Hardware Review – Wacom Bamboo Tablet

I’ve been using a Wacom Volito 2 for about a year now and have loved it. It worked great on XP and just as well on Vista 64 although potentially it could be much better thanks to all the new tablet functionality built into the OS. One thing that has been missing over the past few years of using pen tablets has been the scroll wheel that is now a standard feature on mice and trackballs. The new Wacom Bamboo range caught my eye as they sport a scroll wheel at the top of the pad along with four big customisable buttons. There are 3 Bamboo models; the “Bamboo”, the “Bamboo Fun” and the “Bamboo One”. Mine just arrived today so I’ll give you low down on how it handles.

The “Bamboo One” is the basic version and has no controls on the pad like the other two models which pretty much makes it like my Volito 2. The “Bamboo Fun” is white, comes with a mouse that can only be used on the pads active area and has an eraser on the top which has the same degree of pressure sensitivity that the pen tip has. The “Bamboo” is black, has no mouse and the eraser has just a single level of sensitivity. I bought the black Bamboo since I didn’t care about an eraser and didn’t want the mouse. I didn’t think it had an eraser at all based on a couple of reviews I read so it’s a nice surprise to find one although now I’m a bit jealous of the “Fun” editions pressure sensitivity!

To use the eraser tip in Photoshop/Flash you have to setup the eraser tool using the normal point and click method. Then start drawing as normal. When you want to erase just flip the pen and scribble it out. It’ll use the last eraser setting you configured. The rest of the pen is what you normally get with a Wacom tablet; it has the pen tip and two side buttons which you can configure via the Pen Tablet utility. This side of it is setup exactly like the Volito 2.

The scroll wheel/zoom at the top of the pad is neat. It works better as a wheel zoom in Photoshop which is its default setting. It doesn’t work very well in a browser as it just resizes the page which you usually wouldn’t want to do on a regular basis. The middle top and bottom of it act as a scroller which is good but I keep touching it a bit to the left or right by accident and zooming the web pages. Hopefully it will get more natural with time. Using the Pen Tablet software (same as earlier models) you can change the wheel between Zoom and Scroll or just disable it altogether. You can also toggle the middle top and bottom scroll functionality on/off. For now I’m leaving it set to act as a zoom wheel with the middle scrolls enabled. I’m curious to see how this works in games like Supreme Commander as I’m hoping it will act as a scroll wheel on a mouse/trackball.

The four buttons around the wheel let you configure them for various tasks, the defaults are Back, Forward, Windows Journal and Switch Task. It’s cool since I didn’t even know Windows Journal exists and the Switch Task does it using the neat 3D task switcher you get when doing Windows Key -> Tab instead of Alt -> Tab. You can set them to some other built in things or specify a program to run. You can’t specifiy program switches though aka command line options so setting a button to open iexplore.exe means it will open a new window each time instead of a new tab. I might have a rummage through the registry or the Pen Tablet program directory to see where the custom program path is stored to see if I can manually add a command line option to it.

It seems very responsive. Double click is alot sharper than was before so I’m going to tone that down a bit. So far I give it a big thumbs up. Hopefully it will work in games at least as well as my Volito 2 but ideally better due to the zoom/scroll functionality. If you’ve got a crappy old tablet or you just feal like having something new and shiny then go buy a Bamboo Smile

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Let us keep our minds open, by all means, as long as that means keeping our sense of perspective and seeking an understanding of the forces which mould the world. But don’t keep your minds so open that your brains fall out!

— Walter Kotschnig