I have been using Wacom tablets from the very earliest days in digital imaging, in fact I still have my first tablet. If you have never used a tablet before then getting used to drawing with a touch sensitive pen can seem awkward, you draw on a tablet in front of you and the results are seen on the screen which may be on the other side of your desk. It doesn’t take long to get used to this, but can be slightly disconcerting when you first try it. Wacom updated their tablet range earlier this year with the introduction of the Intuos 5, which is without doubt their best tablet to date.
The Wacom Intuos 5 is available in four models: Intuos5 touch Small, Medium, Large and pen-only (Medium). The Intuos 5 can be extended with a Wacom Wireless Accessory Kit, this allows use of the tablet without a cable. For this review we have the Medium tablet together with a wireless accessory kit. For image editing the Medium tablet size is more than sufficient, the large size is better suited to CAD and technical illustration work. The tablets 2048 levels or pressure sensitivity is available on all three models. Installation is straight forward, place the CD in your drive and a wizard will take care of the rest, and you may be prompted to install the latest drivers via the internet.
The Intuos 5 has an overall matt black soft touch finish, which feels very nice to touch, I prefer it to the hard plastic surface of my dated Intuos 2. On the left hand side there are six express keys which can be programmed to perform custom functions with your application. Depending on the application you are using, you can define the Express Keys with different functions to match the application. When an application is active the Express Key functions will change to reflect your choice of functions. Memorizing the custom keys for several software programs requires the user to have a good memory, I prefer to define sets of common functions or let the tablet use the same settings for everything. However, as tablets are mainly used with image editing software there shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
In the centre there is a Touch Ring which can be used to perform the default actions such as zoom, enlarge brush, rotate and cycle layers, you can also define your own actions. Press the centre button to toggle to the next action, a small LED light shows you which action is active. The express keys and Touch Ring can be either on the left or right, simply rotate the tablet.
A mouse has always been included with previous versions of Wacom tablets. The Intuos 5 pressure sensitive tablet comes complete with a pen and a set of nibs, but no mouse. I must confess that I never used any of the Wacom mice on my tablets, I didn’t like tem. The Intuos 5 has a better feature, the ability to use gestures with your fingers directly on the tablet. The finger gestures work very well, although perhaps not as sensitive as a touch screen on an iPad, iPhone or other mobile devices.
I could move windows, zoom, rotate, scroll amongst other things, without too many problems. The Touch feature is a useful feature which can speed up image editing without having to leave the tablet area, it can be instantly turned On or Off via the top Express Key. One disappointment is that Angry birds doesn’t seem to work too well with Gestures, I couldn’t find a way to release the bombs.
One useful accessory is the wireless kit. The kit consists of a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery, a wireless module and USB wireless receiver. Use the USB cable to charge the battery, once charged you can disconnect and use the tablet without tethering it to a computer. Now this may not seem like a big deal, but for me one of the things I hate is trying to free a mouse, keyboard or tablet cable, they always seem to get caught on something, generally a full mug of coffee.
I am now totally wireless on my desktop. The modestly priced wireless kit is well worth the investment. Of course if you want, you can use the tablet with the supplied USB cable.
In use the tablet performs as expected, you have very fine control on brush strokes, stroke the tablet area gently and you have a soft brush stroke, put more pressure on the pen and the strokes are bolder. The pen also has a tilt feature by up to 60 degrees, ideal if you are into calligraphy. Brush sizes can be quickly changed by using the Touch ring, just like turning the volume up or down on an iPod. The Express keys come in useful once you have defined the keys for your preferred actions. I was rotating, zooming in and out very quickly. As previously mentioned, the Multi Touch sensitive option wasn’t as responsive as I would have liked, but nevertheless it did come in handy for quick navigation, just remember the finger combinations, one, two, three or four fingers, they all perform different actions.
One negative point, which is not a Wacom problem, is that Windows 7 highlights the cursor position with an annoying circle every time you make a brush stroke. Now you should be able to turn this off from within the OS, but so far I have not managed to do it. It would be helpful if Wacom could include an option to turn this off in the tablet properties, or provide detailed instructions on how to do it.
I enjoyed using the medium size tablet, it did make me more productive by enabling me to concentrate on doing the job in hand rather than using drop down menus or keystrokes. The Wacom Intuos 5 is a great investment for a professional photographer/designer or anyone who is serious about their digital imaging.
- Easy to set up
- Wireless Accessory Kit (optional)
- Pen is very responsive
- Multi Touch feature
- Multi Touch not always as sensitive as I would like
- Annoying cursor highlight in Windows 7
Pricing and availability
The Intuos 5 comes in four models: Intuos5 touch Small (£199.99), Medium (£329.99), Large (£429.99) and Intuos 5 pen-only Medium (£269.99). Each Intuos5 can be extended with the Wacom Wireless Accessory Kit priced at £34.99. All prices are including VAT.