first impressions: wacom graphire 4 tablet

after my recent post i purchased a wacom graphire 4 in the 5"x4" size as a starter for using mainly on my notebook with autocad and photoshop. i
received it yesterday afternoon and i've had a play with it for a couple of hours, using it as my only pointing device, no mouse. First impressions;
It takes a few minutes to get used to! You can set it up in a few different ways, the buttons can have different functions etc... but one of the big ones is that you can set it to point with absolute coordinates, or relative. default is using absolute co-ords meaning that the tablet reperesents your screen - where you put the pen is where it points. I had a go at relative (like a mouse) but found it annoying. It didnt take long for me to get a 'feel' for where things are on the tabley - the yes/no/cancel dialog boxes, the close window 'x', the start button etc. It does take a while to get a feel of where things are on the screen.
in order to use it as a pointer, you have to keep the tip of the pen off the surface.... as soon as you touch it to the surface you its the same as clicking, so you get click and drag if you touch it on the surface and slide. The way im holding it now is tha same as a pen, but my middle finger is resting on the tablet, not the pen tip. then i slide around, keeping the tip off the surface with my finger, and when i want to 'click' i touch the tip down. the tablet does not respond to your hands/fingers.
the buttons also can be setup to do different things, i operate them with my thumb at the moment. I use the front one for right click, the back one for double click. for single click i just use the tip of the pen. There are also two buttons on the table and a scroll wheel. the wheel is really useful, but the default setting of the buttons (internet forwards and back) dont seem useful to me. You can reassign them, but i cant see myself using them.
the surface of the tablet is a bit funny to describe.... its all plastic and clear, and you can take it off to put something underneath. that 'active' area is slightly textured, while the inactive area is smooth. there is no border as such around the active area, but you get a feel for when you've gone off the page.... from your finger or the tip of the pen. it does feel pretty good.
In CAD, im still getting used to it... but it feels pretty good so far. in photoshop, its good and a bit dissapointing also. id really expected a lot out of the 'pressure sensitive' function.... it does work, but not as well as what i expected. maybe im a bit hamfisted, but i found that to get the lightest setting the pen almost cant be touching the pad. to get the thickest setting, you have to press so hard it feels like you must be gouging a line into the tablet! There were no scratches though, and ive heard that people go through the tips on the pesn which are replaceable, but i wasnt happy about having to press that hard. This model doesnt seem to have the 'tilt' sensitivity on the pen like the intuos3 models where the more you tilt the angle of the pen, the thicker the line gets. On the plus side, the pen/eraser combo (eraser is on the back) make it super fast and easy to make a mask up using the eraser and the history brush.
I had read quite a few reviews by people on amazon that had said the bigger sizes were too big, and that the size of the tablet you use should correspond roughly to your typical 'mousing area'. a lot of users said the 5x4 size seemed about right, and without having used the bigger sizes, i can say that it feels pretty natural. I can see that with a bigger tablet you would be running around all over the place to get from corner to corner. the other opetion i suppse would be to go relative co-ords, but that doesnt really seem smart.
For the money, im happy with it. It fits in my notebook bag and can travel with me. It beats the heck out of trying to use a mouse when moving. the graphire series sell for $cheap, even here in australia. I havent tried any of the included software/brushes yet. I will be buying a 12x12 intuos3 for my desktop machine at work. The 12x12 seems the default size for cad, and if you look in the samples directory of auto cad you will find a template (called template.dwg i think) that you can print and put under the tablet surface. You can then configure all those buttons to actually work! cad used to ship with this template, but not anymore. you can also reassign any of those buttons or put different things in there. CAD is very tweakable in terms of this. The actual drawing area with this template is still small, you just get all those buttons as extras. I think there would be a lot of benefit in this for me. I use a twin monitor setup at work and have to do a lot of running around with my mouse to get some regularly used buttons (views, 3D modify, viewports, etc). I mainly type my commands in, but i can see that if i had all those buttons on the tablet i might use the buttons more. unlike the graphires, the intuos series can actually be configured for *each application* rather than universal settings. Reviewers consistently say it has a much better surface for drawing on than the cheaper graphires.
First impression? 4x5 is better for general mousing and graphics work than CAD. size is good for notebooks, but 'pressure levels' may take some getting used to. so far I'd give it maybe 6 or 7 stars out of 10
Shaun
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