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Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch Pad Review

by The Review CrewMay 30, 2010

Looking for a trackpad that doubles as an artist’s tool—but don’t want to spend a fortune on an extra input device? The $99.99 (direct) Bamboo Pen & Touch CTH-460 supports multitouch, which lets you scroll up and down through Web pages or zoom in and out of photos using finger gestures. It also works with document editing and can rotate images, on either a PC or a Mac. For more precision editing or artwork, the included pen makes drawing, editing photos, and marking up documents simple. Even if the CTH-460 doesn’t approach the fine accuracy and customization capabilities of Wacom’s higher-end Intuos4 ($370.00, ) or Cintiq ($999.00, ) series, for the money, this trackpad delivers—and at a much-more palatable price.

Design and Setup
The Bamboo Pen & Touch CTH-460 weighs 7.6 ounces and measures 9.8 by 6.9 inches. It features a 4.9-by-3.4-inch active touch area and a 5.8-by-3.6-inch active pen area. The entire surface is made of hard matte plastic, save for a small glossy area containing the ExpressKeys (more on those below) and the Bamboo logo. You can reverse the pad for right- or left-handed use, but with a catch: the fixed four-foot USB cord doesn’t detach like on other Wacom products. Depending on the configuration and whether you’re using it with a laptop with side-mounted USB ports, the cord can get in the way.
Four unlit ExpressKeys line the side nearest the USB cord, instead of eight OLED-backlit keys like on Wacom’s higher-end trackpads. You can program the ExpressKeys to call up various functions in different programs. I would have preferred to see two left- and right-click buttons along the bottom to better mimic a laptop trackpad for general navigation—at least in this dual-purpose consumer product, if not Wacom’s other trackpads. The pen, meanwhile, is a lightweight plastic affair that feels a bit cheap, though the tiny plastic tip still has a little give for solid feedback during precision edits. The pen also contains two programmable buttons. A red nylon cloth loop on the right side holds the pen when you’re not using it.

Fortunately, system requirements are sparse: any Windows 7, Vista, or XP with Service Pack 2 machine, or Mac OS X (10.4.8 or higher) with a free USB port should be fine. Retail versions contain the trackpad and pen, plus a quick start guide, a driver software CD, and a DVD containing full versions of both Adobe Photoshop Elements 7.0/6.0 for Mac and Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 WE3; my review model didn’t come with the DVD. I tested the Bamboo Pen & Touch CTH-460 on a Toshiba Qosmio X505-Q850 ($1,899.00, ) Core i7 laptop running Windows 7 ($119.00-319.00, ) and Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 ($99.99, ).

Multitouch and General Navigation
The multitouch idea isn’t new, of course. Many recent laptops, including the Apple MacBook Pro ($1,199.00, ) and the Acer Aspire AS8940-6865 ($1,399.00, ), support various multitouch gestures. That’s not to mention smartphones with glass capacitive touch screens, such as Apple’s iPhone 3GS ($199.00, ) and Google’s Nexus One ($179.99, ). Regardless, the CTH-460 still impresses. In addition to the four standard trackpad functions (navigate, click, double-click, and right-click), it supports five multi-touch gestures: forward and back, two-finger scroll (up and down), select and drag (two taps plus a finger tip drag), pinch-zoom in and out, and rotate (two wide fingers, twist).

In my tests, the CTH-460 worked well. Compared with using a laptop, you do have to reach over the same way you would with a desktop mouse, but then use laptop-style gestures to move the cursor. Once you adjust to that difference, it’s actually pretty easy. The CTH-460 was plenty accurate for gestures and even fine cursor movements, much more so than the tiny Toshiba laptop trackpad. The same goes for double-finger scrolling on Web pages, which I was already used to doing on the MacBook Pro. The CTH-460 does the same thing just as well, and gives you more surface area to work with.

Drawing and Editing Performance
The CTH-460 also excels with artwork and photo editing. I fired up Photoshop Elements 8, picked up the bundled pen, and was able to draw and lay down color with precise gestures. You don’t get the 2,048 pressure-sensitive layers of Wacom’s Intuos4, but it’s still accurate enough for regular drawing and editing. The pad is pressure sensitive to 512 levels; the harder you press, the more “ink” appears using the brush tool. As a result, you can easily lighten or darken areas of an image the same way you can with the Intuos4. Just like with that model, you can flip the pen upside down and use the plastic tip as an eraser; when I did this, Photoshop Elements 8 automatically switched to the Eraser tool.

If you’re a design pro, you’ll want one of Wacom’s higher-end products like the Intuos4, but if you’re simply looking for a trackpad that does a little more, the Bamboo Pen & Touch CTH-460 is well worth the investment. I found it to be ideal for light sketches, (failed) attempts at cartooning, and even photo editing. It’s much easier to use the trackpad than a mouse for all of these tasks. Plus, even the best laptop trackpads don’t come close to the size or sensitivity of the CTH-460. It’s not perfect, but at just $99.99 with a solid software bundle, it’s tough to go wrong.

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The Review Crew
The Review Crew is a group of beat editors, writers, and consultants that have been working together for years. They know just about everything about everything collectively and have published their collective work under the Review Crew brand moniker for almost 20 years.
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