Wacom is probably the best-known manufacturer of graphics tablets, and its range extends from A6 up to A3 and larger. The Bamboo Fun tablet is an entry-level device, available in A6 and A5 sizes and aimed at the home and student markets. The A6 version, reviewed here, is about an inch wider than a typical A6 tablet.
The white tablet has a clean and flush surface, designed to feel like paper when used with the supplied, battery-free pen. The pen has a thin stylus at one end and a domed top, which acts as an eraser, at the other. There’s a two-way toggle switch set into its barrel and this, when used with a thumb, simulates left and right mouse buttons.
At the rear of the tablet surface are four function buttons that can be used with a pen or a finger, and a large disk, circled by blue LEDs, which is used for scrolling and zooming, depending on the application you’re running. The Touch Ring, as Wacom calls it, has to be used with a finger rather than the pen, which makes it more fiddly than the scroll wheel on a mouse.
Setting up the Bamboo Fun is pretty straightforward. It’s a USB Device and the supplied cable connects into any available USB socket. Software comprises a settings utility and two decent graphics applications, worth the asking price of the Wacom package on their own.
Art Rage 2, the natural media painting application from Ambient Design, does many of the things Corel Painter does, but with a modern, intuitive interface that is easy to get along with. Media such as tubes of oil paint and glitter add to the more conventional painting tools, so you can produce a wide range of effects. A copy of Adobe Photoshop Elements 5 is also bundled.
In this latest release there are two new Bamboo-specific applets, too. Bamboo Scribe is handwriting recognition software which, after a convoluted installation, provides a small window where you can write a line at a time. This feeds through Word, Excel or any other active application. From our trials it appears to work well, though you would need to be a slow typist for it to be a faster entry method.
Bamboo Link is a tablet-operated search utility with a clever interface. Enter a search subject – you can use Bamboo Scribe to handwrite it – and a solar system of possibilities pops onto the screen. Click on any of these and you get a scrollable bookcase of Web-site thumbnails. It’s like a cross between Minority Report and an iPhone and it shows the tablet off to good effect.
The only real snag with the Bamboo Fun is generic to any small graphics tablet. With a large screen mapped onto a small tablet, you have to be able to control the pen very precisely. Doing this for the time it takes to produce complex artwork can be hard on the hand and wrist.
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