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Wacom Intuos3

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Whether you’re a painter, a digital photographer, or just a computer user who needs a mouse alternative, a pressure-sensitive drawing tablet can be an indispensable tool. Wacom has long been the market leader in such devices, thanks to its superior batteryless, cordless pen technology. Despite its dominance, the company continues to add innovations to its tablet line—an impressive feat, considering that a drawing tablet is a pretty basic accessory.

The Intuos3 (which comes in three sizes: 4 by 5 inches, 6 by 8 inches, and 9 by 12 inches) represents the latest release in Wacom’s flagship tablet line. (I tested the 6-by-8-inch unit for this review.) In contrast to the more economical Graphire line, Intuos tablets sport higher resolutions for greater pen-tracking accuracy, and offer more-advanced features such as tilt and pressure sensitivity. The Intuos3 builds on these features with the inclusion of innovative ExpressKeys and Touch Strips.

While tablets often include macro buttons for triggering an event, the Intuos3’s new ExpressKeys buttons are far more useful. These eight flat buttons, located near the top of the tablet, can easily be programmed to act just like keys on your keyboard. So, for example, if you’re an Adobe Photoshop user, you might set one key to represent the Brush tool, another to represent the Clone Stamp tool, and a third to represent the option key (for use with the Clone Stamp tool).

For convenient scrolling, the new Touch Strips sit next to the ExpressKeys; they look like very narrow PowerBook trackpads. The practical upshot of these controls is that if you configure them properly, you can perform the bulk of your painting and document navigation from your tablet, without having to reach over to your keyboard. What’s more, you can define different configurations for different applications, and the Wacom software will automatically switch between them when you change apps.

The Intuos3 ships with Wacom’s latest Grip Pen, a large-barreled device that has a very comfortable, rubberized surface. The pen also includes three different nibs, each of which provides a different level of friction. My only complaints with Wacom’s newest tablet are that I wish there were more ExpressKeys, and that I wish it were possible to label them so I wouldn’t have to remember how I’d assigned them. Paper inserts under a clear plastic top might help.

Macworld’s Buying Advice

With its new ExpressKeys and Touch Strips, The Intuos3 is Wacom’s best innovation in years. It streamlines tablet use and provides a very comfortable pen. I highly recommend it for all types of tablet users.

Wacom Intuos3
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