If you feel left behind because you can’t type fast or if your fingers or wrists hurt after long computing days, you might benefit from alternatives to your keyboard and mouse. For many Windows PC users, that could mean adding a pen and tablet attached via USB port. The most popular devices in this category come from a Japanese company called Wacom. It offers various stand-alone tablet products that differ based on your needs.
The Bamboo line is Wacom’s consumer line of pen and tablets. Most Bamboo tablets are about 10″ wide by 7″ deep, and around half-inch slim. Depending on which you purchase, you’ll have different capabilities.
The Bamboo Pen tablet allows you to hand-write or print into your computer instead of typing — using a pen-shaped stylus (not those little match-sticks that come with some PDAs). Once you install the driver and set up the Bamboo Pen in your USB port, you can use it with many text oriented applications, including Microsoft Word and Outlook. Using the pen-support that comes standard in Windows 7 and some earlier Windows editions, the Bamboo is pretty accurate; although you will need to take some time to get used to it. You can also use the stylus as a cursor control, instead of your mouse, and of course draw with it.
The Bamboo Touch allows you to use your fingers to control your PC — and the latest versions of the Bamboo Touch support Multi-Touch, which makes it behave much like an iPhone or iPad. You can flip from page to page, use two fingers to scroll, and even rotate your photos. Using the Bamboo with my ancient laptop, I found the Multi-Touch to occasionally slow down and make me wait; so it’s not perfect for older computers without a lot of compute-power.
The Bamboo Pen & Touch, which I have been using, does both. When it senses your fingers, it has a white indicator light; and when it senses your pen, the indicator turns orange. The Pen works just like a traditional pen, with a tip at one end with which you write, and a thick nub at the opposite end, which acts like your eraser. You can also call up context-sensitive menus using a button on the side of the pen like a right-mouse button. You can also program a second button position to do tasks you use frequently. There are also a couple specialty tablets in the Bamboo line for crafters and amateur artists.
In general, the Bamboo can help you reduce your use of your keyboard and mouse — and you might even be able to use it exclusively — but you’ll need a persistent attitude. At $50 to $130, it could be a welcome addition to your computer configuration. It should work with most Windows PCs; but I initially found problems with my laptop, because my laptop already has a built-in tablet which conflicted. The good news: in resolving my PC configuration problems, I found that Wacom has a terrific team of customer service professionals who know their products well, have helpful attitudes, and understand customer needs.
The Bamboo is light and portable; but you’ll probably want a good cover if you plan to carry it around. I found one called LA Robe, from Be.ez that fits the bill. It uses polyurethane foam that feels like a Tempurpedic bed, has room for your stylus, and packs easily in a briefcase or backpack.
If you do computer art for a living, you’ll probably want to consider a higher end professional solution, such as Wacom’s Intuos. I’ll review Intuos in an upcoming column.