Gear Review: Wacom Intuos 5 Tablet

I purchased Wacom’s new Intuos 5 Touch tablet (in Medium; there are small and large as well) on July 9th.  It was awesome.  I had nothing but excellent things to say about it.

That’s right.

Had“.

So right there, I should tell you, I give this a 2 out of 5 star rating.  My review is long-winded, so get comfortable.  First, the good things:

The first week I had the tablet I was having the time of my life editing my photos in Lightroom 4 and Photoshop (CS5).  It really is a lot easier to get things done in those applications.  Selectively masking is FAR easier when you have the control and versatility of a pen.  Yes, it takes some getting used to, but you’ll be fine (I promise) and let me tell you why.  Remember getting used to a mouse?  You’re like “what the hell is this contraption???”, it’s not overly natural, but it has evolved into something very useful, that almost everybody knows how to use.  My point though, is that it was rough at first, wasn’t it?  Besides, artists would probably prefer to work with a pen than a mouse or trackball when creating.  It’s not hard to get used to using the pen, but if you are having trouble, just know that it IS worth it, and it WILL be worth your time.

The pen on the Intuos 5 (which does not use a battery, mind you) has not changed since the Intuos 4, still having all the same features like 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, tilt (up to 60 degrees)… and comes with replaceable nibs that give the user a bit of a different feel.  There are two buttons on the pen as well, near where you hold it, and you can set commands for them as well.  In addition, there’s an “eraser” (think like the eraser on a pencil).  A great idea, but I found that flipping the pen over and using it as an eraser was just silly when I can simply press a key on the keyboard (or the tablet express keys) to do the same function.  Work smarter, not harder.  Anyhow, the tablet itself has a nice rubber casing, and looks very slick, as you can see in the picture above.  When you lightly press the express keys on the left side (don’t worry, the software allows you to left-handed folk to re-orient the tablet so the keys are on the right) an on-screen menu comes up and tells you how you have configured the express keys based on whatever application you are in.  The giant middle-circle-button-thinger is a scroll wheel (clockwise, counter-clockwise) that has four separate assignments for zoom, brush size, tilting canvas, etc.  I only use it for brush size, but to each their own.  But that’s the nice thing about something like this, it allows you to customize the hardware buttons to specific commands and keystrokes in any application you want.

Oh yeah, and the thing has touch capabilities.  Like an iPad, or touch-screen phone.  You can move your finger around on the pad and it’s basically like using a mouse; you can pinch to zoom, two fingers to scroll, tap two, three or four fingers, and you can have all of those do different functions as well.  For example, swiping four fingers from right to left while you’re in a browser window will move BACK (same as pressing the ‘back’ button’); four fingers left to right then goes forward.  And of course, all of that is customizable.  There’s also a ‘radial menu’ that you can set to come on-screen to facilitate more commands, or a hierarchy of commands.  Theoretically, you could probably set up each of your applications up with express keys, pen keys, and radial menu commands so that you wouldn’t need the keyboard at all (except to type text).  In fact, I used my Intuos 5 as a straight-up REPLACEMENT of my mouse for quite a while, but I am slowly going back to my mouse for general work/browsing, and only using the pen and tablet for post-processing my photos.

Here’s a quick layout of how I have my tablet setup for use with Lightroom 4:

I have it setup for right-handed use (which is set by default), so the express keys are on the left:

___________

– Touch on/off
– [ button disabled ] (haven’t decided on a good use for it yet)
– Zoom Out
– Zoom IN

O – Dial only set to do brush size, that’s all

– show before / after
– Mask overlay (for brushes)
– Alt (keystroke)
– Undo (Ctrl+Z)

___________

By the way, when using adjustment brushes in Lightroom, holding ALT and using the brush will “erase”; very handy to know, which is why I have an express key set to it.  I have the three-finger tap set to bring up the radial menu, but I only use four options on it. One brings up the tablet properties, one ranks my image “1”, one ranks my image “2”, and the other makes a virtual copy of the image.  The bottom button on the pen (closest to tip) I have set to use the space bar as a command.  That way when I’m zoomed in on my image in Lightroom, I can press that button and move the image around easily. The top button is set to a right-click command.

