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home :: Features :: Peripheral reviews
23rd September 2005
Wacom Graphire Bluetooth graphics tablet pen and mouse review
by Ian Burley
2145: Wacom Graphire Bluetooth graphics tablet pen and mouse review

Wacom's Graphire Bluetooth offers the lure of wireless graphic tablet use plus the utility of a matching mouse for your PC or Mac. We find out if this is the best Wacom Graphire pen input package yet.


Look, a tablet, mouse and pen but no wires! Almost


Wacom is the undisputed leader in pressure-sensitive pen-enabled input devices and it offers a wide range to choose from in fact its range is so diverse that it's not always obvious which is the best for one's own needs. You can choose from PenPartner, Volito, Graphire and Intuos lines. Wacom also supply pen input systems for laptops and tablet computers with touch-sensitive screens and, to round off, Wacom also offers pen-enabled Cintiq LCD monitors

In this review we look at a mid-range pen, mouse and graphics tablet combo, the Graphire Bluetooth. The Graphire family has now reached generation four and includes four models, plus the Bluetooth model that predates the others by about six months. The Graphire Bluetooth is now the only one version to come with a mouse in addition to a pen. It has a pen-sensitive area covering DIN A5, or roughly 6x8 inches, so it's as large as the largest (XL) Graphire 4 alternatives.

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Battery-less pens
Key to Wacom's technology advantage is the fact that its pens don't require batteries and its touch sensitivity isn't vulnerable to physical wear and tear of the tablet surface. Graphire pens are pressure-sensitive to 512 levels and a wide range of software applications are compatible with Wacom's 'Penabled' functionality.

Distinguishing features
The two distinguishing features of the Graphire Bluetooth are its standard wireless mouse and wireless Bluetooth connectivity with the host PC or Mac. However, in certain ways, both these features exhibit flaws that you need to consider before making a decision to buy the Graphire Bluetooth.

First of all, the Graphire Bluetooth isn't exactly wireless as it requires a power lead to charge up its internal lithium polymer battery. Once fully charged, this should provide around 25 hours continuous wireless use before needing to be re-tethered for charging once more. Conventional Wacom tablets use current from their wired USB connection, which is absent on the Graphire Bluetooth, so you don't even have the fall-back option of using USB.

If you really don't like wires on your desk or if you travel a lot and wish to use a graphics tablet without wires with your laptop, for example, then the Graphire Bluetooth must certainly appeal. But sooner or later you will need to hook up that power lead or you will be left with a dead tablet.

The latest Graphire mouse is an improvement over the earlier ones, but not a patch on a great mouse like the Logitech MouseMan Optical


Acquired taste
Secondly, the Graphire Bluetooth mouse is, at best, an acquired taste. It's not actually a Bluetooth mouse; so you can't use the mouse on its own without the tablet as it uses the same inductive detection and positioning system as the pen. The tablet recognises the mouse specifically and switches from the absolute positioning pen mode to pointer-dragging mouse mode automatically.

Like the pen, the mouse requires no batteries, but unlike the pen, it is not pressure-sensitive. The mouse is a compact design with a conventional two button layout and a scroll wheel. It's also symmetrical, which is good news for left-handers. Underneath, instead of the usual tracking ball or illuminated optical sensor, there is just a pad of fabric, rather like the non-hooked side of a Velcro fastening. It provides a soft surface upon which the mouse can move around on top of the tablet.

Previous Graphire mouse models had been criticised for an unpleasantly hard feel when pushed around the tablet area and the new fabric base certainly helps, but I never once felt that the Graphire Bluetooth mouse was a patch on my Logitech MouseMan Optical. The Graphire mouse felt cumbersome and heavy in its movement and without precision. And to make matters worse, a standard optical mouse won't work on the surface of the tablet because it is transparent.

Excellent pen action
But at least the core qualities of a Wacom device remain in the Graphire Bluetooth, namely its excellent pen action. If you are a seasoned Wacom pen tablet user, you will have few complaints about the Graphire Bluetooth pen and tablet. Admittedly the more expensive Intuos tablets have funkier pens and a more refined tablet surface, but these are subtle refinements to what the Graphire Bluetooth already delivers.


The clear plastic top can be removed to place a photo underneath

Turn your tablet in to a photo frame
A nice feature is the ability to detach the transparent top of the tablet to place a photo or other paper item underneath, either to trace or simply to customise the look of your tablet. If you are wondering if this solves the optical mouse problem previously mentioned, it doesn't.

