Date: August 20, 2012
Author(s): Jen McPherson
Wacom has long been considered by many to be the go-to brand for PC tablets, and it’s been for good reason. With its recently-launched Intuos5 touch, the company proved us wrong – our favorite tablet could in fact get better. With this latest release, the company cashes in on the touch craze, and after our testing, we’re glad it did.
The latest tablet design from Wacom is the Intuos5 touch, boasting many of the favored features of its predecessors, and then some. The Intuos5 rises up in a class of its own, however, with additional features that aim to help users be more productive. The most impressive of these are, as you might expect, its touch features. It also has an add-on wireless option that previous Intuos products did not.
The Intuos5 I’m working with is the medium, with a work area of 8.8″ x 5.5″ (48.4 square inches). Comparing the Intuos5 and 4 side-by-side, they are roughly the same size. The Intuos5 has smoother corners, though, and no glossy surface areas like the Intuos4. The tablet does have an LED light that shines through the surface, marking the corners of the active area. At first I thought this wasn’t a useful feature, but it helps to note when the tablet is powered on. Otherwise the only light would be the touch ring LEDs, which are small and could be overlooked.
One thing that has not really changed from the previous version is the pen and the base. It is still the same pen style, a classic black pen with a rubber grip, changeable color rings, and pen base with ten extra nibs. The Intuos4 pen was tested and works with the Intuos5. Unlike the Intuos4, though, the Intuos5 does not come with a mouse (but one can be purchased as an add-on)
Installation of the tablet driver was easy. Insert the disc, follow the instructions, and the tablet will be functioning within minutes.
Working with the Intuos5 is as to be expected, fantastic, and then some. The tablet boasts the same 2048 levels of pen pressure and precision control with its pen. Depending on the program used, brush strokes can vary in line thickness or even opacity based on how firmly or lightly the pen is pressed to the tablet. This feature is often complimented in most modern art software via customizing and fine-tuning brushes to create painterly effects. Of course, how brushes act is still dependent on user adjustment in these programs, and so effects can vary based on a user’s knowledge and skill with the software they are using. The possibilities are massive, though, which makes tablet use for digital art essential.
Compared to the Intuos4, the Intuos5’s surface has a slightly different feel to it. Writing and drawing feels smooth and easy. However, the Intuos4’s surface does feels like it has a slightly better glide; it is not a truly problematic difference though. Much like the Intuos4, the major concern for the Intuos5 is tablet wear from pen rubbing. The pen nibs are still hard and wear easily. After a few weeks of testing the Intuos5, the current pen nib is already well flattened and somewhat pointed, and the surface of the Intuos5 has suffered some minor rubbing/scuffing wear from the pen. It is not major, but it is noticeable.
One of the significant differences in this model are the express keys. The Intuos5 has a solid surface area on the express keys; the entire section is molded from a smooth flexible material which the buttons are beveled into. This makes a lot of sense, as keeping the buttons clean in the previous version could be a little difficult. The Intuos4’s buttons were also relatively narrow and somewhat difficult to press, while the Intuos5’s buttons are broader and spaced apart better and much easier to press. There are eight express keys in total, with four above the touch ring and four below it. The two middle buttons in each group of four have a bevel in the middle, one with a dot and the other a dash, to help users feel which button they are touching without having to look at the board.
Something I appreciate is that the tablet settings can be programmed to express keys, and that pressing the settings button pulls up a configuration box to specifically address the area you want to adjust: either the express keys, pen options, or touch features. This then opens specific panels in the Wacom Tablet Properties panel. This makes it easy to adjust settings quickly, especially for program specific modifiers.
Unlike the Intuos4, the Intuos5 express keys do not have an LED display to show what each key is programmed to. At first this was a disappointment, as having the displayed program keys was a helpful feature. The Intuos5, however, impressed with its new display system for these keys. When the keys are touched and held, a menu on the computer screen pops up on the left-hand side and shows which button you are currently touching and what that button is programmed to execute. This menu does not interfere with currently open windows and is slightly transparent so you can still see the screen beneath it. Although the LED display was nice, it is easy to see why this feature was done away with. It encouraged the user to look away from their work down at their tablet and essentially slowed productivity. With the menu being on the screen users don’t have to take their eyes away at all.
All express keys are still programmable, and can be customized for specific software programs.
The touch ring is essentially the same as the predecessor, with four programmable options. Again, it is part of the same smooth, solid molded side panel, beveled down into the surface. The flexible material makes button depression easy and practically soundless. It allows for easy zooming in on work as well as for fast alternating between brush sizes. This is one feature I love and always use.
