Cintiq Companion 2 i7 Review

This review is from Ant Ward and originally appeared on his website, we are reposting with his permission.

In 2013 Wacom introduced the first of its new mobile tablets, the Cintiq Companion. This originally came in two flavours, one having an Android based operating system and the other using the Windows 8 operating system.

Myself, like many others, picked our jaws off the floor and then tried to figure out how we were going to pay for our own mobile Cintiq.
Unfortunately, after spending a month with one my credit card ended up staying inside my wallet. As great as it was to continue working with a Cintiq away from the office a few design choices made this sound better in theory than reality, as you can read in my review.

So when Wacom announced the Cintiq Companion 2 I admit that I got a little excited. My credit card was beaming as it looked forward to being released from its leathery prison and I looked ahead to a summer of working in the garden.

Just like last time Wacom offered me the chance to spend a month with the i7 version of the device, and that month is now up.

So, will I be buying a Cintiq Companion 2? Read on to find out…

Unboxing and Setup

The box which the Companion comes in is very similar to that of its predecessor, in fact I think it’s identical in size and shape, apart from the obvious changes in the designs and information on the front.

Box

On opening the box everything is very neatly packed away inside, and peeling away the layers revealed the Companions stand, its cover and the tablet itself. Hidden beneath this was the Pro Pen in its case, the charging cable and power brick and also an input display cable.

Unboxing

Just as before everything screamed quality. The tablet felt solid, smooth and weighty, with the new sleeve feeling more current with its design.

Even the Pro Pen felt luxurious, like your holding an oyster and opening it to find a pearl hidden inside.

At this point I couldn`t wait to get it setup so I plugged the Companion 2 in and began working through the Windows 8 set-up process. Just as with any Windows based device this included the obligatory updates which added another hour to the task but before long I had synchronised my Microsoft account and was good to go.

The Device

On first inspection the Cintiq Companion 2 may appear to be the same as the original Companion, but there are many differences.

Firstly, the Companion 1 measured 0.7 by 14.8 by 9.8 inches (HWD) and weighed 3.9 pounds. The newer model is smaller and lighter measuring 0.6 by 14.7 by 9.9 inches (HWD) and weighing 3.75 pounds. These aren`t huge differences but they are heading in the right direction. One of my main gripes with the original Companion was its weight. It was never a device you could hold and draw on like a sketch pad, it was just too heavy. Unfortunately the same can be said of this smaller model. Yes it is lighter, but it`s still a desk or lap device which you have to sit to use.

Device

Looking around the device you will see it now has six Express Keys where previously there were only four. This is a huge improvement and in practice I found the extra keys more comfortable to work with as I find I need quick access to Control, Alt and Shift while working.

There is of course the Rocker Switch too which holds four more configurable keys as well as housing a fifth in the centre, which by default is used as the Windows key.

There are also more input sockets at your disposal. You now have access to three USB 3.0 sockets, an SD Slot, Mini Display Port and a new Input Display Port. This allows you to use the Companion 2 as a standalone Cintiq meaning you can connect it to your Mac or PC and use it as a second screen. This again is another leap forward for the brand making it more flexible, so if for example you have a powerful desktop system you can connect the Companion 2 to it and use its screen to draw, paint or sculpt directly onto your system, meaning you no longer need to own multiple Cintiq`s.

DeviceB

Another improvement is with the power switch which is now a slider rather than a button so you don`t accidentally turn the device off. An issue which the original Companion suffered from.

The Screen

Although the screen size hasn`t physically changed and is still 13.3 inches, the resolution has. Previously you were working with 1920×1080 pixels but now you have a huge 2560×1440 to play with. This give you much more screen real estate meaning your canvas size is roomier. I was hoping that I wouldn`t still need two different UI configurations for ZBrush, a desktop and a Companion one but even though the width was fine the height of the UI was still too short.

The screen does look great though. It is colour accurate up to 73% Adobe 1998 and 96% SRGB and the matte cover helps to diffuse the light reducing, but not eliminating reflections. The only downside, something which resides with all Wacom products, is the grain this matte covering adds to the screen. What could be a crisp, sharp and clear screen almost has a slight blur to it.

The Stand

It`s no secret that I didn`t like the stand on the Companion 1. It was a separate entity which almost clumsily attached to the back of the device and then didn`t feel secure. It also added unwanted bulk to the tablet if you kept it attached but closed. I think I said previously that it almost felt like an after though, something the designers forgot to add and just threw on at the last minute.

With the Companion 2 they had time to rectify this, to include a built in stand which became almost invisible when closed yet simple to slide open.

What do we have? The same stand as before.

Stand

I couldn`t do a direct comparison although it did seem slimmer by design, but the usability issues I had previously were the same. If I wanted to use it I had to retrieve it from the sleeve, try to line up the slot at the base and then prise open one of three height positions on offer. This then had to line up with another slot in the back of the Companion 2 with you almost leaning on the device to make sure it was all connected correctly.