Other nice Graphire Bluetooth touches include a neat space modelled into the back of the tablet for securely stowing the pen and a pair of programmable buttons, or ExpressKeys. The pen also comes with a small transparent plastic stand.

Installation is straightforward and though configuring a Bluetooth wireless connection is more complicated than a conventional all wired USB setup, if you can do one, as long as you follow the instructions, you should be able to do the other.

Software bundles
In Europe it appears that the only software bundled with the Graphire Bluetooth is Corel Painter Essentials 2, while in the US you get that plus Adobe Photoshop Elements 2.0 and nik Color Efex Pro 2 photo filter effects plug ins. It's been said before – why doesn't Wacom offer cheaper prices without bundled software that many of us don't actually need?

On the next page of this article we have over a dozen views of the Graphire Bluetooth hardware from a variety of angles, followed by our review conclusions and ratings and, finally full specifications and a side-by-side comparison with the other Graphire models.

Check the latest price or purchase options for the Wacom's Graphire Bluetooth via
Buy through Amazon and you will help fund this site
USA Europe
Click on the flag that best relates to your location
The EU flag links to Amazon Germany, currently the only European Amazon outlet that supplies electronic goods priced in Euros.
Each Amazon outlet can ship to most countries in the world.




Related articles: Wacom announces update to Volito2
Wacom launches Graphire3 range

The Graphire Bluetooth in pictures


Here is an illustrated tour of the Wacom Graphire Bluetooth pen, tablet and mouse.

The 6x8 inch area that is sensitive to the mouse and pen is faintly outlined on the removable plastic top of the tablet. The overall dimensions of the tablet exceed this a fair bit and eat up a fair bit of your desk surface.

As is usual with Wacom pens, apart from the pen tip, the opposite end acts as an eraser and there is a rocker switch for additional item selection and menu functionality. Here the pen is resting in a small clear plastic stand.

There are just three buttons on the tablet, a power button on the left and a pair of sculpted 'ExpressKeys' that can be programmed as custom functions.

On the far left of the top of the tablet is the power switch and this is illuminated to show when power is on (green) and when the Bluetooth connection is active (blue).

The raised top of the gently sloping tablet provides enough room for a slot to store the pen securely.

And the pen fits into this slot very snugly indeed.

This view shows the sloping design and it's very comfortable to use.

To remove the clear plastic top, you just need to un-clip it on either side at the raised end of the tablet.

By removing the top section, you can place paper or thin card underneath for simple decoration or for convenient tracing if required.

This is the underside of the tablet. To the bottom right is the lithium ion rechargeable battery compartment.

Power to charge the high density polymer type battery is provided by an external mains AC adapter.

By removing the battery compartment lid you gain access to the battery, which is attached by a pair of short terminal wires.

The Wacom Graphire Bluetooth unit's wireless mouse is not, itself, a Bluetooth device and can only be used in conjunction with the tablet. It’s symmetrical, so left-handers will like it, but compared to a top design like a Logitech MouseMan Optical (right), the Wacom mouse feels imprecise and relatively ponderous to use.

The underside of the mouse is finished in a coarse fabric to improve the smoothness of its movement across the tablet surface.

Here is the fabric mat in close up. It looks like it will attract dirt over time.
Now go to the next page for our conclusions and ratings.

Check the latest price or purchase options for the Wacom's Graphire Bluetooth via
Buy through Amazon and you will help fund this site
USA Europe
Click on the flag that best relates to your location
The EU flag links to Amazon Germany, currently the only European Amazon outlet that supplies electronic goods priced in Euros.
Each Amazon outlet can ship to most countries in the world.


Conclusion and ratings



Performance – Good, and might have been Excellent if it were not for the disappointing mouse.
Good
Good

Features – There are a lot of features but some key ones proved to have limited value.
Above average
above

Ease of use – The pen is excellent, much better than the mouse and setting up was quite straightforward.
Good
Good
Build quality – Build quality is not bad, though the removable transparent top of the tablet feels a bit cheap.
Above average
Above

Value for money – With limited competition, Wacom products are usually more expensive than we'd like and the Graphire Bluetooth is no exception.
Below average
Below

Overall ratings – At DPNow we don't much rate stars and percentages because they mean one thing to one reviewer and something else to another, but as the industry demands such devices, we reluctantly provide them, based on our concept of the product's target market, the competition and how we got on with the product while testing it:
78%
3.5 stars (out of 5)
3.5 stars (out of 5)
Conclusions
Things we liked about the Wacom Graphire Bluetooth:
• Traditional Wacom battery-less pen system
• Stylish aesthetic design
• Convenience of wireless operation even if for limited periods
• Facility for placing printed or drawn images under transparent window

