Stylus for Less – Wacom’s Bamboo

At the intersection of technology, legal practice and illustration / manual scripting, there lies the tablet pc. I have noted many tech savvy doctor’s offices equipping their employees with tablet pcs for completion of forms and composition of notes for medical files. Lawyers too have adopted the technology in their practices – the flexibility of being able to handwrite notes and employ familiar method of data entry for those who are keyboard-challenged is hard to resist. Pocket PCs and mobile phones often adopt the stylus as one of their modes of data entry and offer “graffiti” -type software for script recognition. Software giant Microsoft has noticed the trend in this direction and the 2007 Office suite embeds the ability throughout the software to draft notes in handwriting on existing typed documents or create new documents maintaining the script nature of the writing. The interface is getting better and better, with fewer recognition errors and smoother drafting.

The downside to the tablet pcs is cost. When I was researching my purchase of a new laptop, I looked at the tablet versions but was turned off by the expense of adding the tablet feature. I also noticed that the tablet pcs seemed to have less under the hood than a comparable traditional laptop. For my illustration / graphic arts work, I use a Wacom Intuous 3 6 X 8 tablet that attaches to my desktop as a peripheral through the USB port. This tablet, which offers many pen options and customization, is fantastic for this purpose, but is definitely too unwieldy to carry around with a laptop if you are a road warrior.

 Picture of the Intuos 3

Enter the Wacom Bamboo.

Picture of the Bamboo

This is a fantastic little tablet that is quite portable and able to emulate much of its big brother’s functionality, more than meeting the needs of a professional wishing to enter the tablet world. Taken from Wacom’s website:

Bamboo is a new category of pen tablets that help everyday people convey their ideas more clearly. With the natural feel of pen-on-paper, Bamboo and Bamboo Fun plug into your computer and make it quick and easy for you to get your point across. Whether you’re preparing a slide presentation or making a unique collage of your favorite photos, Wacom’s newest line of pen tablets gives you more control with patented pen technology that puts the ability to personalize your work right in your hands.

Jot notes by hand.
Mark up documents.
Sign your name.
Make sketches and doodles.
Handwrite email.

Bamboo works with the built in pen features in all but the Home Basic version of the Vista operating system. It supports wide screen displays. It has precise enough controls and over 500 levels of pressure sensitivity to permit it to serve as an effective portable illustration tool. It also has four programmable Express Keys, for faster access to functions. It permits scrolling and zooming with a Touch Ring quite similar to the controls of the Apple iPod. The pen is battery free and also has customizable buttons. I have the straight Bamboo: it comes with the pen and the tablet only. Mine looks identical to the picture above. The size is a little over 7 X 7 inches and is quite thin at approximately 1/2 an inch. The Bamboo fits easily into my laptop bag, with its removal USB cable. It also comes with a pen stand, a quick start guide and an installation cd.

Picture of the Bamboo Fun

The Bamboo Fun looks slightly different, comes in two sizes and adds a mouse. I believe that the small version might be too small for effective mouse control, but having never actually played with one, I am by no means an authority. The small Fun is slightly larger than the Bamboo, measuring a little more than 8 X 7 inches. The medium Fun is 11 X 9 inches, and might be a bit difficult to carry along. The Fun comes with three replacement nibs for the pen and adds a cd offering graphics programs Adobe Photoshop Elements, Corel Painter Essentials, and Nik Color Efex Pro. While the Bamboo comes only in black, the Fun comes in black, silver, white and blue.

After inserting the installation cd and following the instructions, I was presented with a tutorial, which I can still access if I wish. Now, hovering off to the far side of my screen with only about a millimeter or two showing, is a small text entry box. If I hover the pen over it, it slides a bit further out and I can tap on it to activate it. I can modify how this box appears and how it is activated. There is a line in the box on which I can enter text by writing on the active surface of the tablet. There are also function keys to the side for backspace, delete, tab, enter, space, right and left arrow, number, symbol and web. You can select the method of text entry at the top, either line or block, or even keyboard. It takes a little bit to get used to, but once you do it is easy and natural.

I also have my full vector graphics program installed on my laptop and have used the Bamboo for drawing. It is definitely up to the task, and much easier to manage than my laptop’s touch pad for sensitive strokes.

The Wacom websites shows a price for the Bamboo of $79 and a price for the Fun of $99 for the small and $199 for the medium. However, I paid substantially less for my Bamboo on, so it would benefit you to shop around. My impression is that if you are trying to add the tablet to a laptop for mobile computing, the Bamboo or the Bamboo Fun small is the way to go. Whatever you choose, adding this small, capable tablet is an inexpensive and flexible way to enter the world of tablet pcs, and is a device I highly recommend.

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