Wacom Bamboo Pad Has The Touch of Class

| Quick Look Review

The Wacom Bamboo Pad is a multi-use input device, touchpad and drawing tablet with stylus. It can be used with its stylus and/or your fingers for click-tapping and gestures for computer input to replace a mouse. Plus, the stylus can be used with any drawing app.

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First shipped in October, 2013, the Wacom Bamboo Pad is a stylish, high-resolution touchpad with stylus than can be used in place of a mouse or trackball for input. It works with either a Windows-based PC or a Macintosh. While it's feature set is slightly greater with Windows, I've been using it with my iMac, and it had worked flawlessly and pleasingly. This review will focus on use with a Mac as an input device.

There are two versions. The first has a USB connector to the Mac and is priced at $49. The second, reviewed here, priced at $79, uses a powered RF dongle to communicate to the Bamboo Pad wirelessly. There will be more on that below.

Concept of Operation

There are several ways to use a device like this.

  1. Combine it with a mouse, using the mouse for normal input and the Bamboo Pad for drawing only.
  2. Use the Bamboo Pad for simple pointing and clicking with the stylus.
  3. Use the Bamboo Pad with fingers only for 1) pointing and clicking plus 2) OS X gestures like scrolling, zooming, rotating and right-clicking.
  4. Hold the stylus properly and combine with fingers for gestures and use the stylus for other operations.

Out of the box and on my desk. RF dongle shown.

Specifications

I found that the resolution and tracking were well balanced so that, despite the modest size on my desk, it was easy to span the 27-inch iMac plus an Apple 23-inch Cinema display to its left. Here's the lowdown.

  • Height: 6.5 inches (167 mm)
  • Width: 4.5 inches (141 mm)
  • Thickness: 0.18 at bottom to 0.61 at top (4.5 to 15.7 mm)
  • Weight 5.85 ounces (166 grams)
  • Stylus: 4.5 inches (114 mm), weighs 4.8 grams. No battery required in stylus.
  • RF freq. 2.4 GHz
  • Power required for dongle: less than 35 milliamps
  • Ergonomics: Right or left-handed use.
  • Resolution: 2540 lpi (lines per inch)
  • Typical Battery life: Approx. 150 hours
  • Pressure levels: 512
  • Colors (RF version) Metallic gray & black, pearl white & blue, pearl white & green, pearl white & purple

Packaging and Setup

The Bamboo Pad comes in a box that protects it well with a plastic liner. The box has a detailed identifying information label, and includes a quick start guide (QSG) in multiple languages. A product information brochure includes tech specs and warranty information, however, for this product, there is no detailed product manual either on paper or online.

Sturdy box & plastic liner. Quick Start Guide and Product Info  brochures.

Two AAA batteries are required and included. All you need to do is plug the RF dongle into a powered USB port, insert the batteries in the Bamboo Pad, and turn it on. A blue LED on the top left will remain lit for a few seconds to indicate that it is active.

In order to take advantage of full gestures on the Mac, you'll need to download the "Wacom (Preference Pane)" mentioned in the QSG. Scroll down until you see:

After installation, you'll see this Preference Pane with its multiple tabs.

OS X Preferene Pane with multiple tabs

First Experiences

It took me some time to adjust the Touch Options until I had just the right amount of speed and acceleration so that my index finger could create a pleasing approximation to what I can achieve with my favorite mice. That means homing in on a tiny button to click with out overruns. If you intend to use Bamboo Pad with multiple finger gestures, you'll want to continue into the tabs with "1 & 2 Fingers" and "3 & 4 fingers."

Unlike the Preference Pane for some input devices that also shows the remaining battery life, Wacom doesn't support that kind of battery life GUI. Instead, when the battery life is down to 15 percent, the LED flashes amber every 10 seconds.

One problem I found was the "drag-select" function, something we were born knowing how to do with a Macintosh mouse. But with this touchpad, you must hold down the front button (at the bottom) with a thumb (possibly awkward) or another finger while dragging with the index finger. It wasn't easy for me at first and took some getting used to.

One ergonomic feature I noted was the that Bamboo Pad wants to sit off to my right (I'm right handed), and occasionally it can be inconvenient to reach over. A small mouse can easily sit right in front of the keyboard and be very much more handy. This may not apply to everyone.

Supported gestures for Windows. (Most of them are supported on a Mac.)

On the other hand, one nice feature of the Bamboo Pad is the elegance of its feel. It's an amazing feeling to tap gently on the smooth surface (with no give) and watch things happen. It's a delightful experience.

