I’ve definitely mentioned my displeasure with certain aspects of my new drawing tablet before, but in the interest of being fair, I decided to give myself some time to get used to it before making a judgment. It’s been about 1 month (purchased July 19th) with the Intuos4 in my life.
I wasn’t even going to write this post, but I found a Wacom survey in my inbox, and just the reminder of my purchase got my ire up. Some of the following I said in the survey — I don’t know if anyone at Wacom is actually going to read it and/or take it seriously, but if this sounds familiar to you, you are probably the guy/gal at Wacom charged with reading my survey, or you’re somehow prying into my email/brain.
It is also quite possible that you are just me, in which case the following is relatively minor as far as your new problems go.
The good: Beautiful styling. Assignable hotkeys. No separate power supply for the 6×8 — runs on USB power. If you want your tablet to feel like drawing with a Sharpie on construction paper, the new surface makes your wish come true.
The bad: Seemingly less nuance than models with fewer levels of pressure sensitivity. Unintuitive pen response settings. Pressure sensitivity useless at default settings. New surface eats pen nibs and causes unwelcome drag. If you hate drawing with Sharpies, steer clear.
First things first: I like Wacom products very much. I had an excellent customer service experience when I ran into my registration troubles, and I happily used a Wacom Artz II for about ten years. In fact, outside of the usual (and occasionally unusual) wear and tear, my Artz II is still solid as a rock. The only reason I even bought a new tablet was because I couldn’t get a replacement surface for the Artz II, and I wanted more levels of pressure sensitivity. I could still be using the Artz II, and I am confident that I could have continued using it for another 10 years. What I’m trying to impress upon you is that Wacom makes very good products. I highly recommend them, and I wouldn’t look elsewhere for a tablet, myself.
And that’s probably why I am so frustrated with the Intuos4. I only have 2 gripes with the unit. Unfortunately for me, they’re the only 2 features I care about considerably: the pressure sensitivity and the surface.
The Artz II, now somewhere in the neighborhood of “hella old”, is great right out of the box. You can tweak the settings (I did), but the defaults feel like defaults — they are strictly middle-of-the-road. The Intuos4′s defaults, in contrast, seem a little heavy-handed — a light touch yields nothing, and medium pressure is like pressing down 100%.
“Now I’ll just add a little specular along the edge of that corner and,”
Making the tablet usable means going into the tablet settings, below:
Above: “The road to the pressure settings are paved with the tears of the damned”
(from the manual)
The GUI for the pen pressure settings is separated into two areas: “Tip Feel” and “Sensitivity”. They’re measured in unlabeled ticks on a sliding bar, and there are 7 settings for each, going from Soft (the first tick, or far-left) to Firm (the 7th tick, or far-right).
The really frustrating part is that they have some correlation where moving the slider in one will affect the slider in the other. It is not transparent what the resulting settings actually mean.
For example, if you set the Tip Feel to its softest and the Sensitivity to its firmest, below:
the slider automatically changes Tip Feel to the middle (4), and Sensitivity remains at its highest setting (7).
Also, the computer says, “eh?” every time you do this.
It gets worse if you actually attempt to seek that specific setting: Want Tip Feel 4 and Sensitivity 7? Too bad. It is impossible to dial in directly. Trying to set Sensitivity to 7 while the Tip Feel is 4 RAISES the Tip Feel towards “firm” by a notch, making it 5.
This shit would never fly with Roy Orbison.
But you can just go back and change Tip Feel to 4, right? No biggie! “HA,” I say to you. If you go back at this point and lower the Tip Feel back to 4, the Sensitivity also resets to 4 (!).
Incidentally, this is also how I end all my campfire ghost stories.
So as a result, the user ends up guessing and checking randomly among the settings just to get a pen response they can live with. And once they find it, they have to remember how to get to it. Right now my settings are showing Tip Feel 6 and Sensitivity 6, but it’s not really 6/6. I tried dialing in 6/6, and that’s way too firm. So what is my setting? I have no idea. Whatever it is, it’s some amalgam of softness and firmness that the GUI interprets as 6/6 and I will probably never stumble upon the exact same setting again.
