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New Wacom Bamboo Fun (Pen and Touch)

Toss your mouse, you'll never need it again if you get yourself one of the new Bamboo 'Touch' series of graphics tablets. By Robert Jensen

First off I should tell you I've haven't seen a graphics tablet I've liked in more than 20 years, and I've tried quite a few in that period. When the new Wacom Bamboo Fun came in I was ready to make another mark in my 'Hate it' column. I did struggle with it at first but that was more to do with problems with Snow Leopard than anything wrong with the Bamboo. Adobe Update kept crashing. (I've had nothing but similar problems with Snow Leopard. Sorry Apple, you released SL before it was ready for prime time) By the way, I had no problems with Windows 7, either 32 bit or 64 bit, on my 3 year old Dell laptop nor my 2 year old, home built PC. (I don't want to sound like some Windows Fan Boy, I'm not that fond of any of the OS's that have been introduced this year. Even my love of Linux has been watered down because of Ubuntu 9.10). For this review, I'm reviewing the larger sized Bamboo Fun.

Tablet
First off, the tablet is very good looking. I was sent the silver/white version, which fits perfectly with my 2008 24" iMac and Dell E1505 laptop. There are also black/charcoal versions.

Simply install the driver (and check Wacom's site for the recent updates for Snow Leopard and Windows 7), plug it in and you are ready to go! My version of the Bamboo also came with Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 for Windows, Elements 6 for OSX. Also included is a pared down version Nik Software's excellent Color Efex 3 as well as Corel Painter Essentials 4. After you install Elements and Essentials go to the company's  respective websites and download the updates you'll find there. (I never could get Color Efex installed on the Mac Adobe Update kept crashing too. Windows worked fine though.)


During the driver install you'll be asked if you'll be using it right-handed or left-handed. You can flip the tablet to fit your needs.

The tablet is USB powered, and the pen doesn't need a battery.  The edge of the tablet tapers down so it won't cut into your wrist. It sits rock solid on the desktop. There are 4 programmable buttons along the shorter side of the tablet.

The best feature of the tablet is what's missing. No mouse! From now on you let your fingers do the work. No more monkey paws after a day of image retouching using a mouse. (I've had quite a few times where I suffered from stiffness in my mouse hand after marathon sessions over a weekend retouching 500 images.) Many of you have track pads on your laptops and gotten tired of running off the edge while using it. No more of that with the Wacom Touch series of tablets. Having a large working area is wonderful.  Some of you might like the smaller models since they take up less real estate on your desktop and hand movement will be a little less.  If you are a photographer, graphic artist or do a lot of craft projects then I think you'll get along better with the larger tablet. My first stint retouching a photo using the pen worked perfectly with much finer control than what is possible with a mouse.

Touch
Think of the Touch series of Bamboos as having a track pad on steroids. Lots of room to move around. On my larger size tablet I might have had too much room. I noticed you can downsize the work area of the tablet using the control panel to something requiring less hand/arm movement.

The Touch version of the new Bamboo tablets supports multi-touch gestures. You use one and two finger control to navigate, pan, scroll, rotate, and zoom. There are 9 gestures in total. Its possible that Wacom will offer an update in the future that will support the 3 and 4 finger gestures on some of the latest Apple products.

Pen
The new Bamboo Touch series will automatically sense when the pen is near the table surface and automatically switch input modes from Touch to Pen. It will also signal the change by turning the light on the button bar from white to red. On several of the new models Wacom has increased the pressure levels from 512 to 1024 steps giving more smoothness to certain functions. The pen is fairly thick but still lightweight. Maybe a little too lightweight for my personal taste. A bit more mass would be welcome by some of us.

There is a rocker type switch on the side of the pen instead of the two or more separate buttons found on some other pens I've worked with. The nub, the part of the pen that actually touches the surface of the tablet, is interchangeable and Wacom includes three extra 1" long nubs in the box. More can be purchased from Wacom. By the way, that little ring like tool in the bag with the nubs is for pulling out an old nub. It acts like a pair of tweezers.