In time, I noticed that the time-out period is too short for me. As a writer, I spend a long time on the keyboard, and all too often, when I went back to the touchpad, it had timed-out to save battery power. Wacom says that it's not possible for the user to set the desired time-out period, but all that's necessary, however, is to click the front key at the bottom to bring it back to life. The QSG is being updated to reflect that usage.

Drawing with the stylus (or pointing and tapping) was accurate and intuitive. The best way to handle the stylus is to let it float above the surface by a few millimeters, watch it track, and then touch the surface when you're ready to do something. I tested the drawing feature with the stylus with Thorsten Lemke's Graphic Converter and didn't note any problems. More importantly for the expert artist, the system supports 512 pressure levels. But I'm a terrible drawer and do not use pressure sensitive drawing software, so I can't comments on this technical area or present any work to adequately showcase that feature.

There is a built-in button on the stylus that functions as a right-click, whether it's touching the surface or not, and that's pretty cool, but I found it difficult to find and get oriented because it is fairly small and flush with the surface. I imagine regular use would build a learning curve.

Replacement nibs are available at 5 for $4.95.

I've been using this device for over a week now, but after just a day of use, I found that I could do everything I was doing with my favorite mice, both the Logitech Ultrathin Touch Mouse and Apple's Magic Mouse.

The RF Dongle

I was curious as to why Wacom didn't elect to use Bluetooth technology and opted for a dedicated RF dongle instead. Wacom's product manager responded: "Bluetooth does support [the resolution, speed and latency required], and its transfer performance is fine. Again, Wacom’s decision to choose RF over BT is simply geared toward making the best choice with the overall user base in mind. For Windows desktop and notebook PCs, Wacom finds that RF (featuring a USB dongle) always works. No question, Bluetooth is more relevant on Mac."

I should add here that in the Pad's battery compartment, there is a special storage area for the RF dongle. If you need to travel with the Bamboo Pad, it's really nice to have that so that the dongle doesn't get lost. It's a really thoughtful feature.

The raised area at the top is not only stylish, but it provides for a suitable storage area for the stylus when not in use as well as room for the AAA batteries. Also, there are four soft pads on the bottom to protect your desktop surface.

Drawing Conclusions

I began this review process by wondering if this product could permanently replace my favorite mice. With the experience I have so far, I think the answer is no, for me, because I spend so much time on the keyboard -- or thinking -- and the Bamboo Pad is always timing out on me.

Along those lines, I would suggest that anyone who is thinking about forsaking mice remember that there's a big change when switching to this kind of device both in mental habits and muscle memory, especially with drag-select. There would be a period of adaption requiring some patience.

On the other hand, I can absolutely see how an artist who spends proportionately more time using the stylus in continuous drawing would not find that a problem, especially in mode #4 listed at the top of the review.

Finally, I found the overall design and materials to be first class. While I had only the black and gray version (still handsome), the availability of other bright colors makes for a great looking product, appropriate for its intended use in art or drawing. The fit and finish, the design and resolution, the OS X Preference Pane, the RF dongle and the stylus all worked flawlessly and were a pleasure to work with. I think this Bamboo Pad is going to find a permanent place on my desk, especially when I'm browsing, reading and scrolling.

Product: Bamboo Pad

Company: Wacom

List Price: US$49 (USB); $79 (RF/wireless)

Pros:

High resolution, excellent design, great fit and finish, pressure sensitive stylus, excellent OS X Preference Pane, comes in great colors, no-fuss, no setup RF dongle, storage compartment for dongle, 150 hour battery life, batteries included, right-click button on stylus, front right and left-click buttons on the touchpad, Quick Start Guide in multiple languages. Replacement nibs are available.

Cons:

Short time-out period isn't user adjustable.  No GUI showing battery status. No formal manual.

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3 Comments

Spyder Ryder

You sold me on it… I want the USB wired one… but guess what?  None available anywhere in the USA!  Even Wacom is “out of stock”  This will replace my Magic trackpad and add even more functionality.

Jason Peacock

As a fan of Apple’s quality and value, I bought this Bamboo Pad to work with my 27 inch iMac.  It works great and it is better than Apple’s trackpad and has more versatility for multifarious applications.

Neal Cassady

Hi!

I’m particularly interested in this product, but specifically in order to annotate pdfs - either with OSX’s Preview, or by means of other 3rd-party applications, such as Skim. Will this allow for me to mimic how I would annotate pdf’s on my iPad, in apps such as Goodreader? In other words - drag-select sentences of the pdf, and tap to highlight/underline?

Anyone who might be able to clarify the above - sure will be appreciated!

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