The Wacom Bamboo tablet is, without a doubt, one of the best low priced tablets on the market today. It is great for someone new to drawing tablets to explore the idea with minimal risk to their wallet.
When I first unpacked this I was very impressed, first and foremost, by the packaging. This is an odd one to be impressed by, so I was already bracing myself for something amazing. The folks at Wacom are design geniuses, and their spot as the standard company for drawing tablets is well deserved!
The Bamboo’s box has a simple sliding cover, with no tearing required. I simply opened the box upwards and was greeted by a message in many different languages thanking me for my purchase and telling me that it will make my computer nicer to use. Upon lifting that, I was greeted by my tablet wrapped not in the usual plastic, foam and bubble wrap I have come to hate but in a simple layer of paper. This same trend continued throughout the entire package. Without a doubt the easiest packaging I have ever experienced. Opening it was actually enjoyable and I have kept the box as a souvenir. I have learned that the boxes for this product are even shipped within that same paper, so it must be a truly robust substance. Kudos to Wacom for using recyclable material instead of oily plastics.
I was at first concerned that the stylus may be too slippery and its large, rounded shape definitely did seem worrying. However, everything except for the eraser end has a soft rubbery material which absolutely does not slip. Unlike some pencil grips, this does not feel unnaturally warm or groggy after extended use; it is quite solid, but has the right fuzzy tone to feel comfortable.
There is a small rocker switch on the stylus, which can be mapped to two functions of your choosing. The Bamboo tablet’s stylus has the same pressure sensitivity functions and seperate “eraser” tip as people see on other, larger tablets. The pad itself also has four big, handy buttons on the top and a touch-sensitive scroll wheel. I appreciate that the function buttons are all kept at the top of the tablet, out of the way, instead of placed around the sides where I try to rest my hand. Many other tablets do not seem to grasp this.
Users of higher end tablets will have to forgo two less obvious things with the Bamboo: The eraser is not pressure sensitive, and there is no tilt sensitivity.
With a drawing tablet, each point on the tablet translates directly to a point on the screen. The result there is very easy image editing and hand writing. Combined with with pressure sensitivity, it also means that a lot of natural detail in one’s drawing can be captured, whereas “mouse drawing” tends to have a more mathematical, robotic feel.
However, the way the tablet works is also why size is such an issue. Experienced artists prefer large tablets because they allow larger movements from different joints, such as their elbows and shoulders. This leads to an ability to draw smoother curves, and reduces stress on one’s wrists. With a smaller tablet like the Bamboo Small, drawing is done entirely with wrist and finger movements.
That’s not to say a small tablet is a bad thing, though! The Bamboo takes the rather unusual route of also being very compact, making its small drawable area entirely justified. The USB cable can be detached, wrapped up and stuck in a bag for easy carrying without risk of damaging connections. The tablet itself is perfectly thin, and there is hardly any border around the drawable area, so again it is not a problem to pop this into a spare pocket. Finally, (though this is a given if you have pondered drawing tablets before) the stylus does not require batteries.
Indeed, I have communicated with a quite a number of experienced computer artists who own and often use Bamboo tablets. While they do not serve their needs for all the goodies we see in higher end models like the Intuos, these tablets are unusually easy to carry around and can be quickly pulled out on a whim. It is also worth noting that sane people tend to use laptops when travelling, with screen sizes ranging from 12 to 15 inches. Personally, I use mine with a 14 inch laptop. On a larger size screen, a small tablet like this can be almost unusable since even the slightest twitch can translate to an enormous movement on screen! This makes it rather obvious to me that the Bamboo is intended for smaller, portable setups. A flaw there I feel I should point out, though, is that the USB cable protrudes quite a way from the back of the tablet, while it appears that it could have easily been nested. This can be problematic when the tablet is being used on a smaller table, and seems more suited to a desktop computer where the cable usually goes straight back. The design there is, unfortunately, a bit less friendly with a laptop where it is likely that the tablet will be off to one side; the cable then becomes a very noticeable presence.
That one issue aside, I think the Bamboo is an excellent tablet for anyone who uses a laptop or who wants a tablet but does not want to devote their desk. Its slim dimensions may mean a smaller drawable area, but for me, that is a small price to pay for the convenience of carrying this thing around with my laptop. For anyone new to drawing tablets, the Bamboo is not quite the cheapest on the market, but I think it is one that will last even if you decide to pursue bigger and fancier tablets. Like any drawing tablet, it is without a doubt more comfortable than a mouse. Writing with a pencil became the standard method over writing with a big rock on sand stone (eerily similar to a computer mouse) for a number of very good reasons, and I am sure ergonomics are near the top of the list.
While I must admit to having little exposure to the higher end drawing tablets, this one here does not feel too trimmed down or compromisey compared to its bigger brothers; just different. It is definitely not merely a cheaper Wacom tablet. Unlike many other small and cheap tablets, Bamboo found its niche and settled into it almost perfectly.