Cintiq 21UX Interactive Pen Display full review

Computer tablet company Wacom has upgraded its flagship Cintiq range with the introduction of the Cintiq 21UX, replacing the 18.1-inch model at the same price.

Weighing in at a 22.4lb (10.2kg), the pressure-sensitive LCD tablet is both a beauty and a beast. Anyone who has ever said size doesn’t matter has clearly never seen the 21.3-inch Cintiq 21UX. Wacom users accustomed to drawing in one place while looking at another will need a little re-education, but all for the better. The screen real-estate on offer is initially overwhelming for anyone who has worked exclusively on an A6 size tablet. The display lets the user draw directly onto the UXGA 24-bit screen. This adds a real hands-on, realistic, almost organic feel to the creative process. Even the most dramatic strokes aren’t limited while sketching across the expansive surface.

As well as size, the Cintiq 21UX adds features previously found only on Wacom’s top-end Intuos3 range, given a five-star review by Macworld last November.

ExpressKeys and Touch Strips sit right and left (to accommodate southpaws) of the screen and used correctly add to productivity. The ExpressKeys are two freely programmable, four-button keypads that are pre-configured with frequently used modifier keys, such as Ctrl, Option, Shift and Space. The Touch Strip acts like a scroll bar with presets to allow zooming and scrolling in various applications.

You can modify these or simply switch them off within System Preferences until you get to grips with both. Unlike previous Wacom tablets, which used a series of virtual buttons along the top of the tablet, these additions are not a novelty.

A large aorta-like cable runs from the display down to the computer, where three connections for power, USB data and preferred DVI video connection fork. These, along with weight, restrict portability, although the display can be fixed to any mount arm or stand conforming to the VESA 100 standard. On-screen display (OSD) controls are positioned top-right on the underside of the screen. The controls are slightly fiddly but become intuitive with a little practice. Calibrating the tablet in order to align the screen cursor position with the position of the pen on the display screen takes a while. It’s also vital to experiment with the display’s position, setting up your work area to be both productive and ergonomically safe. Unlike working on a traditional Wacom tablet, height and tilt are options that can affect your wellbeing. Take breaks and experiment, use different settings for different tasks – especially when the keyboard comes into play.

The display itself is a work of mechanical beauty, a sleek solid grey tablet that rivals Apple in the design department. It’s also practical and well engineered, free of glare and flicker. The stats are impressive: 1,600-x-1,200 pixels, 170-degree viewing angle, a tilt-sensitive pen with 1,024 pressure-sensitivity levels in both the pen tip and eraser. The display can be tilted and twisted to your heart’s desire, viewed vertically or virtually flat. Spinning the display on its stand is a joy; turning a digital work of art on its side like traditional painting.

With practice, you can use your favourite graphics application in portrait mode like a digital easel. Both screen and stand can withstand the wildest scribbles and scrawls and the weight of forearms and elbows during moments of frenzied inspiration. After a weekend of inspired drawing activity brought on by using the Cintiq 21UX, there were no notable marks or indentations on the screen; it looked as good as new.

The patented ‘Penabled’ Cintiq Grip Pen has been redesigned and ergonomically developed with a cushioned waist to relieve stress. This translates into exceptional control and effective simple ease of use. The display can be used alone as your main monitor, worth considering if you’re budgeting a new system and feel little need for a secondary monitor. An Apple 20-inch display could, however, cost you a third of the price. The Cintiq 21UX also takes up a great deal of physical desktop space – so try before you buy.

A couple of issues related to USB settings and driver failure were rectified using ‘Repair Disk Permissions’ in Apple’s Disk Utility soon after installation. The Cintiq 21UX under review was tested with Adobe Photoshop, Corel Painter, and Alias SketchBook Pro, but comes bundled with the more modest Painter Essentials 2. All performed exceptionally well, enjoying a new lease of life under the superlative conditions offered by the display. Painter was suited best – it’s easy to recreate the stroke-by-stroke feel of traditional painting and draftsmanship – followed closely by Photoshop, size being key to accurate retouching. SketchBook Pro produced a little flare on the screen during faster strokes but this did not distract. Being a seasoned Wacom user, the ability to work directly on a screen with a pressure-sensitive pen is an inspiring joy.

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