Monday, September 6, 2010

New Tool, New Toy

Yesterday I dropped into Best Buy to see about a replacement mouse.  My current infrared mouse just works badly and I don't know if it's interference from something in the apartment (or from another apartment) or the mouse is just gone.  But for a long time, I've also wanted some sort of sketch tablet or something similar so I can do a better job at touching up graphics or photos on websites I design.

The clerk introduced me to Bamboo and I'm so glad I bought it.  As the name implies (to me anyway), Bamboo is lightweight and graceful and a clean way to add a touchpad interface to your computer or provide a larger one to a laptop.  Bamboo's touchpad matches your screen perfectly, so if you lift the stylus and put it on the screen in another area, the cursor jumps to the representative spot on the monitor.  You don't need to lift the stylus to reposition it to gain more "space" on the touchpad as you do with these small ones on laptops.  In fact, I'm using a laptop and have shut off the touchpad because my palms constantly make the cursor jump all over the place as they accidentally brush against it.  Bamboo has changed my opinion on touchpads, but then, Bamboo is like a touchpad on steroids; it rocks. 

Of course, because it's a different interface than I've mostly used, I need to practice my technique.  Bamboo comes with a tutorial that let's you practice to get it right and built-in tools to turn a keyboard on/off.  Yes, you can fill in forms with the stylus but if you use hashmarks for passwords, you lose the ability to see where you are placing the cursor on the mini-keyboard so it's better to use the standard keyboard for password entry.

And it is definitely different than the standard laptop touchpad.  If I want to touch something at the bottom of the screen, I need to position the stylus at the bottom of the active area on the touchpad.  But I find I am not using a larger area than I ever needed to use with a standard mouse.  The main difference is having to position my stylus on the screen in an exact representation of what's on the screen.  It is a far more accurate representation of my screen than any laptop touchpad I've ever used.

Another difference is my hand position.  That will take some getting used to but it feels so much more graceful and accurate than a mouse or laptop touchpad.  As with any new muscle movement, however, it can take time for long-term comfort. So I spent the better part of yesterday playing a few games where I could practice tapping and dragging.  Dragging doesn't even seem like the right word to use because drag invokes an image of something heavy.  With Bamboo, a light touch is all that is needed.  You don't even have to touch the stylus to the touchpad unless you want to "click" on something.  The stylus activates only millimeters above the pad and gives you great control over your cursor.

Developing fine control over the Bamboo's interface is necessary if I want to clean up graphics or remove a background from an image and have it look "perfect" when placed against a color background; yet these are two most common needs for websites that drew me to Bamboo in the first place.  So today I'll move on to working on a few graphics for more practice.  After all, this is what I bought it for and I'm looking forward to greater precision control that I can get with a mouse.  And my badly-behaving mouse?  It's still plugged in but is sitting on a pile of papers out of the way -- I think I've found the perfect replacement/enhancement tool.