Wacom Bamboo Graphics Tablets

Three New Models of Consumer Graphics Tablets

Bamboo Create Graphics Tablet
Bamboo Create Graphics Tablet | View Larger. © Wacom

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Wacom Bamboo - Less is More

The Wacom Bamboo line of graphics tablets comes in three* new models, introduced in September of 2011, to meet the needs of a variety of non-professional users such as home and office workers, students, photo enthusiasts, digital scrapbookers, and novice designers and artists.

I really like the direction Wacom has taken with the new Bamboo product line. They have reduced the number of models from five to three, which helps users focus on an appropriate model and reduces confusion.

Whether you are looking for a tablet as a mouse replacement to alleviate repetitive stress fatigue or for more creative uses such as photo editing and painting, Wacom has a model to match your needs.

* Update: A fourth model, Bamboo Splash, was introduced later to provide an entry-level tablet with creative software for users with artistic interests.

The Bamboo Product Line

  • Bamboo Connect is a small pen-only tablet intended for home and office use for quick sketching, document markup, doodling, and so on.
  • Bamboo Capture is a small tablet with both pen and multi-touch input, intended for digital photo enthusiasts and beginner designers.
  • Bamboo Create is a larger tablet with both pen and multi-touch input for users looking for a larger work area.
  • Bamboo Splash is a small pen-input-only tablet with a software bundle of artistic software intended for creative uses such as drawing, painting, and sketching.

Wacom Bamboo Overview

  • More comfortable than using a mouse. Works in graphics software to add pressure-sensitivity to your brush strokes and lines. Works in any software as a mouse substitute.
  • Tablets come in two sizes with wide aspect ratio, 1024 levels of pen pressure sensitivity, and a textured surface designed to feel like pen-on-paper.
  • Pen features an easy-to-grip handle and two programmable buttons. Three spare nibs and a nib tool are included.
  • The Bamboo Create pen also includes an eraser end, which automatically switches to an eraser tool or delete function in supported software.
  • Capture and Create models have four programmable ExpressKeys. Tablet can be rotated to place the ExpressKeys on either the left or right side.
  • Wireless Accessory Kit can be purchased separately to allow the Capture and Create models to be used wirelessly.
  • Works with handwriting recognition and pen features built into Windows and Mac OS X. Additional software is included, which varies by model.
  • One year warranty. Free tech support in the USA (not toll-free). Electronic User Manual.

Bamboo Form

At first glance I thought the new Bamboo designs looked cheaper than the previous models, but once the new look grew on me, I could understand why Wacom made the design choices that they did. These new tablet designs have fewer shiny areas (and will look cleaner with heavy use), and there are fewer grooves and areas for dirt and grime to accumulate.

I was glad to see they brought back the rubberized grip on the pen, but unfortunately, this makes it very difficult to insert and remove the pen from its attached ribbon holder. Using the pen holder was so awkward, I had to pick up the tablet and use both hands to insert and remove the pen from its holder. I am hoping that later production runs of the Bamboo line will provide a looser (but still secure) fit.

Even though the wireless kit is an added expense, it's genius--and it really enhances the flexibility of how you can position the tablet, especially given the short length of the included USB cable. The cable is only three feet long and uses a special connector on the tablet end, so you can't simply replace it with a longer cable from your drawer; you would have to use a USB extension cord of some kind.

But with the wireless accessory, the cord is only needed for charging.

The wireless kit itself is very well designed. The tablets with wireless support have compartments for a battery and a small wireless module. The wireless receiver that plugs into your computer is tiny, but a storage compartment is built into the tablet so you don't need to worry about losing the small part when you travel.

My only complaint about the wireless kit is that the power button is a bit hard to find by feel alone, so you may need to crane your neck a bit (or pick up the tablet) to turn it on. A power-saving feature in the software allows you to set an auto-shut-off time from 1 to 20 minutes.

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Bamboo Function

Pen input hasn't changed much from previous models--which means it's very good. All models in the Bamboo line offer 1024 levels of pressure and a resolution of 2540 lpi.

I like the texture Wacom uses on the tablet surface to give it a more authentic pen-on-paper feel, but many users have experienced excessive nib wear, which is likely a result of this "toothy" texture. Just as your traditional pencil wears down on a heavily textured paper, the Wacom nib wears faster on this surface than it would on smooth plastic.

If this is a problem for you, you can do as one clever reader has done and line your tablet surface with a protective film.

Anyone who has used a trackpad or touch screen device will have no problem getting used to the touch input in the Bamboo Capture and Create models. It supports all the standard gestures for scrolling, zooming, right clicking, and so on. The Bamboo driver software allows you to customize the touch functions and enable or disable gestures for one to four fingers. By default, one of the ExpressKeys is set as a touch-toggle so you can turn off touch input when it gets in the way.

Bamboo Software

I didn't have any issues installing the Bamboo software, but I didn't care for the childish artwork animations that displayed while the software was installing. An instructional video demo would create a better impression and be a more practical way to entertain the user during installation.

As a consumer-level device, the Bamboo line does not provide per-application settings for the pen and tablet buttons, but everything you need to adjust settings for your comfort is there. In addition, you can assign a pop-up menu to any of the buttons and fill it with any additional commands you want to access quickly.

Bamboo Dock is a new software addition with the Bamboo line and is installed along with the driver. Bamboo Dock can be customized with several small apps and games including:

  • Doodler, a simple scribble pad.
  • Mood Tuner which plays music based on a color ring.
  • Mona Lisa, so you can deface this famous work of art.
  • Landmarker, a map on which you may draw.
  • and more.

Most of these are rather silly and don't really add to the value of the product, but Bamboo Dock also includes a shortcut to launch tablet settings, and links for support and accessories. There is also a link for developers to learn how to create custom apps for the Bamboo dock. Presumably, more apps will be coming down the pike--perhaps some more useful ones.

Each of the Bamboo models also comes with extra bundled software, which does add to the value of the package. See my photo tour for details on what software comes with each Bamboo model.

Pros

  • Pen does not use batteries.
  • Ambidextrous design can be turned for right- or left-handed users.
  • Tablet surface has a pleasant texture that feels like writing on paper.
  • Wireless connection option for Bamboo Capture and Bamboo Create models.
  • Compatible with Windows and Macintosh.

Cons

  • "Toothy" texture of tablet surface may cause pen nibs to wear down quickly.
  • Pen holder is a tight fit and can be awkward to use.
  • Control panel does not allow for application-specific settings.
  • USB cable is very short (3 ft.) and uses a proprietary connector on the tablet end.

Conclusion

I have reviewed a lot of graphics tablets over the years, and although there are some tablets that come close to Wacom in one area or another, I have not found one yet that matches the quality of Wacom in all areas--construction, software, ergonomics, innovation, support, etc. Wacom may cost a bit more than the other consumer-level graphics tablets, but they haven't disappointed me yet.

Wacom Bamboo Photo Tour

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Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.