Wacom's Intuos 4 in Review

My life was saved by a Wacom tablet early in 2007. This may sound like an extremely bold statement, and even make me sound like a fanboy. In late 2006 I developed wrist problems for using the mouse too much, meaning I wouldn’t be able to make my 3D animations anymore. However, there was still hope for me as I was recommended to use a tablet.

I have to admit I absolutely loved the Wacom Intuos 3 since the first day of use, and that’s the reason I got excited when I heard Wacom was going to launch the Intuos 4. Even though I’m “obsessed about my pen” this review is not going to be biased, as there isn’t a single product I’ve found to be 100% perfect according to my point of view. Just like any other piece of hardware, there are some things to like about the Intuos 4, but also some things to dislike.

The Intuos 4 shows a completely different design from the previous generation. I have to admit I wasn’t at all surprised by the new look, as it borrows some of the concepts found on the Bamboo tablets (especially the new touch ring).

Just like its predecessor, the Intuos 4 (medium size) has 8 customizable buttons. However, they are now located on one side. This serves a double purpose: you can reach any of the buttons with one hand, while holding your stencil with the other (on the Intuos 3 you’re sometimes forced to press some of the buttons with the same hand you’re using to hold the stencil). It also helps when you’re using your tablet “upside down.”

The Wacom Intuos 4 has been designed to be easily usable by both right-handed and left-handed people. You can put the tablet on one side or another and the buttons will always be reachable by your free hand. The USB cable is removable, so you don’t have to worry about it being in your way as you turn the tablet upside down.

One of the features I like the most is the new OLED display. If you’re like me, sometimes you'll map your shortcut keys for each application to your tablet, but you then forget what button does what. The new OLED display helps you in that department, as it will show you text describing the action mapped to each specific button. It is obvious that the displays update on every application switching, so if you’re working in Maya and then switch to Photoshop, the tablet driver detects the app switching and updates the displays accordingly. The OLED displays also work hand-in-hand with the left-right orientation.

There’s one feature I absolutely love about the new Intuos 4: the touch ring. If you’re familiar with an iPod, then you know how the touch ring works, so you can imagine it’s really simple to use, but also extremely helpful.

The touch ring has two parts: the external ring (which is a touch device, not a mechanic device), and the center button. This button serves as a “switching” button, allowing you to switch between four different functions of the ring. For example, in Photoshop you can use the touch ring to zoom, rotate the canvas, change the size of the brush, or scroll through the layers depending on the setting.

The pen has gone through a complete redesign as well. It’s smaller, and slightly heavier than the previous version. The lower part of the body is made up of a different material, making it softer and more comfortable to use.

The pen holder now serves to store your nibs. This is one of the smartest moves as people usually complain that they’ve lost a nib or two.

On the software side, there are a couple of new features in the driver. By default, one of the tablet buttons serves as a “help” button. If you press it, you will display a “dashboard” on your screen showing you the current button settings. This is almost the same as looking at the OLED screens, but without taking your eyes away from the monitor.

Wacom has also created the new radial menu. The radial menu is similar to a pop-up menu, and displays different commands or actions. You can customize your radial menu to fit your needs.

As I said at the beginning of the article, there are also things to dislike about the new Intuos 4.

The new working area and the pen offer higher friction than what you got on the Intuos 3. This could be considered good since it makes the tablet feel more like paper. However, the downside is that your nibs will wear out faster, and the tablet surface will also scratch faster.

The pen holder also poses a problem since the base is narrower than the upper part. Sometimes I will blindly reach for the pen and I will tip it over as I touch it, because it’s just too easy to do it, and I then have to go through the process of picking it up and get back to work. The new design is cool, and so is the fact that you can store your nibs inside your pen holder, but the holder plus the pen are very unstable.

You may remember the complaints about glossy screens being a “grease magnet.” The side of the tablet (where you find your buttons and touch ring) is made up of a glossy surface, which means you should keep a piece of cloth on your desk.

My last complaint is actually an old one. As a Wacom user I’ve heard countless stories of people upgrading their drivers and losing their entire button mapping settings. Some of us use the tablet as a primary input device and leave the keyboard as a secondary device. This means we keep different mapping settings for most (if not all) applications, and losing these when you upgrade your drivers is a complete showstopper, and I never update my Wacom drivers unless something goes really wrong or a new software package I install does not like my tablet.

Overall, I think the Wacom Intuos 4 is a welcome update to the product line. The new design and layout is extremely useful, and the touch ring is absolutely a killer feature. There are still those issues I mentioned earlier, but fortunately they will not make you like the tablet less (unless you’re completely obsessed with clean glossy surfaces, or a flawless and scratch-free working area).

If you currently use an Intuos 3, you will love the Intuos 4. If you’re a professional designer or animator, and you currently use a mouse, do yourself a favor and get your Intuos 4 now.

For more information, please visit the Wacom Website.


Editor's Note: Be sure to check out all the valuable resources available right here on Renderosity, for all your artistic endeavors, starting with the following related links:

Sergio Aris Rosa [nemirc], is Sr. Staff Writer for the Renderosity Front Page News. Sergio discusses on computer graphics software, animation techniques, and technology. He also hosts interviews with professionals in the animation and cinematography fields.

June 8, 2009

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Member Opinions:
By: nickcharles on 6/10/09
Great review, Sergio! That is one slick looking tablet. Smartly designed.

By: sweetcorn on 6/10/09
nice review, i recievied my intuos 4{L} yesterday and i love it, i agree that the pen tips seem to wear down easily especially the white tips, they feel great to paint with but ive already noticed how easy it is for them to wear down. i did not recieve a mouse with my tablet which is a shame, overall i love the new design, ive been painting with tablets for years and the intuos 4 just feels right


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