It's been two years since Wacom introduced the substantially redesigned Intuos4. In the interim, the company has chosen to concentrate on refining the design and adding more market-friendly features rather than upping the operational sensitivity or retooling the accessories. That's not really a negative: the tablet retains the same excellent pressure/tilt-sensitivity performance as its predecessor and uses the same generation of pens and mouse. What's new is the support for multitouch and gestures and a design with better integration of wireless operation.
The Intuos5 comes in three sizes: small ($229), medium ($349), and large ($469). Wacom won't be releasing an Extra Large model in this series, instead keeping the Intuos4 model available for those with big-tablet needs.
If possible, the design is even more austere than before. Wacom has replaced the glossy sidebar with its clearly delineated ExpressKeys and Touch Ring and replaced it with a rubberized bezel all around and membrane controls. Also gone are the context-sensitive LED labels that reminded you how the controls mapped. Instead there's a faint LED light indicating that the tablet's powered on and four crop marks showing the active tablet area. On the right side (oriented for a righty) are a Mini-USB connector and a couple of covered recesses for the optional wireless dongle and battery. (It uses RF, not Bluetooth.) Like its predecessor, the tablet works identically whether you're right- or left-handed.
For your mapping reminder, Wacom gives a heads-up display (HUD) when you pause your fingers over the ExpressKeys. This is a fine system, although it always pops up on the left side of your primary display; I'd prefer it to appear on whichever monitor has current focus.
The ExpressKeys default to Touch on/off; Shift, Alt, Ctrl, or their Mac equivalents; pan/scroll; display toggle, for jumping the cursor between two displays; Precision Mode, which shrinks the screen-to-tablet mapping to a smaller area, primarily for working in Photoshop's pixel-level editing mode; and Radial Menu. The Radial menu is a programmable onscreen menu for single-function operations, which comes preset for operations like cut, copy, and paste, forward/back, tab, save, and tablet properties. The four Touch Dial presets are auto scroll/zoom, cycle layers, brush size, and canvas rotation.
For multitouch devotees, the addition of gestures should feel seamless, but I have to admit that touch interfaces have always felt awkward to me when I'm not directly operating on the screen. That said, I rarely experienced what I thought would be the biggest issue: confusion between the signals from the pen and accidental hand swipes. When operating wirelessly, though, I did feel like there was a slight operational lag that I didn't experience with a pen or a mouse.
Oddly, the thing that took most getting used to is the new surface of the active tablet area, which has a slightly rougher texture than the Intuos4's (most likely for better touch response). But after a few days I had either adapted or simply worn it down a little. It probably says more about me than I'd like, but the membrane keys really appeal simply because they don't have cracks for food and schmutz to accumulate. Plus they have various bumps embedded for easier identification by feel, something I'd complained about in the Intuos4. And in case you were wondering, it doesn't supply touch pressure sensitivity or any finger-based drawing; you can paint dots by tapping with a brush tool, but finger painting isn't on the agenda. Finally, its inability to share the driver customizations and settings between systems remains a major annoyance.
For graphics, the Intuos5 doesn't advance over the Intuos4, but it's a lot more flexible than its predecessor if you want to use it as your only input device without losing the top-notch sensitivity.