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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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Discussion

We want to hear what you have to say. Do you agree? Do you have a better way to approach the topic? Let the community know by joining the discussion.

  • http://www.geoffmay.com Geoff May

    Thanks for the review. When I first heard about this it didn't really seem like it was something that would help my workflow in the least. Just seems like one more thing taking up space on my desk.

  • Simon H.

    Well, know I'll feel like I HAVE TO have one…

  • bobagens

    What about using this as a substitute for the mouse on a desktop? I use an Intuos4 daily but don't like the pen for web surfing and let's face it, wacom is yet to give us a decent feeling mouse. Do you think it can be a mouse-killer + photoshop-enhancer?

  • http://www.arsgrafik.com/ Kendall

    So who do you think is Wacom's target market for the Bamboo line? It's not a top-of-the-line or professional-grade product. So who's going to buy it? Art students perhaps?

  • mike_r

    I use the bamboo fun tablet (professionally) and it works fine. My only complaint is that it is kind of small, but other than that its cool. Its priced right and got me into using tablets.

  • http://wpalmerandassociates.com/ Las Vegas injury lawyer

    Thanks for the review. I have been wondering if I should switch to this, so I really appreciate the feedback about it.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    I rarely use a mouse, I use my Intuos4 for everything. I have some custom software and set things up to allow me to browse/surf etc. much faster than with a mouse. I'll have to write up a post on how I do things if anyone out there is interested.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Well, I think this product could indeed be used professionally, and many casual tablet using professionals do use Bamboo tablets. The Intuos4 is just worth the extra investment to some of us.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Have you had a chance to use an Intuos3 orIntuos4 and compare side by side? The Bamboo are definitely capable, but there is a distinct quality level for the price when upgrading to the Intuos models.

    That said, I am using the Bamboo Touch as I reply to all these posts, as I am working remotely for the week. The Touch is working great. Haven't done much on the drawing side with it yet.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    If you already have a tablet, this will not add to your productivity.

  • mike_r

    I have not used the Intuos tablets, for the longest time I was against using tablets but finally gave them a try and really liked it. I bought the Bamboo fun and have been using the hell out of it, I do plan on upgrading when some funds come in. I would recommend the Bamboo Fun for someone who has never used a tablet because if they don't like it then its not a lot of money wasted.

  • crazycourier

    I'd love to hear about how you have your stuff setup to run faster with a tablet. I love mine, but have to keep the mouse handy. I'd love to ditch it!

  • Greg2B

    I second that,I'd like to hear about your setup for the wacom as well. It would be even better If it was something that I could use on PC and Mac since I use both. But any tips would be cool since I tend to take my mouse with me just in case, even if I do have my tablet.

    I do find that the Intuos4 mouse is pretty good, compared to the other ones, even on on small Intuos4 that I have. It works well on my vertical dual monitor setup, most of the time. It just needs a Left Right scroll as well.

  • http://www.facebook.com/merijn.reerink Merijn Reerink

    Since installing the bamboo touch tablet driver I've been having a very annoying issue where Flash unexpectedly quits, consistently and immediately after starting up. But only if I'm also running photoshop.

    Running flash by itself with the tablet works fine.
    Running photoshop by itself with the tablet works fine.
    Running both at once without the tablet works fine.
    Starting up flash while photoshop is open or opening photoshop while flash is running in combination with using the tablet and Flash immediately crashes.

  • jpedroribeiro

    That's an excellent review. I was always curious about tablets but never tried because I thought I could never replace a mouse. But for this price I can at least give it a try.

  • robinyk2

    I am a graphic designer and am thinking of switching to a tablet and I wasn't sure what to get. I thought Bamboo Touch was cool because it's “touch” and affordable. Is Intuos4 really worth the price for professional designers? It's tempting but it's 4-5 times more expensive.

  • Oscar Cole

    i have a bamboo and a intuos 24.5 x 18.2. (i went a little over the top on the intuos size, thinking back i should have gotten one size smaller) if you are going to get into a tablet, skip the bamboo. if you travel a lot it would be worth getting a lower end intuos. there is more sensitivity on the intuos pads vs. the bamboo. in my opinion i think they need to trash the line and just build intuos. just this ugly bald guys opinion though.

  • http://twitter.com/greatdiane Diana Hernández

    so, this tablet is more for newbies? is good for painting? Nice rewiew ! :)

  • Oscar Cole

    I believe that I would like to give that a read there George.

  • Gus

    I don't think it's too fair to compare the bamboo with the pro-line intuos tablets–though I guess that's what you have more experience with. The prices are at least double for comparably sized intuos. To me it seems like the bamboo touch+pen is big step up from previous bamboo and graphire entry models and the touch aspect as an ergonomic mouse replacement looks brilliant. That said… I'd like to try before I buy.

  • Oscar Cole

    *ok gus, you may be correct. it may not be fair to compare the two. i have two points to make though.

    1. there must be some reason thousands upon thousands of graphic designers shell out the money for them.