So, this is where my long-winded review gets longer.  The issues I’ve had with this tablet have been extremely frustrating, and I’d like to start off by saying that I AM a computer person.  I’ve been doing technical and network support work for the past 13 years, I grew up on computers.  I know how to fix things, and I know what I’m doing.  I’m running an AMD Phenom II 6-core processor, 16GB of RAM, Windows 7 64-bit. With the exception of Lightroom 4.1, everything runs outstanding on it… Lightroom is a bit sluggish, which is a widely known issue.  The Intuos 5 will randomly stop working with the pen, but be fine with touch capabilities.  Sometimes the touch will work fine, and the pen jumps around the screen like it’s trying to do something, but failing.  Sometimes the express keys will not show the menu when I press lightly on them.  Sometimes the express keys don’t even work at all.  Sometimes the pen input will INVERT itself, and move incredibly slowly.  And of course, sometimes the whole damn thing doesn’t even work at all… no pen, no touch; nothing.  All connections are secure and where they should be.  It’s only one USB cable, not that tough.  I have tried changing the USB port to a different one, and I have also tried USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports.  I contacted Wacom using their website’s contact form (as it says to do) on July 19th and they said they’d get back to me in 1-2 business days… which did not happen (it took them until August 10th to actually contact me).  I tried all versions of their drivers, even the latest ones and the initial ones, the issues still persisted at random.

I decided to take my tablet back to Best Buy (after 17 days of trying to fix the issues myself) and got another one, hoping the issue was with the hardware itself.  Best Buy exchanged it for a new one promptly, and with no question… props to them.  It worked great for a day, and then started suffering from the same issues.  I thought it was the driver released in July, and was very eager to try the 6.3.3-4 driver that Wacom put out on 8/07… but that did not work, with the new tablet, new driver.  Changing the USB port had not helped; changing the DEVICE itself had not helped; and changing the driver had not helped.  All of that leads me to believe this is a driver issue. And btw, Wacom doesn’t tell us what they’re “fixing” in the driver updates… it seems to me like they know something is up, and they’re not saying it.

In my posts on the Canon Digital Photography Forums, other people have mentioned random issues similar to mine, both with Intuos 4 and 5.  One was a faulty USB cable, which I doubt is the case with mine because I’ve used two of them… each that came with the packaging in each of the tablets I’ve had.  Another was fixed by using the driver that comes on the CD included with the tablet, which has not worked for me.

Wacom finally contacted me and sent me a list of things to try, which consisted of removing the drivers, uninstalling any remnants of any tablet files, rebooting in diagnostic mode, installing their newest driver, rebooting into normal mode.  It worked fine for a couple days, and then was back to the exact same way it was, with all the issues.  When the issues start happening, resting my finger over any of the express keys does not bring up the express key display menu.  However, pressing the keys themselves DOES activate the desired action I set up.  Also, the tap 3 fingers for Radial Menu was not working.  I changed the setting to have tap 3 fingers “Show Desktop”, and it paused a few seconds, and then showed the desktop.  I changed the setting back to Radial Menu, and it was not working.  Basically what I can derive from all of this is that something is inherently wrong with the driver for displaying things on-screen.  Pressing the express keys DOES do the desired action, but resting a finger on it does not show the express key display as it should.  Here’s the strange part; when I notice those issues and I press the touch-ring toggle button in the middle, that’s when the express keys die, and then pen goes all wonky and stops being useful.  Then my contact at Wacom suggested I try the tablet on a different computer, so I did that too (which was a pain in the ass due to all the editing I have to do; I’m not using another computer for all that (installing Lightroom 4 and Photoshop, etc) there’s a reason my machine is a beast; I need it to be)… but I did that, and for two hours it worked fine (also had Windows 7 64-bit on it)… which makes sense; sometimes the issues don’t make themselves known for after two, five, or eight hours of working on it.  Like I said, it’s random.

So then Wacom suggested I update everything my computer, all applications, the Operating System itself, video drivers, motherboard drivers; etc.  I did all that, even updated the BIOS, and guess what… I’m still having the same issues at random.  A user on the Canon photography forums stated that there seems to be an issue with the Wacom driver and Windows 7… which definitely could be.

