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Mind Your Business: Wacom Cintiq Companion Review

Mark Simon takes Wacom’s new tablet PC for a digital spin.

Digital drawing anywhere with the Wacom Companion.

I’m in love with a Companion. Yes, I’m a big fan of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, but I’m not talking about that type of companion. I’m talking about a Companion I’m likely to spend most of my time with and my wife won’t try to kill me.

I’m talking about the new tablet PC Wacom Cintiq Companion. It’s a full Windows 8 tablet computer with a Cintiq drawing surface.

I feel like a kid in a candy store with this little toy.

I gave my Companion a real workout. Here’s her measurements:

  • Windows 8 (ughhh)
  • 13.3” screen (yeah!)
  • i-7 processor, 1.9Ghz (whoosh)
  • 8GM Ram (what sound does a RAM make, anyway)
  • 512 solid state hard drive (no noise at all)
  • 3.9 pounds (oof)
  • 1920 x 1080 resolution (See that? Yes you will.)
  • 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity (tickle, tickle)

Any other measurements don’t really matter. I’m sure you are more interested in how she performs. And oh baby, does she perform.

When I first got the system, it was set up with all the power conservation settings for when it’s not plugged in. It ran great on just about everything, but some graphics intensive things had a slight delay. So I reset the system for high-performance whether I was plugged in or not.

The Companion is completely mobile.

In high performance, I didn’t see any speed difference between my Companion and my newly upgraded editing desktop. That’s a good sign.

Battery life is pretty damn good. I didn’t run any specific tests for actual time though. Obviously when it’s running in high performance, the battery won’t last as long, but I did some web surfing and a few hours of sketching and showing videos to clients on location and still had plenty of battery life left when I got back to the studio. I didn’t put the charger on it until I shut down for the night. Good enough for me.

I’m not a big fan of Windows 8, but it does work well with touch screens. I love manipulating the screen with one hand while I draw with the other. (read on)

Photoshop? Yep, she works like a pro. I was using Photoshop CC and with the 2048 levels of sensitivity, it’s more like working on paper than ever. In many ways, it’s more sensitive than my pencil was. Plus with the tilt recognition with the pen, I can now draw a thin hard line or use the side of the digital pencil and get some nice, wide shading like I did with my Ebony pencil.

Premiere? I put a big load on her. I layered 3 HD videos, all with audio, and animated a still image across the screen and it played back without missing a frame. Imagine editing HD video and effects on a tablet with the same programs as on your desktop. I can start a project on the road and transfer it to my bigger monitors later to finish it up. Too cool.

Then there’s my favorite program, Toon Boom’s Storyboard Pro. I tried out the latest version on my Companion and she purred right along. I can drive to a location and just start drawing without any setup. Full motion, fast drawing, animatics and an impressed client. And when I’m near wifi I backup to my Google Drive.

I’ve gotten to be a big fan of Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro. I love the drawing tools and the feel. I also love that it’s designed to work with touch screens. While I’m drawing with my right hand, I can zoom in and out and rotate the drawing area with my left hand. It’s easier to turn the digital art than a piece of paper and I can zoom on it too. (well, technically I can zoom in on paper by leaning closer to it, but the older I get the less I can see when I get too close).

Rotating the image while I draw in Sketchbook Pro.

Of course there’s the obvious comparisons between the Cintiq Companion and the Microsoft Surface Pro and the Surface Pro 2. Both are tablets, both runs Windows 8, both are touch sensitive with drawing sensitivity. The Companion weighs more, but she does have a 33% larger screen. The Wacom is also faster.

One of the things that sets Cintiqs apart from everyone else (well, not many compare, but…) are the Express Keys, sliders and rocker rings. The extras that allow us to do more, easier without reaching for a keyboard (which is important as you may not have a keyboard with you when you use the tablet. Although I did test my Bluetooth keyboard with it and it connected easily.)

At first I was upset that they don’t have sliders on the Companion (to run my fingers up and down on) (has the companion reference gotten old yet?) But then I found out that they offer on-screen controls. Click on the Rocker Ring and you can bring up customizable controls on the screen to do almost anything you want. I added virtual sliders for my brushes.

I customized one button to Save my files and I customized the button on the pen to act as the Space Bar so I can pan around my art without having to reach for anything else.

At first I had an issue with the power button because every time I picked up or moved my Companion, I would hit the power button and put it to sleep. (see how I avoided the obvious companion jokes this time?) Luckily the Wacom folks have an easy workaround. You can set the power button to not work when the system is already on. Problem solved.

It is a pricey unit. You all know that. But then I looked at what I paid for my powerful laptop (about the same as for the Companion) and then I still had to buy the 13” Cintiq to work with my laptop. The Companion ends up being over $1,000 cheaper than my previous set up…and it weighs a hell of a lot less than my old set up and I don’t need to always be near an outlet.

Pros: Great feel. Fast. Runs my full programs. Cordless. Great colors. Yada yada yada.

Cons: The speakers are really weak.

So the bottom line is that you can have my Wacom Cintiq Companion over my dead body. Even then I doubt my hands will let go of it even then. It reminds me of when I first tested a new 17” Cintiq all those years ago. Once I touched it, I never looked back.

Companion, I love you baby.

Do you want to see the Companion in action? Check out this short film Mark produced of a Day In The Life of a Storyboard Artist.

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Mark Simon, is the co-founder of SellYourTvConceptNow.com and the owner of Animatics & Storyboards, Inc. and the author of Storyboards: Motion In Art, Facial Expressions and Your Resume Sucks. Get Mark’s free 7 Biggest TV Pitch Mistakes download at www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com.

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