    2. if youre serious about your “craft” whether it be graphic design, flash animation, illustration, ect. invest in what the big dogs are, there is a reason.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Will write that one up for a future post. Also working on a video showing how I work, need to figure out how to set it all up first :)

  • Ron

    I've never had an opportunity to use an Intuos tablet, but have wanted one. But I've got a Bamboo Fun attached to my laptop (main computer) for a while now and I've gotten used to it. I'd like a bigger surface and a few more buttons, but for the main photoshop usage, it works well. It's actually replaced the touchpad on the laptop as the main mouse, unless I'm going somewhere I won't be using the tablet, then I use a wireless usb mouse. I've got a little rolling computer desk that the laptop sits on, and the Fun is just the right size to sit next to the computer. When I need a mouse, it came with one, but I use the pen for most computer mouse functions.

    When I get some funds I want to upgrade, but the Fun does the work, and the scroll circle was perfectly placed and user friendly (until I spilled some liquid into it and it stopped functioning properly). The rest of the tablet is fine, and has actually survived a couple of spill encounters, and I've been happy with it. But, it's time to upgrade, probably to an Intuos though. But, this looks like an interesting toy and I'm sure I could come to love it if I used it.

  • luislopez

    I'm going to buy a Wacom bambo too, My first tablet in mind was IntuOS but comparing the price and functions my final decision was Bamboo.

    Thanks for the review ;)

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    I love my Intuos4, but the Bamboo Touch + Pen is a worthy contender for casual users.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Glad to help!

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    I'm going to run a post soon on how I have things set up for the non-mouse Wacom usage. Stay tuned!

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Part of my solution is Mac-specific, but hopefully a reader will let us know if there are any PC alternatives to my setup.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    You can't go wrong for the price, but keep in mind the Intuos4 lineup is much more refined. Some users get the consumer model and think that a tablet isn't for them. Inuos4 is worth the extra $$$. But the Bamoo Touch + Pen is great for what it is.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    I'd suggest getting the Bamboo Touch + Pen to see if a tablet works for your workflow. But I do think the Intuos4 is worth the money.

    If you have a dual-monitor setup, I would recommend against both the Bamboo or the Intuos4 small. You'll want at least medium size.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Agreed!

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Even the Intuos4 is good for newbies. However not everyone enjoys working with a tablet.

    The Bamboo will work fine for painting in Photoshop, Painter, etc. but the Intuos4 models are just so much nicer.

    Think: Ford Taurus vs. Lexus :)

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Since Wacom only offers Bamboo & Intuos, there's no other way to compare.

    The extra sensitivity and precision in the Intuos4 lineup is worth it to me. The Bamboo Touch lineup is nice, but as I mentioned above it's Ford Taurus vs. Lexus. Depends on what you want, and how much you use the tablet.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Indeed the Bamboo lineup will suffice, but you'll notice a huge difference if you decide to upgrade to an Intuos4.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    You'll like the Bamboo Touch + Pen, but you'll love the Intuos4. It's a shame there's not more of a chance to demo these things in-store. being able to compare the two before buying would be helpful.

  • bosieme

    you are mentioning that fact so often one might wonder why ;)

    I have both Intous3 A4 and Bamboo.
    I am selling my intous because as far as mouse replacement, i find the bamboo to be superior. i currently have a 3 monitor setup (6400px wide) and even then a4 is way too big. bamboo is the perfect size and small. but i guess for illustration it is different, as a mouse replacement for a programmer i prefer the bamboo.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Interesting, isn't the small size Intuos3 & Intuos4 about the same size as the Bamboo?

  • bosieme

    yep, that's what i thought. but the margin of the intous4 is huge. the whole tablet is around 35% bigger than the Bamboo, the work area is around the same size, dunno why they waste so much space for nothing.

  • http://coghillcartooning.com George Coghill

    Ah yes, good call.

  • Martin

    i'm also considering a tablet, and as a student i can't really afford the intous line, so i'm thinking about the Bamboo Fun P&T M (a5), but i have a few questions:

    1. I use a Macbook with an external monitor positioned above the macbook – So can i flip the bamboo 90degrees (portrait mode), and have it split horizontally to use for both monitors?
    2. Can i have the tablet in landscape mode, and when i use a pen it would be mapped in absolute mode to just my main (external) monitor, but when i use a finger (touch) it would be relative for both monitors?

  • Dan

    Excellent job..
    dizi izle

  • http://www.ps-actions.com Alex

    Thank you for your review. I ordered a Bamboo Touch+Pen two days ago (but didn't received it yet). The main reason for me was the ergonomics, what you sadly didn't mentioned in your post.

    I've got a question, too: While drwaing, I touch the paper with my hand. So what happens, if I touch the tablet with the pen and my hand at the same time?

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    very good post!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/Nadezhda.Hope Надежда Симеонова

    After only a few hours of drawing with my new Wacom Bamboo pen and touch the pen tip is so worn off I can’t believe it. My work area is also scratched and all this just for a few hours of use. I recommend for people who draw a lot not to get this product. I’ve had cheaper tablets than Wacom’s that are with a lot higher quality.

    They don’t even offer a cover sheet for Bamboo models, which IS ABSOLUTELY A MUST considering the low quality.

  • http://www.drmustafaerarslan.org/ panax

    Very cool and interesting article