February 14


Mouse Alternatives: Graphics Tablet – RSI Prevention Part 6

By Tim


Take Your Graphics Tablets

Can a graphics tablet be a viable alternative to a mouse, if you suffer with RSI at your computer? Or is there a better mouse alternative?

Last time I looked at a Trackball as a possible alternative to an ordinary mouse, but as detailed there, it was ok for a while but I then had to move on.

The next thing I tried was a graphics tablet.

Graphics tablet

In the past, graphics tablets were hideously expensive and the preserve of professional artists only.

However, they have now come down in price and are now more available for the everyday Joe.

So why would I, with no artistic bone in my body, want one of these?

A graphics tablet is comprised of a flat device (the tablet) that looks a little bit like a laptop trackpad only bigger, with a special “pen” to use with it.

That may be exciting if you’re an artist, but however you dress it up, it is still at heart a pointing device.

If you move the pen to the top left of the tablet, the on-screen pointer will move to the top left.

If you move the pen to the bottom right… well, you get the idea.

Graphics Tablet: Suitable Position

The key thing for me was the realisation that by having one of these, I would be holding my hand in a completely different position, more akin to writing.

I wasn’t sure, but did my research and some users had found relief from using them.

So, I ended up taking the plunge and bought a Wacom Pen and Touch (pictured below). 

I’ll try to do a full review elsewhere as it is outside the scope of this post.

However, I can report that it works really well and can be set up for either hand.

This is important to me as I am left handed.

Although somewhat ambidextrous in most things such as mouse usage, like many people I can’t write with my off-hand.

Graphics Tablet With A Touchpad

The pen and touch works out of the box, but also has some useful drivers with which you can program the buttons, and other functions.

Being a pen and touch model, you can use it as a big track pad, in addition to the pen.

The touch functions include multi-touch and work reasonably well for basic functions like browsing, although I understand that these are nowhere near as good as those on a Mac.

I’ve found mixed results with this in a work situation: you may get better results at home or with less demanding tasks.

Graphics Tablet With A Pen Is Mightier…

Where it really comes into its own though is with the pen, which after all is the real reason we’re interested in the first place.

I’ve found that it is incredibly accurate, and doesn’t interfere or interact with other mice you may have installed.

This means that I’ve been able to swap continually between the tablet and my trackball, as and when needed.

Since the pointer on screen automatically moves to the place represented by the position you point to, there is no mouse-like “dragging” action and this makes for much less movement overall.

Graphics Tablet Takes Up Space

The downside?

Although this tablet has a small footprint on the desk (at least compared to other high-end tablets), it still takes up significant space to one side of the keyboard.

Also, since the basic position is like writing, the best place for it would be directly in front of you, just where the keyboard is!

For me, this meant that I was moving the keyboard and tablet around a lot depending on whether I was doing mouse- or keyboard-intensive tasks.

Some tasks would use both in equal amounts, so then I was stuck with the keyboard in the middle and the tablet off to my left: not the best place for my arm…

Don’t get me wrong: this may work very well for you, depending on what type of work you are doing.
I still get the tablet out every now and again and what it does, it does very well.

Next Time I’ll look at a different kind of ergonomic mouse, with a very different look and feel.

This is part 6 of a series of articles on Ergonomics and computers.
Follow the links below to the rest of the series:

About the author

I'm Tim Bader, founder of ErgonomicToolbox.com and the Ergonomic Toolbox training course. I am a writer, author, blogger and church leader, and I help people to overcome RSI and live comfortably with technology.
When I'm not writing, helping or training people, I live at home with my wife, two teenage kids and Playstation.

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  • Hi Hari,
    Good question!
    Indeed I have: I have an iMac at home and the Magic Trackpad is far and away my favourite way to control it.
    It’s also my top pick for ergonomics out of the many devices I have used over the years, particularly for the gesture-based desktop and window controls.

    Sadly, the Magic Trackpad doesn’t really work on Windows and as far as I know, gestures are completely absent if you try to connect it to a PC.
    At that point, it’s no more than a glorified tablet but arguably, with less functionality.
    So yes, it’s fantastic on Apple hardware, but there are better options on a PC (IMO).

    And on that note, I’m sure there are lots of devices, particularly more recent ones that I haven’t covered here.
    However, the main aim of this series is to discuss the general options that are available and in some cases, alternative ideas that some folk may not have considered before.
    Ergonomics is such a personal thing that it’s difficult to give definitive advice on any specific device.
    For example, my wife can’t stand the Magic Trackpad and much prefers the Magic Mouse (for that matter, she prefers a standard PC mouse too!)

    I hope you’ve found the series helpful and that you find what you’re looking for.
    Best wishes,

  • Hi Tim,

    In this series, you mention trackballs, graphics tablets, and vertical mice as alternatives to the traditional mouse. Have you tried the Apple Magic Trackpad? If so, what are your thoughts on it? Also, are there any other devices you’ve tried that aren’t listed here?

  • there are some nice little low budget graphics tablets on the market that offer most of the benefits higher end ones do, albeit with less functionality. Definitely worth looking at by those not needing many features.
    I used to have a XP-PEN : https://www.xp-pen.com graphics tablet. It really did give me the ability to create better graphics and drawings on the computer. Much more accuracy than using the mouse. I think all artists should own one of these. They’re awesome!

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    Overcome pain and discomfort caused by Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)