It is currently 3:45 am on a Saturday evening. I am working tomorrow and will most likely be rather tired when I do so because I don't see myself going to bed any time soon. Due to a bout of insomnia over the last week or so (brought on mainly by the fact that I am now single, yay) my body has decided that 5am is to be my new bed time. At least 'til I get a day where I have no plans and use it to sleep all day, which will hopefully reset my body clock.
So, since I am staying up anyway, I figured I'd get myself a little something to keep me entertained. Figuring I can't afford (and don't really like the idea of) a rent boy, I would indulge myself in a funky little tool I've been wanting since I knew they existed. A graphics tablet!
---What to choose?---
For those of you who aren't up on your technology, a graphics tablet is a little flat plate type thing that comes with a special pen. You can use this to control your pointer so it makes drawing go a whole lot smoother and precise and navigating round your computer easier.
Not having a clue what type to go for, I decided to ask the ex (since terms are still on the good side) since he knows about this kind of thing. He pointed me towards anything by Wacom. After a little research it seems those dudes are pretty well known in the field of all things arty. They make nearly all of the graphics tablets out there. Seriously.
Being that retail therapy is all about getting pretty items, it would be useless to get something that is ugly. The Bamboo "Fun" graphics pad is bloody pretty. It looks like it was manufactured by Nintendo to fit into the Wii with its very clean white tablet with a hints of blue and grey on the details. Even the wire that connects to your computers USB port is white, matching with the rest of your device. I was very high pitched for the rest of the day after unpacking it.
In your neatly packed bundle of joy you will also receive 4 discs that come in rather fabulously handy.
The first disc (the "BAMBOO FUN" disc) holds all the driver software for the tablet which you will need to install quickly before you use your tablet. This disc also comes with an interactive tutorial on how to use the tablet (which is brilliant for teaching you the basics of navigating with your new toy). If you can't be bothered reading it, turn your sound on and your computer will tell you what you need to be doing.
The first (and possibly only) downside with the product starts here. If you aren't new to graphics tablets then you may not want to go through the tutorial. Unfortunately it locks the functions of the tablet till you've went through it. I'm sure that you'd probably be able to just rapidly click through it mind you.
Next disc you will want to install is the "BAMBOO SCRIBE/SPACE/LINK" disc. This disc brings you things that you may or may not use but are fun to have a look at. Space is essentially Myspace /bebo /face book but themed around your Bamboo fun pad. The "Link" feature is basically a search facility that will search the web and let you view any related pages. The layout of this feature is very similar to flicking through music albums on an I-pod touch. At least I seem to remember my friends I-pod looking like that. Personally I'd rather stick to google, but it may come in handy for the more adventurous of you!
Now we come to the more arty items included in your box of love. The last two discs are Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 and a paint package called ARTRAGE 2.5. If you are a beginner, these will suffice. If you are not or if you do plan at one point to want to do cooler things, you'll need to get a better programme (I currently am using Corel Painter X, which works wonders with the tablet). Both of these programmes, however, are full of different "brushes" and settings to play with and will provide you with hours of fun. You can also vary the thickness of your brush by pushing harder on the pad!
The hardware you will get in your box of shiny happiness is the tablet itself, a pen, a pen holder, a USB cable and 3 replacements for the nib of your pen. Which I imagine will come in handy if you press way too hard or break one or something.
The tablet is 210mm wide and 194mm upey-downey-ways. If you sit it flat it will protrude from the surface by a whole 11mm. Its not huge but it is more than enough. The area of the pad that will react to the pen is 148mm by 92mm.
At the top end of the pad you will find 4 buttons surrounding another separate circular touch pad. The touch pad can be used for scrolling (by pressing your finger over the up or down arrows) and for zooming in and out (by circling your finger round the edge) and is surrounded by a gorgeous bluey-purple LED that pulses when the pad is on and is solid blue when it is in use.
