Close to a year after launching its excellent graphics tablet, the Intuos4 series, Wacom releases an updated version with Bluetooth wireless connectivity. Available only in the medium-size version for about $399, $50 more than its USB-only twin, the Intuos4 Wireless becomes a great option for artists and illustrators on the go--or even sedentary ones with an aversion to wires.
The Wireless model runs off a replaceable lithium ion battery that charges via the USB connection. You have to charge it before going wireless, as well as be physically connected to install the driver. After that, Bluetooth setup is fairly typical. You switch the tablet on and press a button to initiate the "I'm here!" broadcast and wait for your system to discover the tablet, which is essentially treated as a mouse. Note that the tablet doesn't ship with a dongle, so if your system doesn't have Bluetooth you'll have to deal with that separately.
Unlike the wired-only version, the Wireless tablet has two tiny lights on one side: yellow/green to indicate charging and battery state and blue to indicate connected state. The wireless model also has a perk the wired model lacks, a snap-in pen holder.
Among its power-saving measures, the tablet will go to sleep after 30 minutes of disuse. If desired, the driver places an icon in your systems status area that provides percentage of battery life left. It doesn't give you a percentage charged when connected via USB, though. Wacom rates the tablet's battery life at up to 18 hours, though that's not continuous usage. I couldn't decide whether the USB charging is a plus or minus; it's very convenient, but you can't charge a spare while you're working. And if you get sloppy with your battery hygiene, you can kill the battery altogether. Per the manual:
If the battery charge is low and the battery remains in the tablet for a long period of time (a week or longer) with the power switch in the on position, the small trickle of current used by the tablet is likely to discharge the battery so far that an internal protection circuit within the battery is activated. If this occurs you will no longer be able to charge the battery.
Replacement batteries will cost somewhere between $39 and $49.
I did have some detection issues. I had to run the Bluetooth Setup Assistant to connect every time on my MacBook Pro (OS X 10.5.8), even after pairing, and had to run install on a Windows notebook (Windows Vista Business 64-bit) a couple of times.
In all other respects, the tablet is identical to the medium wired version I reviewed last year. It operates just as smoothly, without a lot of the glitchiness and hesitation I experienced the last time I tried Bluetooth mice and keyboards.
If you can spare the extra bucks for the wireless version, it's probably worth it simply to have the option; even if your current system lacks Bluetooth your next one will probably have it, and as long as it operates identically, losing the wires is always a bonus. However, if you plan to use the mouse as well, that's gonna cost you about $70 more.