Thursday, October 17, 2013

Cintiq Companion Review! First Impressions...

So I got to try out a Cintiq Companion for a few days! Thought I'd share some thoughts because I haven't seen many first hand reviews. I've used a few Android-based Tablets as well as worked extensively on both Tablet PCs and Cintiqs so I was excited to give this a spin.

Hardware:
- The Build quality feels really sturdy. They took a lot of design cues from Apple's iPad. In many ways it's the unit that Apple should have made for us artists, but couldn't care less.
- Overall finish of the device feels really well made.
- It's a hefty feeling unit weight-wise but it feels appropriate for its size. It's definitely heavier and less portable than an iPad or Surface Tablet but it's much more functional.
- Apparently the Windows 8 Cintiq Companion can't be hooked into another host computer to use as a Cintiq.. this to me is a big letdown (as the cintiq would still be usable long after the computer's hardware is obsolete). For people wanting to do this the Cintiq 13HD or the Cintiq Companion Hybrid are the only ways to go. This is a letdown also because the unit itself isn't upgradable at all.
- The 13" screen size with 1920x1080 resolution is less of an issue than I would have figured. It currently has the same resolution as a 22" cintiq, so I figured it would be cramped. The resolution makes working on a small 13" screen more manageable, but it does cross over a certain threshold, making some interface elements, like closing windows, a little on the small side.
- Screen is quite bright and doesn't get hot. Wasn't thrilled about Wacom still shipping Cintiqs with only 75% of the Adobe RGB gamut displayable (meaning they can't be color calibrated as well as many good monitors), but it seems good enough. It has the same semi-matte finish as most other cintiqs.
- As usual I find the bezels too large on all Wacoms and would have personally loved to have seen a 15" active size with the same resolution, even if it was a slightly bigger unit. Currently it matches the dimensions of a 15" macbook pro, which means there are pretty large bezels on each dimension. That being said the buttons on this unit are definitely more useful than on a full sized cintiq, which I've almost never used because the placement of them keep changing.. and keyboards are always the same.



The Cintiq Companion is really close in size to both the Intuos 5 Medium as well. Which begs to question.. would you rather have a fast computer with less accurate pen input (via an intuos), or a slower computer with very accurate input (via a Cintiq Companion)?



Wacom is definitely betting on their Cintiq tech as being capable of competing with a full fledged laptop, especially considering it's pricing ($1999 for a 256GB model, $2499 for the 512GB).

- The charger is really compact. I would have loved to see them include a two-stage adapter similar to apple's models where you can decide either plug the adapter brick right into the wall, or plug in a cord if you need more length. The plug is a hefty three prong adapter. Here it is with a wacom pen for size reference:



- Touch is a nifty feature that is easily toggled on and off. Unfortunately gestures don't work as well or consistently as I'd like (pinch to zoom, etc). I can't see using touch very much unless it was seamless. Probably only really for the software touch keyboard itself when inputting text into a browser, for instance.
- There isn't a slider or touch ring at all on the unit.. the circle on the left is a four way button. This means there is no hardware sliders for zoom or brush control. Instead this is handled in software (see below).
- Speakers aren't the best in the world, but work better than most tablets I've seen (closer to a laptop speaker). It can get fairly loud which is great.
- The included case seems just about perfect for what it needs to be.. a neoprene sleeve type thing with a magnetic cover as well as a zip. Glad they included it in the unit. It does indeed hold both the tablet itself and the the tablet attached the stand folded flat. The case itself has a hole to slide the pen case into, as well as a separate larger hole to slide the power adapter into. Personally I would have loved for them to find a way to put the pen inside or attach it to the unit itself, but putting it inside the case works well enough.


Case fully loaded with the power adapter, pen case, Cintiq Companion, and the Stand. In this configuration it weighs a lot more but it's still pretty compact. All that's missing from this setup is a portable keyboard, I'd say.


Slot for accessories, such as the Power Adapter, or portable keyboard.


