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.


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.

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].)


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.


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.


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

Review: The new Scooby-Doo: Franken Creepy!

Scooby Doo DVD cover

Review: The new Scooby-Doo: Franken Creepy!
-by Megan Milo

The new Scooby-Doo: Franken Creepy! movie is out and turning heads. In an almost alternate universe, the gang is all whacked out of sorts. Daphne has a “bad hair day”, Shaggy goes towards the danger, Scooby isn’t hungry, Velma believes monsters are real, Fred’s Mystery Machine is gone and he can’t seem to forget it… like at all… repeatedly… in lots of exploding flashbacks. With quickly spliced flashes of scenes, we see the whole gang travel to Transylvania to find out what happened to Velma’s monster-creating ancestors; the Dr. Von Dinkenstein’s. When Velma is driven insane by a magical hypnosis wheel while attempting to revive her great-great-uncle’s monster, it’s up to everyone else to save the town and themselves from her crazy wrath. In the midst of Fred losing his Mystery Machine, the girl’s new outfits, and the boy’s new appetite’s, we have a psycho monster to worry about. When the hypnotic wheel is reversed, the gang is back up on their high horses/carriage (watch the film and you’ll get the reference) and ready to un-mask the evildoers. This is a classic Scooby-Doo cartoon that manages to bring all things full circle, beginning to end. Plenty of suspense, diversity, old characters, and crazy old towns. Scooby-Doo manages to make fun of itself and will leave you giggling like a child. Great flick to get your kids back into cartoons!

Frankencreepy Pencils

7/10 pencils, would recommend.


Review: The Lenovo Helix laptop hybrid from an Animator’s perspective

2014-01-26 16.56.26 First off let me say, I am a tough critic when it comes to hardware. I’ve owned dozens of laptops and a number of tablets over the years and I beat them up pretty hard. If I don’t like something I sell it right away. If I do I’ll keep it and recommend it to everyone I think will care. My main tablets have been the LE16600, the LE1700, the Asus EP 121 and the iPad Retina display and Galaxy Note 2. I’ve owned too many laptops to list here. That said, I’ve owned the Lenovo Helix for about a month now and it has taken a bit of getting used to primarily because of Windows 8 and not the hardware itself.

I primarily use it in three ways:

  • Drawing on it (with the touchscreen turned off)
  • Using it as a tablet and surfing the web (touch screen on
  • In laptop mode (touchscreen on)

I could possibly see myself using it in the fourth mode with is presentation mode to pitch either a show or storyboard since the tablet screen then faces outward away from you but you have control of the keyboard but I haven’t needed it yet. I still think that might not work well because you can’t see what page you’re on if you overshoot the panel by double clicking the arrow key or something like that. I do not use the stock stylus but in order to have any stylus work at all you must take the stock on out to have the digitizer recognize a stylus at all. A stupid thing for Lenovo to do in my opinion. because it makes the stylus VERY easy to lose if you want to use a different stylus. A better stylus is a Wacom penabled stylus which feels good in the hand and works very well. Also a Motion Computing LE1600/LE1700 stylus will work with it and that’s about as good as it gets for a stylus as far as I’m concerned.

2014-01-26 17.01.17

A comparison of stylii  Top to bottom; Cintiq, LE 1700, Wacom  Penabled pen,Lenovo Helix stylus

My primary use is lunchtime and working on my own projects in a restaurant or cafe, drawing and writing or working on it while on vacation for an hour to get some small thing done or check a file. I do a huge amount of freelance so i need all of my files to be on the hard drive so I use Dropbox to sync it all and with a 256gb ssd hard drive the Helix does fine job of backing my art and projects up. With every other tablet I’ve owned this was an issue but luckily the Helix is new enough to take advantage of the higher capacity ssd drives. The tablet itself is very well made, sturdy and solid feeling. It feels like you could actually drop it and it would not break. Especially the tablet itself.

2014-01-26 16.58.52The keyboard dock has a small lip on it where the tablet slides
into which might get caught on a bag if you tried to store it by itself.

