So I bought a tablet. Not a portable computing device, but the input only device that digital artists tend to use. In the intro of my Mudbox book, the author recommended getting one and then pretty much said you can't produce good work with just a mouse. I was like, "Seriously? Is that a challenge?" Then when the book didn't respond, I figured I might as well get one if everyone else uses one. I don't want to show up at a future job and have them hand me a tablet and then have no idea how to work it. I don't think I'll be using it with Maya much but I can see how it'll be helpful with sculpting and painting in Mudbox.
Tapping the surface with the pen tip is how I do the left mouse click and I can also drag from there. The pen has a two button rocker on it for the middle and right mouse buttons. I haven't found the best way to hold the pen while still being able to click those buttons easily but luckily I don't have to use them too often. The really weird thing for me though is just moving the cursor around. I have to hold the pen within a centimeter of the surface and move it around without touching to move the cursor without clicking anything. I find the lack of tactile feedback strange. So just for general input use, I'm slower using the tablet compared to a mouse or even a touchpad (though I can use the tablet without the pen as a touchpad). Another area of use is manipulating models in three dimensions (rotating around the camera, panning, zooming). To do this in Maya and Mudbox, I have to hold down the Alt key and then use one of the mouse buttons. For my mouse, I programmed one of the extra buttons near my thumb to be Alt so I can easily move the viewpoint around with one hand. I cannot do that with the tablet. The tablet does have four programmable buttons on the left so I can use one of those as Alt so I don't have to reach over to my keyboard. However I still have to use both hands which I don't like.
The last area of use is sculpting and painting which is where the tablet should excel. Not only is the drawing motion more natural and accurate, the tablet also has pressure sensitivity so how hard I press the pen will influence how strongly my brush is affecting the model and/or how big my brush is. With a mouse, I would have to constantly adjust both the size and strength as I worked. I've yet to do any significant sculpting with the tablet (I made the girl with a mouse) so we'll see how that goes.
If anyone is curious about the other programmable buttons, I made one do the Undo command. The next one is Ctrl. Normally the brush will pull the surface of the model outwards. If I hold down Ctrl, it'll push inward instead. Lastly, I have one button as "B" which allows me to change the size of the brush. I wasn't sure if I wanted the pressure sensitivity to control both size and strength so I added that in there just in case but that might change in the future.