..than I would have just buying quality products. Allow me to explain.

I’m always looking for a bargain. I’m not a miser, but I do look for a good value. Sometimes the things I buy are an excellent value, such as picture frames at the Dollar Tree, or my eyeglasses for $8 plus shipping. (They’re built a little cheaply, and you might have to bend the frame to your liking, but the lenses are the best I’ve ever owned. They’re more smudge resistant and scratch resistant than any $250 pair I’ve ever bought.) And a $10 cell phone is all I need.

But one place I’ve always failed to save money is on pen tablets. A pen tablet, if you’re not aware, is a digitizing device like a plotter that uses a pen that lets you draw digitally. You draw on this pad, and it shows up on your screen. Wacom is the most famous brand of these, and also very expensive! So as a lad, before I got my first $200 Wacom Intuos2, I was trying to find cheaper alternatives.

My first little device was a pen-shaped mouse with a tiny ball in the bulbous tip. You remember ball mice, right? How horrible they are? This was even more horrible. It didn’t even work, let alone digitize my art. My next entry was this tablet called the Pablo. It connected via serial connection, and I just plain couldn’t get it to work. I was in the business of making serial devices work at the time, so it had to be the device itself. I then came into an actual CNC plotter, but I don’t think I paid for it, and I never got it to work anyway.

Finally I broke down and paid $189 for the Wacom Intuos2 4″x5″ tablet. Then I used it… my lines were all jagged and ugly. I used it for a while, then not again for a long time. Then one day, I picked it up again and suddenly my lines looked right. The problem was that I drew really slow, so slow steady lines come up as wobbly and blobby on a tablet. Over time, I had become proficient at making long smooth line strokes, and when I picked up my Intuos2 again, it suddenly felt right.

I used that for many years, then traded up for a much cheaper Wacom Bamboo 4″x6″. (Unfortunately, the store was out of the $60 “Bamboo” tablets, so I had to pay an extra $30 for the “Bamboo Fun” which just includes a mouse no one has ever used.) It feels so much larger, but it’s really not. It’s only about 4 square inches larger. But I love it.

Fast forward to recently when I’ve been antsy to get a bigger tablet, but the thought of paying $469 for the Intuos4 Large is daunting, to say the least. I perused a top 10 list of the best digitizing tablets, and nestled neatly in the Wacoms was something called a Monoprice (that’s the brand name. The product is just ‘Pen Tablet’). I read all the reviews, and the only bad reviews I saw were ignorant about the product, or had such menial issues, that I wouldn’t be bothered by them. The greatest thing about this tablet was it was half the price of my current tablet, and far larger than it, as well. It had a drawing area over 10″x6″, which is gigantic for digitizing.

So I sat drooling at this device, reading all of the shining reviews, trying to talk myself out of the fourth failure of purchase in pen tablets. Then something happened… It dropped from $40 to $31 literally after I refreshed the page. I don’t know if it was some database hiccup, or if it was a little sale, but I had to snap it up.

I sat around that day, not doing work, excited about my new tablet coming via UPS. I bounced around, checked the tracking status several times and stared at the clock. Almost at the stroke of 5PM, the truck came wheeling in to hand me my package. I darted inside and ripped it open. Oh it is so lovely looking. Doesn’t feel cheap at all. It’s so big, but it perfectly fit on my desk.

After some fiddling with drivers (I don’t fault the tablet for that. It conflicted with my Bamboo) I got it to work. I instantly began finding faults. I guess I’m more experienced with these devices than the people who would actually buy one.

First, the software. Nowhere in there can you change the sensitivity of your tip. You can make it so that you have to press harder to click, but you can’t change the line variation hardness, if that makes any sense. I had to do it completely within the software i was using, and its limits didn’t go as high/low as I needed it to.

The resolution of the tablet (the amount of sensitive pixels) seemed greatly exaggerated. It felt like my cursor would jump suddenly from one pixel to the next when drawing anything small. I thought maybe it was just an artifact of it being so large, but this seemed to manifest itself in making small rectangles when I was trying to draw small circles. I tried to struggle through it, but there are other problems.

When making medium-sized strokes, it would often create sharp angles at the turns. I would counter this by turning up smoothing (something I could do in Easy Paint Tool SAI but in Photoshop, I already had it set to max) but in SAI, this countermeasure caused it to lag and create little hairy tails on every line I made. It was annoying, and added extra work.

On the Bamboo and any other Wacom, you can configure the pen buttons to keystrokes and other functions. With this thing, you could only change the kind of click they’d do (Left click, right click, right double click, etc.) I used a program to bind them to keystrokes, but in SAI, they fired in rapid succession, causing me to undo 5+ times for one click. I messed with all of the permutations of configuration and this persisted. The button on the pen is also extremely recessed and difficult to reach.

The USB cord is too short. And every device should have a separate cable like Wacom has started to do. If the stupid fat cat chews through your cable, you’re not uncontrollably weeping as you try and splice the wires back together — you just go to the store and buy another cable instead of another tablet.

The surface is supposed to have the feel of real paper, but it feels more like dragging your pen across sandpaper. It’s just much too rough. Besides, even on my lovely Bamboo, I wore the paper surface off after a few months.

My final complaint was the final nail in the tablet coffin. The line variation is uncontrollable and off the charts. With the Bamboo, I can vary my lines with a slight press and have a huge variance depending on the section of line. With the Monoprice, there were essentially three states of variance. “Where is it?” “That’s an alright line” and “My god, that’s horribly huge.” No matter how I adjusted my arm and fiddled with the pressure settings, every line looked like one of a cartoon leaf that starts at the stem and tapers at the tip. I was drawing every line twice, and it was taking me far too long to work.

Maybe this tablet is for beginners, but shame on everyone who gave this a good review and actually makes money with their digital art. You are probably a terrible artist.

But my glasses are still awesome.