Review: The Wacom Cintiq Companion

Hello and Welcome!  I am your “geeky artist gal pal” Val, and this is my first-ever tech review.  I’ll be covering the “Cintiq Companion”, a portable drawing tablet from every artist’s favorite tablet company, Wacom.

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Wacom Cintiq Companion v.01

Wacom recently announced the release of the second version of the Cintiq Companion… the Companion 2.
Yay!  This announcement doesn’t surprise me one bit as I just bought the first version of this tablet a few months ago, without any hint of a new one coming out soon.  Ha ha, this is how things often work out for me!  However, from what I’ve read of the Companion 2, there are very few changes.  So I hope this review will help to cover the pros and cons of all models, and help you to decide if this equipment is the right investment for you!

I think I can safely say that if you are used to an iPad, or you primarily use Apple products, you will most likely not like the Cintiq Companion.  Maybe that goes without saying, for the following reasons:

  1. Available OS choices (Windows 8 or Android)

  2. Resolution and/or graphics sizes

  3. Size, especially weight of the machine (nearly 4 lbs vs. iPad Air 2 now under 1 lb).

I opted to try the Windows 8 Companion (as I am a life-long PC girl), and I will also discuss the OS a smidge.  The general buzz I’d heard about Win8 did not get my hopes up… (I even tried using an iPad out of fear I might hate the new Windows).  HOWEVER, I gotta say I have been quite astonished with Win8 overall – I’m more pleased with it than I thought I would be.  (Perhaps also in part to that iPad I tried to use for many months, which led me to nothing but artistic frustration and, er, too much gaming.)

Windows 8 App view vs. regular Desktop view

WacomCintiqCompanionScreenshotsApp View

WacomCintiqCompanionScreenshots2Desktop View

Right, so Win8 surpassed my expectations.  Yes, there is the “app” view, but on this tablet I can seamlessly transition to the normal “PC desktop” view as well.  I’ve found myself a little in-awe over this fact a few times, because it finally reaches that all-in-one device pinnacle.  (That is, if only Win8 had all the app options my smartphone does.)  There are some other small cons to the software I can point to… for example using the bluetooth.

<Start rant:  Bluetooth has become a necessity in smart devices.  In Win8 I SHOULD be able to just swipe open the sidebar menu, tap a button and blah-bling! insta-bluetooth.  Unfortunately on this device I have to swipe open the sidebar menu > Settings > Change PC Settings > PC and devices > Bluetooth.  From there I oftentimes find myself having to un-pair and re-pair my bluetooth, because there’s no click-to-use-this-device-button-even-though-it’s-already-paired-and-should-be-connecting-but-isn’t-for-some-strange-reason.  End rant.>

So yeah, Win8 is indeed a “mixed bag”.  For my purposes as a professional artist, it works rather nicely.  The experience is bolstered by touch-screen capabilities, like switching between apps with a swipe, split-screen-ing, or zooming in and out using your fingers (whee!).  I imagine if I were more ambidextrous, I would “play” this tablet like a turn-table DJ.

Oh, and of course the Win8 Companion runs FULL DESKTOP APPLICATIONS.

The Companion has no problems handling multiple layers in programs like Photoshop and Sketchbook Pro.

Like Photoshop.  Like Toon Boom’s Storyboard Pro.  Yes, I have drawn animatic sequences on my freakin’ tablet.  It is amazing, and there are only two things that I’ve noticed that I want to bring up in this regard.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqvPuMpwt94

Firstly, the original Cintiq Companion (as well as Wacom’s smallest desktop Cintiq the 13HD) display measures a paltry 13.3”.  This means that full program menus, graphics, and buttons, etc., show up teenie-weenie-tiny on the screen.  For someone that grew up playing a Sega Game Gear in the 90’s, this is a familiar feel, and rather un-phasing.

Unfortunately for those without handheld-gaming experience, and those of you used to a screen that’s, say, 21.5” +, this may be a deal-breaker.  The size of the menus can make it feel like you’re clicking for a needle in a haystack.  In all honesty, I would advise against purchasing one of these machines if you don’t feel like you can or want to compensate for tiny graphics.  I’ve never worked on a widescreen display, (for example the Cintiq 27QHD *drool*), but I imagine that transitioning to a small screen this size if you did would probably suck.

(Sidenote:  To cut-down on menu-clicking, I do find myself wishing for more than four “ExpressKeys” to which I could attach program shortcuts.  These are the buttons beside the screen on the left, accompanied by the “Rocker Ring” and “Windows Button”.  Wacom has granted my wish in the Companion 2, which now has six “ExpressKeys” [see below].)

DTHW1210_LeftView_RGB

Wacom Cintiq Companion v.02

Speaking of “QHD”, this is one of the changes to the Companion 2, which features QHD resolution of 2560×1440, vs. HD of 1920×1080.  ← insert jaw-dropping googly-eyes here.

I don’t really need QHD to draw sketches of Harry Potter, but I imagine for painters it’ll be a dream….

Secondly, there’s the stylus pen, and how it interacts with the screen.  Which is, for the most part, un-remarkably like any of the other Wacom Cintiq models.  I have noticed with my Companion there’s occasionally an increased parallax effect…  that is, I notice the disconnect.  And then there is the way the stylus is calibrated (on purpose?) to work near the edges of the screen.  The cursor becomes seriously displaced.  Perhaps it’s to be able to access off-screen menus?  Regardless, it’s awkward.

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Yay!  It’s a Cintiq pen!  The case is pretty sweet.  I dig it.

 

The pen itself is a regular style Cintiq pen, and comes in a very nice case with extra nibs and a nib-grabbing tool.  Oh, and a couple of “Personalization Rings”, should you be watching your pen more than the screen, or should anyone actually look at your pen close enough to notice the color accent.  *ahem*  Speaking of cases, the tablet itself comes with a great neoprene case, with a faux fur-like lining that definitely gives it a cozy home and soft cushioning protection.  Nice touch, Wacom.  However, when it comes to accessories, the accompanying display stand could definitely use a redesign.

You’d think it would be really neat because the idea behind it is fantastic – three different angled tiers to choose from, and I definitely make use of each angle.  However, the stand “attaches” to the tablet via “stand slots”.  Read: No locking mechanism.  There are small issues attached to this design – for example it falls off easily if you open it too far when attempting to stick it into the third-tier position, to put the display upright.

BCgirl_colorsketch

Taking a piece to finish.

Hmm, I think that about covers it!  Allow me to sum up by saying that the Cintiq Companion v.01 works, looks, and feels like a professional piece of equipment that is meant to get shit done.  Its functionality surpasses its awkwardness, and the ability to work this way from anywhere is worth the (approximately) $2k price tag for someone like me (pro artists).  I would not recommend it for hobbyists.

Finally, with the Companion 2, it looks as though Wacom has moved the power button position.  This is good news for right-handed artists using the ExpressKeys on the left side.  I personally find, with the original Companion, that I often grab the power button unintentionally.  It sticks out a bit (contrary to the photos on their website), so I end up accidentally putting it to sleep all the time.  FYI there is a way to turn this functionality off.

This change means that the Companion 2 has solved all of the Hardware issues I have encountered, making it more worth the price tag.  If you get one, I hope you enjoy it!!!

Cheerios!  – Val
http://www.boomcookie.com/

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