Wacom pen tablets have been a favorite of design and photography professionals for years. Wacom’s new Bamboo line brings pen and tablet computing to another audience: the casual home or office user.
Bamboo tablets offer consumers a welcome alternative to a traditional mouse. Using a mouse can be like trying to draw with a bar of soap, requiring lots of repositioning and repetitive movements. By contrast, Bamboo tablets are designed to provide a more natural experience, similar to touching pen to paper. The tablet represents your computer monitor in a one-to-one relationship, so that a stroke of the pen translates to a matching line on the screen. The pen that comes with the Bamboo Fun tablet is pressure-sensitive, allowing you to make fine lines or bold strokes by varying how hard you press.
Wacom’s Bamboo line consists of two products—Bamboo Fun (reviewed here) and Bamboo. Bamboo Fun, for creative consumers, replaces the Graphire4 ( ). (Creative professionals are still best served by Wacom’s Intuos [ ] and Cintiq lines.) Bamboo Fun is available in a choice of four colors (black, white, silver, or blue) and two sizes (small, with an active area of roughly 6 by 4 inches, or medium, with an active area of roughly 8 by 6 inches). Both sizes include a cordless pen with eraser, and a cordless mouse for use on the tablet. The package also comes with a collection of popular design software—Adobe Photoshop Elements 4 for Mac ( ), Corel Painter Essentials 3 ( ), and Nik Color Efex Pro 2 ( ). The small Bamboo Fun, at $99, is the best value in the line, taking into account these extra goodies. The medium Bamboo Fun costs $199.
The Bamboo does not include the mouse, eraser, and design software that comes with the Bamboo Fun. This model comes only in black and in one size (a roughly 6-by-4 inch active area). The Bamboo is targeted at office users, but its low price of $79 should make it attractive to students and other budget-minded consumers.
All of the Bamboo tablets are thin, lightweight, and stylish. They feature four programmable ExpressKeys, useful for accessing frequent keystrokes or launching selected applications. The Touch Ring at the top of the tablet resembles an iPod click wheel. Move your finger around the Touch Ring to easily zoom or scroll through a document. The pen is sleek and comfortable. It features two buttons that can be set to a choice of functions, or to which you can assign a custom pop-up menu of your favorite commands.
Bamboo tablets are great for creative activities, from sketching to scrapbooking to photo retouching. They also offer a unique opportunity to integrate handwriting with digitized documents. Use a Bamboo tablet to add a handwritten signature to a typed letter, jot down quick notes, or mark up a document. You can leave your handwriting as is, or automatically convert it into typewritten text using the Ink technology built into Mac OS X.
There aren’t many downsides to Bamboo tablets. My wish list does include a wireless version that would not need to be tethered to the computer; it would also be nice if the pen buttons were repositioned so left-handers would be less likely to run into them inadvertently.
Macworld’s buying advice
Bamboo tablets bring the benefits of pen and tablet computing to a consumer audience. It may take a while to get accustomed to using a tablet; but if you stick with it, you’ll find that the Bamboo offers a natural approach to drawing, photo retouching, handwriting, and navigating that boosts comfort, creativity, and efficiency. Odds are you won’t go back to using a traditional mouse.
[ Jan Kabili is a Photoshop author and trainer. Her latest movie series is Photoshop CS3 for the Web at lynda.com. ]Bamboo Fun tablet