It can be a difficult decision where to spend your hard earned dollars. Oddly enough, the problem we face now is information overload and deciding what information is relevant to your needs. This is the reason why so many product reviews vary. I typically try to avoid random consumer reviews. They vary greatly and you have one person that loved a product and another one the hated it, but without any context. So they quickly becomes meaningless. To avoid that pitfall, I’ll tell you exactly where I was coming from and what i was looking for in a a drawing tablet.
I’d like to start off by making a few comments on hardware and our culture of devices and computers. It is easy to assume with technology that the latest and greatest hardware equates to a more efficient device. The idea of constant ideation, improvements and progressive enhancements leading to improved products generally holds true in computing, technology and electronics. Of course, this is the selling point and marketing impetus behind technology companies. The idea that what is new always supplants what came before it is not without its merits, but it also is not infallible. There is a distinction between the consumer products we ingest like mobile phones, tablets, and products that help you do actual work and create things.
As creators, I think most would agree that mobile devices like tablets and phones have not replaced your traditional computers (desktops), workstations or laptops. It is not more efficient to write on a tablet or phone. You can’t create on a professional level using those devices. This is the reason that you don’t have full creative applications such as Adobe Creative Suite, Autodesk 3DS Max, and ZBrush running on those devices. The input model doesn’t hold up and what you do get are stripped down versions meant more for a consumer than for a creator. This is not to say that some of them cannot be helpful or that they do not have added value to what you already are doing. They are a meant to supplement and not replace. Once again, I am referring to the creative professional market and tools.
You are the efficient device. The technology is a tool and aid to assist you with how you work and not the other way around. In that regard, lets take a moment to step back and realize that you are the greatest asset. Not the technology. Technology should work for you and not the other way around. It is not a crutch. Design and artistic principles held true before modern technology and they hold true with the use of these technologies. Knowing how to use software doesn’t make you a designer, animator, videographer or film maker in the same way that shooting a basketball doesn’t make you a basketball player. The end result is what we are after and your work speaks volumes. You can’t fake dedication and hard work. Well you can, but you’re only fooling yourself.
So today, we have static pages or screens and dynamic moving pages or screens. We have different ways of interacting with them. In the physical world, we interact with things but now we work less with buttons, knobs, and switches than we do with imitations on a flat screen. The trade off can be improve work flow and can yield some great results. Ask yourself the right questions though. What are you really trying to do with it and how can it help you?
I love to draw. I geek out on pencils, pens, papers and different things that make cool marks that I can use. Years ago I tried one of Wacom’s products. It was one of their Intuos products. The thing is that I never got used to drawing on that tablet while staring separately at the computer screen. It added a layer between me and my drawings and I was never able to adjust to it. I know there have been many people that did and they created some great work. I did find it helpful for doing some things better than a mouse could though. Drawing with a mouse is absolutely terrible and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. It was far better than a mouse, but still not as intuitive as I needed it to be.
Jump ahead quite a few years and technology finally came up with what I was looking for. An actual screen you could draw and paint on that had good responsiveness and control. Wacom led the industry in this from the very beginning and in my opinion still does. I do feel that the rest of the world is catching up though. That leads me to the current review. I have used one of their products for about a year and a half now and have got quite a bit to say about it.
I currently use the Wacom Cintiq Hybrid. It is no longer available, but has a dual use and as such is very much the same as some of the products they currently have available. Their Cintiq products are additional screens that mirror your computer’s current screen. It can be used as an additional screen to expand your desktop or to mirror the one you have already. The difference is that you work directly on this screen with the use of a stylus, finger touch control and utilize things like tilt and pressure sensitivity for what I consider outstanding control when drawing, painting or even writing. These Cintiqs come in a variety of screen sizes, resolutions and button configurations which are programmable short keys to help with your workflow.
As I mentioned, the Wacom Cintiq Hybrid is no longer available. It was considered a hybrid because you could use it as a stand alone drawing tablet when not used as a Cintiq (plugged into your computer). When used by itself, it operates using the Android mobile operating system so you can use it as a tablet and do the things other Android tablets can do. So you have access to that Android market, but more importantly it really utilizes some mobile apps very well. Specifically I use the mobile version of Autodesk sketchbook. What I was looking for was something I could use to draw effectively and that had long battery life. I wanted to have a digital drawing device or sketchbook that ran for hours on the go, and that I could still use as a Cintiq when I was back home on the Mac. It works great for both purposes. Used as a Cintiq it is basically the same as the Cintiqm13 HD Touch. What attracted me about this one instead of the one running the full Windows operating system was that it was advertised to have a 12 hour battery life. Now, this was pretty accurate but does depend on your power usage settings. Compared to the full Windows version which only has a 4 hour battery life, this was a no brainer for me. Once again, I was looking to draw and paint on the go and the ability to get up to 12 hours of life was huge. I wish that they would have kept the line and perhaps even expanded upon it.
Since this ran on Android, the hardware was not as advanced as the version running Windows. So if you did a comparison of those specs, you’d find that the Windows version had a more powerful processor and hardware. It was more powerful but the trade off was that it had a 4 hour battery life. The “better” processor drained the battery life. So again, it is not about hardware specs but about what you want to do with the device. Had I wanted to run full creative applications on the go, then the Windows version would have been a better choice. Sadly, the weak point of Wacom’s mobile products is still their battery life. The newest product which is the Wacom Mobile Studio Pro boasts a battery life up to 6 hours. The correlation between computing power and battery life is a stark reality. At least for now. So my point in this, is that it may not be in your best interest to go with the most powerful device you can afford. It may be a waste of your money if it isn’t something you really need. It is important to consider the overall balance and performance.
As a mobile drawing and painting solution it has been outstanding for me. I look forward to trying one of their newer 4k models running windows (Wacom Mobile Studio Pro). I draw daily and begin any design process with this method. I couldn’t be happier with this device. Used as a Cintiq, I use it with Sketchbook Pro, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator and Clip Studio Paint. They pair extremely well and and the added benefit of using these applications with your workstation’s own hardware makes the Cintiq a powerhouse for creation. You can get very fine detailed lines and the pressure sensitivity allows you to really add depth to your artwork. Not only do you get great control and precision but the feel of the stylus on the surface is better than the competition. Wacom allows you to customize you stylus with a variety of different nibs. This allows you to have a different feel when sliding the stylus across the screen. Drawing on a Cintiq provides a little drag or resistance (tooth) that is more like drawing on paper.
Other options such as the Microsoft Surface Pro tows the line between a more powerful device capable of running full creative applications, while still providing excellent battery life. They don’t quite succeed at developing a product that can do what Wacom’s Mobile Studio Pro or Cintiq Companions can do in terms of responsiveness and overall feel for drawing and painting. I’ve tested drawing and painting on the Surface 4 and the Apple iPad Pro (with their special stylus). Both can get the job done and respond fairly well, but again the sensitivity, feel and responsiveness was not as good as with Wacom’s products. Now, the difference in price can be a big deterrent. Wacom is very proud of their products and it shows in the price. The Surface 4 and iPad pro both are substantially less costly so there is your breaking point. I have also tested one of Wacom’s larger 27QHD Cintiq and it holds up the same as my 13” but it does take some adjustment to get used to a larger screen. Wacom products are designed from the ground up for artists and it shows. Other devices as previously mentioned are great options for the cost and are powerful creative tools but they lack that added touch for artists.