REVIEW: Wacom Bamboo Applications

Computers, Peripherals, Software

wacom-bamboo-1.jpgFollowing my preview of the new applications available for Wacom’s “Bamboo” PC input tablets the other week, Wacom has sent me a tablet to have a play with, and test out the new apps. Here’s what I think.

Bamboo Scribe
I was originally going to try to write this whole post just using the tablet and bamboo scribe to convert my handwriting into text, but then I realised that it would take me hours. I don’t have hours, so you’ve got a keyboarded post instead.

Speed aside, the handwriting recognition out-of-the-box is surprisingly good. It recognises my comprehensive-school scrawl, with only a few ‘is that a big or a small C?’ errors to contend with. Adding words to boxes, forms, and so on, is very easy. Pull up the input panel, which sits inobtrusively on one edge of the screen until you need it, write the words you want, then hit ‘insert’ when you’re happy.

If that’s not enough, there’s also individual character input mode, for non-dictionary words, and a virtual onscreen keyboard in a very fetching shade of blue. Over time the handwriting recognition software learns your particular quirks, and the accuracy should improve.

However, allow me to go back to my original point about it taking ages to write on the tablet. As a child of the internet generation, it’s been a long time since I’ve written any long prose using a real pen. I do almost all my long-form text input on the keyboard. The only stuff I write physically, nowadays, is little notes and sums on the back of discarded press releases about iPod docks.

So when it came to actually try and handwrite on the tablet, it felt weird, especially because I had to write pretty damn small on the pad for it to show up the right size on the screen, and it didn’t seem to like the angle that I hold my pen at very much, either. Granted, very little of that is the product’s fault, and the software’s great, but I wouldn’t recommend using this to complete your NaNoWriMo targets, especially if you’re more used to a keyboard.

Bamboo Link
Next up, Bamboo Link. Bamboo link is interesting. It’s a bit of software that lets you run searches and explore through information in different ways – boxes, 3d balls, tag clouds, treemaps. All sorts. It’s a bit slow to navigate around, but it does look very pretty. The info presented comes from web searches, presumably.

It’s that latter factor that struck me as I first started using the software. I kept thinking “I could Google this, and get the info in half the time”. But then I calmed down. I moved the tablet into my lap from the hard desk surface, and started to explore the information visually. It actually felt very calming and peaceful – there was none of the “must get the answer now!” feeling that Google presents. I felt like I was floating in a sea of data.

But not much of that data was useful. Searching for ‘Tech Digest’ got me a load of pages about NASA above our very own beloved website. Using Google all day every day does make you forget how painful a bad search engine can be, and if I’m honest, the one in Bamboo Link, whatever it is, doesn’t seem to be that hot.

Bamboo Link is a fun bit of software, that’s a little on the slow side, which gives you partially useful data presented in a more relaxing way. It’s not one for people who need answers now – it’s one for people who want to float around and discover different things that are perhaps only tangentially related to the original concept.

Oh, and the tablet is entirely optional. You can use a mouse and keyboard and it works just as well. There doesn’t seem to be any advantage to using the tablet to navigate. None that I could discover immediately, anyway.

Bamboo Space
This is rather nifty. Bamboo Space is an online storage centre where you can put ideas, drawings, notes, anything you like, and access from any computer. It’s far more promising than it originally seemed, because it has a bunch of presets like ‘storyboard’ and ‘musical stave’ that you can create incredibly easily.

Just doodle your thoughts onto it, then save, and it’s safe forever more, or until Wacom shut the servers down, anyway. I think this could really be a hit amongst creative types. You can share ‘spaces’ between people, enabling really easy collaboration. Access is via a username and the serial number for your device.

Oh, by the way, it didn’t seem to work on Chrome, but it works fine on Firefox 3. Not sure why. Presumably it works fine on IE too, but I didn’t test that.

Bamboo Dock
Lastly, this is the bit that ties everything together – it’s essentially a launching app, but it’s one of the best-looking launchers I’ve seen. It has quicklinks to all the above Bamboo products, as well as the input panel and a Mona Lisa that you can tweak about in a manner very similar to Kai’s Power Goo (anyone remember that?).

Additional apps can be downloaded online, but you can link to any executable program file that you like, should you so desire. I can see people adding Photoshop, email, web browsers, etc to their dock.

After being rather sceptical initially of how useful these apps would be, I can now see the value in almost all of them. Each has its own caveat – the text input is slow, Link isn’t the best searcher, etc, but overall it’s a well-put-together package of useful things.

If you’ve got a tablet already, it’s not really worth upgrading or moving to Wacom just to get this. But if you’re considering getting a tablet, and you aren’t sure which one, and the features above sound useful, then I’d strongly urge you to consider Wacom’s bamboo range.

Wacom Bamboo

Related posts: Wacom’s “Bamboo” tablets get a bunch of new features | Lenovo announces Thinkpad with built in Wacom tablet. It’s huge.

Duncan Geere
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  • Deffo if you get a chance to click on the links, and if you are connected to the internet 100% of the time and the links don’t die. Bamboo Link can cache the web pages as well. I use it for my son’s homework everynight as it can cluster across Google, Live, Wikipedia etc and pulls in many more results than just doing a simple Google search. Your right though it is quite time consuming. I wish it was internet based as my PC is pretty slow at the best of times 🙁 The handwriting is okay, but I’ve got that in Vista anyway (hidden down in the dark depths somewhere…..)

  • I liked the fact you could right click any webpage or document….”Annotate with Bamboo Link”.., annotate it with the Wacom Bamboo pen, and then email it around to friends 😉

    • Yeah – that’s quite a nice feature, but surely it’s so much quicker to whack the link in an email and just write your annotations underneath the link?

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