Monday, May 26, 2014

Wacom Cintiq Companion - Final Thoughts

So here's my final thoughts on the Cintiq Companion (Windows 8 model)

- Battery Life seems decent but definitely could be better. 5 hours seems to be the average. Would have preferred a swappable battery as only time will tell how well the battery will hold a charge. More battery life is something that is always useful.
- Weight, especially with the stand attached, is quite heavy (compared to what you're used to with a regular tablet).
- Pressure sensitivity is as good as a full sized cintiq.
- I do notice some cursor lag from time to time.
- Integrated fan does spin up often.
- Tried throwing a 10GB .psb mega photoshop file at it and it did quite well. I imagine this is because of the SSD kicking in after the RAM ran out. Would be interested to see if performance degrades over time on the SSD itself. I'd recommend backing up all your files on it to the microSD card and formatting the entire main drive every so often. 64GB MicroSD cards are cheap and relatively fast, though I'd have preferred the unit supported a full size SD card instead.
- ZBrush does work on the unit as well! Definitely a surprise.
- Screen is quite bright and nice overall.
- Cameras are OK at best, kind of an afterthought. Nice to have so that you can skype, but I doubt you'd use them for anything else. It's sad to see cellphone cameras that are better than cameras inside full size laptops and tablets.

- Updated to the latest firmware, the touch pad palettes work much better now. I would still love to be able to resize them, as well as change the background opacity, and improve how they work with a pen (so that touch can be turned off entirely). The UI size of many of these elements could be cut in half, easily, especially if a pen could activate them.
- Would love to find a way to use the orientation switch to turn touch on and off instead. I don't think I'll use the orientation sensor (portrait orientation seems useless to me because of the aspect ratio of the screen) but I do want to toggle touch on and off, and taking up a hardware button for this function doesn't seem like its best possible use.
- The onscreen keyboard is quite hard to use to type long emails. More and more I think the device really ought to be paired with a good keyboard.
- It would be nice if there was a native way to scale up interface elements to offset the high resolution of the screen. Some things, like grabbing the titlebars of palettes to drag them around, are ridiculously small at this resolution. Apple found a good way to scale up to retina resolution, would be nice for Microsoft/Adobe to follow suit, and quickly.


- Is a great self contained unit for people who want to make stuff with a computer and can't or don't want to do it in an office.
- Is actually pretty powerful, can get "real work" done on the machine, other than the issue of the size of the screen itself.
- Behaves just like a scaled down Cintiq in every way.


- Expensive. Though recently they did drop the price by $200 and include the $99 "Art Pen" which can read rotation. This gives the unit less of a sticker shock.
- Not really practical for most people - a full sized cintiq is probably a much more sensible buy, especially since the 22HD is the same price as the cheaper Cintiq Companion. A much more usable setup is a Cintiq or Intuos hooked up to a full sized, full specced laptop.
- Too small and not powerful enough to use as your primary computer (in my opinion).
- Cannot be used as a Cintiq hooked up to a more powerful computer.
- Units hardware will be obsolete quite fast, and there is no upgrade path whatsoever.
- Software integration with Windows 8 feels very first generation. Adobe and microsoft will need to work together to improve the user experience here.
- Stand design is awkward, should be integrated into the unit itself
- Really needs a portable keyboard if you want to use Photoshop - Microsoft's solution with a slim keyboard built into a case seems appropriate here.

Final Conclusions:
The Cintiq Companion is an incredibly appealing device, but it's got major caveats. It seems like a great unit that I would use a fair bit. The current form factor does seem to run on this in between place however - it's neither large or powerful enough to feel like you can do everything you would need to do on a your main computer, but it's not really small enough to carry around with you all the time like an iPad or similar tablet. Microsoft themselves have a good solution for an ultraportable tablet with the Surface Pro - the Cintiq should be a unit that can do much more than the Surface Pro but doesn't get there all the way for me. Personally I would love to see a "Cintiq Companion Pro": a 15" model with a replaceable battery, ssd, discrete graphics, and upgradeable memory (so you could get higher than 8GB of ram). Something someone could use as a portable desktop replacement. But as of right now, I think the Cintiq Companion is the best pen enabled computer that anyone has released, even better than the old tabletPCs.

Of course, one has to figure out what they really need from a portable device with pen input. The Cintiq Companion seems best suited to be set up to be a portable workstation with which you would eventually transfer over to a full desktop machine to 'work up' - something that can be done on much simpler and less expensive setups. It's on the cusp of being fully functional, but feels just shy of this. The Microsoft Surface Pro 2 seems like a great alternative if portability is your first concern - its pretty much got almost the same hardware specs other than screen size - and has great options like a keyboard case. It's main drawback is it's smaller screen size (10.6" vs 13.3"), but has the same resolution as the Cintiq Companion. The Cintiq Companion Hybrid seems like the best option if you want to be able to use a portable tablet in conjunction with a desktop, because it's only slightly higher in price than a Cintiq 13HD and you get a full fledged android tablet with it. All in all however, these all feel like first gen products - Adobe and other important third parties haven't quite caught up with the pixel density of these screens, so their usability is not the greatest right now. I would expect as their products mature, Microsoft and Adobe will make them incredibly useful tools. But they definitely don't feel there yet. The best comparison I can figure is the Microsoft Surface Pro is like an 11" macbook air in a tablet form factor, and the Cintiq Companion is a 13" macbook air. This comparison follows through both on their specs and screen size. For the price of these devices they should perform closer to fully powered laptops.

Other Recommendations:

If I were in the market for a portable tablet workstation, I'd compare the following products:

Fujitsu's T902 13.3" Tablet PC. It's a more standard form factor with a more reasonable screen resolution, swappable batteries, faster overall specs, and can even put in a second battery, hard drive, or DVD/Blu Ray drive. Fujitsu has an ebay store where they sell refurbished units for very reasonable prices. I've seen units go for just over $1100 with very good specs (specs much better than Wacom's). Of course, the pressure sensitivity on these units is lower, but the computer attached is better.

The Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is even more portable than the Cintiq Companion while still maintaining similar specs. The $1299 model seems to be the best value overall, but it's screen pixel density as well as smaller screen size makes it hard to imagine programs like Adobe Photoshop not being cramped. Microsoft has just released the follow-up, the Surface Pro 3, however they've switched the digitizer to an N-Trig and it's likely that the Pro 2 model will be much more universally supported by drawing and painting applications (Wacom's tech has always been more widely used than N-Trig's). I can see microsoft dropping the price on the Surface Pro 2 now that the 3 has been announced.

Also not to be forgotten is the $2399 Axiotron Modbook. Still the only Mac OS X option, the computer is basically a modified 13" macbook pro. Personally I'd wait until Axiotron updates their current model to be based on the current Macbook Pros, as currently they're a generation behind. The Modbook does have impressive specs though, the main thing I'd hold out for is the much higher resolution Retina Screen (which I would hope they would adopt in the new model).

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