Slot for Pen Case


It also has an elastic loop underneath the flap for the pen to slot into.


The overall setup can get quite svelte when it's just the Cintiq Companion and the pen.


The inner material for case is a nice soft faux fur like material.

- The included pen case is nice but I doubt I'd need 12 spare nibs with me all the time.. would be nice to include the standard wacom pen nib holder/pen carrier and make the case you bring with you everywhere smaller.



- The stand is neat, works well, but is kind of clunky. Probably would have preferred it built into a case or into the unit itself. Attaching and detaching the stand itself seems more difficult than I'd like.





- Haven't been able to push the unit in terms of performance or battery life, hope to be able to do that before I have to pass the unit on. Photoshop and Painter seem quite responsive.. cursor lag can occasionally occur but I don't think it's anything to worry about personally (though I'm not particularly sensitive to this). As usual for a tablet computer it's fairly underpowered (particularly in the graphics card department), and this unit is not really upgradable.
- The MicroSD card slot is a great idea.. I would have preferred a full SD card but at least they provided a method of expanding the storage. 64GB MicroSDXC cards are relatively inexpensive and seem like a decent enough backup for local files.
-Haven't tested either camera. Will try it though. The placement of the front facing camera seems odd to me though (It's probably a compromise for left handed users)
- I quickly tried out their bluetooth keyboard unit, seems well made and similar enough to apple's wireless keyboard. Would have loved a way to attach it to the cintiq itself but for it's price it seems like a decent accessory.
 
Software:
- Boot time is fast, thanks to the SSD no doubt.
- Seems possible to use quite well with Photoshop without needing a full keyboard, they have built in on screen configurable touch pallettes that can access any function you really want. Unfortunately some of these seemed buggy at the moment, especially after waking the computer from sleep. I would also hope to be able to resize these since I can imagine using them as much with the pen as I would with touch events, and they seem really quite large compared to all the rest of the interface.



- Touch keyboard works as well as an iPad's, though sometimes it forgets to pop up and you have to manually toggle it up.
- Windows 8 will definitely take some getting used to, and I'm pretty comfortable with Windows 7.
- The autorotation feature crashed photoshop more than once, so I set the hardware switch toggle to turn it off. I don't particularly think the unit works very well in portrait orientation anyways, since it's aspect ratio is really wide (16:9). I think a 4:3 aspect ratio would actually personally be more appropriate.

Conclusions:
As of right now I'd recommend the unit with the above caveats. I tried the unit with 512GB and Windows 8 Pro. Personally I would recommend the 256GB unit since it's a full $500 cheaper with all other hardware being the same. Also I stayed away from the android based ones because of the general lack of sophistication of apps on android vs the full windows experience.

Please ask me any questions you have about the device!

30 comments:

Unknown 9:29 AM  

Thanks for the review, Alan!

Do you have a recommendation between the Cintiq Companion and the Cintiq 13HD? I'm basically looking for something small but sturdy to use at home. I'm not so concerned about portability, although it would be nice. I just need something that will hold up and hook up to my MacBook well with no lag. I had a 21UX previously and loved it, but had to sell it when I downsized to my current apartment.

Anyways, any recos you have would be great! :)

Alan Cook 12:33 AM  

If portability is not a big deal, you would be better served with a standalone Cintiq, especially since performance on a full laptop is definitely going to be better than the Companion. The Companion in my opinion seems to be positioned to get work done on the go.

My only thought is that if you think an iPad is at all useful, take a look at the Companion Hybrid, because for $500 more you can get a full android tablet that you can sketch with on top of all the features that the Cintiq 13HD has.

Just as another thought, the 13" size does feel too cramped to me if it was my primary workstation. But that's because I work on a full sized Cintiq every day.

Sam Nielson 12:15 PM  

Great review, I was thinking of getting one and this will have me waiting instead to see if they get the bugs worked out. Most of the other reviews I've seen don't address the issues with it the way you did, so thanks.

