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Ivan's picture

Wacom Bamboo vs Magic Mouse vs Magic Trackpad

I tested the Wacom Bamboo, Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad as primary input devices with my Mac over several weeks. I wanted to find out which one is the most effective for everyday use. My usage was not limited to graphic design applications, but lot of web browsing and doing various other work, like working on spreadsheets or navigating developer apps.

Wacom Bamboo Tablet

The Wacom Bamboo tablet is the most natural input device if you are comfortable with a pen or a pencil which is true for most people. It allows you to put the cursor instantly to the area of your interest. You don't need to drag the cursor over the screen to get from the menu to the trash bin.

On the downside the cursor is not absolutely stable like you are used to it with a mouse. Because your hand is not still all the small movements are picked up and your cursor will move about just a little. This is a problem if you want to point to one specific pixel, for example when making a precise selection. You have to concentrate to make it happen. Lack of steadiness is also a problem when double clicking, your double click may register as a click and drag, which is very annoying.

Scrolling with the Bamboo can be much more work and less convenient than with a Mouse or Trackpad. You either have to use the scroll bar or set-up one of the pen buttons for scrolling.

The Bamboo tablet has buttons but I find them useless as my left hand always rests on the keyboard and I hold the pen in my right. The pen has 2 buttons too, which turned out to be very useful. They can be configured in many different ways. I set one up to allow scrolling, which is effectively a click and drag operation. The other one as a double click. These settings on the pen are a good workaround to the issues mentioned earlier with double clicking and dragging.

The Wacom is ideal for retouching and painting because it's pressure sensitive and feels most natural when making small movements. But as you will see at least in my hands even after years of experience large circular motions are hard to achieve precisely. Perhaps other people can learn this skill better. However when it comes to straight lines or broad strokes it wins over other devices by far.

The Bamboo takes up quite a lot of space on your table. And with the cable extending on the side it looks a little clunky. It uses up one USB port. You also have to change the tip of the pen every few months.

Gripping the pen for long time can be tiring for your fingers at first therefore it is recommended to give yourself a rest and use a mouse for certain activities, like browsing for the first few weeks. Later on you will get used to it and your fingers will not get tired ever after a day of hard work.

Overall despite the issues I mentioned the Wacom Bamboo is my favourite input device. It takes several weeks getting used to it, but once you do you will be reluctant to use anything else.

Magic Mouse

The Magic Mouse is probably the best mouse from Apple and is pretty good compared to other mice out there. I've tried large ergonomically shaped multi-button top of the range mice from Logitech and they are not as good as the Magic Mouse because they are heavy and have too many unnecessary buttons. The Magic Mouse is light and elegant, but I know many people have issues with the small physical size because they can't get a firm grip on the device.

The Magic Mouse is very precise, very stable. Clicking, dragging, scrolling, right clicking all work very well. I must say I don't use the right click at all, I prefer using the keyboard's CTRL key to modify the left click to right click.

You can see on the test that drawing circles was easy for me and it was the most precise in this regard among the three tested input devices. Straight lines are less easy because I have to move my whole hand as opposed to my wrist (tablet) or fingers (trackpad).

Because it's bluetooth it doesn't have wires and doesn't use any USB ports. The battery doesn't drain fast, but it's good to have a few handy in your drawer all the time.

Overall a very good choice, but can feel slow after using the tablet.

Magic Trackpad

The Magic Trackpad is a new piece of hardware from Apple but is based on refined trackpad technology present in laptops for years. The Magic Trackpad however is much bigger and this property transforms it into something totally different and much more useful.

Because of the large size the tracking of your finger movement is extremely precise. I feel it's much more precise than either the mouse or the tablet. Stability of the cursor isn't a problem either. It's rock solid. You can see on the test that both circular and straight line movements were quite good and quite consistent in both tasks. In comparison the tablet was good in straight lines and not so good in circular movements, and the mouse the other way around.

Using the trackpad feels very natural, almost as natural as touching the screen itself, but with the advantage that you're not covering the screen with your digits.

It feels slow compared to the tablet just like the mouse because you have to drag the cursor around. It would be great if you could map the trackpad to the screen as it is done with the tablet. I hope somebody is already working on such a hack.

