(from a post I wrote for a friend on Facebook, regarding whether or not to buy a direct-display drawing tablet for her daughter as a school-gear investment.)
There are some potential tradeoffs to be aware of. First, what’s the hoped-for longterm goal here? Independent work as an illustrator, production art in a technology company, working as a cartoonist?
For independent work, non-Wacom products will be fine. In a studio setting, Wacom products will be the devices used.
Another point to consider is that non-direct display tablets are soooo cheap that probably you should just buy a small Bamboo anyway (what are they, $50?) and insist that it get used productively for a little while in order to be sure the $500-$1000 direct-display device being sought won’t just gather dust.
Additionally a point to consider is that non-direct display tablets can be extremely convenient for some uses. On a direct-display tablet, even though having the display under your hand is satisfying and less cognitively challenging (it’s weird to move your hand without staring carefully at it at first), using a direct display tablet actually GUARANTEES that you see less of the image while you work on it, since your hand is in the way. Additonally, no matter how carefully you calibrate, your stylus point is actually always slightly offset from the point on the display where the pixels are being shown in response to the stylus input.
Since an iPad costs as little as $200, it’s still a realistic option -AND- if it’s not getting use as a drawing tablet it WILL get used as an internet access device.
Wacom (and others) make bluetooth-enabled pressure sensitive stylii for the iPad that in combination with an app such as ProCreate provide easily 95% of the drawing functionality of a full-fledged tablet setup. I’ll post some 100% iPad work in thread here in a moment.
Microsoft’s also-ran tablet product, Surface, also has Wacom support built-in and iirc some models come with a pro stylus. I think there may be some limitations with regard to software selection but that applies to the iPad as well. The primary applications on either OS that are used with tablets are Photoshop and Manga Studio, with other more graphic-designy applications like Illustrator also working well on the tablet but not by any means requiring it or really offering an advantage.
The basic feature that Wacom’s products offer that is better (presumably) than competitors’ and definitely better than any iPad and stylus combo is levels of pressure sensitivity and the ability of the drawing surface to recognize and render the effects of stylus angle of contact. That plus speed equals shape of line, giving line dynamics and brushstroke tails and so forth. I can’t provide evaluative information about the non-Wacom products with regard to that.
non-direct-display tablets are more or less as useful as direct-display tablets and they cost less by an order of magnitude
iPad (and presumably Surface) can cost less than half as much as a comparable-size dedicated direct-display tablet and definitely do offer near-parity of potential quality of work. iPad does not offer parity of certain features or software, Surface definitely does.
non-Wacom direct draw tablets offer some level of feature parity with Wacom at roughly half the cost
Wacom tablets, direct or not, are the industry standard and no matter what product you settle on if it is not a Wacom the consumer will eventually want to at least try a Wacom
I should note that I have a Wacom Cintiq, a slightly older model than that currently available, the smaller size 12-inch or so model. It’s fine and I am glad I have it. I still use the iPad much more often.