I was lucky enough to get my grubby mitts on a Wacom Bamboo Touch tablet recently, one of the newly-released models from the popular input device maker that supports multitouch finger input. It’s the basic model that only supports touch, which is ideal for me, because I already have a Cintiq and don’t need the pen tablet functions.
The Bamboo Touch is an interesting product for me because it brings the multitouch gestures that I’ve become so used to on my MacBook Pro to my desktop Mac and PC (though not all of them, more on that later). I wondered how, as a user interface device, such a thing could stack up against a traditional mouse, or whether it would just add another dimension of input instead of replacing my existing pointing device.
Look and Feel
Right away, I noticed that the Bamboo Touch (and the related products in the Bamboo line) was a fantastic looking addition to my gadget arsenal. It’s a simple, black tablet, with little in the way of bells and whistles. It has a matte finish, except for the piano key gloss on the express key buttons and the bar on the left edge with the “Bamboo” moniker printed across it. A single glowing white light lets you know it’s on, and flashes slightly when input is detected.
The Touch model takes up little space on my desk, approximately being about 8″ by 5″. I’d say it occupies approximately the same amount of space as the area I normally use with my traditional mouse. The way I have my desk set up, I can still use a mouse and the tablet concurrently, and my keyboard, while still not having things feel cramped.
The surface is smooth, but not overly slippery. It feels like a good laptop trackpad, which is ideal considering the Bamboo’s usage in my workspace setup.
Buttons and Gestures
ExpressKeys, despite there being only four, are a godsend on this device. My Cintiq has 10 versus the four found on the Bamboo Touch, but honestly, I only ever use four on the larger pen display anyway, so I think Wacom’s right to aim for simplicity with its more consumer-oriented devices. You’ll need to assign one Key as single click, which I’ll explain later, but the others can be configured according to your needs (I have back/forward for the middle keys, and Exposé All Windows for the bottom).
The Bamboo’s Mutli-touch features will be familiar to you if you’ve ever used a recent generation Mac or an iPhone before. It uses two-finger gestures only, not the three- and four-finger gestures available on the most recent Macs, but that’s probably enough for most users.
A single finger controls your pointer, and left clicks. Tap two fingers for a double click, and drag two fingers for scrolling, both vertical and horizontal. You can also flip through files or pictures by moving two fingers left and right. Pinching your fingers will zoom, and rotating them will rotate images and documents on your computer, if the software you’re using supports the feature.
What I Like
I like the seamless transition from my laptop to my desktop the Bamboo Touch provides. There’s never that brief adjustment period that occurs when I’ve been using either a trackpad or a mouse exclusively for an extended period of time. That said, I’m not sure it actually offers a better user experience than a mouse with a desktop, just a different one that I’ve no grown used to. I know my girlfriend, who only uses a laptop most of the time, says she still prefers the mouse with the iMac over the Bamboo.
Regardless, multitouch is terrifically intuitive, and when you’re used to both an iPhone and a MacBook Pro, it can be frustrating at times not to have those features at hand on a desktop. Especially for scrolling-intensive tasks or while working with Photoshop or iPhoto, the Bamboo Touch is my preferred interface device. It’s even incredibly useful when you’re trying to browser and/or organize your files using Finder in OS X or Explorer in Windows.
What I Don’t Like
As mentioned above, one of your ExpressKeys must be assigned to single click if you don’t plan on using a mouse with the Bamboo Touch. That’s because otherwise, it’s very difficult to click and drag, or to make text selections. There’s an “Add Touch to the Left” feature where you click with your thumb while your pointer finger is already touch to select or drag, but as of yet, it doesn’t feel natural to me.
I’m also concerned about the ergonomics of the device and the long-term impact of using it as a mouse replacement. Without a suitable wrist rest, it seems like it could potentially lead to some kind of RSI pain. That’s a completely uneducated opinion, but rational or not, it is a fear I have.
For the time being, I’m continuing to use my Bamboo Touch as a total mouse replacement. I like the option of using multitouch, and for now, I welcome the novel feeling as compared to standard mouse work. I have a sneaking suspicion that for 80 percent of my work-related tasks, a mouse is more efficient, but even if I do go back to my old ways, I’ll still keep the Bamboo Touch on hand for organizing my media libraries or working with Photoshop, which are both things it does fantastically well.
Have you tried a touch tablet as a mouse replacement? How did it go?