Wacom Bamboo Pen Review

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I’d like to preface this review with the admission that I have zero artistic talent and that the best I can do is something a 5 year old manages with crayons. With that out of the way, lets get down to business with the Wacom Bamboo Pen.

Wacom is known for it’s high quality, precision pen tablets like the Intous4 which come with an equally high price tag with the smallest of the bunch weighing in at €225. The Bamboo line of tablets is Wacom’s way of introducing those who don’t need a pen tablet for work, but would like a little more control over photoshop, hand writing recognition or just want something to digitally sign away their life on. The Bamboo range includes finger touch pads, pen and finger touch pads, as well as a range of pen only tablets in varying sizes and kick off at a retail price of €50. Certainly a more palatable proposition if you’re just starting out in your tablet using life.

Today I’m going to take a look at where I think the sweet spot of price to functionality is, the Bamboo Pen. So what do you get in the box for your £50? Well you don’t actually get a whole lot, if you’re looking for bells and whistles I’m afraid you’re barking up the wrong tree, but what you do get is a quality looking and feeling tablet and a solid pressure sensitive pen. You also get a set of replacement pen tips for when they wear out, which if you use the tablet regularly they’ll undoubtedly will, but if it’s just for occasional use I can’t see you getting through the four they provide you with. Wacom have even included a simple ring clamp thing for removing and replacing the tip; simple yet very effective. Also in the box Wacom includes a driver disc, although for the most part the Bamboo is plug and play, as well as a download codes for ArtRage, a painting and drawing package, Bamboo Minis, a collection of mini applications that allow you to leverage the power of the tablet with things like twitter and Facebook, as well as some hand writing recognition software.

The tablet itself is a 8.5mm thick black rectangle measuring 248mm by 176mm with rounded corners at one end and a flat edge at the other holding the USB cable. The side with the rounded corners also has a fabric loop that neatly holds the pen when you’re not using it, keeping it out of the way and relatively securely fastened, an improvement on the simple surface clip of some of the other tablets. The active area is about A6 size, measuring 147mm by 92mm, with a ratio of 16:10, which matches up well with the current go-to ratio for widescreen monitors. The tablet can be orientated for left or right-handedness, although all that means is that the USB lead is on the other side of your body from your hand preference. There’s also a small strip illuminated by a white LED to indicate that the tablet is plugged in and working, glowing stronger when the pen is put to the surface of the tablet. The surface of the tablet has what Wacom calls a ‘paper-like feel’, which means it’s not as smooth and slippery as some tablets. It provides a reasonable friction that might put some people off, but I’ve found it nice to use and a bit more precise than the easier gliding tablet surfaces. I think in the end the feel of the tablet is something of personal preference, although it doesn’t actually feel like paper to me.

The pen is of the pretty basic variety, battery-free, replaceable pressure sensitive tip, two buttons but no eraser end, which might be a bummer for anyone who’s used to it but for someone who’s just starting out or is a keyboard jockey it’s not an issue. It weighs about 14g and feels light but well weighted in your hand. It’s quite chunky too, which for someone like me with quite big hands is an absolute blessing feeling comfortable to use for an extended period of time. In fact I wish I could find a real pen with the dimensions and weight of the Bamboo pen, but that’s another story.

So what’s the Bamboo Pen tablet actually like to use and why would I want one? Well, if you’ve ever tried to paint anything on a computer with a mouse, be it a photo, diagram or sketch, you’ll know how hard it is. For those who have no experience of a drawing tablet, what it essentially does is replace a mouse for the pointing device. Hovering close to the surface of the active area allows you to move the cursor, only starting to draw, select or click something when you touch the pen to the tablet. The active surface is also mapped 1:1 with the area of the screen meaning that there’s no dragging and re-dragging needed. If you want to move to the corner of your screen, you just put the pen in the corner of the tablet. Mice and touch pads don’t work like that so it can take a little while to get used to, but within an hour you’ll be right at home. Therefore, using the Bamboo it instantly becomes possible not only to sketch like you would with a pen or pencil, but to also emulate the levels of pressure you might put on a brush, varying the amount of paint or ink you put down and the thickness of your stroke. Now, that’s extremely useful if you’ve got some sort of artistic talent, something I totally lack, but there is also something much easier about using a pen over a mouse for other things too. For instance, I do a lot of cutting out of images from backgrounds in Photoshop. It can be extremely tedious to sit there, tracing around the outside of the image you want, a car for example, with a mouse, having to be extremely precise. With the pen you can accomplish the same task with more accuracy, more easily and within about half the time. It becomes easy to bend and erase edges as well as touch up reflections and transparencies. Now those of you who are seasoned mousers might laugh at this, but for those who don’t spend their lives mouse in hand drawing with it, using a pen on a tablet is much, much easier. Of course this ease of use was rather hard to justify when the tablet cost in excess of £100, but at £50 it’s the cost of a decent mouse.

So is the Bamboo Pen a good choice? The short answer, given the price, if you’ve ever fancied trying a pen tablet or do a lot a retouching or image editing, then go and buy one, you won’t be disappointed. The Bamboo pen is a simple, well built, quality tablet that’s missing only a few bells and whistles, but who’s function is impeccable. The long answer is, it depends how much drawing you’ll want to do and how much cash you have available. Wacom has aimed the Bamboo line of tablets at non-professionals and people who aren’t going to be using a tablet all the time and that’s precisely why it’s great. I wouldn’t buy a Bamboo if I was using a pen tablet all day, every day. I’d certainly want a larger area and the luxuries of the Intous4. But for everyone else who will occasionally, or even daily for short periods, bust out the Bamboo to make that instant masterpiece, it’s a great piece of hardware. It lacks the programmable buttons and zoom ring of it’s more expensive brethren but you can easily overcome that shortfall with keyboard shortcuts and a scroll wheel. After all, the Bamboo tablet isn’t going to replace your mouse or track pad any time soon, apart from maybe the Bamboo Pen and Touch, or just Touch, which effectively tack a multi-touch track pad onto the pen tablet form factor.

Why buy the Bamboo Pen over the other Bamboo models like the Pen and Touch? Well I don’t know about you but I’ve got a perfectly decent multi-touch track pad on my MacBook Pro already, and when I’m using my PC I’ve got a Logitech MX series laser mouse, I just don’t need another track pad. Therefore for the £30 extra, I feel that the Pen and Touch just isn’t worth it over the Pen. There’s very little you can do with the multi-touch track pad of the Pen and Touch that you can’t do with the pen. Selecting tools, moving around the document actually using the tools in Photoshop are all really easy with the pen alone. In fact if you were considering the Wacom Pen and Touch specifically, then I would consider the Bamboo Fun Pen and Touch small, because it’s about the same price and comes with a more buttons and more software.

Overall, the Wacom Bamboo Pen tablet is a basic, well built and easy to use pen tablet that excels at one thing, letting you input with a pen rather than a mouse. At £50 you can’t go far wrong and the Bamboo Pen doesn’t disappoint.