Tech Smart: Let your fingers do the walking

March 21, 2012
Noah Levine
Issue 4

Getting the most from your computer is about more than just having a super-charged machine to run the latest software at blazing speeds. Efficiencies come from knowing all the ins, outs, and shortcuts to the systems you use and finding the best way to issue commands for them to execute.

Getting the most from your computer is about more than just having a super-charged machine to run the latest software at blazing speeds. Efficiencies come from knowing all the ins, outs, and shortcuts to the systems you use and finding the best way to issue commands for them to execute.

The keyboard and the mouse are the most common tools we use to boss around our computers, but there are other ways for us to interface with our machines. Touchpads are now the standard for laptops as multi-touch controls are the cutting edge for smartphones. Wacom’s Bamboo Pen & Touch tablet brings the benefits of those technologies to the desktop, providing a new way of interacting with your PC or Mac.

The big Bamboo

Simply put, the Bamboo is a peripheral navigation and input device that connects via USB and accepts both pen and multi-touch finger commands. Its 10” by 7” footprint is by no means small, but most of the real estate is active input area making it easy to command an entire widescreen display.

Four assignable buttons sit alongside the active area, with a thin strip of light in the middle. The light glows brighter when a finger makes contact with the pad and shifts to orange when the pen is engaged. It’s a nice but almost unneeded visual cue, because once the controls are second nature, there’s no need to look down from the screen.

Getting a feel for it

At first touch, the various finger commands can seem a bit confusing, but they quickly grow familiar. Once mastered they can handle all of a mouse’s chores and then some. Clicking and dragging items is simple, and scrolling, panning, zooming, and rotating with one hand and no buttons is just as easy.

A single finger touch moves the cursor, and tapping anywhere on the pad acts just like a mouse click. With two fingers in action more advanced commands come into play, speeding up routine tasks and providing more in-depth control of what’s on-screen.

Jumping write in

Multi-touch makes for fast navigation and powerful control, but picking up the Bamboo’s pen opens entirely new realms of computer/user interaction.

Lightweight and comfortable to grip, the pen requires no batteries and features a pair of programmable buttons. When hovered about ¼-inch above the tablet it becomes active and is mapped to the screen for controlling the cursor. Its position over the pad is mirrored on-screen by the cursor. This makes navigating a large screen incredibly fast and eliminates the possibility of hitting the edge of the desk or mousepad.

Tapping the pen makes mouse clicks, and with the buttons in use, all the finger controls can be accomplished with the pen. As the name implies, the pen allows on-screen writing and drawing, and an “eraser” on the back works in many programs to wipe out mistakes. Highly sensitive to small movements, the pen is all about precision control. With the latest versions of both Windows and Mac operating systems providing native support for handwriting recognition, the pen also can be used to jot notes on-screen or annotate documents.

Making it yours

With just the USB cable plugged in and the software driver installed, the Bamboo is ready to make using any computer a truly hands-on experience, but the real power of the device comes in the myriad ways it can be customized. The device’s sensitivity and pen-to-screen mapping can be adjusted in numerous ways including for multi-screen use.

The always-handy buttons give the tablet a major boost in functionality as each can be assigned to do just about any task the computer can handle with one click. Setting them to handle common tasks makes the things you do all the time as convenient as possible. As a user who bounces between software applications and likes to take content with me as I go, I have a button to toggle between applications and another to copy anything I select.

Abandoning the controls I’ve been comfortable with for decades was not an easy decision, but after playing with the Bamboo for a while, a standard mouse just didn’t stand a chance. When it comes to controlling my computer, I can now have everything at the tips of my fingers.