I'll admit, I've never used a pen tablet before. I guess, in that respect, I'm Wacom's target customer. Its new line of multitouch-enabled tablets are designed and priced for budget-minded consumers, and unlike many of its more professional brethren, Wacom aims for a look that's simpler than ever before.
The Pen and Touch tablet lineup actually consists of a number of new Wacom models, and they're priced and featured as follows:
The Wacom Bamboo Pen and Touch CTH460 ($99 list) comes in black, and has both multitouch and pen capabilities. It has a 4.9 x 3.4 inch active touch area, and a 5.8 x 3.6 inch active pen area. It includes with Adobe Photoshop Elements and Nik Color Efex Pro software.
The Wacom Bamboo Touch CTT460 ($69) is exactly the same form factor as the Pen and Touch, but only has touch input.
The Wacom Bamboo Pen CTL460 ($69) comes in black, but only has pen input. It has a 5.8 x 3.6 inch active pen area, and the package includes Corel Painter Essentials 4.
The Wacom Bamboo Craft CTH461 ($129) is designed as a bundle for arts and crafts and scrapbooking types. It has the same size pen and touch tablet, but in silver instead of black. It also comes packaged with painting and photo editing software as well as scrapbooking tutorials, a subscription to Scrapbooking & Beyond magazine, and a library of craft embellishments.
The Wacom Bamboo Fun Pen and Touch CTH661 ($199, reviewed here) also has multitouch and pen input, but comes in silver and is larger (7.5 x 5.1 inches for touch input, 8.5 x 5.4 inches for pen). It's packaged with Corel Painter Essentials 4, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and Nik Color Efex Pro software.
As someone at the CNET offices remarked, there's no mouse in the box with this edition of the Bamboo Fun. The reason for that, mainly, is that multitouch is the major focus, which requires the use of multiple fingers. Perhaps Wacom also wanted to simplify the focus to fingers and pen and reduce the gadgetry, or maybe it wanted to save money on the number of items thrown in the box. Regardless, the truth is that I never knew there used to be a mouse, and I didn't miss it.
Made of a single, sleek, Mac-like slab of silver plastic, the Bamboo Fun Pen and Touch is ringed with a white border that defines the pad space, as well as contains a set of four programmable buttons along one side. A red cloth loop holds the comfortable, cordless, pressure-sensitive pen in place along the other side. The Bamboo can be set up for left- or right-handed users, flipping its button placement.
Included software drivers enable multitouch on Windows XP, Vista, and 7 as well as Mac OS X. For Mac owners, many of the familiar multitouch controls are enabled. For newcomers, additional Wacom-specific controls can be selected through its control panel. Touch can also be turned off completely for the apprehensive, making the Fun a pen-only device.
As the name suggests, the Bamboo Fun Pen and Touch seamlessly switches between pen and touch, deactivating the other if one's already being used. In pen mode, the pressure-sensitive stylus works beautifully for simulating brushstrokes in painting programs, such as the included Corel Painter Essentials 4.0. A side button controls context-sensitive controls, and can be used to let the pen cut and paste text as well as operate photo and graphics software functions.
The smaller, black, plastic Bamboo Pen and Touch costs half of what the Fun does ($99 vs. $199), and has all the same features. It's a great bargain choice for many, and some might even prefer its more portable form for travel. On the other hand, the Fun Pen and Touch seemed like an ideal size for more serious graphic work, and we didn't find it to be too cumbersome.
Driver installations and software setup for the Bamboo were easy to complete, and tutorials were very thorough in explaining the various functions that the tablets could provide. As touchpads, they work as seamless and equally effective extensions to pads, such as the ones on the MacBook Pros, minus the click element underneath (you can tap to click or use the side buttons instead). However, the multitouch simply seems like excellent dressing to the main pen functions, which are the real reason to buy such a pad. Although Wacom does make penless versions--the aforementioned Bamboo Touch ($69)--we can't see any reason to buy one. While the $200 Fun Pen and Touch may be too pricey for some, spending the extra thirty dollars (over the touch-only model) for the smaller Pen and Touch is a very wise idea. Wacom makes a pen-only touchless version, too, but again we'd say the combination of pen and touch is the way to go.
Some desktop users and professionals--although they would likely have higher-end Wacom tablets, anyway--might regret the lack of a mouse in this configuration. But they're missing the point: these tablets reach out to a laptop crowd, and to those already addicted to multitouch (myself included). As an extension of a touchpad, these are great devices. And we'd recommend them more for laptop users (as Wacom seems to as well, showing the Bamboo plugged into a laptop in an illustration on the box). They work as advertised, and for the price, their effectiveness is hard to beat.