The four buttons can do whatever the hell you want them to. The top two are primarily "back" and "forward" buttons to use while navigating pages or folders. The bottom two you can programme to do don't have a default function (at least not that I remember). I've set my buttons to bring up my web browser and delete stuff that needs deleting. You can, however, ask them to do pretty much anything else you want them to.
The pen is wireless and battery free so you won't need to worry about recharging or wasting money on batteries. The holder will allow you to either lay your pen down on it or stand it upright depending on your mood. I prefer to stand it up since I'd loose it if it weren't jumping out from my desk.
Another nifty little trick that the pen has is that you can use either end. It looks like a normal pen apart from the nib which looks like a small white strip of Perspex. The other end is a bulbous bit that looks like it should click the nib in and out. It doesn't. Not much special there you say? Ahh but wait, there is more! If you're doodling away and decide that you don't like what you've drawn, flip your pen over and the eraser will automatically begin rubbing out wherever you want it to. I spent hours playing with that. Yes, I am sad.
On the shaft of the pen...round about where you sit your thumb, there are two buttons that can again be set to do what you want them to do. I have mine doing the same as a right and left click on the mouse.
---Can you use it?---
At first? No. I don't think anyone will take the transfer from mouse to pad easily. The active region of your pad corresponds to your screen so you hover your pen over where you want your mouse to be. There is no dragging and picking up like you sometimes have to do with the mouse. The hovering is really weird, you don't actually touch the pad with your pen at all unless you want to click, drag or draw something.
The pad will pick up that the pen is there at up to about a centimetres from the surface. After some practice though, the lack of dragging the heavy clunky mouse around will speed up your navigation by stupid amounts.
As for drawing, yes, I can use it and I am in love with it. It makes everything much smoother and like an actual hand drawing. If you get the right paint packages (and you're a talented person), you can create masterpieces. If you are me, you can make funky little pictures and try and pass them off as art. Yay for me!
---Any other funky stuff?---
Of course. Now that you have a graphics tablet, you can use handwriting recognition! This is a rather funky piece of fun, allowing your computer to convert your hand writing into typed text. Anywhere you can type, you can now choose to write.
This function does, however, bring about a few minor issues for me. The first being that I can type a lot faster than I can write. The second being that my hand writing is odd as hell. Given, this is hardly Wacom's fault... but it does mean that I have to be careful to edit out the random capitol letters interspersed throughout the typed text. If you DoN't Write liKe This though, you Should Be fine! As a point of interest, I wrote this last paragraph using the pen rather than the keyboard. Cool, huh?
My package of love also came with a discount card for a kids game that will encourage them to use the pad and unlock their inner artist. Personally there are NO children getting near mine or I shall proceed to lock them up with their inner artist.
So, I went for the small sized one and paid out £65. The next size up is about £130. In the grand scheme of things, not actually that pricey for what you are getting. You CAN get a much bigger one from Argos for £30 but it doesn't come with all the packages, doesn't look as nice, isn't as responsive and will most likely break in a few months. Or you can choose a quality product which is a lot prettier, responsive and less likely to break in a few months. Watch me try and justify my spending!
System requirements are as follows (aka, if you dont have this stuff, it won't work)
Windows 2000, XP or Vista including 64 bit editions, Usb Port, Colour display, DVD-Rom drive, Internet access.
Mac OS X 10.4.8 or later. intel or powerPc processor, Usb Port, Colour display, DVD-Rom drive, Internet access.
My verdict is that this piece of tech is amazing. Anyone who even thinks about calling themselves an artist needs to have one of these. Even people who don't call themselves artists (usually those are the ones that are much better than those who do) need to have one of these.
It makes navigation a lot faster, smoother and easier, It does the same to drawing whether your wanting a masterpiece or a doodle. It can be plugged in at the same time as a mouse if you really want to go between using the mouse and the pad. But you won't want to do that when you get used to this baby. Go get one.