Wacom PenPartner

  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent

Pros

  • Small, light and USB-powered
  • easy to set up and ergonomic to use
  • JustWrite Office adds handwriting functionality to MS-Office applications

Cons

  • Some operations take a little practice to master

Wacom has been producing cordless, battery-free, pressure-sensitive graphics tablets since 1987, and is now the undisputed market leader. With pen-enabled computing moving closer to the mainstream thanks to developments like Microsoft's Tablet PC initiative, the company is looking beyond specialised products like the large and expensive (£179.99 inc. VAT) Graphire3 Studio XL. Hence the diminutive and inexpensive (£29.99 inc. VAT) PenPartner, which is designed to appeal to notebook users of all kinds, offering a handy and intuitive interface while adding some functionality that a mouse, touchpad or trackpoint simply cannot provide.

In the box, you get the tablet itself, the pen, a CD containing drivers and JustWrite Office 4.0 software, plus a quick start guide. Setup is simple: load the drivers and software (for maximum functionality -- it'll work directly out of the box as a basic tablet), plug the tablet into a USB port, fine-tune any driver settings, and away you go. The PenPartner supports Windows 98 SE, ME, 2000 and XP, but Mac and Linux users will be disappointed. Notebook users will be pleased to note that the device draws only 0.2 watts of power, and so should not adversely affect battery life.

The 168g, 147.5mm by 160.2mm by 12mm tablet looks smart, with its sliver-grey finish, pen tray at the top and flip-up transparent overlay for doing tracings. The pen, which weighs 10g and measures 149 by 12.3mm, recognises 512 levels of pressure in supported applications, allowing for sophisticated brush-strokes. It has a side-switch that can be set to a frequently-used function – the default being a right mouse click.

The PenPartner works in 'mouse' and 'pen' modes. In mouse mode, the pen behaves – logically enough – like a mouse: pick up the pen and move it to another location in the active area and the cursor stays where it is. In pen mode, the 1,000dpi tablet mirrors your PC's display: move the pen elsewhere, and the cursor moves to the corresponding location on-screen. You double-click by tapping the stylus twice, which takes a little practice and may need some driver adjustment. We also encountered some problems when resizing windows on a high-resolution display, as 'pen shake' can make it difficult to keep the cursor in the right mode. However, this could just be down to operator age and condition!

Generally speaking, though, the PenPartner is a pleasure to use, suits right- and left-handers equally well, and should prove a more ergonomic solution than a traditional mouse, or a notebook's touchpad or pointing stick.

Additional functionality is provided by the supplied JustWrite Office 4.0 software, which allows you to make handwritten notes in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. JustWrite Office adds a toolbar to the relevant MS-Office applications, notes are saved as part of the file, and recipients do not need to have the program installed to read the notes.

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