It's no secret Wacom has a firm grasp on what it takes to make great graphic input devices. Fresh off of its introduction of the Inkling last fall, the outfit recently unveiled the latest member of its high-end pen tablet line, the Intous5 touch. Essentially, Wacom took what made the Intuos4 a great addition to any designer or illustrator's workflow and refined it, with this latest iteration sporting a new rubber-coated shell. It also implements touch gestures -- much like those on the fresh Bamboo models -- which can be customized to speed up tasks you need to complete on the regular, preferably without the aid of a mouse.
Sure, a new matte black suit and the ability to navigate Adobe Creative Suite without a pen seem impressive at first glance, but is the new model worth investing northward of $229? Are you better off sticking with the Intuos4 you splurged on a while back? Let's see.
We're going to go ahead and get this out of the way early: the Intuos5 touch is a mighty dapper device. Seriously, it looks amazing. The outer frame is coated in a rubberized matte black finish with no text indicators or printed markings interfering with the paint job. The medium-sized version we tested is crowned with an 8.8 x 5.5-inch (224 x 140mm) active area that offers a whopping 48.4-square-inch work surface. Backlit bracket indicators delineate the boundaries of the input area to keep you from swiping a tad too far while working on Illustrator files. The input portion of the topside is coated in a semi-gloss finish, which allowed our hand and fingers to glide along with a bit more ease.
We're going to go ahead and get this out of the way early: the Intuos5 touch is a mighty dapper device. Seriously, it looks amazing.
The so-called ExpressKeys and Touch Ring are just to the left of the work surface (if you're right handed, of course) but can be easily configured to work from the right side too. Four of these programmable buttons lie above the ring, with another four just beneath it. Here, too, Wacom has done away with any printed text, leaving only some backlit indicators around the Touch Ring to show which of the four commands you've selected. We think the absence of text is a nice touch, and the choice to keep everything on-screen a wise one. Take a closer look at the ExpressKeys and you'll notice the middle two in each set of four have a raised dot and raised bar, respectively. These allow you to navigate the controls by feel, so that you don't constantly have to look away from your PC toward the device.
It's not surprising that most of the action takes place on the device's front face, but there's still more to see as we tour the hardware. Hopping around to the side opposite the ExpressKeys, there's a mini-USB socket for plugging into your work machine. To the left of said port is the resting spot for half of the wireless kit. After removing two small covers on the bottom of the device you'll gain access to both the wireless components and battery slots, both of which allow the kit to be used sans cable (up to nine hours on the medium-sized unit, according to Wacom). Also worth a mention here is the clip attached to the miniature end of the included USB cable. It's a small, but nice touch to keep the excess cable length from getting in your way.
And then there's the pen. That piece of the kit that you'll be touching day in and day out is as comfortable to hold as ever. We didn't notice any change here, as the grip, click buttons and eraser features have all carried over from the previous generation. Another feature Wacom's chosen to bring back this go 'round: 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. The included desktop stand houses ten different nibs (also brought back from the previous model), which the company recommends you switch out regularly in order to protect your tablet from unnecessary wear. As we noted in our hands-on, both the Intuos4 and Cintiq pens work just fine with the new tablet. You know, just in case you've broken in that pen just how you like it over the past year or so.
About 15 to 20 minutes passed from the moment we inserted the installation CD until we were ready to fire up Creative Suite. Of course, this depends on how fast your internet connection can download the latest drivers from Wacom's site. We were then able to use the software to program the ExpressKeys, Touch Ring and touch gestures just how we like 'em. Also, we went ahead and set up mapping so that our dual-display workstation would play nice with the active area of the tablet.
Using a series of menus, much like what you'd encounter in the preferences window of other applications, we were able to set up custom commands and gestures in a matter of minutes. It wasn't hard to find exactly what we needed and to lay our tools out on the workbench, so to speak. The second ExpressKey from the top brings up the Settings display, and from there we were easily able to navigate to both critical and touch-centric settings without having to open a separate program.
Worried about the absence of OLED indicators on the tablet's surface? Don't be. Sure, there was a bit of an adjustment period for us, but once we got used to the on-screen heads-up display, things progressed nicely. If you forget which ExpressKey did what, resting your finger on top of one will bring up an on-screen reminder for the entire set. When clicking through the Touch Ring's four programmable tools, you'll also see an indicator pop up letting you know which option you're currently using. Honestly, this is a great improvement, and it sped up our workflow nicely once we got the hang of things.
Another nifty feature is the Radial Menu. Access to this HUD can be attached to an ExpressKey for quick and easy task selection. The Radial Menu can house up to eight tasks that you would normally grab from a menu or toolbar with sub-menus for each as an added perk. You can also adjust the pen's sensitivity to your particular workflow. Doing so will ensure that those swipes across the active areas do exactly what you want them to and with the intended pressure for the task at hand.