Alan Cook 5:52 PM  

Hey Sam,

Working on a follow-up.. They released a patch during my time with the device that fixed some of the issues.

Chris Cameron 8:06 AM  

Great review, I have had mine for a couple of weeks and noticed spots in the screen. It turned out to be dust under the glass above the LCD. I'm wondering if anyone else is seeing this issue? Anyone that owns the Cintiq Companion should check it for dust. You can see my YouTube video of it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p239vWz-6ow

Diana Coohill 8:19 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown 1:44 PM  

Diana, it appears that the Windows 8 Cintiq Companion cannot be attached to a different PC or Mac - as if it were simply a standard Cintiq.

The Android version, the Cintiq Companion Hybrid, allows this.

So for now, this means that you're stuck with your Cintiq Companion running on its own hardware, and its own operating system. Period. Eventually the specs of the Windows 8 Cintiq Companion will be superceded by better machines, so you'll either have to upgrade to another Cintiq (or alternative), hack the Cintiq Companion (quite possible that someone will figure out how to do this in the next year or two), or simply make do until it dies altogether.

Even under those conditions you'll still have an operating Cintiq Companion - which is why I'm still considering the Windows 8 versions myself, over the Android version.

Hope that helps!
Christopher Doll

Diana Coohill 4:56 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Cook 6:18 PM  

Hey Diana,

The current Cintiq Companion can't upgrade ram, hard drive, or replace the battery without a potentially warranty voiding surgery.

The actual guts of the computer itself are comparable to a light notebook - like a macbook air - not really a full machine. Thus, I doubt it won't last nearly as long as a desktop or powerful laptop. It's hard to say exactly, but I have the feeling it won't feel like an adequate machine even as soon as 3 years from now.

Diana Coohill 7:36 AM  

Thanks Alan! That makes sense. :)

Brian Coiro 7:09 AM  

with the following said:
"Hey Diana,

The current Cintiq Companion can't upgrade ram, hard drive, or replace the battery without a potentially warranty voiding surgery.

The actual guts of the computer itself are comparable to a light notebook - like a macbook air - not really a full machine. Thus, I doubt it won't last nearly as long as a desktop or powerful laptop. It's hard to say exactly, but I have the feeling it won't feel like an adequate machine even as soon as 3 years from now."

i am a sophomore in college and was considering getting either the CC/ CCH i am wondering if since this device will become obsolete in this time should i possibly get the Hybrid version as it may last longer as it connects to the PC / Mac rather tan being a the actual machine.... I'm just worried about the work ill will be able to get done on the go, the apps do not seem to bad.. or i may wait to see if they create another device like these two next year.

any suggestions of points in a direction would help a ton :D

Alan Cook 11:53 AM  

Hey,

Still working on the follow-up, haven't had enough time to organize all my thoughts, but as a spoiler, I was able to track this down:

http://www.shopfujitsu.com/store/lifebook-t902-tablet-pc

13.3" notebook with 1600x900 resolution (less cramped than the Cintiq), but has upgradable hard drives, ram, and an optical drive. You can also configure it with a much faster CPU. You an even swap out the optical drive for a second hard drive or battery. I'm not sure about pressure sensitivity levels (likely less than the cintiq), but previous tablet PCs have been very good in this regard (they use Wacom's technology). Strangely enough the weight and dimensions of this are pretty similar!

For my money this seems like a better machine.

Diana Coohill 2:36 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Cook 7:58 PM  

I'm sure that the best option at that point would be to sell it on eBay. I'm sure a student would love to have one.

Diana Coohill 5:35 PM  

Good idea :) Thanks Alan!

Malcolm Sutherland 11:51 AM  

Just curious if you've tried the Surface Pro 2 - I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on how the two compare. Great review!

S 2:06 PM  

Not so sure about fujitsy with all the negatives, and Surface got some pen calibration issues.

Pascal Kirchmair 6:44 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Cook 7:51 PM  

What are the specific issues with the t902?

