Because of all the physical upgrades Wacom's Intuos 4 is easier and better to use than ever before, but it wouldn't be all it could without the excellent software. Wacom's driver works on almost any operating system including versions of Windows from 95 onwards, Mac OS X or Classic and Linux. A single properties window lets you adjust all settings for the tablet and pen within any application you wish. The only thing that's inexplicably missing is profiles for different users or for sharing across computers, an oversight we hope Wacom will soon rectify.
Two changes to Wacom's driver aside from those necessary to accommodate the Intuos 4's new hardware features are a Precision Mode, which as the name suggests switches to a lower sensitivity so that bigger movements are required for the same action (ideal for quickly switching to fiddly detail work or delicate selections where a slip can ruin things) and the Radial Menu. The radial menu is a similar concept to the selection ring on Gyration's Air Mouse, where pressing a certain button brings up a ring of actions or shortcuts around your cursor, allowing you to choose up to eight different ones with a flick of the pen.
When you register your Intuos you get a choice between downloading a selection of third-party software titles, including AutoDesk Scetchbook Express 2010, Corel SketchPad or Adobe Photoshop Elements 7. While these should help you get started, to be honest a tablet of this calibre deserves the fully-featured versions of these packages such as Adobe Photoshop CS4 and Corel Painter 11.
With prices ranging from just under £300 (or around £270 if you can get an academic discount) for the Medium tablet to £650 for the XL one, the Intuos 4 is by no means cheap but nonetheless well worth every penny if you're serious about digital art or design - especially since there really is no competition at the high end of the tablet market. Once you've used a Wacom Intuos, tablets from other manufacturers such as the Genius G-Pen M712 will just seem cheap and inadequate by comparison.
If you're really on a budget or need something that will fit in a shoulder bag you might even consider the Small Intuos 4, but keep in mind that not only is the drawing area relatively cramped but you'd be missing out on the OLED screens too. Another 'budget' option is to go for the previous generation Intuos 3, which is still widely available and obviously considerably cheaper than its successor.
Meanwhile, if you already own an Intuos 3 and have the cash, is it worth upgrading? Let me answer that simply by confessing that I'm looking to upgrade my precious Intuos 3 to a 4 as soon as I can afford to. Yes, it really is that much better.
The best just got considerably better. Wacom's Intuos 4 combines great looks, excellent ergonomics, impressive build quality and class-leading features into a whole that's as practically satisfying as it is aesthetically desirable. If you do a lot of photo editing or you're a digital artist, illustrator or designer, go out and beg, (permanently) borrow or buy the new Intuos right now.