The New Surface
I have less to rant about here, because this is primarily a personal preference. For the Intuos4, Wacom employed a new surface with extra tooth; the idea being that this more closely resembles drawing on paper.
For myself, (a) I don’t think it feels like paper, and (b) I don’t want my tablet to feel like drawing on paper. The tactile response makes sense on paper or canvas, where the feedback actually translates to textural differences in your strokes as you compensate. If I’m drawing directly into the computer, all it’s causing is unnecessary drag. If you spend several hours in front of the tablet on a daily basis (Hi!) this becomes very detrimental over time. I won’t go so far as to say it causes “fatigue”, but I will go far enough to say, “ohmygodIhatethattooth”. This also marks the second time today today that I have yelled at a tooth.
You know what I do when I want that “drawing on paper” feel? I DRAW ON PAPER. But this is not everyone’s view on the subject, and I recognize that.
To be fair, the Intuos4 accurately replicates one real-world drawing scenario: the feeling of using a Sharpie marker on sketch paper. I happen to hate that sensation, so I was destined for unhappiness here. If you love that Sharpie feel, though, you’ll love the Intuos4′s surface.
Suspiciously (though not that surprising from a physics standpoint), the new surface also whittles your nibs down to sharp points. I highly doubt that this is a marketing ploy by Wacom to sell more nibs and, therefore, take over the world, but it’s annoying even without the resulting world domination. I may actually have to buy a pack of replacement nibs at some point. That’s amazing to me, having used a single nib for the life of the Artz II.
On the upside, the combination pen/nib holder is totally badass, and not unlike a speed loader for a Magnum. Except with nibs. Buying more nibs means more time with the nib holder, and this I welcome. My wife thinks it’s weird that we hang out so much.
Also, I love marshmallows.
There are Good Things
For all my complaints, the Intuos4 is still a very nicely built piece of hardware. It’s ambidextrous, the Express Keys are assignable and totally handy (plus, you can customize the display, so currently I hit a button called “Boobs” to Step Backward in Photoshop), and the Touch Wheel is awesome. It’s much more comfortable than my old Artz II, and it is easily the prettiest tablet Wacom has made thus far. I don’t use the included mouse, myself, but it works great on the tablet, and I have no nitpicks about its performance.
Please have these in mind when you consider my opinion:
- I was about 10 revs behind when I bought the Intuos4. There was a significant jump in the technology between the two tablets I’ve owned.
- I like that using a tablet doesn’t feel “realistic”. It is what it is, and I like the separation from traditional media. I don’t like feeling “resistance” on something that is ultimately just a device to translate my ideas to the screen.
- The new tablet has 10x the sensitivity levels of my old tablet. 10x. While I thought this would help me find more nuance in my pen strokes, it may just translate to more happening on screen with less pressure — which is not what I was looking for. So my disappointment has as much to do with expectations as with anything else.
- I may just have a faulty pen.
So I’m not NOT recommending it — Wacom makes fine tablets. This just represent my personal problems with the unit. You may not encounter any of them.
Except for the retarded settings dialog. You’re stuck with that till the next rev of the driver.
But it is entirely possible that my likes/dislikes may have just been better served with a lower-tier tablet (Bamboo, etc), or a used Intuos3. That certainly would have taken care of the surface problem. It’s also possible that there’s a technical problem with my pen where it doesn’t sense low-pressure inputs. I don’t know. I may never know until I can A/B it with another identical unit.
I definitely seem to be in the minority if you look at other reviews online. Are these people doing digital illustration? Maybe not. Maybe they are, and they like the way it feels. Maybe they just use it as a high-end pointing device. Maybe they only used it for a few hours before writing their review. Maybe they’re using it on a Mac (I’m still on Win XP Pro). There’s a myriad of variables.
But for myself, I am not happy. $370 and a good deal of hair-pulling later, I’ve ended up with a tablet that is marginally worse than the default settings on my decade-old Artz II, and that just seems ridiculous.