Wacom's Bamboo Pen and Touch tablet is a versatile device that combines finger-based multi-touch input and pen-based technology. Multi-touch interfaces have largely been confined to Apple products like the iPhone, although there are some exceptions (such as the occasional notebook touchpad and the HTC Hero smartphone).
At first glance the Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch looks reasonably sized, but the usable area isn't especially generous. The 248x176mm tablet has an area of 165x115mm in which you can use the pen, within which is an area of 150x95mm that where you can use your fingers for multi-touch input. A small white border indicates multi-touch area.
Pen-based input has been the bread and butter of Wacom's tablet range for decades, and the second-generation of Bamboo products is the first to allow finger gestures. Wacom has done this by adding a layer of capacitive sensors — similar to those used in the iPhone — on top of the electromagnetic resonance technology used for pen-based input. The two technologies won't work simultaneously, so the Bamboo Pen & Touch tablet simply turns off multi-touch recognition when it senses the pen. A light next on the tablet will change according to the form of input: white for multi-touch, orange for pen. There is an option to disable multi-touch input.
Like other graphics tablets, the Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch can be mapped 1-to-1 with the monitor or monitors being used (so the top-left corner of the tablet is equivalent to the top-left corner of the monitor). You can move the cursor around by merely holding the pen up to 14mm above the tablet surface, and initiate actions by touching the tablet surface or clicking one of the buttons on the pen itself.
The Macbook Pro's multi-touch trackpad provides support for gestures involving two, three and even four fingers, but Wacom's Bamboo Pen & Touch only recognises two simultaneously.
The tablet provides nine preset gestures that can be enabled or disabled individually from the control panel, but they can't be customised. The nine preset gestures cover right clicks, drag options and basic photo manipulation.
There are four shortcut buttons on the tablet that can be assigned one any of 17 different functions. You can also set customised hot keys; for example, you could use a button to select a particular tool in Adobe Photoshop.
Wacom designed the Bamboo Pen & Touch tablet to work across multiple platforms, and the level of support is excellent. In Mac OS X Snow Leopard, the tablet easily interfaced with the operating system's built-in Inkwell handwriting recognition technology. In Windows 7, the tablet supports the operating system's "flick" navigation.
Wacom also offers its Bamboo Dock software, which provides Adobe AIR-based widgets (called "Bamboo Minis") developed specifically to take advantage of the tablet's capabilities. All applications are free, and though they aren't the most powerful widgets we've seen, they're still fun. "DrawTweet", for example, automatically uploads and shares sketches over your Twitter account, while "Landmarker" pinpoints locations on a world map.
Wacom's Bamboo Pen & Touch tablet is a great introduction to multi-touch technology. The system is fun to use and reasonably priced, though we would love a wireless version (it connects via USB 2.0).
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