFILE WWW.GENIUSNET.COM

Headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan, Genius is a brand division of KYE Systems Corp. The KYE Systems Corp. and its subsidiaries engage in the manufacture and sale of computer peripheral products including speakers, digital photo frames, gaming peripherals, webcams, and tablets. The company's network products include switch hubs, network cards, and USB adapters. Founded in 1983, KYE was formerly known as Kun Ying Enterprise Co. Ltd. and changed its name to KYE Systems Corp. in 1988.

DANIEL SULLIVAN (DSULLIVAN@HALPEROWENS.COM) LIVES AND WORKS IN CONNECTICUT.

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Title Annotation:DECISION-MAKER review; laptop computers
Author:Sullivan, Daniel
Publication:EContent
Article Type:Product/service evaluation
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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