iPad as sketchbook: Hands-on with the Wacom Bamboo Stylus

Instead of fingers, how about a pen? Wacom, maker of pen-based tablets, has made their stylus for the iPad. We go hands-on.

Sketching on an iPad 2 with the Wacom Bamboo Stylus.
Sketching on an iPad 2 with the Wacom Bamboo Stylus: Feels great, but will the precision satisfy? Sarah Tew/CNET

Can the iPad be a valid artist's tool? Wacom, maker of professional digitizer tablets and computer peripherals for artists, has gone ahead and put its vote in the affirmative, with the upcoming release of the Wacom Bamboo Stylus for the iPad. Available in May for $29.99, the roughly pen-sized aluminum stylus works via a conductive barrel with the iPad's capacitive display. We were sent an advance unit from Wacom and gave the Bamboo a spin with our iPad 2 and some popular sketch programs.

The iPad has had styli available since its launch last year, and they've been functional but not wholly spectacular. The Pogo Sketch was one of the first we ever saw, and its narrow barrel was hard to grip, while its foam tip felt a little cheap. The Wacom Bamboo's tip has a smooth, rubberized surface, and gently gives when pressed against the iPad's screen. It's not truly capable of pressure sensitivity, but the gentle feel allows for more precision when using art apps, or even as compared with the slightly stiffer Pogo Sketch. The Sketch, however, is $14.95, half the price of the Wacom Bamboo.

We tried the Bamboo Stylus out using Penultimate, and found handwriting to be easier than just using our finger. However, a funny thing happened: we noticed some lag between our stylus gestures and what appeared on the screen. That delays part of the performance of the app; this is not specific to the Wacom stylus--it works the same way with our finger--but with a stylus, the lag somehow seemed more evident. Unlike with an actual pen's ink, the virtual ink will appear just a moment after you scribble it. For fine details, it can be disconcerting.

We had a great experience with the Bamboo Stylus and the Sketchbook Pro app. Gentle, short motions are easier to execute, and using a stylus doesn't interfere with the visibility of the screen. (Such visual obstruction is one of my biggest gripes about iPad finger-painting, but with a stylus it's a non-issue.)

Bottom line: Is this worth $30? It just might be, especially if you're a heavy user of iPad art apps or Photoshop's new set of iOS app tools . This is no Wacom tablet , but for an iPad artist it's a welcome gift.

 

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