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Hands-on with the Wacom Bamboo tablet

We've spent a while using the Wacom Bamboo tablet for everyday interacting with our computer, as well as the graphic uses these devices are usually associated with, and we love it

Drawing is fun. The idea of a graphics tablet -- drawing on a flat pad with a stylus pen and having the resulting squiggles appear on screen -- has always appealed to Crave's illustrative side. But how practical are they in everyday life? Since the computer became ubiquitous, we find ourselves holding a mouse far more than we hold a pen, with the result that our handwriting has devolved into something a GP would struggle to read, while our right hand sometimes resembles a malformed claw. That's why we bit the bullet and tried the Wacom Bamboo tablet.

It's not for everyone -- this Crave post does not represent the views of all Cravers still ruled by the tyranny of the mouse -- but we loved using the Wacom Bamboo tablet for everyday imput. It's fun and quick, and way more comfortable than a mouse. The pen replicates the features of a mouse, so you can scroll without touching the pen to the tablet, while a rocker button on the side allows you to right-click. These buttons, and the four buttons on the tablet, are customisable. We set our tablet hotkeys to copy and paste, and go back or forwards while browsing. Scrolling and zooming can also be controlled by the tablet touch ring.

The big difference between a mouse and a tablet is that the surface of the tablet represents the dimensions of the screen, in what is known as absolute positioning. When you want to click something -- say, the window-closing X button -- you have drag the mouse to the corner. With the tablet, you simply tap in the corner. You can switch back to mouse-style relative positioning if you prefer, but we found this annoying as we constantly went off the side of the pad without realising.

The initial learning curve is rather steep: you hamfistedly poke about like a 3-year-old being forced to write with their left hand, and all the while not looking at your pad. Once you develop the spacial awareness of moving around the pad without looking at it, you're away.

In fact, the biggest obstacle we faced was simply the hassle of putting the stylus down to type, but we soon got used to typing with stylus in hand, and frankly we don't want to go back -- even if other Cravers think we're mad.

The bit you work on measures 148 by 92mm, which is the size of a standard photo. This active area has a slightly 'toothy' paper feel, so it's not glossy-smooth and feels more like paper when you're drawing on it.

For those of us after cheaper drawing thrills than Photoshop or Illustrator, Firedoodle is a Firefox extension that allows you to draw on Web pages, whether to annotate or highlight text, or just because you're bored. While that's fun and vaguely useful with the mouse, it becomes a whole other experience if you're drawing on pages with a pen! Sadly, the novelty wears off when you realise that although the doodles can be saved, they can't be added to later.

The Mac OS X, XP and Vista-compatible Wacom Bamboo is now available for a very reasonable £58 online, as part of a beginner's range that also includes the Bamboo Fun. Now we've tasted the freedom of the tablet, we'll never go back. -Rich Trenholm