vistablet penpadYour Flexible Friend

School budgets are tighter than ever so it isn’t possible to be brand conscious, nor pay more than you have to.

Rather than sink everything into one type, several different models have been bought this year to give us a better idea of value for money – and that’s pretty much how the Vistablet Penpad got a chance at being test driven by kids, lots of kids!

The first surprise out of the box is the tablet itself. Floppy – flexible and like a large firm rubber mouse pad might be, not rigid at all, this is the first one we’ve actually seen never mind used and it took a bit of getting used to.

Marketed as the ideal gift for travelers and others on the go, the flexibility does make it easier to pack and much less likely to fracture, but probably easier to be careless with. However, designed to be carted about in suitcases and rucksacks, this particular Vis Tablet  is robust and durable, so my only concern would be in not bending it too much, put it that way.

Software installed with no issues and it was ready to use in minutes. To address a common worry, the Penpad has proved to be a suitable drawing tablet for pc and Mac’s, because this one is fully compatible with either and it works faultlessly with Netbooks too.

Also in the box, the USB cable, a digital pen and a suite of graphic design including handwriting recognition software.

The pen feels lightweight and insubstantial in use and doesn’t come with any spare nibs. Actually, it ‘felt’ would be more appropriate as it barely lasted 7 weeks before being found in pieces. Kids being as they are you might be tempted to think they accidentally stomped on it – and indeed they may have! But of all the tablets and pens we have ever used, this is the first that felt like it would break and then actually did fall apart, so unless someone confesses…

Note the nib on the pen wears quickly too. We now use old spare Wacom pens with it and the drivers work just fine.

The graphic software included is good old Artweaver, the free version of which you can download and use anytime. Artweaver is best described as a cloned cut down version of Photoshop and is amazing – truly brilliant, the free version is so user-friendly and comprehensive in the tools available, I don’t know how they sell the Pro version at all. There are plenty of others and five good options are listed here.

In use the VT integrates perfectly with Serif Graphic Software, the Adobe suite plus several other free and bought software packages. In fact one can say with some certainty it will work well with most digital drawing applications.

The handwriting recognition software also works well enough, though the feel of the pen on the pad is not as realistic as it might be when writing, but when drawing and painting it is much better.

The more effort you put into training handwriting conversion software, the fewer errors you’ll get – and the same goes with this software. If you are serious about using it, then put some time in and you really will reap the benefits.

The pad itself is 7.5-inch x 7.5-inch and has an active area of 6-inch x 4.5-inch, which is the useable center space. If you are new to graphic tablets then you need to be aware that all tablets have an inactive area which you cannot use around the outside, with only the central square or rectangle being ‘active’.

Disadvantages are few with this model, but it’s worth mentioning the size of the pad, which for some reason feels smaller than the reality. It could just be a matter of familiarity and what the user spends most time working with – and all these tablets have different quirks, each one its own special ‘feel’.

All graphic tablets need a level flat area to sit on but this one more than most, because of the flexibility. However overall performance is very good indeed and includes 1024 levels of pressure sensitivity when drawing and painting, adding to the real life feel this pad offers and giving better control than the DigiPro which offers 512 levels of pressure. Again, if this is a gift for kids it doesn’t matter, but a perfectionist will notice the difference.

The signal pick up between pad and pen is strong and the response time when drawing is fairly quick, a problem some less expensive models suffer from, but not this one.

Verdict On The VT

Quite sophisticated and includes some exceedingly cool technology, for a great price. Very easy to use and pretty dent proof for kids, I’m thinking of buying a bunch and getting a heap of festive seasonal gifts ticked off the list.  

Who Will Love This?

Any students, travelers, or artistic children, (aged 10 upwards) plus anyone who loves drawing and uses a computer – for a first drawing tablet this one is absolutely ideal.

Teachers use graphic tablets to liven up presentations, illustrate with diagrams and add vocabulary to images, but they can be used in so many imaginative ways for inspiring teaching and learning, especially with children in the autistic spectrum.

So don’t dismiss this little beauty because it is (quite frankly) cheap. The Vistablet Penpad holds its own with all the other price comparable known brand names, delivers great performance and will delight anyone who buys or receives one as a gift.

But buy another pen okay?