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Wacom Graphire Bluetooth

Wireless pressure-sensitive graphics tablet By Dave Nagel
Summary: Wacom's Graphire Bluetooth offers all of the features of a Graphire tablet in a wireless configuration. It includes a pen with pressure-sensitive tip and eraser; a three-button mouse; and a 6" x 8" (active area) tablet with a rechargeable battery and AC adapter. The tablet performs well at close range to a Bluetooth antenna, though, as with all Bluetooth devices, it can drop off dramatically with distance and interfering devices. Normally this wouldn't be much of a problem, but, with a tablet, which you'll presumably be using for precision work, this can be a big drawback.
Recommendation: Neutral
Users: Visual artists
Platform: Mac OS X and Windows
Price: $249.95
More information:

I haven't reviewed a Wacom tablet yet that I haven't loved, and I've had my hands on just about all of them. Like all of the company's graphics tablets, the new wireless Graphire Bluetooth is, in itself, a great productivity booster for professionals in the visual arts and another example of the engineering that has made Wacom the deserved leader in this market. But how well does a graphics tablet pair with Bluetooth wireless technology?

The question you have to ask yourself is this: "Just how critical is it for me to have a wireless graphics tablet?" At $249.95, the Graphire Bluetooth is just $50 more than a 6" x 8" Graphire3 USB tablet, which makes it seem tempting. But there's a tradeoff. Bluetooth wireless technology isn't perfect. It's handy for a lot of devices, but a graphics tablet--even a Graphire--needs to be able to communicate a lot of data to a computer. And when it fails, or when the signal drops, or when something suddenly causes interference, you lose responsiveness. And with the kind of precision work you're presumably doing with your tablet, this can be quite nasty. The effect is akin to having your arm bumped when you're trying to draw.

I'm not implying that this is going to happen in most situations. In my office, I have a ton of devices all operating at the same time and lots of metal objects standing around just waiting to cause problems with my reception. So, in my testing period, I encountered an awful lot of problems and found a very narrow corridor through which I could operate the Graphire Bluetooth reliably. In fact, the ideal position for for this tablet turned out to be right on top of my USB-based Intuos3 tablet. So, essentially, I saw no benefit whatsoever from the wireless connectivity. (Incidentally, this was tested with a G5 Mac that has Apple's Bluetooth factory upgrade installed.)

The situation for you might be different. If you've fiddled around with Bluetooth devices on your computer and found that you have flawless communications between your devices, well, you might get along just fine with the Graphire Bluetooth as well. I don't want to turn you off to this tablet at all because it's a great device; but you do need to know that without great reception, this great device isn't going to do you much good.

The Graphire Bluetooth offers all of the features of a standard, USB-based Graphire3 tablet. It includes a cord-free, battery-free pen with a pressure-sensitive nib (supporting 512 levels of pressure) and pressure-sensitive eraser. The pen also includes a dual side button with programmable functions, so you can use it for click lock, right click, modifier keys, etc. Unlike the pens that ship with Intuos and Cintiq tablets, the Graphire's pen is a simple plastic affair with no rubberized grip. It doesn't feel as solid as the pens that ship with Wacom's higher-end tablets, and it's not as comfortable to use. But it gets the job done. The pen also comes with a clear plastic stand (not weighted, unlike the stand that comes with the Intuos), and it can also be stashed in a recess on the back of the tablet itself.

It also includes a three-button scrolling mouse. This is a decent, full-sized mouse that's comfortable to use and includes a rubberized scroll wheel. It has a little weight to it and is shaped to fit the palm nicely--nicer than many third-party mice, and certainly nicer than Apple's own mono-button mouse. Like the Graphire pen, the mouse is cord-free and battery-free, and the buttons can be programmed for various types of clicks, modifiers or other functions.

The tablet base itself offers a 6" x 8" active area in a 10.13" x 11.03" form factor. It includes two multi-function buttons directly above the active area; a power switch; and a plastic cover, which can be removed to insert artwork for tracing. (Note that this is not the same type of flip-up overlay found on other tablet models; this is moulded plastic that can be removed completely and fastens to the tablet with two sliding side latches.) On the back of the device, you'll also find a "Connect" button, which puts the tablet into discovery mode for pairing with your computer.

Finally, in terms of hardware, it also comes with a rechargeable battery plus an AC adapter for simultaneous charging and tablet operation. (The battery is designed to go up to 25 hours without recharging.)

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Related Keywords:wacom, tablet, bluetooth, wireless pen, wireless tablet, graphire

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