You can't use anything on the trackpad but your fingers. Not sure why the pogo stick doesn't work. It must be a different technology from the iPhone and the iPad in this regard.

The multi-touch and gestures make it extremely useful for power users. Four fingers up shows the desktop, down shows expose. Three fingers drag windows or draw in Photoshop for example (that's how I did the test). Scrolling is two fingers and right click is achieved with a double finger tap. There are many other functions such as page turning, pinching for zoom and opening and several other things, but those take some time to get used to and not really working as expected in certain cases. For example in Photoshop pinch zooming would be great, but you can't stop at round numbers like 200%. It will always be something like 198% which looks terrible. Snapping to round numbers with a modifier key would be great. Hope Adobe is on it.

It's connected to your Mac through bluetooth, so there are no wires or used up ports. It is also very elegant and matches the wired or wireless Apple keyboard. It takes up very little space, less than a mousepad.

It tires your fingers at first. And even after weeks of using you will still feel strained after a busy day. But it's much less tiring to use the Magic Trackpad than using the trackpad on a MacBook for example.

Overall the Magic Trackpad is my second choice after the tablet and I use it alternatively with my tablet.

Each device works a different part of your body. The mouse works your shoulder and 2 fingers. The tablet works your wrist and one finger. The Magic Trackpad makes you use up to 4 fingers. Fingers have the most precision control in our body, the wrist less so and the shoulder even less so. So theoretically the Magic Trackpad has the most potential biologically. But most people are used to holding a pen, which wires brains for the tablet. The mouse has the least potential, but it's the one many of us has the most experience with.

I invested a lot of time in learning the tablet and I don't regret it. I will train myself using the trackpad too as I see big potential in it. With lot of experience it can become my preferred primary and only input device.

Commenting on this Blog entry is closed.

Leaky Penny's picture
2612 pencils

I love using a Wacom in lieu of a mouse, but the minute you're on a system with a two screen set-up (or more) it takes a whole new getting used to. Really sucks.

Leaky Penny
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Art D. Rector's picture
3162 pencils

Thanks Ivan - very useful blog post for me as I am on the verge of upgrading (yeah - I've been saying that for months, I know). I've tried tablets in the (distant) past and two things always killed it for me - 1) they never worked as advertised and 2) they always caused system problems. That was back in the days of adb ports for mice though. Another side issue is I've never had problems with the mouse really. I use the standard one button mouse and have always felt comfortable with it - even after trying basically everything else out there (track balls, two button mice, whatever - dealers get all that stuff free so it was easy for me to test drive everything). But after your review, think I'm going to get the Trackpad and take another stab at it - that one sound like it might be useful for illustrator and photoshop if nothing else. The tablet sounded pretty good as well until Leaky killed it with his two monitor comment. :)

Again - thanks.

Ivan's picture

The problem with two monitors and tablets is that the ratio becomes too wide for the tablet. But it's not that big of a problem. You can get used to it, but it's not that good anymore.

Kilik's picture
80 pencils

Thanks for this assessment! I was thinking about the Magic Trackpad but had originally decided against it. Your writeup just confirmed that I made the right choice.

visionfresh's picture
3 pencils

Very good article, Ivan! Thanks.
I am using the Bamboo Touch with my Mac Pro since it came out, and it's much better than my previous bluetooth Wacom. I also use Magic Mouse for the MacBook. I love them both, but I don't think the trackpad could come in handy in my workflow. With the Bamboo Touch you can literally do the same thing and much more with the pen and the extra buttons!

Honza's picture
1 pencil

Thanks Ivan, this assessment is very useful for me.Visionfresch, tell me please, witch multitouch gestures support Bamboo touch? I want to buy Bamboo fun touch & pen (medium) as my primary input device alongside keyboard for MacBookPro. Can you recommend this combination?

steveballmer's picture
653 pencils

Gimme a break! Why didn't you mention the ZuneTouchPad?
I am not Steve Ballmer pretending not to be me!

Cookie Creative's picture
97 pencils

Never really took to them myself.

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