review: wacom bamboo pen and touch
For the past few months I've been using a Wacom Bamboo Pen + Touch tablet, replacing the original Bamboo I reviewed a while ago. I've given a pretty good workout on both Windows XP and Windows 7, so it's about time to review this one too.
Disclosure: the Pen + Touch was a freebie from Wacom, since a local rep saw my original review and wondered if the new one addressed the concerns I'd raised.
I use the tablet as a mouse replacement/alternative, for ergonomic reasons. I still have a mouse for gaming and the occasional time when I just can't manage a hover interaction with the pen (tooltips for tiny icons are the worst).
I've previously used an Intuos3 at work and an old Bamboo at home. The old Bamboo was good, although not perfect - in particular the "touch ring" simply didn't work for me, which mean I couldn't easily scroll pages up and down using the Bamboo.
Scrolling by clicking and dragging the scrollbar was one thing that still put a lot of strain onto my hand (not to mention a decent dint in the surface along the edge of the tablet). That was a bit of an Achilles Heel, but otherwise it was a nice little tablet (especially for the price). I did wish at times they'd included a touch strip like the one on the Intuos3.
pen + touch = nice!
The Bamboo Pen and Touch is a next step that probably should have been obvious, but I never thought of it - the whole tablet is also a touch pad. So you can switch between using the pen and using your fingertips (multi touch).
What's interesting is that at work I still have an old Bamboo, and people regularly try to use it as a touch pad. I think our input paradigms have shifted a bit!
In any case my immediate thought about the combo was... "can I use the touch to scroll and the pen for everything else?"
The short answer is yes. It's not always perfect, with the occasional bit of lag when switching between the pen and touch modes; and touch-scrolling could definitely be snappier. But in general it works well.
The new pen is a slightly different shape (flat down one side); and feels a little different on the tablet surface. However it has a nice feel, retaining the surprisingly-good precision of the first Bamboo.
The pen is a little small when you use it all the time, the thicker pen on the Intuos3 was more comfortable for extended use. It's a minor difference but all the same if Wacom offered a bigger replacement pen for the Bamboo I'd buy it. Sadly from what I've heard the Bamboo and Intuos pens are not interchangeable.
It is interesting to note that the default click method has switched from Hover Click to Click & Tap - apparently I'm not the only one who was switching that around. It's a far more precise and less error-prone way to set up the tablet.
no pen stand
One strange decision with the new Bamboo was leaving out a pen stand. The manual says this is because storing the pen in a stand could damage it, which is weird when all other Wacoms I've used had a stand.
Instead, when you're not using the pen, you're supposed to stick the pen in the red loop attached to the side of the tablet.
I type a lot so I'm always putting the pen back in its stand, which means it's just not viable for me to put the pen back in the loop over and over again. To solve this issue I use the old Bamboo's stand - if that hurts the stylus, c'est la vie.
Depending on your work style, this might not be an issue. For example if you do long stretches with the stylus, putting the pen in the loop occasionally might not be a problem.
touch and multitouch
Touch is obviously all new. The Bamboo is nice to use in touch mode, with precise movement and no accidental flick when you pick your finger back up.
All the expected touch gestures are here - two fingered scrolling, pinch zoom, flick forwards and back, etc. The settings panel has animated demos in case you're not familiar with a touch interface:
Realistically though if you've used a multi-touch tablet or touch pad before it's pretty much what you'd expect. There's not much more to say, really - it's multitouch, and it works!
windows xp and windows 7
Under Windows XP the drivers were pretty standard, no big tricks. Windows 7 has a lot of extensions for tablet PCs, which would be great for an actual tablet PC. However since I'm on a desktop, I found that I really didn't make much use of them.
This is not a fault with the tablet features in Windows 7, in fact if I had a tablet PC there's no doubt I'd use at least some of them. But the hand-eye disconnect is too much for me on a desktop. Besides, you don't want to attempt to read my handwriting anyway ;)
windows 7 driver instability
One frustration has been tablet driver stability under Windows 7. Ocasionally the pen is too erratic to use on first boot; or it will start randomly clicking. I've learned to check tablet function on boot and immediately reboot if it's flaky.
Since I didn't have these problems on Windows XP, and friends with Macs don't report the same issue, I am pretty sure this is a driver problem or some form of system setup clash.
Some research suggests it may have something to do with Win7's file system permissions setup; but so far the suggested solutions haven't resolved the issue. I'm hoping a Wacom driver update or Win7 service pack will resolve this.
Thankfully this problem doesn't occur too often so it's not a deal breaker. Mind you if it started happening daily, it would be a very different story.
in the box...
I should quickly cover the extras included:
- Extra pen nibs and a nib removal tool
- Photoshop Elements and other support software
These are pretty good inclusions, assuming that nib removal tool works (haven't worn out a nib yet). Having seen some pretty dodgy bundled software over the years, it's nice to see something like Photoshop Elements which would actually be useful to many home users (eg. for simple photo edits).
Driver issues aside, this is another good tablet in the Bamboo range. The pen and touch combination is awesome and I hope they keep offering it in future Bamboo lineups. Being able to use multi-touch on my desktop is nice after getting used to it on laptops.
The multi-touch scrolling makes up the gap left by the old Bamboo's touch ring, with only the lag issues preventing full marks.
My wishlist for future models would be to go back to a separate pen stand; and offer a range of premium stylus/pen options. Or possibly to see the pen+touch idea migrate to the Intuos range.
Driver stability has continued to be a huge issue under Windows 7 with v5.2.1-6a of the drivers. One workaround I've found is that if pen input is erratic on startup, restore your preferences via the Pen Tablet Preferences File Utility. That seems to restart the driver or at least do something that gets things under control. Obviously you have to make a backup first, so you can restore it later. Wacom do seem to be updating the drivers at last, will see if that improves matters however since they're marked RC I'm not sure they are stable.
I've also found you will probably want to tune (or simply disable) some of the Win7 features aimed at tablet PCs which kick in when it detects the tablet. First off, hit the Tablet PC Settings if you find context menus opening to the wrong side of the cursor (see the left/right handed settings):
- Open Local Group Policy Editor (Run gpedit.msc)
- Go to User Configuration → Administrative Templates → Windows Components → Tablet PC → Cursors
- Enable the Turn off pen feedback setting.
If you, like most people, hate the little animated rings that appear when you're trying to click and hold you can get rid of those. Go to Pen and Touch settings → Pen Options → Settings → disable press and hold for right-clicking.
It shouldn't be that hard, but hey at least you can get rid of them.
A new OS, a new driver problem! Windows 8 has moved some options around so it's still pretty hard to disable all the annoying ring/ripple animations when using the Wacom. However, most of them can be disabled. Check out Wacom Forum - How to remove the ripple effects in Windows 8? for details.
Also be aware that some firewall and antivirus software can conflict with the Wacom (specifically AVG antivirus and Zone Alarm firewall caused problems for me).
Finally... it's worth noting the original bamboo pen holders work just fine with the Pen and Touch stylus (the black ones); and you can buy them via Wacom's website.