Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wacom Bamboo Fun Pen and Touch CTH-470/S

I've been looking for a decent pen and tablet for a long time but kept putting it off as injustifiable. Well I've been doing some graphics in GIMP and decided that a pressure sensitive input device would be a good idea.

Following the review here in The Register I found the item on Amazon. I bought the tablet and wireless kit as a bundle but from different suppliers.

The pad works very differently in windows and Ubuntu as some of the features are only available in the installed software so I'll separate them out.

The tablet works in two modes, Pen and Touch. When the pen is within about 5mm of the surface of the tablet touch mode is turned off. So when using the pen you need to get it in range before you hand hits the tablet.

Pen Input
In pen mode the positioning is absolute. That is the tablet is mapped to the screen and when the pen is detected the cursor moves to the corresponding place. Touching the point to the pad is a click so it takes a little while to learn to hover the pen just high enough to be detected but not accidentally drag it which will select everything you wander over. Lift it too high and you will be in touch mode and all sorts of things happen, mostly unexpected zooming.

The pen is  a bit chunky for me but I find myself using it more than the touch input.

There is a single rocker button that emulates the left and right mouse buttons. For me it is a little high and a little too sensitive. The right-click is far too high and if you are, for instance cutting and pasting using context menus you need to arrange your hand higher up the pen with your forefinger or thumb over the top of the rocker before you do the select. Adjusting your grip when you have got a selection marked usually means your pen goes out of range and you revert to touch mode. I'd prefer a finger and thumb button with a very positive action. I'd also like some contours in the pen so it located your fingers repeatably

When I am a bit braver I'll have a look at the config options and perhaps swap the button functions. The left click is in the correct place but superfluous.

Touch Input
In touch input the cursor reacts like it would with a mouse. Moving one finger on the tablet moves the mouse in that direction. Removing your finger and replacing it does not move the cursor back to the corresponding position but continues from where it left off. A tap is a mouse click and a double tap is a double click, nobody dies.

Multi-touch is the clever bit. Touching with a second finger is a right click. Pinching is zoom in and un-pinching is zoom out. Dragging two fingers up/down or left/right is scroll. Just as you'd expect on a touch screen phone or tablet.

To the left of the tablet there are 4 buttons which can be configured. By default two are the left and right mouse button. I haven't found a use for them yet because the functions are available with both the pen and the touch interfaces. Although the buttons are quite big (2cm x 2cm approx) using them, for me, would mean looking away from the screen.

I went for the wireless adaptor because I thought it would be good for remote controlling the laptop when it is being the media player attached to the TV. I haven't tried it yet but I can't see why it can't work and it is a bit handier than balancing a keyboard and mouse on your lap in the armchair. The wireless kit comprises a rechargeable battery, a wireless plug-in for the tablet and a miniscule usb adaptor for the pc. Unless I keep it plugged in it will be very easy to lose. Charging is via the USB connection which overrides the wireless when it is connected.

Ubuntu 11.04 (Natty Narwhal)
On Ubuntu Natty Narwhal (11.04) it took a little research and, unusually, a system restart. For Ubuntu techies here are the commands to set up the repository and get the drivers:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:doctormo/wacom-plus
sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install wacom-dkms

When you have done that and restarted the tablet should just plug 'n' play.

The package installs a configuration application that allows properties to be set. I've only used it to set the pressure sensitivity.

For drawing in GIMP (my justification) it works fine. Putting a picture on the pad allows you to trace.

Some of the multi-touch is only just OK. Scrolling often unexpectedly zooms. To zoom you need to wiggle you fingers a bit to get the driver to recognise you are zooming and then finely adjust when it catches up.

I haven't tried the wireless adaptor on the Ubuntu box yet. The driver is supposed to support it.

Getting the tablet working on Windows Vista Ultimate on the laptop took a few minutes. The accompanying disk loaded up and the plug and play worked first time. Likewise the wireless adaptor.

The install disks adds a few applications as well as drivers.

Bamboo doc is an apps management widget that contains the tutorial and a couple of games and a portal to download more stuff. Sumo Image manipulation is pretty well what you'd expect with the usual tools and filters. There's also a handwriting recognition widget and onscreen keyboard which works pretty well. The other apps are pretty trivial, I've never felt the need to deface the Mona Lisa.

It does what I wanted it to. I'm persevering with it as a complete replacement for the mouse. I'm still doing accidental gestures and selecting and moving text when I don't want to but I think I'm improving. The sensitivity

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