The keyboard dock is a bit light but sturdy as well. It does not creak at all when you hold it at one end and while it’s a bit heavier than say an iPad it feels like it won’t break and I like that. It’s clearly made well. I use it often to write out scripts and outlines as well as correspond with clients and work. The keyboard is solid but could use a tiny bit more weight to it because with the tablet docked in laptop mode the unit gets a bit top heavy and will rock a bit on the lap. On the desk it’s just fine but it IS a laptop. Another few ounces on the front of the keyboard dock would have made all the difference in the world.

The Helix is an 11.5 inch device and if you’ve owned an LE1600 it is much thinner and smaller. It’s significantly lighter as well.

2014-01-26 16.59.55The Helix vs the LE1700

2014-01-26 17.00.06And side by side you can clearly see it’s significantly smaller in size.

2014-01-26 17.00.38Finally top down.


The trackpad has no physical buttons on it and is just one big surface similar to a Macbook pro. It was awful when I first got it but after updating all the Lenovo drivers as well as upgrading to Windows 8.1 the performance is significantly better. If there was no Windows 8.1 I would have returned it. Yes it’s that stark of a difference to me. I did not think I would like the touch screen while using it in laptop mode but I do and tend to use it fairly often. That said, I have found that again Windows 8 rears it’s ugly head in the form of horrific palm rejection but it’s fairly easy to disable the touch screen to draw with and again worth it just for being able to draw at a cafe or train.

2014-01-26 17.04.11How to disable the Touch screen in Windows 8.1

For those that don’t know you can right click on the Windows icon bottom left corner, select device manager and then Human Interface and select the touch driver and right click on it to disable it. Should Microsoft make it easier? Doggone RIGHT they should but they didn’t and this is an easy enough work around. Still, a simple widget on the desktop to toggle such things wouldn’t be that hard for them and yet they’ve clearly NOT done it on purpose since they make the Surface Pro which suffers form exactly the same thing. In general, am horrified by the long string of bad decisions Microsoft is currently making and I hope they shape up soon. I doubt they will however as they don’t even realize they’re doing anything wrong!

Moving on… I primarily draw with Sketchbook Pro and occasionally use Photoshop and Illustrator. When I draw I use a wedge to prop up the tablet called an Allsop Cool Channel platform  which I love because of it’s slight angle and it’s lightness. 2014-01-26 17.08.13The Allsop Cool Channel platform from the side

2014-01-26 17.08.02

And from the front.

I animate in Flash, Maya and After Effects regularly as well as use the Toon Boom Suit of apps such as Storyboard Pro and Animate fairly often. All of these are processor intensive apps (except Sketchbook Pro) and chug fairly quickly on a crappy machine due to vector and 3d calculations. The Helix performs admirably on all occasions as far as I’ve found. Don’t get me wrong it’s NOT a desktop computer and it does NOT have a dedicated graphics card so it WILL chug with the hard stuff like rendering or a file with 500,000 polys but in my mind that’s okay, because I’m walking away anyway and really I seldom render on a laptop. In my mind, cleanup up and final are for desktops but you can get a LOT done on a laptop.

Battery life is decent enough that I am not watching the clock as I work and it will easily go 4 or 5 hours between charges. I charge it every other day or so. The Helix actually has two batteries, one in the tablet itself and one on the keyboard dock which is nice as it does give you an extra bit of juice. Speakers are really loud and work well but don’t expect too much since it’s only a laptop and has speakers the size of your pinky nail. It does NOT have an SD card slot which I find perplexing but I read that Lenovo had a choice, more cooling ability or an SD card slot, and I guess it’s for the best because this sucker does get hot when in use but only in the top left corner and I’m seldom touching up there so it does not bother me.


I installed Skyrim on the Helix and while it technically works it’s not very good and you need to use an xBox controller to have any sense of control as the trackpad is useless and so is the stylus. Even then it’s a tiny bit jumpy at best. I also installed the Microsoft top down game: Halo Spartan Assault which works fairly well and I’ve had fun playing that. It’s not really a great gaming laptop to be truthful but I have an Xbox for that so it’s not a deal breaker for me.

So in conclusion, I would highly recommend the Lenovo Helix for artists and animators alike. It’s not prefect, won’t replace your desktop completely but has enough power to use any of the standard apps like the Adobe and Autodesk suites as well as do some light gaming if you’re so inclined. It has a decent sized hard drive to store files, plus an display port that can be used to connect to an HDMI enabled TV (with a convertor) the stylus is crap but you can get a better one easy enough.