Wacom Intuos4 Wireless review: Wacom Intuos4 Wireless

Wacom Intuos4 Wireless

Lori Grunin

Lori Grunin

Senior Editor / Reviews

I've been writing about and reviewing consumer technology since before the turn of the century. I'm also a photographer and cat herder, frequently at the same time.

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6 min read


Wacom Intuos4 Wireless

The Good

Beautiful, slim, and well-thought-out new design; extremely fluid pen operation.

The Bad

No bundled Bluetooth adapter or mouse; schmutz very visible on black pen grip; buttons could use a bit more tactile differentiation; mouse still a bit awkward; a tad pricey; need more real-time feedback when configuring; glossy plastic panel shows fingerprints.

The Bottom Line

Wacom improves on its excellent Intuos4 tablet by adding relatively seamless Bluetooth connectivity.

Close to a year after launching its excellent graphics tablet, the Intuos4 series, Wacom released an updated version with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Available only in the medium-size version for about $50 more than its USB-only twin, the Intuos4 Wireless becomes a great option for artists and illustrators on the go--or even sedentary ones with an aversion to wires.

The Wireless model runs off a replaceable lithium ion battery that charges via the USB connection. You have to charge it before going wireless, and it needs to be physically connected to install the driver. After that, Bluetooth setup is fairly typical: you switch the tablet on and press a button to initiate the "I'm here!" broadcast and wait for your system to discover the tablet, which is essentially treated as a mouse.

In addition to the USB connector, the wireless tablet has a power switch and a Bluetooth discovery button.

Unlike the wired-only version, the Wireless tablet has two tiny lights on one side: yellow and green to indicate charging and battery state and blue to indicate connected state. The wireless model also has a perk the wired model lacks, a snap-in pen holder.

Among its power-saving measures, the tablet will go to sleep after 30 minutes of disuse. If desired, the driver places an icon in your systems status area that provides percentage of battery life left. It doesn't give you a percentage charged when connected via USB, though. Wacom rates the tablet's battery life at up to 18 hours, though that's not with continuous usage. I couldn't decide whether the USB charging is a plus or a minus; though it's very convenient, you can't charge a spare while you're working. And if you get sloppy with your battery hygiene, you can kill the battery altogether. Per the manual: "If the battery charge is low and the battery remains in the tablet for a long period of time (a week or longer) with the power switch in the on position, the small trickle of current used by the tablet is likely to discharge the battery so far that an internal protection circuit within the battery is activated. If this occurs you will no longer be able to charge the battery." Replacement batteries will cost somewhere between $39 and $49.

However, I did have detection issues. I had to run the Bluetooth Setup Assistant to connect every time on my MacBook Pro (OS X 10.5.8), even after pairing, and had to run install on a Windows notebook (Windows Vista Business 64-bit) a couple of times. In all other respects, the tablet is identical to the medium wired version I reviewed last year. It operates just as smoothly, without a lot of the glitches and hesitation I experienced the last time I tried Bluetooth mice and keyboards. The rest of this review repeats what I said in my original review, save for an update to the conclusion.

Matte black on black with a shiny black plastic control panel on the side, the Intuos4 has a radically updated look over its shiny gray predecessor. Slimmer than the previous generation, with 16:9 aspect active tablet areas, eight dynamically labeled programmable ExpressKeys (buttons) and a four-function programmable iPod-like Touch Dial, the Intuos4's usability jumps far ahead of the Intuos3. Technologically, the new pen has a more responsive tip sensor and supports 2,048 levels of sensitivity compared with the older model's 1,024, and Wacom has tweaked the response curve of the system for increased sensitivity at lighter pressures and a more fluid feel overall. Wacom also claims that the new tip's life cycle increases to 20 million strokes, and that it's improved signal-to-noise performance around the edges of the tablet. Although I didn't test it, the new version of the 6D Art Pen is now cylindrical, so that it rotates uniformly when upright.

In addition to redesigning the tablet, Wacom has reconfigured the product line with new sizes: small, medium (the model I tested), large, and extra large. In general, they're all larger than their rough Intuos3 counterparts, and are all identical with the exception of some necessary accommodations for size. For example, the small lacks the LED labels next to the ExpressKeys and has only a single USB port, while the extra large has a captured USB cable.

The ExpressKeys default to Shift, Alt, Ctrl or their Mac equivalents. They also pan/scroll; display toggle, for jumping the cursor between two displays; Precision Mode, which shrinks the screen-to-tablet mapping to a smaller area, primarily for working in Photoshop CS4's pixel-level editing mode; Info, which brings up an onscreen cheat sheet of the current assigned functions; and Radial Menu. The Radial menu is a programmable onscreen menu for single-function operations, which comes preset for operations like cut, copy, and paste, as well as media controls for music and video. The four Touch Dial presets are auto scroll/zoom, cycle layers, brush size, and canvas rotation.

It's not immediately obvious how to use or program all the bells and whistles of the Intuos4. Even after I'd had a demo and watched the on-disc tutorial it took me a while to figure out exactly how certain things were supposed to behave, and I had to turn to the documentation for help.

For whatever reason, the wider aspect (I don't have wide-aspect displays) and gently sloping edges feel more natural than with the Intuos3. The tablet does seem more responsive to lighter strokes, though only when directly connected to the PC. Through my hub, at least, there's always a slight delay sensing the stroke if it starts off with little pressure, and it doesn't register. I didn't have that problem when connected to a motherboard USB port. (Since I don't spend all day in Painter, I can't tell whether the response curve feels any different, though.)

For obvious reasons, the LED labels next to the ExpressKeys make them truly productive. Though it may seem an awfully mainstream application, I think a lot of users will find the media controls in the Radial Menu convenient; if not, you can reprogram them to your taste. While I'm not a big fan of using the RM for operations like cutting and pasting--it's easier to use keystrokes with my left hand, for example, even if the keyboard is off to the side--I found the menus great for launching Photoshop Actions. It would be nice if Wacom added the capability to load saved settings so that either the company or third parties could offer some presets; configuration, especially for multiple applications, can be a bit tedious.

I also wish there were more buttons, or a shift-type toggle that would increase the number of functions you could assign per button, and that the buttons weren't all identical. Though they tilt slightly, they're closely packed, and some sort of bumps or indents might help to make you a little more secure that you're pressing the right one without having to look down. The Touch Dial is great, as long as you adjust the sensitivity appropriately. The button that cycles you through the different Touch Dial functions has only a tiny LED dot to indicate which position you're in, and I couldn't help wishing that it had labels as well; pulling up the onscreen reference can get quite tedious. And the Radial Menu has one seriously annoying behavior: it pops up under your cursor, but each subsequent submenu crawls up the screen rather than appearing in the same spot as the previous (even though the previous menu disappears). I frequently ended up with a submenu disappearing partly off the upper right corner of my display.

All in all, however, the Intuos4 is a great improvement over the Intuos3, and probably worth the upgrade if you spend all day with pen in hand. As usual, more casual users will likely find the price a bit off-putting, especially in the case of the $200-plus small version that lacks the useful labels. However, if you've ever toyed with the idea of adding a tablet to your array of input devices, whether for business-related ink note-taking, drawing, or for digital photo retouching, this is the model to jump in with. If you can spare the extra bucks for the wireless version, it's probably worth it simply to have the option; even if your current system lacks Bluetooth, your next one will probably have it, and as long as it operates identically, losing the wires is always a bonus. However, if you plan to use the mouse as well, that's gonna cost you about $70 more.