Before we begin, I just wanted to say that I genuinely loved the idea behind the Cintiq Companion Hybrid when I reviewed it over a year ago. A relatively bold effort by Wacom to turn their graphic displays into a multipurpose Android tablet. One that, at the time, I was even certain might be “the one” for artists as a reasonable alternative in lieu of the criminally pricey Windows-based variant.
But everyone has vehemently spoken: the Companion Hybrid is no more, long live the Cintiq.
In retrospect, it was probably an inevitability as the Hybrid didn’t have the chops for people craving a lot more from their creative tablets, a demand that the Android mobile platform (or any smartphone-derived OS for that matter) couldn’t fulfill on its own. Wacom apparently took that sentiment to heart with the latest Cintiq Companion 2 which goes for more performance, more choices, and addresses a few inadequacies that plagued early adopters.
Premium, Yet Purposeful
On the outside though, it’s almost difficult to believe that this is the second generation. First of all it doesn’t seem that long ago when the original debuted, and also because this iteration is nearly identical in appearance too. Everything from the hard rubberized matte bezel and rear grip, scratch-resistant LED screen, and chunky frame is about function; with the only contrast being the metallic body that predominantly flanks the side and underneath. The ExpressKeys and Rocker Ring are discreetly refreshed for better feel and uniformity, although those nice silver accents from the prototype models didn’t make it to production.
Connectivity is bumped up and now has three SuperSpeed USB 3.0 ports, another full-size SD Card slot (SDHC/SDXC) to complement the existing microSD one, and a Mini DisplayPort output for additional monitors. Communication comes with dual microphones, two megapixel cameras (front 2MP HD/rear 8MP HD), headset jack, and twin speakers each rated at an adequate 1.5 watts of power. Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi are included for wireless convenience.
The EMR battery-free Pro Pen is once again packed with a case and additional nibs, along with a boutique carrying sleeve and Cintiq Connector cable. However, that large rudimentary three-position stand also makes a lukewarm return, a tolerable mounting prop for the 13HD but less than fashionable here.
Like Bristol, Only Digital
It would be an understatement to say that the Cintiq sports a healthy amount of carryover technology, which still has a canvas-like graininess from the integrated screen filter. Regardless, the professional abilities reign supreme at 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity, ±60° angle, recognition, and 40 degrees of range. No matter if you use the Cintiq as a main computer or tether it as a secondary touchscreen for Mac or PC this this the excellent precision that we’ve experienced since the Intuos4 all those years ago.
Because of its attire, some will probably need to adapt to the textured surface of the 13.3-inch IPS panel (a-Si active matrix TFT) before anything else, which fortunately has an improved QHD resolution of 2560 x 1440. For its intended purpose the image quality is amazingly crisp with colors that are relatively good for reference and not excessively saturated, although some may want to turn down the pixel count a little if they find themselves squinting at the set default. Other small hindrances are the ambient light sensor which is but is automatically triggered based whatever shadows are hitting the screen, and viewing angles that fell victim to outdoor glare. It’s still a screen with prowess but comes off a little compromised by good intentions.
Mostly Work, Hardly Any Play
With Window 8.1 Pro there wasn’t anything about the Companion 2 that would be lacking if you need to do artistic or photo editing assignments away from the studio, and yes, I’m talking about actual graphic work. Programs such as Adobe Photoshop CC 2014, Illustrator CC 2014, and Autodesk Sketchbook worked fluidly without compromise and has no problem handling advanced 2D animation tasks and optional graphical perks by way of the embedded Intel Iris 6100 co-processor.
This tablet will manage just fine for the everyday grind — albeit not perfectly. Watching HD videos and leaving dozens of browser tabs open kept the fans activated at a lower drone except during more involved projects or the occasional game like Modern Combat 5: Blackout, where decent framerates and current power settings can periodically make things noisy (but never hot to the touch) in an attempt to match performance. All told, you get the sense that the Companion 2 is more workaholic than entertainment machine, nor is it neatly discreet like a Surface Pro – our average real-time battery life of 3:58 hours kept non-creative distractions to a minimum and obviously less than the proclaimed 4.5 hours, but rather appropriate numbers for demanding purposes.
For this review, I also upgraded to Windows 10 and found that it handles itself very well. The installation process was painless and all my programs and Wacom-specific drivers were accounted for, all I had to do was be patient as my desktop was magically reborn. There’s a lot to like if you’ve resented Microsoft for taking away the classic Start Menu but passively adopted the aesthetics that came with their modern Metro language; essentially a user interface culminated with the best of everything for simplicity.
This is probably the logical conclusion of what Windows 8 was trying to achieve, managing to largely avoid the woes that made the previous OS appear too radical and obtrusive. For one, it makes good use of Cortana, a virtual assistant brought over from Windows Phone that will (if you choose) actively listen for voice commands, organize your schedule, or just answer general questions whenever without interrupting your workflow.
Another neat feature is ‘Continuum’ which is able to instantly transform the layout from traditional desktop to a touchscreen tablet platform with a reduced taskbar, Metro-style menu, and full-screen apps; with everything occurring seamlessly. But for whatever reason I had to manually change it from tablet to desktop mode myself after plugging in my Bluetooth mouse and Wacom keyboard, but properly reverted back to tablet mode after an on/off tinkering with the accessories. Despite the quirks, automatically conforming to your computing environment no matter the device has weight behind it, and if done right, could mean the elimination of lugging bulkier laptops around.
All of these alterations for Windows 10 are suitable if you’re fanatical about assimilating your productivity, but it’s not so drastic for the usual Photoshop and Corel Painter stuff. And to be honest, I didn’t notice too much of a difference in terms of speed; and since this is already a Cintiq you’ve already got a tactile feeling without having to deal with early glitches. It’s a superior experience overall, but you won’t lose anything right now if you’re not ready to make the jump forward.
A Futuremark benchmark test of the Companion 2 through PCMark 8 Home reconfirmed my “power over efficiency” theory with a score of 2216 (higher is better), compared to 2191 put out a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 briefly loaned to me. An additional PCMark 8 battery life test gave us 1:59 hours, pretty par for the course.
Editors’ Note: The ‘Premium’ version of the Cintiq Companion 2 has been refreshed with a newer Broadwell processor (i7-5557U) from Intel, and is now labeled DTHW1310P. Previous models are known as the DTHW1310M and include the prior Haswell-based CPU (i7-4558U 3.2GHz).
I went hands-on with the ‘Premium’ model, which comes equipped with a powerful Intel Core CPU (i7-5557U 3.1GHz), 8GB of DDR3L RAM, with an appropriately sized 256GB solid state drive. Our tester was very capable but for more budgeted tastes a ‘Base’ core (i3-4005U 1.8GHz, 4GB DDR3L, 64GB SSD) delivers on moderate drawing but you don’t get the extra accessories, and the ‘Standard’ (i5-4258U 2.9GHz, 8GB DDR3L, 128GB SSD) which is balanced for all-around graphic editing. For those truly committed to their craft the ‘Enhanced’ flagship (i7-5557U 3.1GHz, 16GB DDR3L, 512GB SSD) will probably be the ideal choice; just far too specialized to generally recommend.
After living intimately with the Cintiq Companion 2 Creative Tablet, I completely understand why designers and illustrators alike clamored for the predecessor. Taking expected limitations into account, Wacom corrected many faults and the lineup has been expanded with proper specifications — making their portable laplet more attainable for dedicated professionals in the field. For that, This Cintiq is incredibly potent for what it is, even if the privilege continues to remain hefty for everyone else.