It only came into its own when at a desk, when it was meant to be used as a semi-permanent fixture. On the go however I found it clumsy and almost a chore to have to attach.

Come on Wacom, let`s see something better in version 3 please!

The Keyboard

The Cintiq Companion 2 doesn`t come with a keyboard but you can use any Bluetooth keyboard with it, just as you could with the Companion 1.

This isn`t a device for writing your next novel on though, or even replying to emails. The keyboard, when used, is always detached so only works when at a desk. You couldn`t use it while out and about and I think your neighbours would have something to say if you began working with the Companion 2, its stand and keyboard on a crowded train journey. It’s just not practical or discreet.

I found that I used the on screen keyboard more just out of convenience and left any serious writing for my desktop machine or laptop.

The Pro Pen

Bundled with the Companion 2 is Wacom`s Pro Pen. This isn`t a new device and has been around for a while now, but if it isn’t broken why fix it?

Pen

This stylus is compatible with many of the Wacom products and works very nicely, so there was no need to create a brand new pen for this device. It comes in its own case with a handful of extra nibs of varying hardness levels, plus a selection of coloured rings for personalisation.

The Pro Pen gives you a comfortable 2048 levels of pressure meaning you can draw the faintest and hardest of lines, making sketching almost like working with paper and a pencil. The Companion 2 also recognises the pens tilt angle which is ideal for painting applications when you need to simulate the edge of a pencil, or a broader paint stroke.

The pen also gives you two buttons to work with and an eraser at the tip, all configurable via the Wacom software.

Here it is compared to the previous pens in Wacom`s library.

PenComparison

Configurability

Wacom are well known for how configurable their devices are, and what`s makes them easier to set-up is the unified software which is the same across them all.

If you’re familiar with setting up your Cintiq 24HD, or Intuos tablet then you will be more than comfortable configuring your Cintiq Companion 2.

ControlPanel

The pen, its buttons, the Express Keys and Rocker Switch are all changeable so you can adjust what they do on a per application basis. You also have the added ability to create on screen buttons and sliders to help you as you work, which is a nice touch. None of this is new however and has been part of the software for a while.

Photoshop

The point I am getting to is that the amount of configuration available is quite liberating so you aren`t stuck with one set of options across the whole system.

The Elephant in the Room

Ok, let`s talk about the fan. If you have looked online you will no doubt hear tales about how loud the fan is on the Cintiq Companion 2, especially the i7 model.

If you watch the video below, with sound, you will get a good idea of just how loud the fan is. Yes, all mobile devices like this do have some degree of noise especially when working with processor intense applications, but with the Companion 2 it’s almost taken to another level.

I`m not going to harp on about the fan, its loud, that’s it. You either get used to it or it’s a deal breaker. I`ve heard it isn`t as bad on the i5 model so it might be you opt for that version of the hardware. You never know, by the time you read this Wacom may have released a firmware update to reduce the problem.

I`ve spoken to Wacom about this issue and from what I gather it’s all about balance. After using the Companion 1 people wanted more power, which Wacom gave them, but this came at the price of a louder, more intrusive fan.

Digital Art Use

We have covered the Cintiq Companion 2`s many improvements as well as its downsides, so let`s get down to business and see what its actually like to use one.

Just as I did with my previous Surface Pro 3 review I have created a video demonstrating how key applications perform. In addition to this I also used the built in microphone to record the sound. You can see the video below.

What I will also do is work though the applications and write a little about them too.

Mischief

Mischief has been around for a while now and is a very affordable sketching and painting application. Its strengths lie within its vector based strokes which mean anything you draw isn`t limited by size. This also can be said of its canvas size which is, as Mischief claim, unlimited.

Working on the Companion 2 was a joyous experience. It was fluid and the 2048 levels of pressure worked very nicely. Because the use of a keyboard isn`t essential I could even sit with the device on my lap as I painted.

The only problem came with the grain on the screen which made what could have been a crisp stroke into a slightly blurred one.

Maya

Working in Maya was certainly helped with the use of the Express Keys. It meant I didn`t need to use the keyboard, not for basic work anyway. I am a heavy Marking Menu user however so for longer stints of work a dedicated keyboard would be essential.

As you could see in the video, when using Maya 2015 on the Companion 2 the UI became tiny. This should be fixed however with the release of Maya 2016 and its new scalable UI.

In use, low polygon models performed well and I could build and animate with ease. As usual I also imported a 1.5 million polygon test model and this is where things began to slow down, to a point where it was almost unusable.

Maya

In summary I felt that Maya worked well for lower end models, but collapsed on more complex scenes.

