If you work with graphics or images, the concept behind the Wacom Cintiq series seems like a no-brainer: Combine a display with a pressure-sensitive tablet so that you can directly edit vector art, retouch images, paint, produce video special effects, and so on. True, tablets aren't for everyone. If you work with a tablet now, you'll probably find a Cintiq even more fluid and powerful. But unless you're backed by a deep pocket or generous business budget, the price will sting; for example, the Cintiq 12WX costs about 50 percent more than a 6x8-inch Intuous3 plus a typical 22-inch monitor.
The series comes in three sizes: the 12.1-inch 12WX, the 20.1-inch 20WSX, and the 21.3-inch 21UX. The "W" in the product names indicates "wide screen"; the 12WX and 20WSX both have 16:10 aspect ratios compared with the 21UX's 4:3.
The initial setup was sufficiently frustrating and time-consuming that we were convinced we were going to hate the Cintiq. Granted, it was being tested in a cluttered, cable-infested workspace. But behind the 12WX's sleek gray face lies a bulky AC adapter brick plus a relatively large breakout box. There's never a good place for either of these.
The display has a pull-out brace on its lower half that allows you to stand it from near vertical to a 25-degree angle from your desktop (or completely flat, with the stand tucked in). When using it as a second -- or perhaps third -- passive display, it will likely sit to the side of your primary monitor, and when using it as a tablet, you pull it forward either onto the desk in front of your primary display or onto your lap. There's no cable management, however, so moving it back to its position on the side requires annoying (and potentially dangerous) cable shoving to keep the stand from resting on it and leaving the display askew.
On one hand, it worked quite nicely perched on the desk in front of our mammoth CRT, though that required pushing the keyboard off to the side, within reach for keyboard shortcuts. It didn't function quite so well on the lap, however. Without the ability to adjust the angle from the top (to tilt towards the person), we couldn't find a comfortable position in which to work for more than a few minutes.
In a multiple-monitor setup, you can program a button to jump the cursor from your current application to the desktop, or from the current application to the application on the other display. When working with the other display, the Cintiq functions just like a tablet and supports all the functions that the Intuos3 series offers, including pop-up menus, a programmable switch on the pen, and customisable pressure sensitivity for the pen and the eraser.
Configuring the buttons is easy; remembering what you programmed is hard. We generally had to leave the Tablet Properties dialog open on the other display for quick reference. Furthermore, we had to disable the Touch Strip on the right, as it proved impossible to keep from brushing along it if you're right handed, causing unwanted actions.
One frequent misperception about the Cintiq is that it's somehow a lesser tablet, since it does double duty as a monitor. That's untrue. The 12WX is based on the most recent of Wacom's tablet technologies, the Intuos3, with its 5,080-line-per-inch resolution and 10-bit (1,024 levels) pressure sensitivity. It supports the same set of wireless pens: one standard Grip Pen comes bundled, plus there are the optional 6D Art Pen (about AU$180), Airbrush (about AU$160), and Classic Pen (about AU$140). It doesn't support the Wacom mouse, though I can't see any reason why it should. And in practice, it certainly feels the same as working with an Intuos3 tablet -- better, even, once you factor in the more natural feel of working directly on the display, especially with brushes.
I've got mixed feelings about the 12WX as a display. On one hand, the device itself is the perfect size when you don't have a lot of desk space and don't live in your graphics applications full time. The screen is too small, however; we would have preferred it with a 4:3 aspect ratio and smaller buttons in order to provide a bigger active area. Creating masks in Photoshop, for example, required too much zooming around. We also found it too difficult to operate interface items along the screen edges, such as scroll bars and the zoom pop-up on Photoshop's status bar.
All that said, we really liked working with the Cintiq 12WX and will be sorry to see it go. If you've got the budget and the need, there's no reason to deprive yourself; if you've got the space, you may want to consider one of the bigger options, as well.