Wacom's Intuos5 has everything you need and want. It will look great on your sleek white minimalistic table and will be a workhorse during those sleepless marathons of wedding pictures. The price, while a bit steep, is to be expected for a professional tablet.
Every few years Wacom releases a new heavy duty tablet for us professional beret adorned creative types to fondle and drool over. With every new iteration of the Intuos line, Wacom seems to add a new feature to their already solid product to entice us to make the switch. With the Wacom Intuos5, they added a full track pad-esque touch feature to the entire writing surface as well as support for multi-touch gestures. Has adding a seemingly low end consumer feature to a professionals drawing tablet worked or has Wacom finally run out of fresh ideas? Press on for the full review.
The Wacom Intuos5 feels solid and the entire tablet has a great weight to it. It maintains the same thickness and height as the previous models across the board. Sizes range from small, medium, and large, with the extra large sizing no longer available. Being nice and hefty, the Intuos5 never slides around unlike its little, cheaper sister: the Bamboo Capture.
Right out of the box there is a glaring difference between the Intuos4 and the new Intuos5. Wacom has removed my beloved button mapping LCD screens! For those readers not aware: a great feature Wacom introduced with the Intuos4 was little screens directly adjacent to the physical buttons that would display the action of those buttons (this is still present but in a different way, more on that later). This was extremely handy for when I needed to know what a certain button did before pressing since there was the ability to do application specific button mapping.
Apart from the lack of pretty screens, the Intuos5 looks very similar to the previous model. It's still all black, but Wacom added a rubberized coating to the entire bezel and a rubberized 'skin' over the buttons. This gives it a much more uniform and modern look, and is a very sexy slab of matte black plastic. The button layout is identical to the Intuos4, with two groups of four buttons lined vertically with the touch ring in between them. While the Intuos4 had a satisfying and light clicky-ness about the buttons, the Intuos5 has a rubber skin over everything making the button a little harder to click as you have to push through the rubber skin first and then click the button. This took only a few times of mis-clicking to figure out and now I'm a button clicking MASTER.
Much like the tablet itself, the Intuos5's pen is also sturdy and rugged. Like your run-of-the-mill pencil, it has two ends. One for writing and one for erasing, with two buttons on the side for your thumb. Wacom have opted to stick with the battle-hardened pen used in the previous generation. This was a wise decision as the pen already feels great in your hand but more importantly, it is backward compatible with the pens used in the Intuos4 as well as the Cintiq.
So, you've unboxed and installed the drivers for your brand new pro tablet. How does it feel to use? Well in one word: great. Apart from a few minor flaws in the actual hardware, the Wacom Intuos5 is a joy to use. Just like its predecessor, it has the new-ish writing surface which mimics the sensation of using a graphite pencil on paper. I'm not sure if the surface is a little rougher, but I found just a bit more resistance to it while drawing than I had with the Intuos4.
The approach to the drawing surface has also been changed from the previous model. As you can see in the picture below, there are four groups of markings indicating the edges of the usable writing surface. As an added touch, pun completely intended, the markings glow a soft white when the tablet is on. This is contrast to the Intuos4 where the entire rectangle was usable space.
What's nice about the Intuos5's approach is that there is area to overrun when making large sweeping strokes close to the edge. With the previous model, your pen tip would just hit the edge and your hand would jitter over the small speed bump between the writing surface and the bezel. With the new surface, your sweeping motions can continue even when you've exceeded the usable writing surface. Wacom seems to have made the gap between the new surface and the bezel larger, much larger, to the point that if your pen comes into minor contact with this chasm it will get sucked in until you completely lift your hand and retrieve it. To be honest, it is very jarring if you're in a groove and all of the sudden your pen gets stuck and can't move. If this didn't happen often there would be no problem, but I found myself having to dislodge my pen two to three times an hour. This may just be the fast paced work that I do, but it was a considerable issue for me.
The buttons, on the other hand, are quite nice. As mentioned previously, the buttons are covered in a sort of rubberized skin which not only serves to protect them from my falling bagel with cream cheese crumbs and ramen noodle juices, but also as a touch sensitive quick view for button mapping. Now, I may be a little sour that Wacom removed my lovely little screens, but they replaced them with an alternative solution. In lieu of the screens, you must lightly hold your finger on a button and a second later an onscreen quick guide will pop up with the corresponding button mappings.
This solution has its pluses and minuses; let me explain. The new buttons feel great and are, let's face it, pretty cool. They work well, if not a little slow for my taste, and the on-screen guide is non-obtrusive. Where this approach lacks is that in order to bring this quick guide up you need to hold your finger over the button for about one second. This may not seems like a big deal but when you're in the thick of things, blazing through vector layers and making clipping masks, you don't necessarily want to go full stop for a second and read what a button does off your screen. That's what was so nice about the previous Intuos. Those little screens were independent from everything else so you could be working, look down, "oh yeah, there's my add too much fake HDR button" and keep going. Don't misunderstand me, this is not a game ending mistake. Rather, it's a minor flaw in an otherwise well made product. Like if you have a great steak but the chef replaced your favorite red skinned mashed potatoes with creamed corn. It's still a great meal but it's just not the same.
In between the two groups of buttons is the touch wheel that seems to be directly imported from the previous generation. It is exactly the same size and shape. It has a button in the middle to change between the four user presets like brush size, zoom, rotate, etc. and just like with the old Intuos, the touch ring retains its flaws. Being the same size (bitterly small), it is very close to impossible to use accurately. When I would go to rotate for instance, I would either rotate too far or not enough. When I would try to make minor changes in rotation, I would, once again, rotate too far or not enough. It works slightly better for things like brush size but only because little to no accuracy is involved in picking it, just in/decrease and go.