Although many of us enjoy high tech devices, there are times when we still get pleasure from going back to traditional methodology. We may type on the keyboard all day, but still find comfort in writing or drawing with a pencil and paper. Old methodology, like pencil and paper, also can offer better control than a keyboard and mouse. The Wacom Bamboo pen-tablet brings the best of both worlds together. It marries the new and the old by attaching a pen-and-tablet interface to the computer. Yet while this tablet mimics pencil and paper, it is really very high tech.
As you can see from the box in Figure 1, the tablet is officially called “Bamboo Fun” and the text tag on the box reads, “Create Your World.”
When you open the box, the contents are covered with a black insert, which has white text (shown in Figure 2) that says, “This is your Bamboo. Use it to get more out of your computer. Let us know how it goes…” followed by a signature and a happy face. The same message is repeated in German, French, Spanish, and several other languages. It’s a nice touch to the packaging. It doesn’t ad a lot to the device, but it may put a little smile on your face, and that can never be bad.
Inside the box, under the insert, you find the tablet itself, a pen and stand, a wireless mouse, a 5’ (1.5 m) USB cable, a black box with software and a package of three replacement writing nibs. All are shown in Figure 3. The nibs are shown on top of the software box.
As you can see from Figure 3, the Wacom Bamboo tablet is very sophisticated looking. The silver surround is slanted to create thin edges. The bezel under the tablet area curves down slightly to form a small palm rest, and the silver pad, itself, matches the matt silver surround. The egg-shaped mouse and the pen and holder are all created in the same stylish mat silver finish. While we have found previous Wacom tablets to be well designed, the Bamboo Fun emits an elegance not seen in previous tablets. The Bamboo Fun also comes in white, black and blue. We reviewed the medium model (suggested retail price of USD 199), which measures 11.0" W x 9.3" D x 0.3" H (28 cm x 23.6 cm x 0.76 cm). There is also a smaller sized 5.8" W x 3.7" D (14.7 cm x 9.4 cm) tablet with a suggested retail price of USD 99.
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The software box that comes inside the square black box contains a Quick Start Guide, an installation CD, and a software DVD, as shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4: The included software.
Installation is easy. You simply follow the instructions, which tell you to plug the USB cable into the tablet’s port and then into your computer. The USB port is found on the top of the tablet (shown in Figure 5). After that, you install the drivers from the installation disk. You will note that many devices want you to install the software before you plug in the device, so this set up was a bit out of the ordinary. However, we followed the directions and everything worked perfectly. The instructions also indicated that you should turn off your antivirus software before installation. We were happy to see a reminder to turn it back on at the end of the installation directions.
Figure 5: The top of the tablet.
After installation you can go to the Control Panel and change the tablet properties if you like. Some of the options are shown in Figure 6. Although much is customizable, we suggest that you start using the tablet with the default settings and make adjustments as you get used to using the tablet.
Figure 6: The Pen Tablet Properties.
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The pen is the main input for the tablet. As shown in Figures 7 and 8, it can be placed in the holder either vertically or horizontally. Although the pen itself seems sturdy, it feels as though something is loose inside the pen giving it a flimsy effect. We don’t know if this is true of all the pens, or just the one that we received with our tablet.
Figure 7: The pen positioned vertically.
Figure 8: The pen positioned horizontally.
There are easy-to-use controls on the side of the pen, as you can see in Figure 8. These are very useful as they can be programmed to perform the two functions that you use most frequently.
Using the pen is just like writing with a pencil and paper. It feels very comfortable and very normal. The work surface is slightly textured so it feels much like pencil or pen on paper. The most unusual thing is that the pen movement is detected well before the pen touches the tablet. So you can actually control the movement before the pen and tablet touch. In some cases, it makes you feel like you are using a magic wand. The response to the pen movements is quick and accurate. It even records levels of pressure sensitivity very accurately. The pen does not require batteries, so it is always ready to go.
As shown in Figure 9, there are three controls on the top of the tablet. In the middle is a touch-pad type scroll wheel that makes it easy the scroll up and down pages and to zoom in and out. Scrolling when using a tablet is often problematic because it is difficult to control the scroll bar with a pen, so this is a great solution. You just move your finger in a circular motion to scroll up or down or zoom in or out. The functionality of the scroll wheel can vary with the application, but all of the applications that we tried used it to scroll and
/or zoom. As shown in Figure 10, the scroll wheel is surrounded by a pale blue light making it easier to find in low-light situations.
