Genius offers an economical tablet and mostly succeeds. (November 8th, 2009)
Genius' i405 tablet promises to undercut the mainstream in tablets by offering a substantial number of drawing features attached to a reasonable price tag. However, can it compare to the user experience of industry titans like Wacom?
Product Manufacturer: Genius
- Good price.
- Draws well; high pressure sensitivity.
- Section underneath for tracing functions.
- Very dated software bundle.
- Pen requires an AAA battery.
- Cheap feel compared to rivals.
hardware and design
The EasyPen i405 is relatively small but functional, with a 4-inch by 5.5-inch drawing surface. The pen is of average size and weight, but it feels slightly cheap and could be better built. Inside the pen is small battery housing where users place a AAA battery to power the pen; unlike some tablets, the stylus is as much active as the drawing surface. The pen ships with a replacement pressure-sensitive tip so that users can replace the tip if the first one should break.
The face of the tablet itself is a transparent piece of plastic that lets users place items underneath for tracing and outlining. The unit ships with a white sheet of card stock already under the plastic cover. The first time we went to remove the sheet from under the cover, however, we accidentally bent the sheet, which now makes the pad bubble up slightly in that corner. The clear cover is appreciated, but users need to be gentle when trying to lift it.
The EasyPen i405 comes with several pieces of software, but the best word to describe the software bundle would be "dated." Many of the features of the tablet are accessed through different applications, rather than the operating system, and the look and feel of the applications themselves is very reminiscent of Windows 95 -- a real problem 14 years later. Several of the applications also reflecting this by crashing during our testing. If Genius wants users to take its software bundle seriously, then it absolutely needs to update the look and feel of its apps as well as address the stability issues. Furthermore, consolidating the settings and applications into one or two apps would be appreciated.
The important applications are Annotate for Word, Pen Notice, and Control Panel. Annotate for Word, as the name implies, allows users to insert comments directly into Word. Pen Notice is something of a controlling app that switches the pen's functionality between simply working as a mouse and allowing users to write or draw. Finally, the Control Panel app manages the tablet's overall functions. The tablet has several hot buttons, as does the pen, so there is a lot of hot-button customization potential.
Although we tested it with Windows XP, we should note the tablet has full feature support for virtually any OS that recognizes pen input, up to and including newer versions of Mac OS X and Windows 7.
the hands-on experience
The i405 certainly works well for its core functions of drawing, doodling, and writing. The 1,024 pressure levels make for a realistic ink pen experience that can differentiate between a light touch and a strong emphasis. To test the pen we tried several graphics applications as well as Microsoft Word. We traced and doodled a variety of sketches and also tried some writing tests. The pen wrote accurately in all of our usage scenarios. We even loaned the EasyPen i405 to a graphic artist for some further testing and received some context: the designer stated that the pen worked well, but didn't feel quite as refined as the Wacom system he knows. The opinion suggests that it's mainly feel, not function, that will give buyers the most pause.
For $80, the EasyPen i405 provides users with some decent hardware and an overall good user experience. However, as we've said before, the software package certainly needs some updating; while it's not a dealbreaker, the added cost can make the difference for a newcomer. Using a battery is also an inconvenience, but a relatively minor one. As such, if a simple pen interface is what you're looking for, Genius wins just for providing an effective tablet at a good price. If you want a high-touch experience or a mature software bundle, however, you should probably keep looking.