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Articles: Bluetooth Enabled Artistic Freedom

I don't like being chained to a desk. Often I will have to pace around the room or change my sitting position to find inspiration. This has always meant I had to stop working, walk away, and run back to the desk when I had an idea. That is until now, because Wacom recently introduced Bluetooth to their popular Graphire tablet line. For those who are unaware of Wacom and their products, they are the undisputed heavyweight of penned input for computers. Many companies have copied Wacom tablets but few have bested them in innovation, and the Bluetooth Graphire is no exception.

Wacom has three tablet classes: the Graphire, Intuos, and Cintiq. Graphire is the basic tablet, designed for home users and light production work. Intuos is the professional's tablet class, and offers a greater degree of accuracy with better pen manipulation. The Cintiq features Wacom's pen tablet technology placed behind a brilliant LCD, allowing users to work directly on the screen.

At the moment, Bluetooth is only available in one tablet size and is a part of the Graphire line. This could be a deal breaker for high-end professional artists who need the best tablet. However, the truth is, many of us will not miss the features Intuos tablets have over the Graphire, so if the idea of a Bluetooth tablet grabs your attention, you'll find the Graphire to be an excellent addition to your peripheral collection.

In the box you will find, in addition to the 6x8 tablet and pen , a two-button mouse with scroll wheel that works in place of the pen when you want it. The mouse, along with the software and a pen stand, is standard with any Wacom Tablet. What is not standard is a battery and power cord. Previous Wacom owners may find it strange to see a 3.7V Li-ion rechargeable battery. Wacom pens and mice have never needed batteries. In fact, it is one of Wacom's selling points that the pens do not need to be attached to the tablet by a cable or use batteries. Even though this is still the case, it was a change to think about battery use in a Wacom product. Once you drop the battery into the tablet you will probably never need to see it again though. The power cord plugs into the side of the tablet to charge the battery (the battery lasts for up to 25Hrs. per charge) and will power the tablet while it charges.

Setting up the tablet is the same as a Bluetooth mouse. Click on the Bluetooth menu and choose "Set up Bluetooth Device..." Click continue, select "Mouse," and click continue again. Press the "Connect" button on the bottom of the tablet and the computer should soon see the tablet. When it does, click continue and ok. Now for the Driver CD and pen stand... throw both of them away. The pen will fit nicely in a cutout on the top of the tablet and I found the CD had outdated drivers on it. As with anything you buy these days it is best to get the latest drivers and updates off the manufacturer's website and not the CD. Included with your tablet is another CD full of extras, but only three of them work on a Mac: Adobe Photoshop Elements 3, Corel Painter Essentials 2, and nik Color Efex Pro 2 GE. Of the three the only one you should definitely not skip over is Adobe Photoshop Elements 3. Even people who use Adobe CS 2 will use Elements for some tasks.

The tablet itself is nicely made and surprisingly light. It has three buttons along the top, one of which is a power button. It may seem like a strange feature to appreciate, but the power button is fantastic. It's the same size and has the same symbol as a Mac power button. Around the edge of the button is a blue light that indicates the tablet is on and it turns green when you use the pen. I like this because so many Bluetooth devices have power switches in inconvenient places with little to no indication that they are on. There is no question whether this tablet is on, and it's simple to turn it on and off. The other two buttons on the top are completely user programmable, through the "Pen Tablet" System Preference. Wacom has worked with the Mac for a long time now, and because of this their software and drivers are some of the best. Nearly every function of a Bluetooth tablet can be customized to the user's particular needs. It may take a few days of adjusting the functions and settings before you get it just right for you though.

The only criticism I have for the Bluetooth Graphire is that the pen feels a little cheap. The tip and the eraser end are loose. The overall weight of the pen is practically nothing. I would imagine if you don't mind the feel of a Bic pen this might be fine for you. But I like a quality ink pen with a little heft to it and would have preferred a similar pen from Wacom.

I have another Wacom tablet. It's sitting in a box in the garage. The reason it's not at my desk is that it never worked the way I wanted to work. I had that USB tablet next to my keyboard in the same place a mouse pad would be. Most times I used the Wacom mouse. The few times I used the pen I ended up picking up the tablet to get it in front of me. The USB cable would then catch on something and knock it over. At that point I just unplugged it all and went back to using my old mouse. Once a year or so, I would dig out a tablet to touch up some photos but inevitably it would end up back in the box.

The Bluetooth Tablet is different. I don't draw in the same way as I use a mouse. I cradle the writing surface in front of me, often supported by my left forearm. I lean back in the chair and tuck one leg under the other. It can be funny to watch me contort my body while working on the computer but I know, having watched others, that I am not alone. That's what's great about being wireless. I can hold the tablet in the same way as a clipboard, which is what I used before I had a computer. You can stand up with it and pace the room. Given a large enough screen you can use it 30 feet away. It is true artistic freedom in a computer input device.

There are many people who will find pleasure in having a wireless tablet. It can help enhance any presentation, whether it's in a school or conference room. It can eliminate cables and simplify setup. It can change the way you use a tablet. For me, I'm set free from the straight-back chair in my office and am able to curl up with my Photoshop project without any cable in my way. And that makes it a nice Unchained Melody for me.
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