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The Graphire4 4-by-5-inch tablet is Wacom’s latest low-priced, pressure-sensitive tablet. Priced at just $100, it has a new design and even packs a few features culled from the most recent Intuos3 tablets (   ; January 2005 ), Wacom’s higher-end line. If you’re a photographer, illustrator, or Web designer looking for more flexibility in the creative work you do on your Mac, the Graphire4 is a great product with which to start.

Fine new design

Measuring roughly 8.2-by-8-by-0.7 inches, the 4-by-5 tablet has no protruding controls, making it flat and extremely portable. If you tend to hold your tablet while working, the small size also makes it easy and comfortable to grip.

Most tablets these days come with cordless pens, but only Wacom’s are also battery-free, meaning you don’t have to worry about running out of juice in the middle of a job. The Graphire4 ships with a very comfortable pen that provides 512 levels of pressure sensitivity, a two-button side-mounted switch, and a pressure-sensitive eraser at the top. You can easily program any of the pen’s buttons to perform clicks, double-clicks, or key presses using Wacom’s OS X system preference.

The Graphire4 also ships with a battery-free cordless mouse. It features two buttons and a scroll wheel, but it works only on the tablet surface. It has no ball or sensor of any kind, so there are no moving or optical parts to get gummed up.

New features

The Graphire4 has several new and useful features. A wheel in the middle of the tablet’s top edge lets you easily scroll through a document. There are also two ExpressKeys, one on either side of the scroll wheel, which you can program as any key press or modifier key. Once you configure them, these controls can save you multiple trips to the keyboard when changing tools, or holding down modifier keys.

Though I welcome these new controls, I’d find them even more useful if they were located on the left side of the tablet. Fortunately, the 4-by-5-inch tablet is small enough that you can still reach these centered controls relatively easily. On the larger 6-by-8-inch tablet , they’re a little more cumbersome to use.

The Graphire4 also comes bundled with Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 (   ; February 2005 ), nik Color Efex Pro 2.0 GE, and Corel Painter Essentials 2. So not only do you get an excellent graphics tablet, but also very useful, albeit stripped-down versions of the market-leading consumer photo-editing and painting applications. This is a great deal for photographers or illustrators who are on a budget or just getting started.

The tablet features a new transparent, removable frame that covers the tablet’s entire surface, allowing you to place artwork underneath the frame. Wacom promotes this feature as a way to decorate and personalize your tablet, but I’d be surprised if there’s enough demand to keep this feature around in future versions.

Macworld's buying advice

Wacom’s Graphire4 graphics tablet is well-designed, comfortable, and easy to use. Plus, it allows photographers and artists to create effects that are difficult or impossible to attain using a mouse or trackball. If you don’t already have a tablet, it’s silly not to buy a Graphire4, especially at this reasonable price.

[ Ben Long is a freelance writer, photographer, and videographer based in San Francisco. ]

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