Almost everyone who has wandered past the various desks that I’ve occupied over the last year has passed comment on my Wacom Bamboo Pen Graphics Tablet. So, let me say a few words about my experiences with that.
For the longest time, I had been perfectly content to use various Logitech VX / MX mouses as my secondary input device, occasionally using a Microsoft Arc Mouse (very convenient to carry around in my rucksack).
But in the Spring of 2010, I developed a nagging pain in my right forefinger. It sounds silly and trivial, but over the course of a couple of months it developed from a barely-susceptible twinge to something that was genuinely impacting my life – I struggled to open Coke bottles or turn the key in our garage door’s stiff lock.
I turned for advice to Joe Steele, my personal guru of alternative input devices, and someone who I knew had previously suffered with RSI. Dr Steele confirmed that my symptoms mirrored those that he had experienced some years previously, and prescribed a course of two tablets – one for home use and one for client sites.
The Wacom Bamboo is an excellent piece of kit, and reasonably priced compared to other tablets and decent mouses. But it does take quite some getting used to. There is a knack to moving the pen around just above the surface of the tablet – a gap small enough that the movement is perceived by the tablet (and the mouse cursor moves), but without actually touching the tablet (which leads to dragging-and-dropping). This is particularly problematic if you venture anywhere near Visual Studio’s Solution Explorer – it was quite embarrassing how many times I checked strange folder/file moves into source control in the early days of my Bamboo usage. This acted as a good lesson to steer clear of Solution Explorer and get into the habit of navigating using ReSharper instead!
Overall, it took me a good few months before I was as fast and accurate using the Bamboo as I was using a traditional mouse. This could be quite frustrating when I just wanted to get something done, and on a number of occasions The Wife snuck into my office and caught me of an evening, guiltily risking my health with an old VX Revolution. As with many things, perseverance is the key – having Bamboos at both home and work certainly helped. Over time the pain in my finger subsided and has now disappeared altogether.
Two specific tips if you’re thinking of giving the Wacom Bamboo a try for day-to-day computing use:
Firstly, be sure to configure the device to use “Mouse Mode” rather than the default “Pen Mode”. Mouse mode “moves the screen cursor with a ‘pick up and slide’ motion similar to using a traditional mouse”, whilst Pen mode “sets the cursor so that its movement corresponds with the position of your Bamboo pen on the tablet – wherever you place your pen on the tablet, the cursor will jump to a corresponding point on the screen.” In my experience, Pen mode led to the cursor jumping wildly around the screen unless I gave consideration to where on the tablet I was placing the pen – a very unnatural experience after many years of using a “traditional” mouse.
Secondly, I suggest mapping the lower button on the barrel of the pen to the “double-click” action, as trying to emulate a double-click by tapping the pen nib on the tablet twice in quick succession is awkward – a problem which compounds if you need to perform many double-clicks, such as navigating around a file hierarchy in Windows Explorer.
I mentioned a few years ago that a keyboard makes a hell of a difference – well, it turns out that selection of secondary input devices can also make a huge difference to the long-term viability of a career, if you can invest the time to become proficient in their use.