Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch £79.99
20th Oct 2009 | 08:50
The bamboo tablet goes multi-touch in time for Windows 7
Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch: Overview
Multi-touch applications are everywhere.
Popularised by the iPhone, being able to pinch your fingers together to zoom, or flicking left or right to navigate the internet, is more intuitive than using a mouse, to say nothing of offering a frisson of Star Trek-like enjoyment to your PC.
Windows 7 is multi-touch ready as soon as you install it – buy a suitably-equipped PC or tablet and you can use its handwriting recognition and gesture recognition straight out of the box.
The problem is that touchscreens are expensive. The nearest consumers are likely to get is something along the lines of HP's all-in-one Touchsmart systems which isn't much use if you're looking to retrofit your current PC.
Instead, you could try Wacom's Bamboo Pen & Touch. Wacom has been a significant player in the consumer-grade graphics tablet market for a long while, building small but perfectly-formed pen and tablet combos for creative types.
The Pen & Touch builds on the formula. It costs under £100, and while you get a pen and three replacement nibs in the box, the headline is that it works as a multi-touch work surface. Forget clicking and dragging! You fingers are the future.
Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch: In use
The device itself is sleek-looking, finished with plenty of shiny black surfaces.
The pressure-sensitive area measures a little over 7.5in diagonally, and there's a quartet of buttons – ExpressKeys – on the left hand side. Left-handed users can set it up to essentially work upside down, so you're not reaching over the buttons.
By default, these buttons work, from bottom to top, as left click, right click, back, and the top one works as a toggle for the Bamboo's multi-touch features: press it and the Bamboo will stop recognising any input that isn't from the pen.
There's a tidy fabric tab sticking out of the other side of the tablet which is a handy place to deposit the pen when you're not using it.
The pen is a little light for our liking, and there's no way to adjust the weight. A pair of buttons work, by default, as right-click and scroll buttons, although this can be changed in the Bamboo's preferences software.
The only slight hardware disappointment is that the pen only comes with three replacement nibs, all the same as each other – nibs that replicate other types of pen, such as felt-tips and pencils, would have been interesting inclusions for beginners.
It's only when you start following the Bamboo's included tutorials that the multi-touch shine starts to come off a little.
It works as advertised – pinch your fingers together to zoom in and out, or place one fingertip on the tablet and drag another around it to rotate an image or object, depending on the application. The Bamboo is effectively a large version of the trackpad that comes with a new MacBook.
In our experience the effectiveness of the Bamboo as a trackpad was mixed – it's highly dependent on the application you're using it in. For instance, pinching to zoom worked brilliantly in Picasa, but dragging two fingers around the pad – which is supposed to work the same as clicking and dragging – got us nowhere.
Flicking two fingers to the left or right navigates you through applications such as Firefox and Chrome, and works well. Rotating images hardly ever worked, though.
But if the multitouch capabilities of the Bamboo are over-hyped, its usefulness as a graphics tablet in undeniable. It recognises 1,024 levels of pressure, which makes it extremely accurate in applications such as Photoshop.
It can report as many as 133 pen inputs per second, and has a claimed accuracy of plus or minus 0.5mm. It works superbly, and if you're handy with a pen in real life, the Bamboo is perfectly priced for talented beginners to start producing digital art.
There are obvious uses for photo editing as well – cloning and using dodge and burn tools is far more accurate if you're using a pressure sensitive device.
Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch: Verdict
As a multi-touch device the Bamboo leaves us a little cold. There are times when it simply doesn't work reliably enough, and it's a rare computer user who claims a touchpad is a good alternative to a proper mouse. Even with Windows 7 supporting multi-touch this isn't the product to bring it to the masses.
Working with the pen is intuitive and natural, despite the stylus' lack of weight.
The pad is incredibly sensitive – with a bit of practice, drawing on the pad feels natural. It's much easier than attempting to sketch lines with a mouse.
The 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity help, and the price is keen as well – this the perfect beginner or hobbyist's graphics tablet.
The multi-touch aspect is over-hyped and under-realised. A lot of the time it simply doesn't work as well as advertised.
We certainly can't see it being as useful in Photoshop as the ability to draw natural-looking lines straight onto a piece of digital canvas.
The small pressure-sensitive area can be a bit restrictive too, although this is something that will only truly niggle if you've already got experience using graphics tablets. A final annoyance is that the Bamboo Pen & Touch only comes with one style of nib for the pen, and even beginners are likely to want to try something new.
As a graphics tablet, the Wacom is a superb first step for those getting into digital art. The pad may not be enormous, but there's plenty of sensitivity, and at comfortably under £100, the Pen & Touch could mark the beginning of a new artistic direction for beginners.