First Look: Wacom's 21-Inch Touch Screen

For years I've dreamed of making changes to images in Adobe Photoshop directly on the screen, the way I work on paper. Wacom's 21-inch Cintiq 21UX touch screen monitor promised to make my dream a reality. But as often happens, things didn't turn out as smoothly in the real world as they did in my imaginings.

This specialty monitor isn't for everyone: With a street price of $2499, Wacom has aimed the Cintiq squarely at graphics professionals, or hobbyists with a fat wallet. You can use it with a wide range of applications--everything from graphics and Web design to architecture and video creation.

Usability: Joys and Nits

Testing my shipping unit with Photoshop was a real treat. I found myself working almost exclusively with the program's brush palette, switching out different tips and making little digital paintings and drawings. The monitor had me using Photoshop in a totally different way, and it allowed me to spend more time following my creative fancy.

The monitor sits on a rugged, swiveled stand that makes it easy to tilt the 22.4-pound display from roughly 20 degrees short of vertical (Wacom claims 10 degrees) down to nearly flat.

This flexibility accommodates different styles of drawing and also eases the ergonomic impact of holding your arm up for long periods of time. My arm soon tired after drawing with the monitor upright; however, after I switched to a more horizontal position, my fatigue eased. In fact I found the horizontal position best for drawing. Swiveling back to the upright position (which I found best for reading) was a breeze.

Unfortunately, the monitor doesn't reach a full 90 degrees vertical when in its stand, so I found the glare from overhead lights was always a problem. It also doesn't lay completely flat, so I was always dealing with some tilt.

Another limitation: You can't rotate the screen from a landscape to a portrait orientation to work on Web pages or on long, thin images.

Customizable Controls

You can connect the monitor to your computer using either the VGA or DVI connector. The analog signal showed some softness, especially when viewing text, but the digital one produced a sharp image with good color and contrast. When you look closely at the screen, you notice the extremely fine horizontal lines that sense the stylus tip on the screen. At a normal viewing distance, however, these lines aren't apparent.

Thin touch pads on the left and right side of the monitor frame make it easy to scroll and reposition the cursor. Four programmable buttons--two on each side of the display--access any menu, shortcut, or key combination (if the buttons get in the way of your drawing, you can disable them). The control panel for the Cintiq even lets you configure the buttons for specific applications--so you might have one set of controls for Photoshop and a different set for Corel Painter, for example.

The Cintiq's brightness, contrast, and other controls reside in an awkward position on the top of the monitor, which makes it difficult to adjust while you're sitting down. Perhaps the engineers at Wacom considered this when they put Braille-like dots on the controls so that you could feel your way around them.

As I noted at the beginning, the reality of working on a display the way I do on paper came up a touch short of my hopes and expectations. Still, at a lower price and with a little more flexibility in positioning, the Cintiq could well become the monitor of my dreams.

Wacom Cintiq 21UX


This pricey monitor lets you work with images in new ways, but its size and limited positioning options can make it tough to use.
Street: $2499
Current prices (if available)
www.wacom.com/lcdtablets

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