Everyone is familiar with the process involved in picking up pen and paper — it’s natural, second nature, effortless and omnipresent — everyone does it.
It’s a much smaller number of us that have had experience using a digital sketching device.
With roots lying right back in the midst of digital design history, the graphics tablet or digitiser will be familiar territory for many older designers and engineers.
And while many of the old names in this branch of input device history fell by the way side, Wacom is the one that remains.
For most of us, Wacom is a name that’s now synonymous with the process of sketching in a digital form. Whether it’s the pen and tablet Intuos devices or the more advanced Pen + Tablet + LCD screen Cintiq devices.
But what Wacom introduced last year changed the line up of its products rather dramtically. While the Intuos products connect to your workstation and let you drive the cursor on normal screen and the Cintiq products let you interact directly with the screen built into the device, the new Companion products differ.
The subject of this review, the Cintiq Companion device, doesn’t need a workstation to plug into or indeed, another screen.
In essence, the Cintiq Companion is a fully fledged Windows 8 tablet computing device that’s been fitted out with not only a touchscreen interface (as is now common) but it also comes with all of Wacom’s mastery of pen-based input.
The hardware & set-up
No bones out it, the Cintiq Companion is an impressive device. With a 13.3” screen in an aluminium case, it’s a lot bigger than you expect.
Retrieving it from the impressively well thought out packaging, you’re struck by just how solidly this device is built — and much of that comes from both the size and the weight — an iPad this is not.
Set-up is pretty straight forward for any Windows device and you’re stepped through the process. As it combines a multi-touch screen and pen-based input where needed, you also need to go through the calibration routine.
Interface wise, you have a couple of options. There’s the pen (which acts as a pointer and mouse button), the multi-touch and on-screen keyboard.
There’s also the option to plug in any number of other devices (mice, keyboards — including a small, nifty little Wacom unit that’s available for £45) via one of the several USB ports around the periphery of the casing or via bluetooth. There are also a number of buttons on the left hand side (of course, you can rotate this if you’re left handed) that are fully configurable to your and your applications’ needs.
The box also includes a stand that gives you a couple of working angles once you’ve fitted it into the slots in the back. But once it’s set-up, it’s time to see what it can do.
All about the apps
As ever with any device like this, out of the box, it’s just a computer. How you add value is by enabling it to support your tasks.
To give the device a run for its money, we installed a number of applications, from SolidWorks to Fusion 360 as well as testing it with SketchBook Pro and Photoshop.
What became clear is that, for the sketching applications, this device is nearly perfect. After all, the software is tuned to support pen-based input and the UI is adapted to support a different method of working. The more standard desktop applications where more difficult to use as they’re simply not tuned for either multi-touch or pen-based input. But they do work, unless you start to push the 8Gb of RAM). Also, despite what you might think, the integrated graphics does OK and with an SSD inside, it’s a speedy beast.
Yes, you can plug in a mouse and keyboard and it works just the same as any other computer — but the real differentiator is the pressure sensing penbased input.
The Cintiq Companion has to be judged not only on what it provides as a device, but also compared to what else is available on the market that offers a similar level of capability.
And that, of course, brings up the iPad, which is perhaps one of the most widely adopted mobile computing devices, particularly in the design and engineering industry. It’s not a direct comparison (the Wacom device out specs and out performs the iPad on almost every level), but when it comes to mobile computing and a special purpose device like this, performance isn’t everything.
The Cintiq Companion is a big device — it’s certainly not the “slip it under your notebook and rock up to a meeting” type of mobile device. I’d imagine that if you are looking for a capable device of this ilk, it’s amongst the largest you could find.
Compared to an iPad, it’s positively gargantuan. But in that size, you get benefit. The display crisp is and runs effortlessly, even when you connect up to another display for even larger working area. What you sacrifice in portability, you get back in the ability to run your desktop applications just as you would in the office – and with today’s time pressures, that’s key for many. I don’t imagine you’d do hardcore CAD work, but for tweaking models with clients, sketching on the go, it’s perfect.
Ultimately, for those looking for a mobile, digital sketching studio, but also wanting a higher-performance device that can run their desktop apps (that’s Office apps, heavier 2D and 3D CAD as well as the sketching applications), there’s nothing like the Cintiq Companion. The caveat being that it does appear rather costly at first glance.
An equivalent Windows Surface Pro 2 (with a 256Gb drive option) is around the £1,000 mark. Bump up the drive size to half a terabyte and you’re looking at a list price of £1,439. But also consider that you’ve got pressure sensitivity pen input and a larger screen. So it’s clear that the premium for a pen enabled, pro-level pen-based input and 3” of extra screen size is around the £600 quid mark.
The Cintiq Companion is a lovely bit of kit and, yes, you do pay for quality — it feels robust and well manufactured. Wacom’s technology is pretty unique and if you’re looking for a Windows-tablet and have a need for this type of input device, you don’t have many options. Go cheaper and you don’t get all the capabilities – and more expensive means a desktop bound solution.
