Wacom Bamboo Touch + Pen: First Impressions

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Recently we let the readers know about the leaked multi-touch tablet from Wacom, the Bamboo Touch. Seems the official release was imminent, as Wacom released the actual Touch lineup only a few days later.

Being the gadget geek I am, I needed to get my hands on one of these. I was contemplating selling my old Intuos3 tablet and replacing with a Bamboo anyways, as I just don’t do as much off-site work as I did when I originally bought it. I still have my Intuos4 medium tablet on my desktop setup. but the touch features were compelling and the price wasn’t too out of the question.

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Since our sneak peek post, it has been revealed (as it was rumored) that the Bamboo Touch is indeed available in three versions: touch-only, pen-only and pen + touch. The pen + touch version retails for around $90, while the other two go for about $60.

Before I get into my main overview, a bit of background on why I even bought one of things and how I intended to use it. Some of the comments on the original Bamboo Touch sneak peek post seemed to have overlooked my thought process behind using one of these—not as a main tablet, but as a companion tablet. I love my Intuos4. So why downgrade? In a word: touch.

I don’t use the Touch Ring on the Intuos4 at all, and never used the scroll bars on the Intuos3 either. Both I thought I would find a use for, but with the need to have my hands near the keyboard to access tools in Photoshop and Illustrator so often, it was just awkward to position my hand down to the tablet without disrupting my workflow. That, and I have yet to find Wacom’s implementation of scrolling to be very fluid. Even with my must-have companion software utility for the Wacom—Smart Scroll X—the scrolling experience is just not to my liking.

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I thought maybe having a positionable multi-touch tablet might be the key. In short, I was wrong.

Now, don’t take this to mean that the Bamboo Touch isn’t a good product—in fact, it’s pretty excellent. The scrolling still isn’t to my liking, and it has it’s rough edges, but overall it’s a great little device. It’s just not something I could use as a non-drawing hand companion tool to my Intuos4. Here’s why: scrolling is just not fluid enough, and this spills over to the rotation and the zooming.

The Bad (for me)

My biggest issue with the scrolling: it works like a mouse wheel, so it’s inverted. In other words when I do a two-finger drag, instead of the image canvas moving in the direction I am dragging, it scrolls in the opposite direction. This is very unintuitive, and I am really surprised Wacom didn’t include a “reverse axis” setting in the driver preferences. I did contact Wacom via Twitter and they told me this “reverse axis scrolling” was added as a feature request. Hope to see that in the next driver update.

As it stands, Adobe’s built-in pan feature in Photoshop CS4 is much more fluid and to my liking.

The rotate feature also leaves a bit to be desired. For the most part it works, you just need to get the right feel for it. It seems to work best if you put two fingers down and “plant” one while rotating the other around. Still, it’s hit and miss. Not sure if it’s my technique or a software/hardware issue. Again, I find Adobe’s Rotate View tool in Photoshop to be superior. Both the scrolling and rotate work similarly in other apps I experimented with, so it’s not an Adobe/Photoshop thing.

Zooming pretty much follows suit. It works as advertised, but you need to get your hand movements down. I also noticed some lag, but again it could be from my technique. Again I prefer the Photoshop CS4 zoom implementation.

Overall it seems you’ll need some practice with the gestures. Perhaps over time I may find these to be more fluid once my technique improves. Just noting here that  “diving in” might not result in optimal results.

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The Good

Despite the above, the Bamboo Touch has some nice things going for it. First—it’s super slim and very light. This would be a great portable tablet for laptop/mobile users. The model with the pen has a red fabric loop on it which allows one to secure the pen to the tablet for transport. The downside here is the the pen loop is on one side of the tablet, and the cord on the other. that means one or the other are going to get some stress when added to a vertical laptop should bag. The cord on the Bamboo Touch is not removable as the Intuos4 cords are.

The pen sensitivity and tracking is great. Not as nuanced as the Intuos, but much more so than the previous Bamboo model I used. The specs show the Bamboo Pen + Touch to have similar pressure sensitivity to the Intuos3 line—1,024 levels of pressure. The tracking sensitivity is lower—2,450 lpi with the Bamboo Touch versus 5,080 lpi on the Intuos3 and Intuos4. The Intuos4 also has 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity.

What this means is that the pressure sensitivity is excellent. However the tracking of the cursor to your hand gestures is not as smooth—especially for smaller, precise movements—than the Intuos lines. That said, for the price of these Bamboo touch tablets it’s not too shabby. If you’re only a casual tablet user, it will most likely suffice. I do everything on the Mac with my Intuos4, not limited to just graphics software. For me, the higher levels of tracking in the Intuos series is worth the price.

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Wacom does an excellent job of determining what type of action you’re performing with the tablet—finger gestures or pen usage. Not once did the software misinterpret what I was intending to do. And let me tell you, being able to scroll with your fingers in conjunction with using the pen is very cool. I’m sure this will be introduced into the Intuos5 lineup, and I can’t wait. I just feels so right.

As with any tablet, you need to consider the setup you’ll be using this tablet with. For laptop users or single-monitor setups, it should work great. If you’re working with a dual-monitor setup, the small tablet area will amplify your movements. This applies to the Intuos4 small as well. I’d have to recommend that dual-monitor users strongly consider the Intuos4 medium or a used Intuos3 6×11 model.

Conclusion

For my needs, the Bamboo Pen + Touch could never be a replacement for my Intuos4. However as a low-cost alternative or secondary/mobile accessory for a laptop, it’s perfect. As I mentioned above, casual tablet users with a single monitor might find this to fit their needs—however I would strongly urge any professional to seriously consider investing in the Intuos4.

If you’re curious about a tablet, the price on the Bamboo Touch models alone is well-worth diving into the tablet experience—you’ll love it. However keep in mind that the Bamboo tablets are far from the optimal experience you can have with a Wacom. I’ve heard many illustrators & designers say they could never rely solely on a Wacom for drawing, and almost every time it turns out they’re using a Bamboo, or the wrong-sized tablet for their setup.

For the price, you really can’t go wrong with this tool.

About the Author, George Coghill

George Coghill isa freelance humorous illustrator/cartoonist specializing in mascot cartoon character design & cartoon logos. His cartooning & illustration work can be seen at CoghillCartooning.com and at his cartooning and illustration blog. Be sure to follow me on Twitter here!

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