Wacom Intuos4 Tablet

Unplggd Test Lab

Product: Wacom Intuos4 Drawing Tablet (Medium)
Price: $349.99
Rating: Strong Recommend*

We recently acquired a new Wacom Intuous4 Tablet (Medium), and after experimenting with it for a few days are wondering how we managed without one all this time. In other words, it's pretty dang $! Find out what we like (and love) about the Intuos4, and see if one of these bad boys has your name on it for Christmas.

The style and design of the new Wacom Intuos4 is sleek and sexy. Unboxing reveals a large 14.6" x 10" slate (8.8" x 5" active area) that feels solid and well put together. Along one of the sides is a glossy bezel where the buttons and scroll wheel are mounted. What's neat about the design, is it works in both left-handed and right-handed orientation. You simply flip the Wacom in the orientation you desire and plug it in to your computer via mini-USB.

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After installing the driver software, we were delighted to see that the Wacom also came with licenses for Photoshop Elements 9, Sketchbook Express, and Corel Painter Sketchpad software. Score!

Mouse

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Inside the box you'll also find a wireless mouse, wireless grip pen, and 10 different nibs. The mouse is small and cute with left/right/middle buttons, and two more flanked at top and below the middle button. This gives you a lot of options for shortcuts if you're using a standard mouse. But we found ourselves tossing it aside rather quickly in favor of our larger, more versatile mouse (Logitech MX).

Grip Pen

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The grip pen has a rubber body, and feels like a nice gel pen in the hand. It has two user-configurable buttons on the side, an eraser tip on one end, and nib with interchangeable tips on the other. The tips are thin and small in diameter, and not much larger than a typical pencil. The different nibs can be swapped out based on your preference (5 standard, 3 hard felt, 1 stroke, 1 flex) and store neatly inside the pen base.

Active Area

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After installing the software, you can take a tutorial on how to use your shiny new toy. And it has some neat surprises. The tablet active area, basically serves as your screen (or multi-screen if you desire) and maps to your monitor area 1:1. That means you simply point your pen to the bottom-left corner of the active area to get to the bottom-left of your viewing area, top-right corner to get to the top-right of viewing area, etc. The pen doesn't need to make contact with the tablet, but simply be within a few centimeters of the active area surface for the cursor to track along with the pen. The 1:1 mapping is neat, intuitive, and efficient but it does take a little getting used to.

Express Keys

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Now, you'll probably want to see what all those buttons on the side are about. The 8 Express Keys and scroll wheel are all user-configurable and give quick easy shortcuts to some of your favorite commands in a particular program. The scroll wheel has 4-modes and by default those 4 modes are set to Zoom In (Out), Change pen/brush size, Rotate Canvas, and Cycle Layers. There are also 8 Express Keys positioned above and below the scroll wheel. These are also customizable (by application if you choose), but we found ourselves happy with the defaults (Display Toggle, Precision Mode, Shift, Windows/Mac Key, Alt/Option Key, Grab, Help, Radial Menu).

The radial menu is kind of cool and presents a star of control options overlaid in middle of screens and clicking on one of those options dives down into additional menus and options. There's a ton of flexibility here, and it allows for you to completely toss aside your keyboard during an intense focused drawing session.

Sketching

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After getting familiar with how it all works, we were ready to open up a program and get to some drawing. I first tried Sketchbook Express. Immediately, I was impressed by how well the pen and its 2048 pressure sensitive points and 60 degrees of tilt mimicked sketching with pencil and paper. Everything looked and felt natural, and it didn't take me long at all to get excited about all the possibilities here.

Navigating menus with 1:1, picking tools, and getting acquainted with new software flow has a bit of a learning curve. You'll quickly get it down though, and be quite happy with your new efficient workflow. I really liked how the pen had an eraser feature, you just flip that buddy upside down and the software automatically switches to the erase tool. Then you erase away things like a pencil (except no fuzzy debris on the floor).

There is also a precision mode setting that basically does 1:1/2 mapping. So you can move your hand more across the tablet and your stroke will span less area across the screen. It seems they thought of everything and the whole experience is pretty dang top-notch.

Bundled Software

I found a few limitations with Sketchbook Express (lack of magic wand and magnetic lasso selects, as well as layer masks) and then tried Photoshop Elements out for those features I knew it had. Photoshop worked well also (you'll also want to install included Wacom brushes plugins) but I didn't think the response quite matched Sketchbook Express. This can probably be tuned by adjusting hardness, and sensitivity setting, but by default that was my first impression. I then gave Corel Painter Sketch Pad a whirl, and the layout is similar to Sketchbook Express, but I noticed it lagged quite a bit on our desktop outfitted with 8GB RAM.

After a few uses, I found myself using Sketchbook Express for drawing and sketches, and Photoshop Elements for editing photos, etc. Guess I should have figured that out from the names of the programs :) Using the lasso or select tools with a tablet and pen is awesome and it'll be hard for you to roll back to your mouse after you try it.

Summary
The Wacom Intuos4 is labeled as a professional tablet and as such it has a lot of options and flexibility you might expect. We got the medium Intuos4 tablet, and imagine it would be the most popular choice unless you have a specific need for larger active area (the wireless version is not a bad way to go either).

As a person who enjoys drawing and sketching, this device will be a welcome addition that can increase your productivity and workflow efficiency. The real kicker for me, though, was this tool got me excited about drawing again, and I'm really looking forward to what I can make with it.

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For a little more than a studio set of Prismacolor Markers you have a top-of-the-line tablet that provides a virtually limitless array of brushes and colors within arm's reach. The only thing I wish the tablet did have was multitouch support. Then it would open up the option of using it as a trackpad and large gesture area when not drawing.

The Wacom Intuos4 is more than good, and earns our "strong recommend"�backing. If you're a design enthusiast you might want to seriously consider putting this on the "nice gift to myself" category for Christmas. I know I just did.

Our Ratings:
Strong Recommend*
Recommend
Weak Recommend
Don't Recommend

Apartment Therapy Media makes every effort to test and review products fairly and transparently. The views expressed in this review are the personal views of the reviewer and this particular product review was not sponsored or paid for in any way by the manufacturer or an agent working on their behalf. This product was purchased by the reviewer.