iBall Digital Pen Tablet 5540U

Madana Prathap 2009-12-10
78 Good
Price: Rs 2,600

Full Review

No, this tablet isn’t from Egypt but it does allow you to record your words, drawings, and scrawls for posterity. The iBall Digital Pen Tablet 5540U is primarily targeted at home users and aspiring illustration pros. With its pen, you can scribble notes, save your signature, and create drawings more precisely than using an unwieldy mouse. And with the TabletPC Input Panel (built into Windows), you can enter text into applications using handwriting recognition.

We found it sufficiently usable to draw in MS Paint, insert mathematical formulas, annotate Acrobat PDF files, and write with medium speed on Windows Journal and MS Office OneNote. The 1024 “pressure levels” were auto-detected by most graphics manipulation applications (Photoshop, Corel Painter, Paint.NET, etc.). So for example, a lightly held pen on the tablet’s surface gave thin lines, while pressing it progressively harder gave the brush strokes more width.

Thankfully, you can rest your palm on its surface while writing, without causing an accidental click. Mouse gesture-like functionality is part of its software bundle, whereby you can move your cursor in a particular pattern to obtain a desired action. On Windows 7, we found that “Pen flicks” were supported, so you can define the actions you want natively from the OS itself. iBall’s bundled software also allows for creating e-mails hand-written in any language’s script.

A graph on the tablet’s surface represents the display area, and the pen can touch any portion, thus moving the cursor to the equivalent position on-screen. By default, the tablet’s sensitivity was almost excessive, with even a wave of the pen above the tablet causing the cursor to move. However, this was easily fixed from the tablet’s control panel by increasing the pressure required for detection (click-sensitivity) by 20%, which made it much more comfortable. The edges of the graph area have “hot cells” – shortcuts that open applications or do certain actions with a tap of the pen. A small LED at the top of the pad glows to indicate pen input when in use. The "optical"-ish wireless mouse that accompanies this product is only usable on the writing surface.

The pen and supplied wireless mouse operate on AAA batteries, and the tablet’s USB connection allows itself to be detected as equivalent to a USB connected mouse. The pen tip can be changed in case of wear, with the 3 others provided. At a dimension of 5.5 inches x 4 inches, and a resolution of 800x600, you’d have to scale its input upwards as per your monitor’s resolution, using the software it comes with.

From Windows XP SP3 onwards, it is detected as a USB HID device directly without drivers, just like a mouse. But the cursor did move a bit like a drunk mouse, and was over-sensitive initially. You can just wave the pen millimetres above the pad and it would be detected, as proven by cursor movement. We increased the click-sensitivity/pressure required for detection, by 20 percent and then it was very usable. Taking the pen to a particular position on the writing surface moves the cursor directly to the corresponding position. This does require some getting used to, for those experienced with a mouse. Also, the angle at which the pen needs to be held, is quite upright and not as slanting as you'd otherwise hold a normal pen while writing on paper.

While it could take functionality close to that of a touch UI, multi-touch is obviously not possible. Though not the most comfortable, other competing products are a fair bit costlier. High-end graphics and design would require tablets of better resolution. Still, the 5540U gets the job done without being priced too expensive for home users.

Bottom Line

An affordable and sufficiently large tablet for home users. The iBall 5540U is good for handwriting input, storing signatures, and basic graphics illustration. The USB interface, compatibility with the OS natively, and the bundled mouse are all plus points in favour of this writing tablet.

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