Wacom Intuos4: First Impressions

Started Apr 5, 2009 | Discussions thread
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JayMitch
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Wacom Intuos4: First Impressions
Apr 5, 2009

Just spent the last couple of hours setting up and playing with the new Wacom Intuos4 tablet (medium size, with an 8.8" x 5.5" active surface). Thought I would offer my initial impressions for those who may be interested. Last summer I purchased the Special Edition Intuos3 6x8 and love it. But there were two aspects that continued to frustrate me:

1. I always forgot the settings on the express keys and, as such, rarely used them
2. I tended to struggle with the feel of the pressure sensitivity

The Intuos4 completely addresses #1 and more. Initial thoughts are #2 as well. Some bullet points:

  • The look and feel of the tablet are fantastic. The SE Intuos3 was really nice but this really steps it up. In particular I like the feel of the matte finish compared to the gloss of the "3".

  • Active area maintains the same proportions of current widescreen displays which is cool.

  • Function keys are now constrained to one side so they're more accessible. Just flip the unit around for right or left handed use. There are two USB inputs (only one is used) to facilitate this. When you indicate the table is in left handed mode the LED labels will automatically invert.

  • The removable USB offers a secondary advantage: I can run the cable out of sight and just connect the tablet when I need to use it. My desk space pulls double duty as my office so I don't need it there all the time.

  • Cool little addition: the pen base doubles as a nib and tweezer holder. Nice.

  • Now for the good stuff: the new express keys. As before they are infinitely programmable. The difference is that the function now appears in a little LED panel beside each button. The labels change as you program them with the software and are application dependent. No more forgetting WTF a button does. Brilliantly executed. You can even set the brightness of the labels, although even at max they're not overbearing.

  • If the key labels weren't enough, you can assign any button to pop up an overlay onscreen to show each function. Redundant for the medium size on up, but for the small (where you give up the LED labels) it's a great solution.

  • There is a new scroll wheel replacing the strips on the previous generation. It works just like an iPod. You can customize the function (again, application specific) and can even program 4 different modes that you switch with the center button. Works very well for scrolling, zooming, changing brush size/feather, etc. Whatever you want.

  • There is a new Radial Menu that is brilliant. You can configure any of the buttons on the tablet, mouse, and/or pen to activate a popup menu that shows onscreen. It looks like a compass with 8 sections, each of which can be programmed for a different function (keystroke, application launch, whatever) or even as a submenu under which further functions lie. You can go as deep as you want with the submenus. Right now I have the middle button of the mouse programmed to launch the radial. In Lightroom, for example, I have one submenu for Targeted Adjustment Tools, and within I have immediate access to tone, hue, sat, luminance, grayscale, and turning the TAT off. It works so well I can't believe it. Another slice of the radial is a submenu for develop adjustments (crop, white balance, adjustment brush, gradient, spot removal). Another slice is for labels (which I customize but always forget the number shortcut). My head might explode when I start programming for Photoshop.

These organizational innovations are almost worth the price of the upgrade alone. The feel and functionality of the tablet are consistent with the legacy of Intuos. But with a couple of changes that make the pressure sensitivity work a little better for me (YMMV).

First, there is not a minimum threshold of pressure in order to activate the pen unlike the Intuos3. So you don't have to press at all to start moving. Secondly, the pen and tablet are now twice as sensitive to pressure so it feels much more natural. I'll need more time to really play with this but a first blush it seems to be a bit more balanced.

The pen looks and feels much the same as before but inside has the increased sensitivity. If you have a stash of nibs that you've accumulated over the years they still fit. The new pen is a little shorter which I prefer. Still has the spring loaded "eraser" at the opposite end and two programmable function buttons.

The mouse is excellent. Feels great using on the tablet, is very programmable and very responsive. Much better than the Apple wireless mouse, although I miss the 360 degree scrolling that the little Apple track ball allowed. As before the mouse does not require batteries to operate, but you must use it on the tablet. The software automatically recognizes when you switch from mouse to pen and back.

So, for anyone who has been considering the new Wacom Intuos4 it is definitely worth a look. Great functionality and ergonomics. Pricey, but you get what you pay for. Size aside the only other thing you give up on the small version is the labelled express keys - but that's offset by the screen overlay that you can program. So as a starter tablet the small is a great alternative to the more basic Graphire.

Flickr Page: http://www.flickr.com/photos/25556585@N02/

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