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Wacom Intuos3 4x6Wide-aspect tablet designed for mobility Summary: The Intuos3 is the latest addition to Wacom's high-end line of professional graphics tablets. It's the smallest of the company's wide-aspect tablets, making it ideal for mobile creative pros and those who simply have limited desktop space and need more power than what's offered by Wacom's low-end Graphire line.
Manufacturer: Wacom (http://www.wacom.com)
Platform: Mac OS X and Windows (Linux via third-party drivers)
Users: Visual artists, mobile creative professionals, tablet users with limited desktop space
Recommendation: Strong Buy
The new Intuos3 4x6 is the tablet I've been waiting for ever since I switched from a desktop to a notebook computer. Cramming all the great benefits of the Intuos line into a much smaller form factor, it offers the power and portability any mobile creative professional needs. What's more, it comes in a wide aspect ratio to meet the needs of those of us who use widecreen laptops, in my case an Apple MacBook.
Now, when I first switched over to a MacBook, the first thing I reached for was a Graphire4 4x5 tablet. It's small and happens to match my MacBook perfectly. So I thought it would be ideal. But the fact is that I've been spoiled by Intuos tablets. They're superior to Graphire models in just about every conceivable way. Nevertheless, when you go mobile, size becomes critical--something I'd never really digested before, having been a desktop user for just about all of my adult life. So the question for me became one of compactness versus features. I opted for compactness, but it wasn't really a happy situation because I never stopped missing the Intuos3's features and comfort. Now, with the Intuos3 4x6, I don't have to sacrifice one for the other. I get a nice, compact tablet with all of the high-end features and comfort I've become accustomed to over the years.
So what is it that makes the Intuos3 superior to the Graphire4?
Well, listen: All Wacom tablets are great for their own various reasons. They're certainly the best tablets on the market. Graphire tabletss are great because they offer tablet functionality at an entry-level price. But there's really no comparison between a Graphire and an Intuos when it comes to higher-end functionality for professional visual arts applications--everything from photo editing apps (like Photoshop) and painting programs (like Corel Painter and Synthetik Studio Artist) to motion graphics and compositing tools like Apple Shake, Discreet Combustion and Adobe After Effects.
And the Intuos is superior for several reasons.
1. Pressure sensitivity. The Intuos offers 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity, compared with the Graphire's 512. Maybe you'll notice this in actual use; maybe you won't. But it means more subtle gradations between pressure steps, which means smoother painting, cloning, smudging or whatever else you're using the tablet for.
2. Higher resolution. The Intuos offers 5,080 LPI resolution, which is more than double that of the Graphire. Higher resolution translates to greater precision. (The Intuos3 4x6 also has an accuracy of ± 0.01", which is less than a pixel at screen resolution.)
3. Tilt. Unlike the Graphire, the Intuos3 line supports pen tilt as as an input parameter. And this means that you can control multiple aspects of a paint stroke without ever pressing any modifier keys. For example, if you're painting in Photoshop, you might control the opacity of the stroke using pressure sensitivity while you control the size of the stroke using the tilt of the pen. (Every major graphics application does support this feature.) The tilt range of Intuos3 tablets is ±60 degrees, and you can customize the sensitivity in the tablet's preferences.
4. Comfort. The Intuos3's Grip Pen is far superior to the pen that comes with the Graphire4. The pen feels more solid; the buttons are easier to access and more responsive; and the rubberized grip feels softer and more ... uh ... grippable. Furthermore, the Intuos3's pen ships with two alternate tips--one with a spring so that you can get a better feel for the amount of pressure you're applying, and one felt-based tip for better tactile response. (It also ships with three spare standard nibs, for a total of four standard nibs. Note that in my experience of using tablets all the time everyday for everything, a standard nib will wear out in about two or three years. That's based on my oldest Graphire tablet; I have yet to wear out a single nib on an Intuos tablet. More on this below.) The eraser on the Intuos pen is also springy, so you get tactile response on the other end as well.
4. Functions. In addition to the two side buttons on the pen, the Intuos3 4x6 tablet itself include a scroll strip and four buttons. Note that this is fewer than other Intuos3 models, but this does make the 4x6's footprint smaller than it otherwise would be. All of the buttons on the Intuos3 (including the pen buttons) are programmable, as is the scroll strip.
5. The mouse. Wacom tablets do include mice, for those of you who need them. The mouse is cordless and battery-free. The one that comes with the Intuos is superior to that of the Graphire in that it feels more comfortable and includes more buttons, all of which are also programmable.
6. Construction. Overall, the Intuos3 feels more solid than a Graphire. Not that I've ever had anything go wrong with a Graphire. It's just that the Intuos3's tablet, pen and mouse all seem to be designed and constructed a bit better than the same components of the graphire models.
7. Expandability. The Intuos can accept input from other Wacom styluses, including the 6D Art Pen and the Airbrush. Intuos tools are also interchangeable with more recent Cintiq display tablets.
8. Aspect. If you use a widescreen display or multiple monitors, a tablet with a wide aspect is likely to feel more natural for you.
One thing I would like to see carried over from the Graphire line for this particular Intuos3 tablet is a dock for the pen. Right now it comes with a stand that can hold the pen vertically or horizontally wen not in use. But there isn't a cradle on the tablet itself to hold the pen for when you're on the road. The only other advantage that the Graphire has over the Intuos is size. You can't get a smaller (current) table than the Graphire4 4x5. But it's not that much smaller. The Intuos is two inches wider, but it's less than a half an inch taller than the Graphire. And the Intuos3 is actually 0.2 inches shallower than the Graphire4.
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