Things we didn't like:
• Limited value of wireless feature as power cable is required at least some of the time
• Disappointing mouse
• Limited software bundle in some countries compared to others
• Expensive

Would we use a Wacom Graphire Bluetooth – yes
Could we recommend one? – only with the advice to consider other Graphire model options as well

The bottom line:
If you can get on with the mouse and you need the wireless convenience and you can put up with the need to re-tether the tablet for charging regularly, then the Graphire Bluetooth is a good choice. If, like us, you wouldn't use the mouse and the wireless feature is too compromised by the need for the power lead to be connected frequently, then the Graphire 4 XL is a much more sensible alternative.
Check the latest price or purchase options for the Wacom's Graphire Bluetooth via
Buy through Amazon and you will help fund this site
USA Europe
Click on the flag that best relates to your location
The EU flag links to Amazon Germany, currently the only European Amazon outlet that supplies electronic goods priced in Euros.
Each Amazon outlet can ship to most countries in the world.


Specifications


We've listed the specifications of all five current Wacom Graphire models for you to compare below. Please note that the software bundles listed are for the European versions. Check Wacom's North American site for local variations.

Graphire4 Classic Graphire4 Classic XL Graphire4 Studio Graphire4 Studio XL Graphire Bluetooth
Tablet
Dimensions (W × D × H): 208 x 203.8 x 17.8 mm 278 x 263.8 x 18 mm 208 x 203.8 x 17.8 mm 278 x 263.8 x 18 mm 257 × 24.3 × 280 mm
Active area: 127.6 x 92.8 mm 208.8 x 150.8 mm 127.6 x 92.8 mm 208.8 x 150.8 mm 208.8 x 150.8 mm
Cable length: 1.5 m 1.5 m 1.5 m 1.5 m Bluetooth wireless technology
Weight: approx. 500g approx. 860g approx. 500g approx. 860g approx. 860g
Resolution: 2,000 dpi 2,000 dpi 2,000 dpi 2,000 dpi 2,000 dpi
Accuracy: +/- 0.5 mm +/- 0.5 mm +/- 0.5 mm +/- 0.5 mm +/- 0.5 mm
Pressure levels: 512 512 512 512 512
Maximum reading height: 5 mm 5 mm 5 mm 5 mm 5 mm
Interface: USB USB USB USB Bluetooth wireless technology using HID protocol
ExpressKeys: 2 2 2 2 2
Tablet ExpressKeys stroke: approx. 1 mm approx. 1 mm approx. 1 mm approx. 1 mm approx. 1 mm
Battery: -- -- -- -- Rechargeable Lithium Polymer
Pen
Dimensions (L × D): 137.8 x 12.0 mm 137.8 x 12.0 mm 137.8 x 12.0 mm 137.8 x 12.0 mm 145.0 x 12.5 mm
Weight: approx. 12g approx. 12g approx. 12g approx. 12g approx. 11g
Side switch: 2 2 2 2 2
Pressure levels: 512 512 512 512 512
Mouse
Dimensions (W × D × H): -- -- -- -- 115.0 x 60.0 x 38.0 mm
Weight: -- -- -- -- approx. 90g
Buttons: -- -- -- -- 3
Scroll wheel (steps per revolution): -- -- -- -- 24
Technical requirements
Windows: Windows® 98 SE, Me, 2000, XP or higher, USB port Windows® 98 SE, Me, 2000, XP or higher, USB port Windows® 98 SE, Me, 2000, XP or higher, USB port Windows® 98 SE, Me, 2000, XP or higher, USB port Windows® 2000 or XP, In order to ensure best performance and maximum range, we recommend to use a class 1 USB Bluetooth adapter.
MacOS: MacOS X 10.2.8 or later, USB port MacOS X 10.2.8 or later, USB port MacOS X 10.2.8 or later, USB port MacOS X 10.2.8 or later, USB port MacOS X 10.2.8 or later
Software included: • Driver software
• Corel Painter Essentials 2
• Driver software
• Corel Painter Essentials 2
• Driver software
• Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0
• nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 Standard
• Driver software
• Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0
• nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 Standard
• Driver software
• Corel Painter Essentials 2
Check the latest price or purchase options for the Wacom's Graphire Bluetooth via
Buy through Amazon and you will help fund this site
USA Europe
Click on the flag that best relates to your location
The EU flag links to Amazon Germany, currently the only European Amazon outlet that supplies electronic goods priced in Euros.
Each Amazon outlet can ship to most countries in the world.



 
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