As of two days ago, Wacom is telling me that the issue lies with my computer because everything worked fine on the other one I tried.  But that was only two hours of work, and sometimes the issue doesn’t show up for eight hours of working.  When the issues do arise, rebooting the computer will take care of them, but for an unknown amount of time.  When I’m editing photos, I go to town on them and I get in the zone.  Anyone that edits a LOT of photos often knows what I’m talking about… and I don’t want to have to reboot just to make my $350 pen and tablet work how it is supposed to.  That’s a lot of money, and I expect it to work flawlessly 100% of the time.  Perhaps I expect too much.  I cannot give this tablet more than a 2 out of 5 rating because of these issues.  When it works, it’s very good, but it’s not 100% there.  I think they needed to do more testing before releasing it.  I am unsatisfied with this whole thing, Wacom knows it, and they’re really just telling me that it’s my computer.  I asked for some extra nibs for the pen as a consolation, and I got them about 10 days later, which I guess is good, but it shouldn’t have come to that.

As I mentioned, I delayed the writing of this review for quite a while, wanting to give Wacom the benefit of the doubt, and see if their suggestions would work.  They did an “okay” job, but the issues are still there, and I’ve done everything I can.  My experience with the Intuos 5 is, in a word, frustrating.  Take it for what it’s worth.

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18 thoughts on “Gear Review: Wacom Intuos 5 Tablet

  1. Matthew Barnett (@MattBarnett79) November 3, 2012 at 5:53 pm Reply

    I bought one despite reading your review. I’m having slightly different problems, touch seems slightly better on the newer drivers, but the tablet often disconnects as if its been unplugged, then plugged back in. This will happen over and over ever few seconds, then never again for hours. Anyway, just another frustrated user. I posted on your POTN thread. Best of luck with yours.

  2. aepoc November 23, 2012 at 6:37 am Reply

    That really sucks Matt, sorry to hear it. What OS are you running? I’m on Win7 64-bit. On a side note, I started editing yesterday morning for a little bit, and all of my Intuos 5 settings for applications had been wiped out! Completely random, and it worked FINE the night before. I didn’t update anything, I didn’t even do anything, I just booted up, and they were all blank. Lightroom, Photoshop, Chrome, Windows, all settings were wiped out. Uninstalled the driver, downloaded the newest one from Wacom, and installed that. I sure hope it starts to work now, I’m getting mad at this point. Hope yours is working better.

  3. Richard December 18, 2012 at 1:34 am Reply

    I recently bought the Wacom Intuos 5 Touch Medium, it worked great for about two days and then the problems began – I am left handed so I have the express keys to the right, I enabled the left handed settings for touch, keys and pen, then after two days the pen worked correctly but the touch feature had reverted to right hand set up. The menu still showed left hand and switching back and forward made no difference, so the touch function was unusable.

    I messed around reinstalling the drivers, rebooting etc. and eventually I think I unchecked “menu keys right” and then rechecked it again and it started working correctly again. Then a couple of days later, same problem again, only this time the solution did not work.

    All of my drivers are up to date, motherboard video tablet etc. I am on the latest Win 8, and it is updated to latest fixes whenever MS issue them as the PC is on 24/7.

    The only way I could get the touch to work was to completely uninstall all of the Wacom software and reinstall – and touch still does not switch to left hand mode by using the click menu in the touch options screen, it is only enabled when you use the tablet SET UP KEY on the tablet and select the pen settings and go into the mapping page and select Express Keys Right.

    The checkbox in the touch options for right/left has absolutely no effect.

    I have sent in a request to Wacom, I will see what they say but I am 99% sure that there is some sort of conflict between their drivers and something within Win 8 that may override the Wacom setup – very frustrating as all of the customized application settings get wiped out on a complete reinstall.

  4. aepoc December 18, 2012 at 6:14 am Reply

    Man that sucks. Being a righty, I can’t say I’ve tried setting up for left-handed use at all. Very odd that your issues pop up every now and then. Seems like Wacom drivers are pretty sketchy and buggy… and apparently that has carried over into Windows 8, which I have no experience with yet. Good luck contacting Wacom. It took me a few different tries, but they did finally get back to me, though their suggestions weren’t of much help… and now they have just stopped contacting me all together. It’s really sad too, because their product could be so much better. I hope you’re able to get this figured out Richard. Keep this post updated if you don’t mind; I’m interested in the fix.

