Wacom Bamboo pen tablet
For most people, most of the time, using anything other than a combination of a keyboard and mouse is mostly useless. Alternative input devices come and go, but the killer combo firmly remain. Can the Wacom Bamboo change that?
Not on its own, no. However, because this rather sexy looking and stylish take on the graphics tablet has been very much designed to make the most of the advanced handwriting recognition support in Vista, it does at least come with the promise of being a contender. Sorry, did I call it a graphics tablet. My bad. Wacom insist that this is a "consumer pen tablet" and I struggled to find any mention in the press materials of being able to use it for the traditional purposes of such a device: adding a moustache to your mother-in-law (if she doesn't already have one), general doodling and realising that you simply cannot draw even with the help of a computer.
Instead, the Bamboo is firmly targeting you. The normal user that wants to do things like browsing the web, sending emails, writing letters and just generally using the computer. So using the Bamboo you can easily add a real signature to your email or word processor created letters, for example. You can also use the Vista supported "Flicks" system to provide up to eight customisable actions for the pen such as copying and pasting. The addition of a touchpad-alike navigation section on the Bamboo tablet itself (which Wacom refer to as ExpressKeys and Touch Ring in a desperate effort not to mention anything vaguely mouse-like) makes scrolling through applications or zooming in and out of screens really easy and intuitive.
Although writing a letter using the pen and the undeniably average (despite being pretty much the best in its class) handwriting recognition in Vista is possible, the keyboard beats it every single time. For entering the odd web address or two, it's OK.
Not that my cynicism has anything to do with the Bamboo hardware, that is truly excellent. The trademark Wacom attention to detail is present, you even have access to 512 levels of sensitivity so that the harder you press the pen down the thicker and stronger the "ink" on the page becomes. Great for the Photoshop dabblers amongst you, but rather pointless if all you are doing is navigating a web page or scribbling a note to remind you to buy eggs. Not least because Vista itself is not Photoshop and its own sensitivity when it comes to pen input is restricted to which way up the pen is.
I like the fact that Bamboo is small (200 x 186 x 10.7mm) and sexy, it doesn't take up much of your desktop and looks good wherever you put it. Which can be most anywhere that the USB cable can reach, which is a tad limiting, although drawing power this way does mean there's no external power supply or batteries to worry about. But that postcard sized (147.6 x 92.3mm)writing area does somewhat reduce the functionality if you do want to try and use this as a fully blown graphics tablet, for photo retouching and the like. The pen is nicely weighted at just 12g and feels perfect in your hand, and you do soon become accustomed to using it instead of your mouse most of the time.
But, and it is a bigger but than can be found on your average opera singer, would I use it as a keyboard and mouse replacement? Do I look stupid (don't answer that) of course I wouldn't, that would be a recipe for computer rage inducing disaster. Only the TabletPC is designed to be used with pen/touch input alone and look how many people have embraced that.
Think of the Bamboo as good looking gadget, enabling you to bring a personal handwritten touch to your documents, and take the strain off your wrist as you flick your way through web pages and you are on the money. Unfortunately for Wacom, I suspect it is too much money for most people to consider good value...
A shade under £70 is an awful lot to splash out for an input device that replaces nothing, no matter how sexy it looks or how much fun you have with it.