Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cintiq Companion review

 Last year Wacom teased that they would release a mobile art tablet, and by the summer they announced the Cintiq Companion line. Consisting of a pair of 13.3" standalone tablets in multiple configurations, one running Windows 8, the other running Android. This was very exciting news to anyone whose ever used or owned a Cintiq or any other Wacom product. After seeing a few options in the marketplace lately such as the Surface Pro and Lenovo Helix, we were seeing Wacom's answer to mobile productivity.

I was fortunate enough to have a review unit sent to me from Wacom to test out and I happily put it through its paces. I was sent their higher end Windows model which had an impressive list of specs for sure, but the real question was, “how does it perform?” As with my Lenovo Helix review, I used my Surface Pro and Wacom Cintiq w12x as my reference point for some items.

  • Display Size 13.3 inch
  • Full HD 1920 X 1080 Resolution
  • Advanced control 2048 levels pen pressure, natural feel and multi-touch
  • ExpressKeys™, Rocker Ring, Home Button, on-screen controls
  • Ergonomics Adjustable stand
  • Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro
  • Intel® Core™ i-7 7-3517U processor, 1.9 GHz
  • 256 or 512 GB solid state drive (SSD)
  • Intel® HD Graphics 4000
  • Micro SD slot
  • 8 GB DDR3 RAM
  • Multi-touch display
  • Pressure Levels 2048, both pen tip and eraser
  • Extra Nibs 9 standard
  • Pen carrying case
  • Resolution 5080 lpi
  • Video out mini DisplayPort
  • 2 SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports
  • Headphone jack
  • Bluetooth® 4.0
  • Wireless 802.11 b/g/n
  • Cameras: Front-2MP HD; Back-8MP HD

The first thing I noticed upon looking through the contents of the package was the attention to detail Wacom put into it. They included a zippered carrying pouch for the Cintiq which is really nice. It has pouches to store the pen case, and a space for a keyboard. The inside is a nice soft material which helps clean and protect the screen a bit as you slide the device in and out. It also has a couple of elastic straps on the corners of the interior to keep it in place. The pen case they provide is also very nice, with a magnetic clasp to keep it shut; it neatly houses your pen, nibs and nib puller. Everything fits snug and nothing rattles around. The pen itself has a nice weight to it and feels very pleasant in the hand; even better than my current Cintiq's pen.

Wacom also provided me with their Bluetooth keyboard that they sell separately. The keyboard was nice and thin and the keys had a nice feel to them, though I have to admit I didn't use it much.

The unit has two USB 3.0 ports and a Micro SD slot, even though the hard drive size options are decent, it's nice to expansion options and speedy ones at that. On the same side as these ports is a Displayport out and the power switch. I had a little issue with the power switch since sometimes I noticed that the Cintiq's power was on when I took it out of the bag. What I plan to do if I get one would be to make a little cover using some Sugru, but its something to be aware of. The kickstand came as a separate piece and seemed flimsy at first. It has three rubberized slats that pop out to give you different heights. I was worried that the device would collapse when applying too much pressure, but it proved to be the opposite. It was quite sturdy and allowed for six different positions if you turn it around the other way.

As soon as I first turned it on I could already see that it was a speedy device. Boot times were quick and launching apps like Photoshop opened speedily. The pen touch was very responsive with little to no lag. Pressure sensitivity preformed admirably in the suite of software I tried. I loved the fact that they used a matte screen instead of a glossy one. Its nice to have some texture as you're drawing rather than just gliding around a glossy screen. I tested it out using Photoshop CC, Manga Studio 5, and Sketchbook Pro and it preformed well in each test. Next I tested the expresskeys that are placed on the left side of the device. Anyone whose used a Cintiq or Intuos tablet is familiar with these programmable shortcut keys located right where you need them, next to your work. After using them its hard to go back to using only keyboard shortcuts. These keys functioned well and my only complaints were that there were only a set on the left side, as I'm used to having them on both giving me more shortcut options. However given that this would have increased the overall size of the device, I understand why this decision was made. My other gripe is that the key in the middle of the ring is a Windows key and did not seem reprogrammable. I would have liked to change this to my own short cut, even if it only functioned as such in my art applications, it just seems like a wasted button. Though I wished that there were more buttons, the fact that screen is also a multi-touch display helped to make up for it. I was able to use multi-touch gestures for zooming in and out which worked pretty nicely, though I was unable to use rotation in anything but Sketchbook Pro so Adobe need to work on that. I did encounter one issue with the multi-touch that became a bit annoying. Depending on how I moved my hand, the canvas would sometimes jump off screen. I believe this had to do with the way I rested my hand on the screen When I began to remove the pen from the screen it started to detect my palm and caused the canvas to jump. This could be remedied by turning multi-touch off, or leaving it on and using a cutoff artist glove.

The colors on the Cintiq are relatively good. While not quite as accurate as the Surface Pro, it does an acceptable job, far better then my Cintiq 12WX. Colors were not as vibrant or sharp, but keeping in mind that the Surface Pro has a glossy screen and higher brightness setting, it isn't too surprising. Colors were cast a little more to the orange side, but should probably calibrate well. It didn't bother me much however and it is definitely usable out of the box.

Battery life on the Companion was just adequate, partly due to the Ivy Bridge chip they used instead of the current generation Haswell. It would have yielded much better battery life as well as a minor uptick in performance. I would like to see Wacom release some sort of thin battery pack for those times you're away from a plug for longer periods such as long airplane trips. Since the charger jack is proprietary you cant use the various chargers already on the market. This would have to be my biggest gripe with the overall build, considering the price you're paying, you would expect to have the latest components included. Another issue I had was a strange glitch that would sometimes occur. If the device was in sleep mode for a period of time, the multi-touch would not register, but the pen would. Using the pen for a few strokes would eventually turn multi-touch back on, but its a strange glitch worth noting. Hopefully this can be fixed with an update.

The weight of the unit itself, while hefty, was not bad. Some friends have noted it was a bit too heavy for them, but I found it acceptable given the screen size and everything you get. It's a good tradeoff in terms of size and weight.

In Conclusion, despite the fact that the Wacom Cintiq Companion is an expensive purchase, with all that is featured, I feel it is a premium device that definitely makes you feel that it was money well spent. Even with the few issues I had, for the artist on the go, I would definitely recommend this product.

Final Score: A-