For the majority, the Cintiq Companion is a bit too much (both in size and cost) and pencil and paper (or iPad and stylus) will suffice – but for those that need it and have the budget for an auxillary device it’s a killer device to have in your toolbox.
Something for the iPad,Sir?
Since its launch, the iPad has been widely adopted in the design and engineering industry – both by users as a portable computing device, but also by the software industry to provide a set of tools to support design and engineering tasks.
Whether its sketching, CAD viewing, PLM interaction or Augmented Reality, there’s a growing trend to provide, if not authoring tools, for the platform, certainly apps that support common workflows.
If the iPad has a drawback for those interested in sketching, its the requirement that you use your fingers, rather than a more accurate and familiar input device. So, here’s our quick guide to the different types of stylus on the market – of which there are two basic options.
#1 Tap and Rub: The first, and typically the cheapest, is the pen with capacitative nib. Essentially, these are pen like forms with a bit of conductive rubber on the end that mimics your fingertips.
The rub is that, due to Apple’s finger recognition technology, the rubber nib is usually quite large and being rubber, it sticks or doesn’t have the same tactile feel as pen on paper. These are plentiful (I saw some in a garage for two quid last week) and you can pay as much or as little as you want.
The Wacom Bamboo (shown above) has a ball point pen in the other end and is around £25.
If you want to go really old school, the draughter’s favourite, Rotring have also just launched a version of its 800 mechanical pencil with a capacitive nib that becomes available when you retract the pencil (it’s called the 800+ – as shown above).
To be frank, it’s a thing of beauty. And it’ll cost you 70 euro at list price – but just as the Rotring brand implies, it looks incredible and will last a lifetime.
#2 Bluetooth Fancy Pants: At the other end of the scale for those iPad warriors is a bluetooth device. This can give you a couple of benefits.
The first is that it means the devices don’t need to conform to Apple’s fingertip issues, so the drawing nib is much finer. It also means that you can get models with pressure sensitivity.
The downside is battery consumption and we’ve heard reports about some lag, particularly on some of the older generation iPads. They’re typically more costly, around the £70 upwards mark.
The model above is the Adonit Script and it retails for around £60. There’s a growing list of iPad apps that are compatible with these devices (there’s a range available) and in particular, it does clever things with note taking app, Evernote.
Wacom also has the Intuos Creative Stylus (as above) that brings the same pressure sensitivity to the party as well – as it combines Bluetooth connectivity with the rubberised nib.
If in doubt: ask a 10 year old what they think
Like most kids at school today, my lad, Jack, is a big fan of technology. He, like most lads (particularly those with an interest in design) is also a big fan of drawing, sketching and, generally a creative soul.
He’s also a devotee of the iPad Mini that’s constantly in a state of being charged somewhere in the house. So to get a different perspective on the Cintiq Companion, I let him have a few days playing with it in between bouts of rock climbing, eating Easter eggs and making stuff in the garden. Then I sat down and asked him some questions:
Al Dean: What did you make of the Cintiq Companion?
Jack Dean: I think it was completely awesome because there was a load of stuff I could do on a normal computer that I could do with this, like my online games that don’t work on the iPad.
AD: How did it compare to your iPad?
JD: You can do loads more things, such as run Flash (which doesn’t work on the iPad) and the pen was really cool because it makes it like a touch screen computer for drawing on.
AD: What apps did you use?
JD: The Internet, OneNote and SketchBook mostly.
AD: You played with SketchBook quite a lot – anything that you thought was super cool?
JD: I loved it, the flipbook tool is good because you can create your own videos and animations. There’s all the different types of tools to draw with, a wide range of colours and that sort of thing.
AD: How different was it to drawing with a pencil and paper?
JD: It was different because you can change the drawing pen to something else. You can use loads of different types (such as splodges and paint tools) which you can’t do with pen and paper – and it makes less mess! Also, you’re able to save your work and change them.
AD: So, if you had to choose between the Cintiq Companion and your iPad?
JD: That’s tough. I’ve got all my games on my iPad, but this has lots of other things, so I can’t really choose.
» Intel Core i-7-3517U processor (1.9 GHz)
» 8Gb memory
» 256 – 512 GB SSD hard drive
» Intel HD Graphics 4000
» Microsoft Windows 8 Professional 64-bit
» 13.3” (1,920 x 1,080) multi-touch display
» 1.8 kg + power adapter
» 375 x 248 x 17 mm
» Wacom Pro Pen with 2048 levels of pressure and tilt sensitivity
» 24 month warranty
Intel Core i-7-3517U processor (1.9 GHz)
Intel HD Graphics 4000
256 – 512 GB SSD hard drive
24 month warranty
|Product||Wacon Cintiq Companion|