Bamboo Pen & Touch

I've had my Bamboo Pen & Touch tablet for only a day, but I am already starting to make use of it. I bought it for 3 reasons: as someone being interested in graphic design, I wanted to use a pen; as a programmer, I wanted to make use of the multi-touch gestures and eventually the Wacom-provided APIs; as a general computer user, I wanted a more ergonomic alternative – or complement – to my mouse.

Wacom's Bamboo line of graphic design tablets is designed for the entry-level market. The Pen & Touch model, as its name implies, features a traditional pen and digitizer as well as a finger-sensitive surface that also supports multi-touch gestures. So how well does it work?

Right- or left-handed?

I consider myself a left-handed person: I write with my left hand, I throw a football with my left hand, and so on. However, unlike most left-handed people, I use a computer mouse in my right hand. It comes in useful when using other people's computers; it also gives me a unique advantage with my tablet. By placing the tablet in a left-handed configuration, I can use both mouse and tablet at the same time.

Use as a pointing device

Sans the pen, the Bamboo is basically an oversized laptop touchpad. It responds to finger-based navigation, as well as single-and-multi-touch gestures reminiscent of a Macbook's touchpad, including tap-and-drag, scroll, and zoom (more on these below).

Tracking is fairly precise, though there is one pretty big gripe I have: the touch-sensitive area is smaller than the pen-sensitive area, and this boundary is marked by a thin white line on the surface. There is absolutely no tactile feedback alerting you that your finger is off the trackpad, which results in a few "random" cursor lifts, and this can be an annoyance when dragging objects.

Surface feel

Touch

The tablet's surface is matte and resembles a chalkboard to the touch. It feels all right under a finger; I've felt better ones on laptops, but I've definitely felt worse ones.

Pen

Using a pen on the surface feels quite natural. It feels more like using a pencil on paper than a ball-point pen; the important thing to note is that there is adequate resistance at the pen tip, and the pen doesn't slip across the pad. Additionally, touch input is automatically disabled when the pen is being used, which prevents accidental "clicks."

Multi-touch gestures

The Bamboo supports multi-touch gestures including two-finger scrolling, pinch-to-zoom, rotation, and more; it does not support three-finger or four-finger gestures though. Two-finger scrolling works superbly, except for occasionally being "confused" with pinch-to-zoom. Pinch-to-zoom works OK, but a good deal of Windows programs don't work with it very intuitively. Rotation does not work anywhere in my experience, not even in Photoshop CS3.

Windows Pen and Touch

I use Windows 7 Professional as my primary operating system. Windows 7 has built-in support for pen and touch input, and the Bamboo tablet is compatible with this. When the pen hovers over the tablet, Windows Tablet PC Input Panel automatically appears on the left of the screen, and the appropriate cursor indicators show up.

Application compatibility

Some programs, such as Photoshop, include pen support; these work well. The pen has 1024 pressure sensitivity levels, and this allows for some interesting effects in Photoshop, such as dynamic adjustment of a brush's width or opacity. Other programs, such as Visual Studio, don't support pen input inherently, but the default Windows support allows them to "see" the pen as a mouse cursor.

Multi-monitor pen use

The Bamboo control panel includes an option for controlling which monitors the pen controls. Since the pen uses absolute tracking, it can get difficult to precisely track on a virtual desktop. I set it to track on my primary 22" monitor, and I find this configuration optimal in my case.

Does it replace a mouse?

In some cases, yes, I find myself using the Bamboo touch features instead of my mouse. Other times, however (such as when dragging a lot of objects), the mouse is a better choice. Thus, it does not replace the mouse; rather, it complements it. And as mentioned above, I am able to use both at the same time with minimal reconfiguration.

Posted on Thursday, June 3, 2010 at 2:17 PM | Permalink | Tags: windows 7, touch, pen

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