Wacom Intuos4 Wireless Review: The Joy of FreedomS

Here's the story: I'm in love with the Wacom Intuos4 Wireless tablet. Free from cables, it's the best graphics tablet experience I've ever had.

Smoother Than the Smoothest Thing

The Wacom Intuos4 was quite a leap from the Intuos3. It doubled the pressure sensitive levels, and it added multifunction Touch Ring trackpad, on-screen radial menus, and eight user-definable buttons with OLED tags—called ExpressKeys—in a thin, ultralight 2.2-pound package. The Wacom Intuos4 Wireless has all those characteristics, and they work equally as well over the Bluetooth connection.

With a sightly smaller working surface than the Medium model—8 x 5 inches versus the 8.8 x 5.5 inches of the cable-bound model—the wireless tablet is a pure joy to use. The 2048 levels of pressure sensitiveness, requiring only 1 gram of pressure to start painting vs the 10 grams of the previous version, offer the best real drawing simulation of any of the tablets I've ever tried. It feels like the real thing, with the slightest touch transferred to the screen as if it was real media. The brushstrokes are as smooth and precise as the real thing, and the tablet never misses a single beat, no matter how fast I try to move its very comfortable stylus—which comes with different tips for different surface feedback.

This performance is not only good for digital painting. It is perfect to retouch in Photoshop, allowing you to mask or clone with absolute precision, down to the last pixel, without having to vary the size of the brush. It makes everyday brush tasks so easy it makes me giddy when I'm using it.

Screw the Keyboard

But plenty of other tablet features also help dramatically in the daily workflow, allowing you to circumvent the keyboard almost completely.

Wacom Intuos4 Wireless Review: The Joy of FreedomS

Take the multifunction Touch Ring, a circular trackpad that allows you to perform four different, user-definable functions, like zoom: Circling my finger in one direction would zoom in. Doing so in the opposite direction will zoom out. The second function will cycle through layers, the third will change the brush size—although sadly this doesn't work in Photoshop—and the fourth rotates the canvas to face the physical orientation of your tablet. To switch to the next function, you click in the middle button. An LED will change and your monitor will display an elegant transparent dialog that fades in and out briefly, but long enough to identify the new trackpad function.

The eight user-definable ExpressKeys are located in a perfect position: Four above and four below the Touch Ring. Each is labeled with a completely customizable OLED display, much like the Optimus Maximum keyboard, but presented in a starkly contrasting black and white. (The display looks so good that, at first glance, you're sure the buttons are permanent, backlit cutouts.) Like the Touch Ring, you can define the functions for these buttons using the Wacom control panel. The labels will change according to your preference.

Wacom Intuos4 Wireless Review: The Joy of FreedomS

Another favorite feature of mine—which I've been jonesing for since I stopped using Alias PowerAnimator and Maya—are the radial menus. These are just software-based and can also be found on the Cintiq line, but they are great timesavers. Pop-up radial menus are easier to use than regular pop-up list menus (both for mouse and tablet operation). They are also user-defined, and give you eight functions at a time, which can also be sub-menus.

However, the best thing is that all these features can be application dependent, something that was possible with previous Wacom tablets, but not with this level of detail and finesse. In Photoshop, for example, my radial menus are tailored to fit my most used program features. The result is that I touch the keyboard very rarely, if at all.

Perfect Wireless Performance

All these cool features and exceptional performance, however, are shared with the existing, cheaper, cabled Intuos4. The question here is: How good is the performance of the Intuos4 Wireless over the Bluetooth connection? And what about the battery life?

Response is just as fast and just as good. The Wacom Intuos4 Wireless works just like the USB-based Intuos4.

Wacom Intuos4 Wireless Review: The Joy of FreedomS

As for the lithium ion battery, it charges quickly via USB. The tablet puts itself to sleep when it detects no signal and, as a result, you can use the tablet for a day, heavily, without recharging it at all. (Or just keep it around without worrying about losing power.) The advantage of USB recharging is that you can be using it while connected to the computer, with the cable itself as the connection (the Bluetooth goes off when the tablet is connected physically).

My only little gripe with the wireless component of the tablet is that, on occasion, it will take a few seconds to reconnect when you turn it on. This happened when the computer wakes up first, so I suspect is an issue with Bluetooth getting silly after the Mac wakes up. 99% of the times is instantaneous, however.

A Joy to Use

If you have a Wacom Intuos4 you can probably skip this upgrade. That is, unless you are itching to have the freedom of movement of the Bluetooth connection. That's the joy of this tablet: You can move around freely with it. It adapts to your position, not the other way around. You don't depend on your table. You can lay back on your chair, and lose yourself in hours of photo retouching or illustration.

Given the nature of its custom menus, any user can take advantage of the Intuos4 for every program. You can be using it constantly, instead of a mouse. If you just want to use it for graphic applications, however, another advantage is that you can put it away easily, without having to disconnect it or struggle with cables.

This tablet could only be bettered if they made it into a wireless display. Like the iPad, but connected to the computer so I can use Photoshop on my bed, the sofa or outside on the terrace (the Bluetooth signal gets there, I tried). Like the Cintiq 12 I tried, but with the same response, weight, and form factor.

If you have an Intuos 3 or any other display-less Wacom tablet, get the Intuos4 Wireless. Even though it doesn't come with a mouse—like the regular Intuos4 Medium—it's absolutely worth its $399 price tag (just $30 more than the USB-based Intuos4's list price).

Wacom Intuos4 Wireless Review: The Joy of Freedom

Amazing performance with 2048 levels of pressure and only 1 gram of minimum pressure

Wacom Intuos4 Wireless Review: The Joy of Freedom

Touch Ring and ExpressKeys customizable controls avoids touching the keyboard

Wacom Intuos4 Wireless Review: The Joy of Freedom

Slightly pricier than Intuos4 Medium, and it doesn't come with the mouse

Wacom Intuos4 Wireless Review: The Joy of Freedom

A couple of times it took the Intuos4 a few seconds to reconnect after being asleep, although this is probably related to the computer coming out of sleep as well