    • Richard December 26, 2012 at 12:15 am Reply

      Well, Wacom got back to me in less than 24 hours! I was given a concise and thorough set of instructions to follow, which involved uninstalling the Wacom software, then a search for any “left overs”. After that, I had to follow a few instructions on restarting / rebooting, then restarting again this time in Safe Mode.

      Then reinstalling the software drivers again, ensuring the tablet is connected directtly to a motherboard USB rather than a hub on my monitor. All is working well! And I can only say how impressed I was at the response from Wacom – Excellent e mail and instructions.

      • aepoc December 31, 2012 at 10:53 am

        Richard,

        I’m glad those instructions are working for you. I was given the same ones, and it all started to fail a few days afterwards. With any luck, yours will continue to function properly. All the best.

  5. Trish December 31, 2012 at 9:31 pm Reply

    I am on a 27 inch Mac OS 10.7.5, I’ve had the Wacom intuos 5 for several months. I’ve been a Wacom user since they first came out. I am totally frustrated, want my money back, and not being as patient as you all have been searching for other brands, cause I’m done. Issues with the wheel ghost image blocking what I’m working on, no logic, I can see. I have tried to login to Wac’s forums with no luck. Since I installed the latest driver, my whole widow moves as I try to follow it with the fat pen they choose as their new default size. Not a comfortable fit in my hand at all, in fact, I am now having pain issues shooting up my thumb as a result of the extreme width. I was also used to pulling my Wacom from one computer to the other, but found out after the purchase, I needed to purchase another license. No way, not when the thing has not worked from day one. The “left” handed great feature is silly. When I turn the computer off, I have to go into preferences, which requires doing all movements in the opposite direction until I get to the preference panel again. Also had to completely reconfigure all the settings since the new driver. I am competing for speed against other designers, my only hope is that they are using this miserable product too. Let me know when it’s ready for prime time. Almost makes me want to purchase a used computer and go back to my old Wacom. Frankly, I never needed all the variety of pressures, but with no logic to the movement, jerky shaking, it’s too hard to discern what’s going on. I am so happy to find this post, I thought it was just me. Thanks

  6. Konstantin January 30, 2013 at 10:42 pm Reply

    Man, i have the exact same problem with my Intuos5. I thought that there is some kind of incompatibility between Intuos5 and Win7 x64. But yesterday i tried my wacom on WinXP SP3 HomeEdition… Still the same problem – tablet stops working randomly. Also, it might be some issue with custom-assigned Express-keys. I tried to use the tablet with the default settings for Express-keys in WinXP.. Tablet is still freezing at random moments. I used many different methods found in the internet to fix the problem, but no results.

  7. Phoebe Burt-Mason February 23, 2013 at 1:17 am Reply

    I’ve had mine for about 3 or 4 months now and it was great until about a month ago when the touch on/off button stopped working. So now the touch will randomly turn on while I’m using the pen and wont let me turn it off and I have to restart my whole computer to get the touch to turn off. I tried changing switching the button commands around but that didn’t work and I tried updating software but that didn’t work either.

  8. aepoc April 2, 2013 at 10:56 am Reply

    Last night, as I was editing some images for a new blog post, my Wacom Intuos 5 software had completely reset all my application-specific settings that I’d done for Explorer, Chrome, Lightroom, Photoshop, etc. This is the fourth time it happened, and it was (again) completely random. I haven’t touched the driver in months, and it’s quirkiness has still been there every week – and then last night, all the settings are just GONE. I checked the Wacom site and updated to the newest driver. This has better be resolved!!!

  9. Phil April 12, 2013 at 12:39 am Reply

    I just got mine a couple months ago and I’ve been looking around the Internet for a fix since their last driver update. Mine have not been as dramatic as the ones I’ve read here. But I’ll open up Photoshop and then start working for a bit and in the middle of a pen stroke, it’ll hiccup and slow down and I’ll get “User Touch Mode Driver has stopped working.” After I close it, the tablet works fine for hours. But after a restart, it’ll always do a hiccup and want to close. I kept thinking if I can just shutdown the User Touch Mode so I don’t have to deal with it, but even turning it off as I start working doesn’t seem to do anything either. But I never know when it’s going to shutdown. Sometimes right away or even an hour later. Really aggravating.

    I’m not even sure I have the latest driver anymore because I’ve updated it so many times in the past several weeks.