The biggest new feature of the Intuos5, though, is its new touch features. The entire active area on the tablet is touch-sensitive, allowing users to use specific gestures on the board in order to accomplish certain tasks. Much like zooming on a smart phone the tablet can zoom in on photos and artwork by touching two fingers to the board and either pinching or opening. One feature I loved was the “touch to save”, which saved the currently open document by putting all five fingers on the active board area.
There are more touch features, such as rotate, touch-to-click, scroll, and customizable touch features that makes this tablet truly dynamic. This feature alone adds a whole new level of flexibility and usability that the previous Intuos versions cannot compare with. It can be custom programmed with other software, and used like a touch mouse pad on a laptop computer. I was able to surf the web utilizing the touch features quite easily, and clicking is as simple as tapping the board like you would the mouse buttons. The tablet’s properties panel has information on all touch features and also shows how to perform general touch gestures. Wacom also has a gesture guide on its website for additional reference.
The touch feature can be turned on or off by programming one of the express keys. I found this to be a good practice, as on occasion I would accidentally drag something I was working on just with the side of my hand touching and moving across the tablet surface. It wasn’t an annoying problem, though, even when I did leave the touch feature on consistently. I have Undo programmed to one of my express keys, which really made such instances easily corrected by a simple button press.
Like the Intuos4, the Intuos5 has a removable USB cord. This is 6.5 feet in length, so there is plenty of leeway for tablet placement anywhere on the desk, or as I prefer having it sitting on my lap while I sit back and draw. There is only one USB port plug on the tablet, centered on its side. The Intuos4 had two USB plugs, however, having used it for several years, I had never used the second one. The USB cord’s tablet plug is bent at an 90 degree angle and has a small rounded hook on the end of the connector. When the cord is connected to the tablet I often use this hook to hold my headphone cord. It is ok for cord management, but I prefer to use the wireless.
Isandriel, drawn with the Intuos5
The wireless kit is an add-on product ($39.99). On the back of the tablet are two compartments with removable covers; the top is for the Lithium Ion battery pack, and the bottom for the power adapter. Installation was easy, taking only a few minutes. Getting started is as simple as plugging in the USB adapter to the PC – it will install drivers automatically. Charging the battery only requires the USB cable to be plugged in, and the tablet can be used even while it is charging. Once charged I used the wireless capability for hours. I could spend nearly half the day working with the tablet and the lowest I could get it was 20%. I absolutely love this feature, as I was able to work most of the time without a wire in the way. There is no noticeable delay when using the wireless capabilities, either.
The Intuos5 comes with a Software Bundle available for download once the tablet is registered with Wacom. The software programs currently available for the North America region were Adobe Photoshop Elements 10, Anime Studio Debut 8, Autodesk SketchBook Express, Nik Software Color Effects Pro 4 Select Edition, and a 90 day trial for Corel Painter 12. Be sure to select all the software you want, because once you navigate away from the selection page you cannot go back to reselect them again. Once you finish registering and downloading, Wacom will send an email with the software product keys.
Initially, I wasn’t sure that the Intuos4 could be improved upon, but with the Intuos5 Wacom has once again proven me wrong. The board feels better, the express keys are improved, and the touch features are fantastic. There are some areas I feel it could have been just a little better, such as the active area being smoother, but these are minor nuisances. I’ve had the pleasure of working with both the Intuos3 and 4 prior, but I find I enjoy working with the Intuos5 more.
I cannot say that if you own an Intuos4 you should go out and immediately replace it with the Intuos5, especially since there is no improvement in pen pressure sensitivity, accuracy, or tablet resolution. The Intuos5 is only slightly lighter than the Intuos4, weighing 2.18 lbs.
However, the Intuos5 does have a better feel and offers more functionality. The express keys are better placed and easier to press, and the touch features alone give this tablet more functionality that could lead users to utilize it for more than just creative purposes. Also, the wireless add on makes this tablet a real gem. With the added software bundle the Intuos5 is a complete package deal that is more than worth the cost.
(Live-streaming the creation of Isandriel with the Intuos5)
Overall, I am quite impressed with the Intuos5 Touch, and if you are in the market for a tablet that goes a step beyond what’s been offered before, I assure you it will not disappoint.
The Intuos5 Touch currently is available in three sizes, small, medium, and large. The Intuos5 Touch medium reviewed today is available for $349.00 via Wacom’s website.
Wacom Intuos5 touch Tablet
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