The sleek $99.95 Wacom Graphire4 4x5 is the ideal product for those considering a transition from just a mouse to a tablet set. The set is easy enough for beginners to use but has enough functionality for more advanced users. Digital-imaging enthusiasts, people suffering from repetitive strain injuries, or anyone who needs more control than a standard mouse affords will appreciate the charms of this small, well-priced set. Compared to the previous version, the mouse and pen have improved usability and comfort, and the tablet now has a scrollwheel.
Installing the Graphire4 tablet is easy. Load the drivers and the software from the included CD. There's a short user guide, and after installation, a guide pops up on the screen and offers helpful tips on how to hold the pen and program the buttons. You can configure the buttons on the mouse, the pen, and the tablet via the control panel. You can adjust the pen's sensitivity, the mouse's tracking speed, and the scroll speeds of the mouse's scrollwheel and the scrollwheel at the top of the tablet. The interface is very easy to navigate. The accompanying software bundle is impressive; included is Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0, Corel Painter Essentials 2.0, and Nik Color Effect Pro 2.0 GE. Wacom doesn't offer a less expensive hardware-only package.
The tablet comes in a sleek two-tone gray with a matching mouse and pen (it's also available in metallic blue and white). The plastic cover has a built-in pen holder and can be easily removed to give the tablet a sleeker appearance. The Graphire4 is powered via USB, and the 5-foot cord gives you quite a bit of mobility, though users looking for greater freedom should consider the wireless Wacom Graphire Bluetooth Tablet.
The pen, the mouse, and the tablet show subtle but marked improvements over the Graphire4's predecessor, the Wacom Graphire3. About the size of a regular ballpoint, the pen has a comfortable rubber grip and two separate buttons, rather than the rocker switch we usually see on tablets; we think the two-button design is the superior solution. The mouse is larger and more ergonomically shaped than the mouse included in the Graphire3 set, and it has comfortable rubberized sides. The tablet's scrollwheel is our favorite new feature; when using the pen, you no longer have to switch back to the mouse to scroll. The tablet also has two programmable ExpressKeys that can be programmed to perform a variety of key commands or open programs. Still, other tablets, such as the Adesso CyberTablet 8600, offer many more programmable buttons.
Both pen and mouse have their own operating modes, and the tablet adjusts its sensitivity accordingly. When in pen mode, the active area defaults to absolute positioning, which means that it maps directly to the screen; if you rest the tip of the pen on the bottom-right corner of the active area, the cursor will point to the same place on the screen. When using the mouse, the tablet reverts to relative positioning; the cursor moves the same as any mouse. The pen performed flawlessly, and we were very impressed with the mouse: it was much more comfortable to use and moved more smoothly--even in the tablet's small 4x5-inch active area--than the mouse on any other tablet we've seen.
Wacom offers toll-free phone support from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday PT; driver downloads and e-mail support are also available via the Wacom Web site. The Graphire4 comes with a one-year limited warranty for the hardware.