Anyone who aspires to creating or editing photographs, digital line drawings or animations on a computer has at some time or other considered a graphics tablet. By simulating the feel of drawing with a pen or pencil, including pressure, rotation and tilting, you can take control over computer creations in a way that a mouse is unable to match.
Wacom's Intuos3 A4 came with 1024 pressure levels and a sturdy pen, able to distinguish between a light and heavy stroke without needing great application of pressure. At the time, it was expensive, but the pen and tablet were light years ahead of other tablets in terms of functionality and style.
Since the Wacom Intuos3 was released in 2006, Wacom has focused on smaller, lighter and more fun products, such as the Wacom Bamboo Fun.
The Intuos4 retains many of the excellent features of its predecessors. It has interchangeable nibs and optional input tools, programmable buttons and impressive effeciency. It's also bumped the pressure levels up to 2048 - an astonishing level of sensitivity and extended the range of pen nibs and options.
The tablet itself has a slightly coarse feel under the pen, however, creating a slightly sticky feel which made the extra sensitivity levels hard to really detect or make maximum use of. Even so, there's no other product that can compare to the Intuos4 for smoothness and certainty of line. This is enhanced by the sturdiness of the unit: we had total confidence in the Intuos4's ability to accurately reproduce what we drew on its surface. In this instance, you really do get what you pay for, and for those who need greater accuracy and efficiency than a standard mouse can offer it's well worth the outlay.
The most striking feature is still the ExpressKey keypad. Each keypad has four buttons - eight in all - easily identified by touch alone, and a Touch Ring. The ExpressKeys can be used by left or righthanders readily via the flip of a software switch and a simple rotation of the tablet itself. Each key also has its own OLED text display.
An entirely new addition is the user-defined Touch Ring. A button in the centre toggles the ring between zoom, scroll, brush size adjustment, canvas rotation and layer selection. It replaces the touchstrips of the previous Intuos - they acted as a zoom control in supported applications and a scroll command in those that don't.
The expanded functionality is a mixed blessing, though. The scroll and zoom functions are as useful as ever, and work together with the ExpressKeys to make complex clone commands or panning quickly around an image significantly easier. The toggle, however, means that you may not be sure what function you will get or whether you need to switch. We found it frustrating: unless you constantly look down to check which light is illuminated, you can't tell which of the toggle functions you have enabled at any given moment. It turns something that was intuitive and fantastic into something clunkier and less able to give the sense that you're just using regular artist's tools.
|The range of interchangeable nibs has expanded, and includes a spring-mounted version designed to emulate brushstrokes
The buttons and Touch Ring can have their behaviour altered using the driver software, and complex preferences can be set for individual apps, but it's more onerous than we'd have liked.
The stylus now has a weighted pen stand to go with it. The top unscrews to reveal a cache of pen nibs. There are now ten alternate nibs to choose from also been redesigned, and is now a chunky, comfortable rubberised affair. The range of interchangeable nibs has expanded, and includes a spring-mounted version designed to emulate brushstrokes - this it does only moderately well - and an excellent felt-tip nib, with a pleasantly crunchy tip. A separate airbrush is available as an optional extra.
The tip sensor has improved the range of pressure that the pen can detect; the pen is recognised by the table at 1gm, and you can start working with as little as three grams of pressure before working up to the 400 grams, comparable to feather light touches and heavy chalk, respectively. It allows for more precision and control in movements and brushstrokes. Intuos also claims that the new nibs have seven years of full time use at 8000 strokes a day, but we saw significant wear after only two weeks of continuous use. That could make purchasing nibs an expensive habit.
The killer feature for anyone considering an upgrade is the increased sensitivity, both in pen and tablet, which combine to provide the most exquisite control over all aspects of drawing and design work.
Overall, it's an impressive performance. The Intuos4 tablets are the kind of product you'll soon realise you don't want to live without. The price is $798: a significant investment, but when considered as a package, it isn't excessive.