If you look at the range of graphics tablets available today it's clear to see that Wacom still dominate the market. Their tablets start at around £60 for models like the Intuos Pen Small and the Bamboo Pad but these are very small with an active area that is only around 15cm wide at most. If you jump up in size to something more usable with an active area over 25cm wide then the price jumps up massively. The likes of the Intuos Medium costs around £170 and if you want one that has buttons to control applications like Photoshop then you are looking at around £300 for the Intuos Pro Medium.
£300 is way past my budget and so is £170 when I need one for 'fun'. That said I do want the functionality of a graphics tablet like the Intuos Pro Medium. Is there an alternative that is as good but cheaper? A lot cheaper?
Looking around it was clear that there are a number of other brands to choose from but I didn't want to spend more than £50 and that limited the size of the tablet that I could afford. Having used small tablets in the past I knew that it would be a waste of money if I bought another that was too small so I kept looking for a tablet that had an active area at least 20cm wide.
One brand that kept coming up was a brand I had never heard of before, Huion. Now I'll be honest and just wrote Huion off as being a cheap Chinese knock off company whose products would invariably break as soon as they were unpacked but their size and features was very appealing so I decided to do a bit more research. I quickly narrowed my search down to the H610 or H610 Pro and quickly found almost unanimous praise for these tablets from users all over the world. The general consensus was that these were very close to Wacom quality but at very affordable prices with many users saying that they now had one of these models in the laptop bags all the time.
There were though one or two voices of concern. Most people have reported problems with the supplied drivers but every account I've read has ended up that the user e-mailed Huion and a day or two later a new driver was sent to them that solved all their problems. So not only is the tablet apparently very good but Huion aren't a cheap Chinese knock off company but a company that quickly respond to their users. Hmm, interesting.
The only difference between the H610 and the H610 Pro is a slightly different colour and that the pen is rechargeable whereas the pen on the H610 is battery powered. The H610 Pro costs around £65 and that was more than I wanted to risk in case the tablet turned out to be rubbish or that I just found I didn't like using one. The cheapest price though I found for the H610 was just £40. If it hadn't been for all the positive reviews I would have been deeply suspicious of the price. How could Huion produce a graphics tablet with an active area 25cm wide, with a wireless pen and several hotkeys for so little? In the end curiosity got the better of me and I decided to order one.
When it arrived the lack of a shiny colourful box showed one area where Huion have cut their costs and the plain brown cardboard was a little disheartening. However on opening the box it revealed that the graphics tablet was nicely protected and presented in protective foam.
The graphic tablet itself measures 353 x 245 x 10 mm which feels just about the right size, not too big and not too small. The actual active area measures 10" x 6" which is plenty big enough for most forms of photo editing and graphic work. Quite frankly if you need something bigger than this then you already know that you are looking at spending hundreds of pounds rather than tens of pounds and so wouldn't be considering this model anyway. The graphics tablet itself connects to your computer via USB and this is potentially where there is a slight fly in the ointment. According to the Huion website the H610 doesn't use USB 3, not even USB 2 but just USB 1.1. Whilst high speed data transfer isn't necessary for a graphics tablet the problem with using a USB 1.1 device is that if you connect it to a USB hub with other USB 2 or 3 devices attached to it, then the whole bus is slowed to USB 1.1 speeds. I should hasten to add that as I have a spare USB port on my iMac I've not tried connecting it to a hub and so can't say for certain what affect it would have on other devices.
Down the side of the graphics tablet are 8 Express keys which are preconfigured by the driver to be Undo, Erase, Switch Pen, Zoom In, Zoom Out, Brush Larger, Brush Smaller & Move but all of these can be remapped to do anything you want. This though is where I encountered the first problem but it was one I was expecting. Just about everyone had mentioned problems with the supplied drivers. I had the graphics tablet delivered to my work and I decided to try it out first on my works Windows 7 Laptop. I followed the instructions and installed the driver on the supplied CD before I connected the tablet and after rebooting the PC I found that the tablet was recognised and I could use the Pen in Photoshop. However none of the Express keys worked. Furthermore when I went into the settings for the tablet it wouldn't let me remap any of the Express keys either. Having previously heard of people with similar problems I already knew what to do, I simply went to the Huion website and downloaded the latest driver. It was instantly clear that the driver on the CD was a far earlier version as the software was completely different and instantly all the Hotkeys started to work.
When I got home I then installed it on my iMac running OSX Mavericks. With my experience of the old drivers on the supplied CD I didn't even bother to try the driver CD and immediately just downloaded the latest version from the website. As before instantly the tablet started working as did all the Express Keys. I did however two issues if, like me, you are using the Apple wireless keyboard and mouse. I found that when I first turned on the pen my iMac detected it as a second wireless keyboard and wanted me to pair it for use. Seeing as the pen isn't a keyboard pressing the key next to the Shift button that my iMac wanted me to do was going to be somewhat hard to do. In the end I just cancelled this message and everything seemed to continue working as normal. Whilst using the tablet I also noticed that if I held the pen and then went to use the mouse sometimes there was clearly some interference as the cursor would then move about the screen by itself for a few moments. This doesn't happen every time and is definitely down to interference to the Bluetooth signal but basically as long as the pen isn't physically touching, not just close but actually touching, the mighty mouse then there doesn't appear to be any problems.
So what is it like to use? It's brilliant. The pen comes with several spare nibs but the nibs are very hard wearing and so will lost a very long time anyway. The surface of the graphics tablet is smooth but with just the right amount of grip so the pen doesn't slide too easily but equally doesn't restrict small precise movements either. The pressure sensitivity is a really useful function. It take a little bit of time to get used to but as you can configure how quickly the pen reacts to pressure it doesn't take long before you are using it naturally. Making fine selections and accurate 'painting' is so much easier with the pen compared to the mouse. If I had spent £300 on something like the Wacom Intuos Medium then I would have been disappointed as whilst the benefit of using a pen is significant it's not something I would have paid £300 for. Is it worth £40? Absolutely. Without question. The H610 is a real gem, a pleasure to use, a great size, great functionality and at a price that is quite frankly giving it away.