Figure 10: The lighted circle.
As noted earlier, the Bamboo tablet also comes with a cordless mouse, which works just like a regular mouse. The tablet, pen, tablet controls, and mouse make a comprehensive set of input devices that can completely replace your regular keyboard and mouse, if you like. Although it takes some time to get used to the tablet, once you do, you really have greater control over the input than with a regular keyboard and mouse.
The Bamboo tablet is, of course, perfect for those doing graphic design and drawing. Also, the tablet is light and portable which may be important to students, outdoorsmen, artists, and those doing business presentations. It may also provide a great alternative input device for those with mobility issues.
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While the Bamboo tablet works with Windows XP, it really excels when you add it to a computer that runs Vista (all editions except Home Basic) or Apple OS X. It uses the built-in handwriting recognition and pen features of those operating systems to allow you to handwrite or use an on-screen keyboard for input. We tried the basic functionality with Vista Home Premium, and were amazed to find that it did an excellent job of recognizing our writing without any training. You can also go through built-in training to teach Windows Vista to better recognize your handwriting. While this may be beneficial to some, if you have a fairly readable handwriting, you may not even have to worry about it.
Also, when installed on a Vista computer, the press of the first button on the tablet will open the Windows Vista Journal. This program allows you to write anything and save it as a document. You can also highlight words, use different pencils, pens, and markers. You can annotate web pages and do many other impressive things. If you use Office 2007, you can bring all of this functionality right into your Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents.[nextpage title=”Included Software & Fun”]
While the smaller Bamboo tablet does not include software other than the installation disk, the larger Bamboo tablet that we reviewed comes with several full-version pieces of software. This is very impressive given the USD 199 suggested retail price tag of the device. The software includes Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0 for Windows or Mac. This is a great program for editing, retouching, enhancing, organizing, and sharing digital photos. Also included is Corel Painter Essentials 4.0 for creating natural media art and turning photos into paintings. The third piece of included software is Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0. This is a collection of filters that work with Photoshop Elements or Photoshop for selectively applying lighting and photo enhancements with the pen.
If you have Vista or Mac OS X, you can use the tablet for all of your input needs, but it really gets to be fun when you use the included software to create drawings, turn your photographs into works of art, or practice your drawing skills. The included programs let you trace, draw, sketch, and apply artistic filters and special effects.
Many other software programs also have enhanced features that allow it to work with the Bamboo. These include Acrobat Professional, After Effects, CorelDraw, Flash, Paint Shop Pro, SketchUp, and many more. A full list can be found at the Wacom website.
The Wacom tablet includes a one year warranty, and even more impressive is that there is free US-based technical support available Monday through Friday, 8:30am to 5:00pm Pacific Time (1-360-896-9833).
Wacom Bamboo Fun tablet main specs are:
- Size (small model): 8.4" W x 7.3" D x 0.3" H (21.3 cm x 18.5 cm x 0.7 cm)
- Size (medium model): 11.0" W x 9.3" D x 0.3" H (28 cm x 23.6 cm x 0.7 cm)
- Active Area (small model): 5.8" W x 3.7" D (14.7 cm x 9.4 cm)
- Active Area (medium model): 8.5" W x 5.3" D (21.6 cm x 13.5 cm)
- Pressure Sensitivity: 512 Levels
- Resolution: 2,540 Lines Per Inch
- ExpressKeys: 4
- Finger-Sensitive: Input Touch Ring
- Color: Available in Black, Silver, White or Blue
- Warranty: 1 Year
- More information: https://www.wacom.com
- MRSP in the US: USD 99 (small model) or USD 199 (medium model)
- Excellent design
- Very good writing surface
- Highly responsive
- Many levels of pressure sensitivity
- Great writing surface
- Useful scroll and zoom buttons
- Lightweight and portable
- Good software bundle
- Pen feels a little flimsy
- Takes some getting used to
- You need Windows Vista or Mac OS X to take full advantage of features
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