Several people have recently asked me for clarification of the differences between graphic tablets and digital pens, because they’ve read themselves into a tizzy and still don’t know which will best suit their purpose. Choosing the right tool for the job is essential unless you want to make work for yourself – you wouldn’t choose a spreadsheet to write a letter is a pretty basic analogy.

Digital pens are an amazing innovation and fantastic tool to hand write notes, record and reproduce lectures, meetings, anything you want. They work remotely from your PC and are self-contained in that they record both audio and written onto storage within the pen and the data is then transferred to your pc later.

The fact that they hold a supremely sensitive microphone and recording device internally, makes the pen itself chunky and on the heavy side to use. But they work extremely well and the memory storage has to fit somewhere. Sound recording is easily synchronised with each batch of written noted giving for example a student, lawyer, or real estate agent complete recall both verbal and visual of the lecture or meeting.

More expensive flavours come complete with the apps you need for the most wanted function – transcribing your written notes into typed text. Called MyScribe, cheaper models don’t include it and you will have to buy MyScribe separately, not cool at all, but not expensive either.

There are still some issues with the handwriting to typed text function and certainly my Mac doesn’t work with my Livescribe, it just freezes. However with Windows it really is magic and as long as the writing is reasonably even along straight lines, it works without many if any errors to correct. Incidentally, digital pen technology is for writing with and they don’t do graphics – simple line drawings, sketches and mind maps yes, but not complex graphics or photo editing.

Graphic tablets are different in that they are pads 6 inches by 8 upwards and they need to be connected to the computer or at least close enough by if you have a wireless model. The pad is accompanied by a wireless digital pen which you use to write and draw naturally on the pad as you would on paper. Most come with a graphics package and most will work with the majority of graphic software available, including the free Gimp and others like it.

In my own experience with every different brand and model used, including the cheapest, the handwriting recognition technology is very good indeed. It has to be ‘trained’ to your particular script or in my case scrawl, after which mistakes are infrequent. The pen glides across the pad with little extra effort – not the case with digital pens which can require a bit of pressure to get results, tending to make your hand ache with prolonged use.

With a graphic tablet the pen holds no data so is small and light, just like a regular pen to use. The more expensive models come with pressure sensitive nibs for drawing and painting naturally, but this doesn’t affect the handwriting function. There is no doubting the quality of the graphics functions either, they are superb and will encourage creativity in anyone who gives them a go.

Budget graphic tablets like the Genius Mousepen 8×6 are perfect for mess free child entertainment, whereas the digital pen is very much a tool and not really not suitable for youngsters to play with

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