1024 levels means smoother flow when changing brush sizes while painting.

 

Pen and Mouse modes
There are two basic profiles you use with the tablet, Pen and Mouse Modes. (They would make more sense being called Screen mode and Touch mode). They are accessed through the Windows Control Panel or OSX's System Preferences.

Pen Mode -- The entire active surface represents your screen on a 1:1 basis. Move your fingertip to the bottom right corner of the table, the cursor will move to the bottom right corner of the screen. (Unlike older versions of the Bamboo you can now designate a smaller area of the tablet's surface and have still have it virtualize the entire screen. This saves you from having to make big movements with your arm/wrist. 

Mouse Mode -- In mouse mode everything works like it would if you were using a mouse. Anywhere on the tablet can be anywhere on the screen. This makes it more convenient when controlling your computer or surfing the Web.

With Pen Mode there is a 1:1 representation between tablet surface and your wide screen monitor. Some previous tablets had a more square-like aspect ratio similar to a tube television or monitor.

Inking
One of the features I like is being able to write on the tablet's surface just as I would on a piece of paper and have the software recognize my writing and convert it to text. Perfect for those times you have to sign a digital document or if you're having a party and want to add a hand drawn map on how to get there.

Express Keys
There are four Express Keys along the short side of the tablet. (they reminded me a bit of piano keys). Splitting the keys into pairs is a light to notify you which mode you're in. Pen or Touch. The light changes from white to red indicating Touch mode, or Pen mode.

 

Express keys

Express key menu

 

Wish list:
Rename Pen/Mouse modes to Screen/Touch Modes to make more sense.
Better pen holder. 1-Snap on pen holder. 2-Indent along the side of the tablet to cradle pen. 3-Magnetic area on tablet to hold pen.
A better name than Bamboo.  How about 'the Wacom Slider' or 'PT' (pen touch) or just 'Touch'?

Wacom's pen holder

 

Photoshop Elements

Corel Painter Essentials

Final words
Frankly past models of graphics tablets I've tried failed to impress. I've bought, and returned, more than my fair share of them over the decades, which is why I've stuck to using a mouse for so long. This new Wacom though is very, very, nice. It may be a little larger than what I would want next to my keyboard day after day but then I could get the smaller unit that's nearly half the size. For you who use a pen more than I do I think you'll prefer the larger unit I tested. Lots of room for working. Perfect for the lap in fact. 

Feels solid. After some use I noticed some light wear on the tablet surface but its cosmetic only and wouldn't interfere with use. Some of you might want to pick up some sort of protective plastic cover if you want your Wacom to look like new forever.

The Wacom Bamboo Fun, and others in the series have some nice small touches (pun intended), the light that changes color to show if you're in touch or pen mode, customizable express keys, and a comfortable pen. (if a little lighter weight than I personally like)

The bundled software is a nice plus and adds to the value of the package as a whole for those of you who might not have any image retouching or paint software. Another nice bonus in the larger Fun package is a coupon to send in your photos to Shutterfly www.Shutterfly.com/wacom  for a free 8x8 photo book which normally would cost you $20. There's also an offer from CafePress (www.Wacom.com/CafePress) for a free premium store (a $60 US value) and $15 US off your first purchase. Pretty nice deal for you crafty people out there.

If you use a laptop the new Bamboo series of tablets are thin enough that they will fit inside your case or bag nicely.

Wacom Bamboo Fun
$199
www.wacom.com

 

 


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Robert Jensen has spent most of his 55 years in photography, from the age of 11 when he got his first camera (a Kodak Instamatic) to the present, shooting professionally. From 1971 to 1997 he worked in retail selling photographic equipment to people of all skill levels. For most of that period he was also a manager.
Related Keywords:graphics tablet, graphic design

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