Wacom Cintiq 21UX review

Price when reviewed

As powerful as graphics tablets are, the process can be both unnatural and unintuitive. Those who have integrated a tablet into their workflow have usually had to make a significant investment of time in order to accommodate them. That’s were the Cintiq comes in – it’s both a 21in TFT screen and a graphics tablet. With the Cintiq 21UX, you’re not required to invest nearly as much time adjusting to it.

Wacom Cintiq 21UX review

With a street price of £2,147 though, the investment is more financial. But don’t get too hung up on the price – a decent display of this size and quality will cost about £1,000, even without the tablet ability. There’s practically no direct competition either, so if you want this particular combination of features, the only thing you can do about the price is grumble.

But that’s were the grumbling stops. Viewed solely as a graphics tablet, the Cintiq 21UX is superb, incorporating the complete range of features found in Wacom’s excellent Intuos3 range. That means the system boasts 1,024 levels of pressure sensitivity and a resolution of 5,080lpi. This level of precision is unprecedented for a combined graphics tablet/display and means that, for example, Quick Mask operations in Photoshop become effortless. As an added bonus, this is the first such device to support pen tilt.

If you already have an Intuos3 tablet, there’s more good news in that the stylii are now interchangeable across the two – incredibly useful if you use a second display. The nibs are also interchangeable; the default nib can be swapped for a pleasingly tactile felt-tip facsimile or for a spring-mounted nib that attempts to mimic a brush tip.

Like the Intuos3 tablets, the Cintiq 21UX features two sets of ExpressKeys and two Touch Strips, one group of each at either side of the display. These are set up to replicate modifier keys, but can have either global or application-specific commands associated with them.

While these controls are intuitive and generally well placed, they’re no substitute for a full keyboard. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a comfortable position that gave us equal access to the 21UX and our keyboard, but the ergonomics are otherwise faultless. The unit’s stand has two paddles at the rear to release the spring-loaded mechanism, allowing it to move easily from almost flat to 60 degrees.

When flat, the unit can rotate both clockwise and anti-clockwise by 180 degrees, solving the traditional problem of your hands masking crucial areas, and serving further to blur the distinction between traditional and electronic drawing. There’s no lip between the screen and the bezel either, making big, expressive gestures possible.

The quality of the 21.3in, UXGA screen itself is excellent, if not quite on a par with dedicated graphics displays. It’s very slightly soft and suffers from a noticeably sluggish 50ms response time, but then it isn’t going to be used for video or animation work. The screen reduces glare admirably too and, thankfully, doesn’t easily show fingerprints.

The fantastic performance isn’t entirely without problems – the sheer size means that the physical act of moving your head from one corner to the other alters the relative position of the cursor and stylus, and technical limitations also reduce sensitivity at the corners and edges of the screen. But these are minor niggles – this product’s desirability is matched only by its practicality.

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