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Review CornerSoftware
SketchBoard Featuring Disney's Magic Artist Studio
Rating: Rating
The Bottom Line
This kid-friendly digital drawing tablet opens up exciting new ways for children to explore their creativity on the computer. Though children will need to practice both with the peripheral and the software program it is packaged with, most will happily take on the challenge. This impressive package not only has built-in appeal, it should keep children busily designing new masterpieces over the long term.
Ages: 5-up  Subject: Creativity/Art  Brand: KB Gear
Review Sections: Product Overview  Technically Speaking  Dollar Value
image Product Overview
Subtitled "The Animation Station for Kids", this digital drawing tablet comes packaged with Disney's Magic Artist Studio CD-ROM - an excellent pairing, as the software helps to showcase the wonderful opportunities this drawing tablet has to offer budding artists.

No question about it, art on the computer is really quite limited when using a mouse - it's awkward at best when drawing freehand is desired. This pressure-sensitive sketchpad with its attached stylus (pen) helps users draw in a more natural manner.

The tablet sports a 5" x 7" drawing area. Its sturdy construction is entirely appropriate considering its intended audience of children ages 5 and up. Also fitting is the fact that the stylus attaches to the board via a cord (meaning it won't easily be misplaced). It cleverly attaches to the middle of the peripheral, making it suitable for both right- and left-handed children - and if you've ever watched a left-handed child attempt to draw with a MagnaDoodle toy, you'll understand why this is a thoughtful feature.

Families who have not yet explored drawing tablets will be amazed at the leap in creative advantage they offer, especially for children who are artistically inclined. Parents will consider this set a fine introduction to the world of computer graphics, empowering kids with a somewhat more intuitive method of creating on the computer.

While using this sketch board more closely mimics traditional pen-and-paper drawing, keep in mind that there is a counterintuitive factor at work - the drawings appear on the computer, not the tablet. There is some awkwardness inherent in this process, requiring a little practice before users adjust.

The increased pressure-sensitivity means kids can control the thickness of a line by varying the pressure applied to the tablet. This allows children to make use of shading and texture techniques, just as they would in their traditional artwork.

The package comes with a tracing overlay, and virtually any picture from a storybook or magazine can be used. Tracing favorite pictures is not only fun, it also helps children practice using the stylus and tablet. Kid testers had an unusually good time with this feature, and our 4 year old tester especially enjoyed practicing to trace letters and numbers. The colorful tablet and stylus have immediate appeal. Kids will be "drawn" to the whole idea, as well as to the software. Remember that the sketch board can be used with other graphics and creativity software as well.

Disney's Magic Artist Studio is a powerful creativity tool - once its interface is understood. This is a wonderful program that could have been better if there were audio (or even text-based) names for each icon. After trial and error, however, kids can discover all of the program's exciting potential.

Tools include chalk, pencil, marker, crayon, paintbrush, spray can, and the whimsical whipped cream (a fantastic Disney touch). Selecting the pencil icon allows kids to draw as they would with a pencil, but clicking on the pencil again will bring up a group of pencils bunched together, each with a slightly different shade of the selected color. This creates fantastic 3D results. The seaweed in the underwater scene pictured above (a 7-year-old tester's creation) was made with this special "surprise" tool. The spray bottle tool allows users to "spray" a stream of animated objects like spiders and jewels onto their artwork. An outstanding range of shades is offered with the software's color palette. Kids can add music to their creations, with 15 musical styles to choose from. There are over 300 stamps that can be inserted into artwork, including characters and props la Disney.

Interactive lessons on animation are included, and children are free to create their own original animations. All artwork can be saved in a "sketchbook" and/or displayed in the form of slideshows complete with user-selected musical tracks. Other features include the ability to print artwork in grayscale (for coloring away from the computer) or full color; email artwork to friends and family; make "invisible" messages that can then be unmasked; and import scanned photos to be inserted into artwork or used as backgrounds.

We are very impressed with this package. Keep in mind, however, that it will take time to become accustomed to this "new" way of using the computer, especially for children at the lower end of the suggested age group. Though this product may be a novelty for your family, chances are high that its appeal won't wear off as quickly as with other peripherals.

Technically Speaking
Minimum requirements are Windows 95/98, Pentium-class processor 133 MHz, 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM. An open, active USB or serial port is required to attach the device. Mac users require System 8.5.1 or higher (8.6 is recommended), USB supported Macintosh (version 1.2 suggested), 32 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM, and an open USB port. This product requires 70 MB of hard drive space.

Skills Covered
Creativity, hand-eye coordination.

Educational Value
Users receive an introduction to a peripheral that adult graphic artists use every day, and are empowered with the opportunity to explore new possibilities for creativity on the computer. The very nature of sketch board use makes this set an excellent exercise in hand-eye coordination. The art studio software requires some effort to understand, but some parents will find this "problem" creates opportunities for their children to learn through experimentation, possibly working to a child's advantage on an educational level.

Entertainment Value
For children accustomed to using only a computer mouse for computer art exploration, this set is especially exciting, as it adds a new spin to activities that are already enjoyable.

The software in the bundle contains icons that are confusing at first. The digital tablet itself is very kid-friendly and attractive looking. This updated version boasts increased pressure sensitivity, a pen with a revised design and improved performance, and both USB and serial connectivity.

We expect above-average replay value for this product. The sketch board works with other graphics programs - not just the software it's packaged with. As well, the creativity software program is open-ended and rich in features, providing kids with limitless opportunities to create. -->

Dollar Value
The package that includes both the drawing tablet and CD-ROM is priced at approximately $60 US.

Released: 2000
Reviewed: February 2001