  10. aepoc April 12, 2013 at 6:01 am Reply

    I feel your pain Phil! Ten days ago when my driver died again and cleared my settings, I checked Wacom’s website to see if there’s a new driver. Low and behold there was! I downloaded it, installed it, remapped all my settings. Then I started getting the message you’re talking about “User touch mode driver has stopped working”. Then I’ll reboot, and I’ll get the same message again; maybe right away, maybe an hour or so later. I uninstalled that driver, and went back to the previous driver I had where it would at least work (for months, and then clear the settings randomly).

    Wacom doesn’t want to take responsibility for these issues. They’ve told me it’s my system. Clearly that is not the case, as so many others are having issues as well. It’s really too bad. They have such an amazing product (when it works right).

  11. Panda July 22, 2013 at 7:09 am Reply

    My problems aren’t sporadic, the tablet works absolutely fine as long as i have it plugged in before i start the computer, but if i unplugg it and then reinsert it again it starts getting wonky, the touch refuses to go away, the menu with the buttons show up but none of the buttons are actually working, and having both the pen and the touch at the same time confuses the tablet so i cannot work, the only fix i have is to log out and then in again. its inconvenient but at least not as horrible as you guys have had it : ( untrustworthy tablets suck

  12. Cheryl Beverly August 19, 2013 at 9:29 am Reply

    I just purchased my first Wacom. I really wanted to love it… But, I’m having the same sort of problems. Running a new Mac Mini with 16 gigs RAM on system 10.6.8. Trying to customize the express keys seems to make it worse. As does the touch feature. But even if I use the standard settings with the touch turned off, it seems to lock up and be unable to make a selection. This usually requires a restart. Or maybe, if I just sit there for a few minutes, it will start to work again. Highly frustrating. Can’t believe I paid over $300 for this piece of s–––!

  13. Riski September 15, 2013 at 3:16 pm Reply

    I have gone through two Intuos 5 tablets now, both died of the same problem, the first one within three months of buying it, the second one made it a good eight months. The USB port starts to show signs of loosening, then disconnecting follows randomly like an animals final thralls of life, all before just giving out and leaving me with a dead tablet on my lap in the midst of work. Maybe this problem wouldn’t be so prominent if one paid the extra money for it to go wireless. If not for this USB failing, the tablet itself I really enjoyed, I liked to call it my poor man’s Cintiq, now I’m just a poor gal with no tablet at all.

    Side note :: This exact issue occurred in my earlier tablet I owned years ago, the Bamboo Fun, the USB slowly loosening until kicking out with only the warning of the lil friendly *boo boop* to let you know it disconnected; one final time. But, that tablet made it a good two years before it died, so I excused it and blamed my own mishandling, now proven to be my mistake to excuse this company at all. It’s greatly disappointing to see that this problem didn’t become less over the years, but WORSE with newer models. It seems less a problem with the individual tablets having some flaws, but the very company itself who’s design in USB they’re recycling into newer models with less quality control.

    If they only fixed this one problem, they are really the best tablets I’ve handled, my favorite that I’ve always come back to. All with a dream to some day own a Cintiq. ( But it’s daunting to think of spending 3 grand on a tablet that might kick out like all of my previous models of Wacom )

  14. TW October 2, 2013 at 11:36 pm Reply

    My daughter is in the middle of a big school project, due tomorrow no less, and the Intuos 5 (large) has died. Bought in January, it has not been used until recently and is treated with reverent care. I would guess it has maybe 40 hours at most of use. Guess I will spend a bunch of time tomorrow trying new drivers and so forth but honestly, this may well be the final hurrah. Was going to buy a Cintiq for her Xmas but not now… Given that people rely on these things professionally, for work, I would have to give it an F…which is what my kid may get if she can’t mouse the remainder of her project.

  15. Joel Seligmann December 23, 2013 at 1:10 pm Reply

    The Intuos touch capability and smoothness of operation are very sensitive to USB power. When the iPhone or the iPad, for example, is connected to the same hub as the tablet, the touch gets all messed up. Use only powered hubs or, even better, connect directly to a USB port on your computer.

    • aepoc December 23, 2013 at 1:22 pm Reply

      Understandable. I only use it plugged directly into my computer. And have tried multiple USB ports (both 2.0 and 3.0).

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