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At a Glance
  • Wacom Intuos


Weak Support Mars Ambitious Graphics Tablet

By Deke Mcclelland

On paper, Wacom's Intuos reads like a computer artist's dream. One tablet supports multiple pointing devices, from mice to pens to simulated airbrushes. All the pointing devices are wireless, making for less clutter and greater mobility. And the mice and pens are ergonomic and inventive, with enough dials and buttons to render the keyboard obsolete.

But in practice, the Intuos is perilously close to the bleeding edge. Several graphics applications, including Adobe Photoshop and MetaCreations Painter, react to Wacom's pressure-sensitive input. But there's little or no support for the Intuos's more radical features, most notably axial rotation (the ability to sense the mouse's pointing direction) and the use of two pointing devices at the same time. In addition, the Intuos pens and tablets are incompatible with older Wacom products. Software support will likely improve, but for the present, the Intuos is a great idea that's still waiting to happen.

Wacom sells the Intuos tablet in several different sizes. The tablet's active area varies from 4 by 5 inches ($199.99), for those with small workstations, to 12 by 18 inches ($819.99). You can select from ADB or serial connections; USB is not an option.

We looked at the $509.99, 9-by-12-inch tablet, which includes a four-button Intuos pen and the 4D Mouse. Like previous four-button pens from Wacom, the Intuos pen offers a pressure-sensitive nib, an eraser, and a dual-action side switch for double-clicking and other operations. Unlike previous pens, the Intuos device tapers in both directions for a more comfortable feel. And if you buy more than one pen (at $49.99 each), you can assign each different settings.

Every tablet includes a pen, but only the 9-by-12 and 12-by-18 models include the 4D Mouse (also sold independently for $69.99), the most versatile and least-supported of the Intuos pointing devices. The 4D Mouse gets its name from the four attributes it records. As with a conventional mouse, the first two are width and height. The third attribute is depth: depending on how you've set up your graphics software, a thumbwheel lets you zoom in and out or scale an image. The fourth attribute is direction: you can use the mouse to rotate objects.

If a graphics program could respond to all this stimuli, you might be able to move an object, scale it with the thumbwheel, and rotate it in one fluid gesture. Alas, no software responds to rotation and only one program, Photoshop, responds to the thumbwheel. After you install Wacom's PhotoZoom plug-in, Photoshop zooms in and out when you move the thumbwheel forward and backward. The thumbwheel conveys pressure, so you can zoom quickly or gradually. Unfortunately, it always magnifies the upper left corner of the image, even if your cursor is positioned elsewhere.

You can change the mouse's incline so the mouse fits snugly in your left or right hand. The thumbwheel also accommodates left- or right-handed use, and the driver software recognizes the change automatically.

The Intuos driver software (version 4.1.2) is a mixed bag. On the plus side, it provides an extensive array of customization options. Not only can you assign mouse actions, keystrokes, and QuicKeys macros to any pointing-device button, but you can also create unique settings for different applications. If an application doesn't respond to the 4D Mouse's thumbwheel, you can use the wheel in combination with other buttons, turning your 5-button mouse into a 15-button device.

Also on the plus side, the tablet ships with a Photoshop plug-in that keeps track of the last tool used with each pointing device. If you own the optional Airbrush stylus (a bit expensive at $99.99), Photoshop automatically selects the airbrush when you touch the stylus to the tablet. Use the pen and you get the paintbrush, use the 4D Mouse and you get the marquee, and so on-very convenient.

On the downside, the software does not support older Wacom tablets. We installed the Intuos on a Mac that also had an older tablet connected to the serial port, and neither tablet worked. The Intuos worked only after we unplugged the serial device. Wacom says that it is working on a fix, but until this problem is solved, previous Wacom customers will have the unpleasant choice of using their old tablets (with older versions of the driver software) or the Intuos, but not both.

At a Glance
  • Pros

    • 4D Mouse includes thumbwheel and adjusts to fit predominant hand
    • Photoshop plug-in remembers last tool used


    • Many features not yet supported
    • Incompatible with older devices
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