By: Ray Frenden
Monoprice makes graphics tablets? I thought they were just an outlet for cheap cables. It was news to me that they sell all sorts of audio, video, and computer accessories.
Their studio monitor headphones are highly rated by customers. As are their monitor arms. And their capacitive iPad styli. Hell, they even have USB-rechargeable portable speakers that are far better than they have any right to be given the price. I’ve bought, and liked, all of the above. And Monoprice’s fans are justifiably earned. They make good stuff, cheap, including graphics tablets. But, on those, I never bit.
When reviewing the Yiynova Cintiq alternative, I researched all of Wacom’s competition, learning that Yiynova uses a Waltop digitizer (digitizers being the flat hardware panel that interprets pen movement and translates it onscreen). I decided to buy a Monoprice stylus to see if it would work on a Waltop digitizer. It didn’t. This roused my curiosity. If the Monoprice wasn’t a Waltop based tablet, what was it?
My guess then was the Monoprice tablets used a Hanvon digitizer. Hanvon creates a full range of graphics tablets, most of which claim feature parity with their Wacom equivalents. Prices also tend to match their Wacom counterparts closely, so I see little reason most would take the leap of faith required to spend money on the less known brand, opting instead for the known quantity of Wacom tablets. [Edit: I've found, thanks to Gez in the comments on this article, that the Monoprice tablets use UC Logic digitizers, a brand I hadn't found during my prior research.]
The Monoprice tablets are available at a price that doesn’t scare one away. Less than $50 nets you a 6.25“x10” tablet and around $80 will get you a larger 9“x12”. With those prices, and my inclination to try any tools I can, I ordered the 6.25“x10” tablet with low expectations. Something so cheap can’t possibly be good, right?
After spending a week with the 6.25“x10” Monoprice, my Yiynova and Cintiq remain unplugged and I gave my Intuos away to a friend. The Monoprice tracks subtle pressure variances and small movements with less lag and more crisp fidelity than any of the others. It is, put crudely, fucking awesome, in both OSX Lion and Windows 7 x64.
It holds accuracy at obscenely small levels even when zoomed way out, which is where most tablets falter. The following screen recording in OSX shows how stable the Monoprice tablet is in both pressure variance and fine detail.
The Monoprice performed flawlessly in OSX. This is welcome news. With most tablets, Wacom included, OSX has long felt a second class citizen with slightly less accuracy and more lag present in the drivers.
In the product description, on some of the tablets, the following is stated, “Note that the included software is not compatible with Mac OSX at all, while some are only compatible with Windows 2000/XP.” That statement is misleading. That text applies to the bonus software, not the drivers. You don’t want their Windows-only handwriting recognition shovelware anyhow. The drivers included on the CD installed without a hitch and the process to get the tablet running in OSX and Windows was painless. I suspect the above verbiage has scared off a few prospective purchasers and it’s a shame it’s worded so murkily on their site.
Hardware-wise, the stylus is a bit shorter and narrower than Wacom’s and is about the same weight. It rests comfortably in my oversized meat-paw. The pen requires a battery, but has no on-off switch. It turns on when you use it and off when idle. The battery has lasted over a week with constant use and shows no signs of giving up. The battery slot inside of the pen feels a bit cheap, but is soon forgotten after closing the pen back up and represents the singular negative aspect of the hardware. An aftermarket stylus is available for around $8. I found myself using the pack-in stylus more. Ten replacement nib packs are available for less than a dollar.
The tablet has a slightly textured surface and drawing feels tactile and a bit toothy. The hardware buttons worked fine and were fully customizable. Eight buttons is a lot to keep track of and I found myself using my keyboard more often than not when jamming on hot keys.
All the following images were drawn on the Monoprice in Manga Studio or the Photoshop CS6 beta. Included is a short video, sped up 2x, drawing in OSX with Manga Studio.
I was afraid revealing my secret love for the Monoprice to you jackals would lead to a run on them and, subsequently, an inability to buy one. I bought a second 6.25“x10” for home before writing this review. I suspect the 9“x12” is a future purchase.
Drawing on the Monoprice leaves me feeling a bit punk rock. It’s better than it has any right to be – better than any of the other hardware I own. Its drivers outperform Wacom’s in OSX and I found myself making excuses to sit down and draw with it.
An off-brand graphics tablet by Monoprice out-performs tablets ten times more costly and replaced my Cintiq and Intuos tablets for daily use. Who would’a thunk it?
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