Wacom's alternative pointing device

Sometimes I feel as though I've spent most of my professional life searching for the perfect pointing device. I started with a mouse, but mouse devices have always struck me as awkward and imprecise. Over the course of my career, I've moved from mouse devices to trackballs to touch pads (not to mention the devices you find on laptops). But none of these pointing devices has ever really satisfied me. So when Wacom released its new PenPartner with support for Windows NT, I got excited—I had another chance to find the perfect pointing device.

The PenPartner package consists of a cordless, electronic UltraPen, which is the size of an ordinary pen, and a 7.72" * 7.13" * 0.28" tablet. The tablet attaches to a host system via a serial port and an inline keyboard connection (the keyboard connection is a power source).

Wacom did not intend for the PenPartner to serve as a system's primary pointing device. Although you can use the PenPartner alone, Wacom designed the product to complement another pointing device. This ability to share the system is one of the PenPartner's best features; rarely can a system accommodate two pointing devices.

What can you do with the PenPartner that you can't do with a conventional pointing device? You can do anything with the PenPartner that you'd usually do with a pen. For example, you can draw, trace, and sign your name. And because you hold the UltraPen as you would hold a regular pen, using the device feels natural.

The PenPartner offers additional benefits when you integrate it with an application (e.g., Microsoft Office 97 or Adobe Illustrator). You can use the electronic eraser on the back of the UltraPen to undo work, and you can customize the function of the button on the side of the UltraPen that usually provides right-click functionality.

PenPartner in Practice
I must confess that despite the PenPartner's intuitive feel, I did not learn to use it quickly. I had difficulty adjusting to the fact that you do not actually touch the tip of the UltraPen to the tablet to move the cursor. Touching the tablet is PenPartnerequivalent to clicking the left mouse button. To move the cursor around, you move the UltraPen so that its tip hovers over the tablet. I have no idea what technology the PenPartner uses—the UltraPen tip does not appear to be magnetic, and the tablet does not seem to be sensitive to other objects—but the cursor precisely follows the UltraPen's movements.

I connected the PenPartner to a generic Intel NT Server system, installed the provided drivers, and found that the UltraPen worked fine and did not interfere with the system's other pointing device. Although the PenPartner drivers functioned properly, I noticed that some PenPartner software components available for Windows 95 are missing for NT. The NT PenPartner does not have a Control Panel applet, and the test program does not work on NT.

PenPartner in Theory
However, once I got used to using the PenPartner, I found it to be an excellent pointing device. I think that if I left the PenPartner on my system a little longer, I'd forsake my conventional pointing device entirely.

Should the PenPartner be your partner for pointing and clicking? I'll admit that choosing a pointing device is a personal matter. I know everyone does not share my disdain of mouse devices or my love of touch pads. Still, I encourage you to take the PenPartner for a test spin. The package retails for less than $100, and it might change the way you look at pointing devices.

PenPartner
Contact: Wacom Technology 360-896-9833 or 800-922-9348, Web: http://www.wacom.com
Price: $99.95
System Specifications: Tablet dimensions: 7.72" x 7.13" x .28", Active area: 4" x 5", Reading height: 0.2", Pressure levels: 256, Data rate: 205 points per second, Resolution: 1000 LPI, Accuracy: +/- 0.02"
System Requirements: Windows 3.1, Windows 95, or Windows NT 3.5 or higher CD-ROM drive One available serial port