Pascal Kirchmair 7:59 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matthew 8:51 PM  

Thanks for your review Alan. Personally I find unless I were doing large illustrations & or Background painting I'd always prefer the Cintiq-13HD & a regular dual screen set up for my purposes. Maybe that also comes from using a normal intuos+dual-Screen for such a long time. Anyway, with your review I'm now glad I wasn't tempted to buy the Companion Models & just went with the plain 13HD which I really enjoy and is obviously a big upgrade from my old intuos.
Cheers!

Felix Marezki 3:27 AM  

You say graphics is underpowered. I would like you to tell me in which sense that is the case cause I know by having an i5 running only an ivy bride also talking to an hd4000 that it has lots of capabilities in parallel processing e.g. img manipulation? So eventually messing a little with power settings could fix your problem: http://de.shop.wacom.eu/detail/index/sArticle/608/sCategory/2213302.

tb 11:31 AM  

I have the companion, and once I disabled that darned annoying power button that I was always hitting, and put on a screen protector, AND got accustomed to Win 8, I am finding only a couple of things. One is that the pen's alignment/accuracy goes out of whack when I am over at the last 3 mm at the right and left edge, making it different to select up/down layers in Illustrator CS6 (and other Adobe suite progs I'd guess). I like the touch screen combined with the pen, and pinch/zoom works decently once I get a bit more precise than my android galaxy 10.1. I have the bluetooth keyboard and put that in the pocket on the neoprene case, which leaves no storage for the adapter. Wah wah. Battery life is pretty good, 4-5 hours on a full charge and working in PS or Illustrator. Only thing I noticed today is that the adapter got VERY hot, I had it plugged in while working. Have you found the adapter getting hot?
Gotta say, I cannot believe HOW VERY comfortable it is just working whereever (on couch, bed, yard, etc) using both touch and pen without cables and a 60lb levitron stand to hold up my 22" andpush it up every 10 minutes as it sags. Sold that on eby last week lol.

tb 11:37 AM  

oh, two more things. The stand when closed seems to partially cover the exhaust vents, not a grand design, but I do like the heights the stand has. Also I am missing something and must get out my manual - front facing camera? I have 3 'spots' on the right side of my Companion, not sure what they all do. And the stand covers the front camera. Again, what???? They could not put a hole/gap for the camera or the vent? ANd they put the front camera on the BOTTOM of the computer if you are using it in with hotkeys on left/power button on right. God, am I using it upside down? I don't think so lol.

dante aramideh 5:12 AM  

hey everybody,

I was wondering, because I am thinking of buying a cintiq 13hd companion.
I'm just curious, because I have a macbook air, wether I can attach it to my laptop. If not, would the cintiq companion hybrid would be a better option because I still want the opportunity to take it with me without having to attach it to my mac.

thanks already,

Dante

Alan Cook 9:06 AM  

You cannot attach the companion to your Mac. Only the 13hd and the companion hybrid work on another computer.

Alan Cook 9:11 AM  

Felix,

My comment is based on the fact that this is almost a $2000 machine specifically targeted to graphics professionals. Because of this a good discrete gpu is necessary for ensuring its usefulness. The fact it has a ultra low voltage cup and integrated makes this machine feel like a middle of the road ultrabook with a cintiq bolted on.

Blake Noh 3:01 PM  

Has anyone used surface pro 2 as the main workstation and plugged into it a cintiq hybrid. I like tow screen experience for my pallets and files plus using the surface pro key board would be helpful for hot keys. With the prices down I could get both and also have a cintiq to hook up to my iMac at home

Alan Cook 7:23 PM  

If I'm not mistaken the surface pro 2 uses an earlier generation of wacom pen that is incompatible with the Cintiq companion.

Blake Noh 10:05 PM  

Opps sorry if not clear what I mean is use the cintiq hybrid as just a drawing "input device" running on the surface pro as the computing power.

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