ZBrush

If there was one application I needed to test on the Companion 2 it was ZBrush. I had struggled to use it on other mobile devices so I was hoping this would be perfect for it. In theory there should be no issues with the stylus as the Cintiq is still Wintab based. The Express Keys would also enable me to work as I would if I were stood at my main machine.

Let’s just say it didn`t disappoint.

The higher resolution screen meant I had more room to play with and could experience the full width of the ZBrush UI. It wasn`t as tall however so some items did still disappear off the bottom of the screen.

In use ZBrush performed well and I found myself spending hours sculpting away on it. I was working on a ZBrush project while testing the device and this allowed me to throw my scene onto Dropbox and continue working later in the evening while sitting on the sofa.

ZBrush

I tested the device with my standard 1.5 million polygon model, which was subdivided to over 12 million polygons. Sculpting on its surface was smooth and fluid, navigating the scene however became laboured.

Working in ZBrush was great, and I’d definitely recommend it for models under the 10 million mark. You could easily use higher resolution models however with some clever use of Sub Tools and visibility.

Photoshop

The first hurdle I had with Photoshop CC was the tiny UI, similar to what I experienced in Maya. Even increasing this through the 200% experimental option didn`t really help as the UI then became too big.

The UI aside it was nice to find that Wacom had some built in tools available for Photoshop. These were in the form of on screen buttons and sliders which gave you quick access to key commands like adjusting your brush size.

Photoshop

While painting on an A4 size document I did find that quick strokes did tend to lag behind, something I didn`t experience in Mischief. Photoshop is a heavier application but still, on a device like this I would have hoped for a much smoother ride.

All in all this was just a small issue, and I could easily see a Photoshop artist working full time on a Companion 2.

General Use

I think I have covered using the Companion 2 for more general tasks already. For art based projects it works well, the stylus pressure is nice and it’s comfortable to work on, if a little heavy.

I don`t however see a time where I would opt to sit in bed and watch Netflix on it, or play a game. For basic web surfing, yes I could use it for this while utilising the on screen keyboard, but compiling a document, like this review, wouldn`t be an option personally, perhaps for minor edits.

Battery Life

I was disappointed with the battery life on the Cintiq Companion 2. In full use, using ZBrush, I got the low battery warning after around 3 hours of work. What surprised me more was the amount of time it took to actually charge. I plugged it in at around 9am and the light went off, showing it was fully charged, late in the afternoon.

You can adjust the power options if you’re doing lighter work to give you a little more time, but in general I would make sure you’re not far from a power supply.

Mobility

If you have read this far you will probably know the answer to this and it’s along the same lines as I found with its predecessor. Yes it’s mobile in the sense that you can pack it away easily and carry it to another desk, or to a meeting. It’s lighter than the Companion before it, but still heavy and too large to slip into a messenger bag.

If you’re planning a long journey and want to use it on a plane, that’s not going to happen. On a train you could use it, without the keyboard or the stand, and prop it up. This would work and I have tried it. The issue then becomes the battery life.

I would say that this isn`t a true mobile device you can use anywhere, but if you intend to simply desk hop its perfect.

Should You Invest?

I really wanted to like, no, love the Cintiq Companion 2 and there were moments when I was using it that I felt the divine freedom of working in a full version of ZBrush out of my office.

I think this is the pivoting point though. If you’re a heavy ZBrush user, or even a Photoshop or other painting application user then this would be worth the investment. Applications like these worked like a dream, if you can put up with the fan noise and be near a power socket, which for some people like me, isn`t an issue. Just put on your headphones, sit further away from other people and your fine – head down creating.

This is, as it says on the box, a “Professional Creatives Tablet”. It’s moving from your larger Cintiq at your desktop to the smaller version and getting away from the office, and this is where it shines. It does feel like you’re doing just that, moving seamlessly between Cintiq`s.

The problem comes when you want more from it. It’s a huge investment and for me I need more from my devices, especially when they come at over £1,500. I need the flexibility to create on it, wherever I want. I need to be able to flip open a keyboard, slide back a stand and write wherever I want without bothering other people. I also want to be able to have fun on it, surf the web, binge watch some movies and play games.

All this and I also want to discreetly slip it into my bag and not notice the extra weight.

So going back to my opening statement will I be making my credit card happy? Unfortunately not this time around, so back in my wallet it goes.

If the Cintiq Companion 3 is lighter, has a better battery life and a built in, more discreet stand then maybe, just maybe that’s the time I invest.

What’s Next?

What I like to do with my reviews is follow them up further down the line with more experiments. See how they work in a production environment, try rendering and baking maps etc. the areas many reviewers don`t get the chance to try.

Unfortunately I only had the Cintiq Companion 2 for a month before I had to return it and as I won`t be investing in my own at this time the review ends here.

Please leave any comments or questions below