I've been using Wacom products for the better part of a decade now. I'm currently using an Intuos3 6x11 at work and an Intuos4 Medium at home. Before the Intuos4, I used a small Graphire bought all the way back in 2001. I've also used older Intuos and Intuos2 tablets at school and college over the years. Wacom has been the only brand of tablet that I would recommend to an aspiring artist or retoucher, namely because their competitors had some kind of major flaw. Such flaws included drivers that were terrible, or styluses with limitations like batteries or cables, or just pure inferior drawing surfaces. No other product would do the job as well. Yes, they were expensive, relatively speaking, but what you were paying for was quality.
Back in March, I upgraded to the Inutos4 when the stylus for my Graphire stopped responding to pressure. All in all, it really bothers me that I have mixed feelings about the whole affair, because I've been a Wacom fanboy for all these years.
With the Intuos4, I feel like I've taken a step back, even though it is a gigantic upgrade over what I was using at home. I do the vast majority of art and design at my day job, where I've been happily using the Inutos3 for years and years. Yes, the thing has a slick surface, but I'd managed to get around it over the years by using felt nibs or paper. The new surface on the Intuos 4 does not have the skating rink feel. The friction with a normal nib is actually fairly decent. It's not quite the same as pencil on paper, but the gap's been closed significantly. Unfortunately, this new feel comes at a cost, and the nib is now more of a sacrificial lamb than it has been in the past. In the four years I've been using an Intuos3, I've changed the standard nib a grand total of twice. I've already gone through the included set of nibs for the Intuos4, and if I used it for hours a day every day like I do at work, I'd have burned through them far quicker.
This is only one part of the way I feel about the new tablet. Overall, the thing is indeed a quantum leap over what I used to use, and if I never used other Intuos models, I might not have such mixed feelings about it. The Intuos3 is built and feels like a professional tool. As it should artists all over the world depend on Wacom products to do their jobs and earn a living. The thing is substantial in build since it does not flex or creak when being moved or when drawn upon. The buttons and strips are responsive, and the surface and nibs last a very long time. It holds up to abuse, just as the Intuos2 did in the past. Was the thing perfect? Nope. The pen was a two steps forward, one step back affair. Pen ergonomics were improved from the Intuos2, but the rubber grip kept slipping and popping off the side switch. The touch strips collected dust and were tiring to use for long periods. The fixed cord was troublesome, as its position at the top of the tablet meant it interfered with my mouse on the desk. Overall, though, these are minor quibbles; I've been happily using it for years at work.
The Intuos4 rectifies almost all of these issues. Thanks to the ambidextrous design with the touch ring and OLED screens, the buttons and touch functions are all far more useful. I can plug the cord in at the bottom, which no longer interferes with a mouse since the cord's lower on the desk. They even fixed the gripe I had with the tablet mice for years - that they didn't track the orientation of the mouse when making movements. If I didn't have such a nice mouse already, I'd have switched to the Wacom mouse.
Yet the basics, the meat and potatoes of the tablet, have taken a step back, and it makes me wonder. The Intuos4 is made in China now, not Japan, unlike previous Intuos tablets. The tablet is definitely smaller in footprint when compared to total active area, but the thing has some unfortunate flex in its body that just makes it feel ever so slightly... cheap. The hot-pluggable USB cable, while nice, has a design flaw where the port on the tablet's PCB is held on only by the strength of the solder connections far more fragile than if it was secured with additional screws. The nibs wear down quickly, and the new surface loses its texture over time. Audible buzzing sounds flow from the extremely useful little OLED screens.
None of these complaints are really new. The Intuos4's been on the market for a while now, and I had read the reviews before purchasing it in March. Many glowing ones, but a lot of those in hindsight are initial/media reviews. Longtime reviews were only coming out by the time I had purchased the tablet, and by then it was too late. Would I send it back or downgrade to an Intuos3? No, but it has stained Wacom as untouchable in my mind. The new Intuos4 tablets were engineered to a price, either to get more profits into Wacom's pockets or just to keep afloat. Anyone who knows of the razors 'n blades model can see through the nib wear problem for what it is. Yes, the new surface has tangible benefits for the user, but one of the unspoken benefits is for Wacom's bottom line by making people buy more (extremely overpriced) nibs to keep their margins up.
The Intuos4 no longer feels like a professional tool in terms of its construction or feel. If I was using it at work, my boss would definitely not be happy with me ordering new nibs all the time, and I'd probably use the weed-whacker spool of nylon to get work done. At home, I'm not drawing for hours every day, so it is not as obnoxious, but the nibs are still ridiculously overpriced. At work, i'm skipping the Intuos4 even though I know the new button arrangement and touch wheel would have a tangible impact on my productivity. We'll see if the Intuos5 fixes things, but right now I'm skeptical. Wacom has responded by changing the surface of the tablets, and mine is supposedly one with the revised surface (serial number with construction after October 2010) but the nibs still wear down extremely fast, and I wonder if it's this bad now just how bad it was when it first came out.
Instead of raising price slightly, Wacom went the route of cheapening their product, and it reminds me too much of GM bean counting in the bad old days of American cars. People do notice when quality is cut back in the name of saving some corporate behinds. I've basically had two brands I would buy stuff from, no questions asked, for years - that's Cheez-It crackers and Wacom tablets. Now it's down to one. I'll still recommend Wacom to anyone who is looking for a tablet, but it won't be the enthusiastic recommendation of the past. The shine is off the diamond, so to speak, and it's a shame.