Wacom Bamboo Pen Splash Model: CTL-471 (Bamboo Pen Splash) Price: $65 Purchased: Amazon The Bamboo is the entry-level line of graphics tablets from Wacom. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a graphics tablet is a device you hook to your computer and then draw on (generally using a special included pen device). Your movements and other such data (your angle of approach, how hard you're pressing, etc.) is sent to your computer, so you can hand-draw on the PC. Graphics tablets are widely used in the digital art world, with many people preferring them to the process of drawing on paper and then scanning as not only is the workflow quicker, but going digital means benefits such as layers and post-processing. This entry-level model only detects the pen's functions and pressure sensitivity, it will not detect fingers or the drawing angle. It does, however, track the pen when it's within about half an inch of the surface. This is used to move the cursor around without actually clicking/pressing, so the tablet can be used for normal mouse functions as well when in an art program (or in general, if it suits you). Front On the left-hand side is the smooth area where various shortcut buttons would go on a higher-end model. As this is the cheap model without a bunch of shortcut buttons the only thing of interest on the smooth area is the blue LED. The LED is covered with some matte plastic so it (thankfully) doesn't cast a glare, and it gets a little brighter whenever the pen is within detection range. The main portion of the tablet contains the "active area" (the rectangular area marked by the white corners), with the rest of the tablet being resting space for your hand or something like that. Do take note that the actual detection/drawing area is thus a good chunk smaller than this side of the tablet might indicate at first glance. If you need a larger active area, there's plenty of higher-end tablets that are lager for you to pick from. Using the tablet does feel close to using a pencil and paper, complete with a similar physical noise. There's a nylon flap on the end. My first thought was "that's stupid and will be annoying, I'll cut it off"... but then I found out its actually the pen holder, and it holds it pretty well. Back The back is an ugly green color, and mainly consists of the device's serial sticker and some solid rubber feet. The feet seem denser and more solid than what you might expect, and seem to be glued on firmly... but don't seem to grip well, they're sort of smooth. They seem to be more for protection than as a non-slip method. Pen The pen/stylus is thicker than a pencil or a Bic pen but about the same size as fancier pens, so it's not uncomfortable to hold. This tablet is a "passive" tablet, that is it detects the pen via what I can only assume is Frikin Magic™ and the pen needs no batteries or any setup. While most midrange products have pens you can flip upside-down to use as an eraser, this is the cheap version and doesn't do that, you'll instead need to assign a shortcut key or something. The pen has a rocker on it that's two buttons, a more prominent one higher up, and a more flush side closer to the tip. These buttons can be assigned to almost anything (program launchers, mouse clicks/functions, even keyboard shortcuts). I don't know if it's just the way I'm holding the pen, however, but I keep hitting the buttons by accident, so I've got them set to non-destructive functions for now. The pen's contact point (the nib) is plastic and will eventually wear down simply due to being rubbed on the tablet. Wacom included a nib replacement tool and three replacement nibs in the packaging, and replacement nib packs seem to be easily-available online. Since we're talking plastic and friction loss, the nibs should last quite a while under normal use. Cord This tablet seems to use a standard Micro-USB (not Mini!) cable. The cable plugs in near the "Bamboo" log on the left, and seems to be secure, it doesn't feel like it'll get loose and I need to apply a little bit of force to pull it out. The cable is a bit short. It's long enough for me to use the tablet in my lap if I'm using a front USB port of a USB port on my monitor, but if you have to use a USB port on the back of your machine you're going to need a longer cable. For a size comparison, here's a picture of the tablet in use on my computer desk. The "quick start" manual included with the tablet said to plug it in before installing the drivers. Upon doing so, it was recognized on my Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit machine and had basic drivers installed. Hover and tap functionality (basic mouse emulation) worked immediately, but pressure sensitivity and extra controls/settings wouldn't work without the official driver package. The installation program appears to be custom, it's a skinned window and everything (using QT). The graphics displayed are childish/sketchy in nature, but the setup program is relatively simple. When it gets to the driver/software installation part, it checks for an internet connection in order to download the latest drivers/software, which is a great addition. Extracting the files inside the installer (which are not packed with any sort of custom compression) shows driver files and related programs to already exist on-disc as well, in case you have no internet connection at the time of installation. There is no restart or additional setup needed after the software installation is done. Pressure sensitivity is picked up immediately, you don't need the dock or any GUI software running, only the invisible Pen_Tablet.exe (11MB of RAM on my system) seems to be required for pressure sensitivity (and as it's linked to the driver, you need the admin task manager that shows all processes in order to kill it, which reduces the risk of you accidentally ending it). The included CD does not have any artistic/drawing/editing programs included. Instead, on the back is a serial you enter on Wacom's site to get access to downloads and the registration keys. Registering for Wacom's site requires personal info such as your home address, and it wants both the serial of the product (tablet, etc.) and the software bundle key. The Bamboo Pen Splash is the cheap entry-level tablet, as such the only programs I was offered were Art Rage 3 and Autodesk Sketchbook Express (the more expensive products from Wacom include more programs). After selecting those programs, Wacom e-mailed the serials to me and then offered the direct downloads. Of note is that the site offered me OSX versions on the download page too, for those of you using Macs. The Bamboo Dock software is written using Adobe Air, and provides shortcuts to programs and updates as well as access to the tablet/pen configuration. There's tutorials and program shortcuts that can be added (and there's a suggested programs section with ones like EverNote), but as I'm not linked to Wacom for this review I'm free to say "fuck it" and skip over all the non-important software! The dock gives you access to various settings. Of these, the "My Tablet -> Pen Tablet Properties" is the most important, as it pops up the input settings window. There's two main ways that the tablet affects the cursor on-screen; pen mode and mouse mode. "Pen Mode" treats the tablet as if it was your screen (absolute mapping), so if you tap far away from the current position, the cursor will jump to that position. Imagine this mode as if the tablet was a touch screen for your monitor, or the tablet itself is a large piece of paper. "Mouse Mode" is relative mapping, where the movements are tracked relatively as if you were moving an actual moused. That is, picking the pen up from one spot and placing it in another will not cause the cursor to jump to where you placed the pen. This mode seems better for working with smaller regions and details, as a small movement in the wrist will not cause a large line. The sensitivity of this option can be changed in the settings, as different levels feel nicer on different resolution/size monitors. Depending on the software you use the device could be used for anything from a sketch pad, paint tool, handwriting recognition device, foreign-glyph IME input device, or more. But that's way too much crap for me to try covering, so have a crappy picture of the GBATemp logo instead!