By Brady Betzel
As an online editor and colorist, I have tried a lot of hardware interfaces designed for apps like Adobe Premiere, Avid Media Composer, Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve and others. With the exception of professional color correction surfaces like the FilmLight Baselight, the Resolve Advanced Panel and Tangent’s Element color correction panels, it’s hard to get exactly what I need.
While they typically work well, there is always a drawback for my workflow; usually they are missing one key shortcut or feature. Enter Sensel Morph, a self-proclaimed morphable hardware interface. In reality, it is a pressure-sensitive trackpad that uses individual purchasable magnetic rubber overlays and keys for a variety of creative applications. It can also be used as a pressure-sensitive trackpad without any overlays.
For example, inside of the Sensel app you can identify the Morph as a trackpad and click “Send Map to Morph,” and it will turn itself into a large trackpad. If you are a digital painter, you can turn the Morph into “Paintbrush Area” and use a brush and/or your fingers to paint! Once you understand how to enable the different mappings you can quickly and easily Morph between settings.
For this review, I am going to focus on how you can use the Sensel Morph with Adobe Premiere Pro. For the record, you can actually use it with any NLE by creating your own map inside of the Sensel app. The Morph essentially works with keyboard shortcuts for NLEs. With that in mind, if you customize your keyboard shortcuts you are going to want to enable the default mapping inside of Premiere or adjust your settings to match the Sensel Morph’s settings.
Before you plug in your Morph, you will need to click over to https://sensel.com/pages/support, where you can get a quick-start guide in addition to the Sensel app you will need to install before you get working. After it’s downloaded and installed, you will want to plug in the Morph via the USB and let it charge before using the Bluetooth connection. It took a while for the Morph to fully charge, about two hours, but once I installed the Sensel app, added the Video Editing Overlay and opened Adobe Premiere, I was up and working.
To be honest, I was a little dubious about the Sensel Morph. A lot of these hardware interfaces have come across my desk, and they usually have poor software implementation, or the hardware just doesn’t hold up. But the Sensel Morph broke through my preconceived ideas of hardware controllers for NLEs like Premiere, and for the first time in a long time, I was inspired to use Premiere more often.
It’s no secret that I learned professional editing in Avid Media Composer and Symphony. And most NLEs can’t quite rise to the level of professional experience that I have experienced in Symphony. One of those experiences is how well and fluid the keyboard and Wacom tablet work together. The first time I plugged in the Sensel Morph, overlayed the Video Editing Overlay on top of the Morph and opened Premiere, I began to have that same feeling but inside of Premiere!
While there are still things Premiere has issues with, the Sensel Morph really got me feeling good about how well this Adobe NLE worked. And to be honest, some of those issues relate to me not learning Premiere’s keyboard shortcuts like I did in Avid. The Sensel Morph felt like a natural addition to my Premiere editing workflow. It was the first time I started to feel that “flow state” inside of Premiere that I previously got into when using Media Composer or Symphony, and I started trimming and editing like a mad man. It was kind of shocking to me.
You may be thinking that I am blowing this out of proportion, and maybe I am, a little, but the Morph immediately improved my lazy Premiere editing. In fact, I told someone that Adobe should package these with first-time Premiere users.
I really like the way the timeline navigation works (much like the touch bar). I also like the quick Ripple Left/Right commands, and I like how you can quickly switch timelines by pressing the “Timeline” button multiple times to cycle through them. I did feel like I needed a mouse some of the time and keyboard for some of the time, but for about 60% of the time I could edit without them. Much like how I had to force myself to use a Wacom tablet for editing, if you try not to use a mouse I think you will get by just fine. I did try and use a Wacom stylus with the Sensel Morph and, unfortunately, it did not work.
What improvements could the Sensel Morph make? Specifically in Premiere, I wish they had a full-screen shortcut (“`”) labeled on the Morph. It’s one of those shortcuts I use all the time, whether I want to see my timeline full screen, the effects controls full screen or the Program feed full screen. And while I know I could program it using the Sensel app, the OCD in me wants to see that reflected onto the keys. While we are on the keys subject, or overlay, I do find it a little hard to use when I customize the key presses. Maybe ordering a custom printed overlay could assuage this concern.
One thing I found odd was the GPU usage that the Sensel app needed. My laptop’s fans were kicking on, so I opened up Task Manager and saw that the Sensel app was taking 30% of my Nvidia RTX 2080. Luckily, you really only need it open when changing overlays or turning it into a trackpad, but I found myself leaving it open by accident, which could really hurt performance.
In the end, is the Sensel Morph really worth the $249? It does come with one free overlay of your choice with the $249 purchase price, along with a one-year warranty; but if you want more overlays those will set you back from $35 to $59 depending on the overlay.
The Video Editing one is $35 while the new Buchla Thunder overlay is $59. From a traditional Keyboard, Piano Key, Music Production, or even Drum Pad Overlay there are a few different options you can choose from. If you are a one-person band that goes between Premiere and apps like Abelton, then it’s 100 percent worth it. If you use Premiere a lot, I still think it is worth it. The iPad Mini-size and weight is really nice, and when using over Bluetooth you feel untethered. Its sleek and thin design really allows you to bring this morphable hardware interface with you anywhere you take your laptop or tablet.
The Sensel Morph is not like any of the other hardware interfaces I have used. Not only is it extremely mobile, but it works well and is compatible with a lot of content creation apps that pros use daily. They really delivered on this one.
Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on shows like Life Below Zero and The Shop. He is also a member of the Producer’s Guild of America. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.