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The beige, generic-looking Umax ProVista TB801 drawing tablet will match up with older computer cases, but don't let its bland looks deceive you--it performs as well as other entry-level tablets we've seen and costs slightly less. For $99, you get a tablet, a pen, and a mouse that offer a degree of precision and control unattainable with a standard mouse. However, if you're put off by its shabby looks, or you prefer a mouse with a scrollwheel, we recommend the Adesso CyberTablet 8600, which costs just slightly more and offers additional functionality.
With a light beige-and-gray coloring, the set has a somewhat outdated appearance. The pen, in particular, is a stark white and gray and appears mismatched with the rest of the set. Though the active area is a large 6 by 8 inches, the tablet itself measures 11 by 12 inches, with more than 3 inches of empty space at the bottom. A slim, indented section at the top of the tablet cradles the pen when it's not in use. Between the pen holder and the active area is a row of 12 programmable function buttons that you can customize to open Web pages, documents, and folders and to perform commands such as cut and paste. Unlike other tablets we've seen, such as the Adesso CyberTablet and the Wacom Graphire Bluetooth Tablet, the ProVista TB801 doesn't offer a document holder; it's not a necessity, though. A small flashing green light in the corner of the tablet lets you know the power is properly connected.
Setting up the ProVista TB801 is simple: insert the CD and install the driver to your PC or Mac. A short but thorough installation guide gives instructions on using the basic functions of the tablet, the pen, the mouse, and the control panel, the last of which lets you configure the 12 function buttons, the mouse buttons, and the pen's rocker switch. You can also adjust the pen's sensitivity and the mouse's speed. The control panel's very intuitive interface can be launched by selecting the small tablet icon that installs on your toolbar.
The ProVista TB801 comes with a useful software package for beginners, including Ulead PhotoImpact XL SE, which provides hundreds of tools and effects for photo and graphics editing; Free Notes, which lets you handwrite reminder notes on your desktop; Power Presenter RE, which turns your screen into a whiteboard and lets you take notes; Pen Soft Pro, which converts handwriting into electronic text; and Office Ink, a digital-signature creator. Included on two CDs, this software package is on a par with what other vendors offer.
The pen and the mouse each require one AAA battery (two are included) and a long 5-foot USB 1.1 cord that connects your computer to the tablet. The pen is about the same size as a regular ballpoint and has an easily accessed rocker switch that serves as a mouse button. The pen's tip has 512 levels of pressure sensitivity but lacks an erase function. The mouse has left- and right-click buttons and a programmable scroll button. The pen and the mouse function only on the tablet's activated area, which works by touch, so there's no optical sensor or ball to worry about.
The tablet automatically adjusts to the different operating modes for the pen and the mouse. In pen mode, the active area defaults to absolute positioning; if you rest the tip of the pen on the bottom-right corner of the active area, the cursor will point to the bottom-right corner of the screen. In mouse mode, the tablet switches to relative positioning, and the cursor moves as it would with any mouse. The tablet recognizes the pen's movement even when it's a quarter-inch above the tablet's surface; writing accurately requires deliberate movements. After some practice, we found the pen sensitive and precise. The mouse slides smoothly over the surface of the tablet, with just slightly more resistance than you'd experience with a regular mouse; we didn't experience any cursor lag or loss of signal. Still, we missed having a scrollwheel.
The ProVista TB801 comes with a one-year limited warranty on the hardware. Umax offers support via phone and e-mail for the life of the product and has FAQs, drivers, and knowledge-base articles on its Web site.