Until recent competition from Hanvon, Wacom was the default choice for any digital artist or designer looking for a graphics tablet. Indeed, we gave the company’s latest Intuos 4 a whopping ten out of ten and our top Editor’s Choice award. With a tablet that’s already that good, how could it possibly get any better? Well, being able to see what you’re drawing on the actual tablet is always nice, and Wacom has its Cintiq line for exactly this reason.
Essentially combining a graphics tablet and a monitor, the Cintiqs aim to give you the best of everything, allowing you to draw, sketch and doodle on their lightly textured surface just like you would on a piece of paper, and instantly displaying the results on their high-quality IPS panels. However, when we reviewed the Intuos 4, the Cintiq line was outdated, as it still used the tablet tech of the older Intuos 3. Now Wacom has rectified this, and its latest Cintiq 21UX sports all the specs and refinements of its newest Intuos stablemate. Does this make it the best graphics tool available?
First, let’s talk models. As Wacom hasn’t updated its smaller 12.1in 12WX, if you want the extra pressure sensitivity and features of the Intuos 4 on a Cintiq, the 21.3in 21UX is your only choice. It’s big and - at around £1600 - doesn’t come cheap, so let’s find out if it’s worth the outlay.
Thankfully, you can feel every penny of that money when you take the 21UX out of the box. Mind you, at 10.2kg that’s not the easiest feat and this tablet is far from portable. Its weight is reflected in the brick-like solidity of the tablet and the quality of the metal stand. The tablet itself is finished in smooth matt black plastic, which looks stylish and feels both rugged and pleasant to the touch. In combination with nicely rounded curves, it’s a pleasure to hold, and happy to rest on your lap (as long as you’re not bothered by its weight).
Out of the box, you’ll find: a pen with base that doubles as nib holder; the tablet itself, with a thick captive cable that terminates in data, video and power plugs; the external power brick; video adapters (including DVI to VGA and DVI-D to DVI-D); and the heavy metal stand. It’s a shame the tablet’s cable can’t be detached. And it would have been nice to see an HDMI adapter to go with this Cintiq’s native DVI connector and VGA adapter. The DVI conversion cable could also have done with being a little longer so that it could have done double duty as an extension, but otherwise we have no complaints.
Setting the tablet up is as easy as can be. Simply place the base on your desk and slide the tablet into it. A protrusion around the cable on the Cintiq’s back slots neatly into the base’s curved cradle, a bit like a ball and socket joint. Together with the stand’s ingenious tilting design, this makes for an incredibly flexible setup. The ‘circle and socket’ arrangement allows the tablet to be docked or removed without any effort, and also lets you rotate it whichever way you want. We wish there was a little more resistance to tell us when the tablet is in its perfectly level horizontal position. However, once you do find the perfect level, you can lock the screen in place using two provided screws.
Meanwhile, the stand’s unique folding legs allow the tablet to be tilted as flat as you like, so that you can draw on it just as you would on a piece of paper. These tilt adjustments are made by gently pulling two levers to the sides of the tablet, which then allows you to slide back the base’s rear feet. This also means that ‘flattening’ the Cintiq won’t require you to remove any items that might be in front of it, such as your keyboard and mouse. In its upright position (mainly when being used as a monitor) the 21UX is always at a bit of an angle though. Unlike your average monitor, it can’t stand completely straight but makes for comfortable viewing regardless.