Touch gestures and general use
Overall, the Intuos5 performs just as well, if not better than its older siblings. The active surface / pen combo is incredibly sensitive and responds nimbly, and accurately, even to quick motions. And throughout our testing, we never suffered a bit of lag either.
Here's where one of our lone issues with the pen tablet lies: the touch gestures. Don't get us wrong, the ability to use our fingers on the active surface is a welcome addition and works quite well in some instances. Pinch to zoom, scrolling and simple navigation work great using multi-touch. It was wonderful to carry out some tasks with our non-pen hand to keep things snappy. We were also happy that we never ran into a situation where the tablet got confused between our fingers and the pen. Touch capabilities are automatically disabled when the device senses its native pen is ready to jump in the driver's seat.
However, things like selecting text to be copied or modified and more precise selections / movements left a bit to be desired. This is most likely due to the surface of the tablet being not quite as touch friendly as what you'd encounter on a tablet PC or a Magic Trackpad. The surface isn't quite as slick as those aforementioned devices either, so our swipes were met with some slight resistance. It's clear that Wacom chose to add touch to the active area instead of forgoing a proven technology some other touch-friendly surface. And we can't dock it too much for that.
The ability to program these multi-touch gestures almost made up for their shortcomings.
That said, the ability to program these multi-touch gestures almost made up for their shortcomings. Not only could we customize the ExpressKeys and Touch Ring, but we also made programs like Corel Draw carry out tasks with just a three-finger swipe. By default, the gestures correspond to stock OS X or Windows functions -- again, similar to Apple's Trackpad. Currently, the software only supports five simultaneous points of contact, but the tablet itself is ready for up to sixteen -- should you need to use both hands (and some toes) at some point in the future.
Accessories and size options
One of our biggest gripes with the Intuos5 is that the Wireless Accessory Kit is sold separately. Sure, we get that the ability to go wireless usually comes with some added cost ($40 in this case), but we'd at least like to see a bundle so that we don't have to make two separate purchases. We're also well aware that unless you can keep your workdays under eight hours, you won't go far without a USB cable. And for yours truly, at least, those are few and far between. However, if you've already sprung for the wireless kit for your Bamboo tablet, it should work with the Intuos5 as well.
Worried the stock pen just won't get the job done for every project? Three additional ones (Art, Classic and Airbrush) are on offer too. The Classic offers a slimmer profile than the stock pen and will set you back $70. Art and Airbrush offer the feel of felt markers and a digital airbrush, respectively, complete with ink / spray simulation. Those cost $100 apiece. If you're looking to stay mobile, Wacom offers cases for each tablet size, with accessory pockets for cables and such.
Honestly, we're not so sure the non-touch version would be worth the investment
As we mentioned before, we tested the medium-sized Intuos5, which costs $349. If you're in the market for something a little more petite (or expansive, even), small and large options are also available. The littler pen tablet offers an active area measuring 6.2 x 3.9 inches (157 x 98 mm) and will set you back $229. Looking to give yourself plenty of room while working in CS5? You can opt for the large Intuos5 with a 12.8 x 8.0-inch (325 x 203mm) pen pad and an 11.8 x 7.5-inch (299 x 190mm) multi-touch area. You'll pay $469 for the privilege of such spacious real estate. All told, that's comparable to what Wacom charged for the last-gen Intuous4. There's also a fourth option reportedly on the way: a medium offering without multi-touch gestures. Honestly, we're not so sure that would be worth the investment; however, we expect it to be the least expensive of the bunch.
Not that it's our place to guess your preferences, but after spending a week with this thing, we suggest you think twice about grabbing the smallest tablet if you're running a dual-screen system, especially if you're mapping the tablet to both displays. The medium size worked great for us, but we can't imagine being comfortable with fewer square inches.
Overall, we're quite pleased with the improvements that Wacom has made between the Intuos4 and the new Intuos5. Its dashing good looks are just the tip of the iceberg, er, pen. The feel of the tablet is much more inviting than the plastic finish of yore. This outer shell makes you want to touch the slim device, which is something you'll be doing plenty of, thanks to those multi-touch gestures. Moving the ExpressKey labels to the on-screen HUD was also a solid move. It'll take some getting used to, but we realized it ultimately cured our habit of constantly looking down to find our bearings.
Sure, we have some gripes concerning the need to purchase a wireless kit separately and its imperfect response to touch input. For us, though, those two demerits are hardly dealbreakers. The multi-touch features aren't flawless, but they add great functionality to the workflow for Photoshop and other design software, and can be used to access tools without digging through menus. If you're still clinging to an older Wacom model or feel the Intuos4 hasn't run its course, we don't think you'll regret splurging on a new model, especially if you already have the wireless kit lying around. Well, at least you won't mind the expense after you get your hands on one, that's for sure.