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.
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.
Tagged: 5, 64-bit, aepoc, AMD phenom II, Best Buy, BIOS, driver, express keys, frustrating, intuos, intuos 4, intuos 5, iPad, lightroom 4, motherboard, nib, pen, radial menu, RAM, tablet, USB, video, wacom, windows 7, wonky, work smarter not harder