Mice aren't always nice. Even the most svelte, hand-friendly computer mice are clunky. They require you to move your whole arm to get anything...

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Mice aren’t always nice.

Even the most svelte, hand-friendly computer mice are clunky. They require you to move your whole arm to get anything significant done and flex your wrist in ways that no other activities do. Over time, too much mousing can give you wrist pain, calluses on the base of your hand and a permanent urge to double-click.

You could always spend more time outdoors. But barring that, the solution may be much more elegant: a tablet.

Tablets are like electronic pads of paper, wired or wireless, that come with a wireless pen. You draw on the pad with the pen and those movements are translated on screen into mouse movement, drawing, photo editing or the like, depending on the software.

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The Tablet PC, essentially a laptop that allows you to write or draw on the screen, is one alternative, but you don’t have to invest in a new computer to have a tablet. You can buy a tablet separately and attach it to your PC or laptop.

Artists are the most common users of tablets because tablets allow natural sketching and something akin to painting digitally on screen in a way no mouse can. But growing numbers of other users are experimenting with tablets to make computing feel more natural.

Good tablets aren’t cheap. A Wacom 4- by 5-inch tablet with pen, which is a budget model from a good manufacturer, will cost in the neighborhood of $90, much more than a high-end wireless mouse. But the flexibility and comfort may be worth it to frequent PC users, especially those who often use art, design or layout programs.

The differences between a good pad and a bargain model are the size of the area you can draw on, the sensitivity of the pen, the comfort of holding it and the smoothness of motion translated from your hand to the screen.

Higher-end tablets come with some neat features. Some include transparent frames on top of the pad so you can trace an existing drawing or photo. Some have digital, pressure-sensitive erasers for easily getting rid of your sketch lines, just as you would with a normal eraser.

It’s easy to see how tablets could be used in drawing or painting digital images. But they are also handy for office work. Tablets allow you to sign documents or annotate them with handwritten notes in most Microsoft Office applications and a bunch of other business programs.

That, for instance, makes it easy to sign a fax you’ve received via e-mail and send it back, or to note changes you want to make in a document someone else has written without writing over their text or having to print and store a separate hard copy with your comments.

Using a tablet is simple. Drawing the tip of the pen across the tablet causes lines to appear on screen or the mouse cursor to move. Tapping the pen on the pad, singly or doubly, equates to a single or double click. Most pens come with additional buttons on the shaft to replicate right-clicking or other common tasks.

Even programs that aren’t designed to work with a tablet will treat it like a normal mouse. The software that supports tablets just goes the extra mile, allowing tablet users to draw freestyle on screen, drag elements around on a page, crop or color-balance photos and the like.

If you like tablets, you might consider taking them to the next level when you hit the road by investing in a Tablet PC. They start at about $1,000 and include a glass screen designed to flip flat so you can write on it (using a pen that includes a wireless transmitter) like a notepad. In practice, they aren’t quite as sensitive as the very best tablet accessories for standard PCs, but they are portable and they let you take that feeling on the road.