No matter how hard you try, you just can’t please everyone all the time. Take Wacom for example, a company which has done its best to appease every artistic niche, and in order to brave undiscovered frontier they’ve taken a dedicated plunge into the mobile workstation world. We’ve been patiently waiting and after months of anticipation we finally get to play with the Android-based Cintiq Companion Hybrid.
With it comes the tantalizing prospects for graphic artists as both a versatile touchscreen tablet and professional-grade pen display with all the features – and of course the pricing that we’ve come to expect.
At quick glance the Cintiq 13HD is the obvious inspiration behind the Companion’s premium appearance. Many would be hard-pressed to notice the differences up front as the same combination of rubberized and hard plastic bezel, programmable side Rocker Ring with ExpressKeys, and the panel remain unchanged. The rest of the body is equally familiar to 13HD with a metallic gunmetal finish and heavy-duty matte inserts on the rear for planted grip.
Beyond the dimensions of 14.8” x 9.8” x 0.6” (WHD) connectivity is fairly different from the 13HD. On the front, a 2MP (megapixel) camera with light sensor sits opposite of the ExpressKeys. Along that side, storage and data expansion aren’t in short supply either as a headphone/mic jack, USB 2.0, Micro-HDMI output, microSD reader (SDHC), dual microphones, and a proprietary 3-in-1 (HDMI/USB/power) breakaway connector needed to charge and/or link to a computer.
Built-in wireless connectivity is also accounted for with Bluetooth 3.0 and 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi. Around back lies another 8MP camera with a discreet speaker that’s pumps out audio with respectable clarity.
The included Pro Pen is a modest upgrade from the previous Grip Pen, although the changes are limited to a matching metallic scheme, reshaped click buttons near the base, and a nice compact case. As it happens, all optional pens (compatible from the Intuos4 onward) work just fine in both Desktop and Tablet modes thank to the embedded battery-free EMR (electro magnetic resonance) technology.
For all the additions both versions of the Companion Hybrid (DTH-A1300H/DTH-A1300L) come in at a hefty 3.6-3.9lbs – not exactly lightweight by Android standards. Fortunately they each share the same general features and can travel easily in most laptop bags or matching case (ACK40702).
The Companion Hybrid is definitely purpose-based with an active 13.3” matte display – specifically to keep colors accurate and reduce eyestrain under extended work sessions. You can expect the same Full HD resolution of 1920×1080/60p on a coated IPS surface. And though it won’t be the most ideal monitor for Netflix or unbelievably sharp as Apple’s own Retina Display, it’s actually truer to the Adobe RGB gamut reference and image quality like the Cintiq 22HD and 24HD.
Touch gestures have returned with a potential boost in productivity. And since this is an actual touchscreen tablet, gestures such as pinch/zooming, swipes, and taps are definitely welcome this time around. Options are typical with all of Wacom’s existing pro-grade devices after the expected driver installation, cursor calibration, and finetuning adjustments through the Wacom Center tool with on-screen prompts.
Those already acquainted with performance will get 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity, 40° of tilt range, ±60° tilt recognition, and 5080 lines of resolution. These figures are pretty standard at this point but still impressively refined from marathon Photoshop projects to quick sketches on Autodesk or ArtRage. The overall feeling is strikingly natural and be can compared to a fine brush on light canvas.
The allure of staying creative while mobile is why you’d even consider any version of the Companion, and for the most part it does an admirable job of capturing those good ideas before they’re forgotten altogether. Equipped with NVIDIA’s own Tegra 4 quad core ARM processor and 2GB of DDR3L RAM, the Android OS (Jelly Bean 4.2) is entirely stock aside from a few out-of-the-box apps to get you started, all of which are made by Wacom. These choices (Wacom Creative Canvas, Infinite Canvas, and Manga Canvas) serve as ready alternatives to the likes of Autodesk Sketchbook or PS Touch. And all of them come with a slightly larger toolset and options that the established programs are currently lacking.
Other pre-installed apps include the Wacom Center for hardware settings, Recommends for, well…recommendations, and the ASTRO File Manager for cloud syncing and data transfers; similar to options like Google Docs and Dropbox.
Pushing the tablet’s internal 7.4 V, Li-polymer battery to its absolute limit (i.e. by intentionally neglecting to charge it and changing settings to least efficient) provided almost 11 hours (10.8hrs roughly) of life before it eventually ran out of juice, those are impressive numbers for an Android device that’s supposed to double as a design workstation. With causal operation and the right power settings in place it’s possible to go a couple days without a full charge, however you’ll also be waiting 4-5 hours minimum if you accidentally forget to plug it into an outlet.
I admire how robust the entire package is but there are issues, specifically with the carryover accessories from the 13HD. First off, the stand works but securing the tabs within the stand slots is a bit of a chore and lacks the visual finesse and discreetness, especially when you realize that the stand lacks a more upright easel-like position (the only fixed angles are diagonal and horizontal at (22°, 35°, 55°).
Secondly, the aforementioned 3-in-1 cable is certainly well-intentioned but far too cumbersome to carry on the go. We appreciate the effort from Wacom to finally transition into HDMI and DisplayPort options, but with USB and charging power tied to one cord, the worst-case scenario of a broken port is worrying to say the least. My best recommendation: Take the tablet with you and leave that precious 30-pin-like cable at home or in the studio.
I originally didn’t know what to expect from the Cintiq Companion Hybrid simply because the idea of an Android tablet/display of this caliber sounded extremely zealous. But the execution is awesome in terms of adaptability and performance for impromptu inspirations.
Traditionalists may prefer the regular Cintiq Companion, which serves as an actual Windows 8 workstation (which I’ve also tested) over the Android alternative. But considering the significantly higher base MSRP ($1999) and technical specs that range from non-upgradable components, no discreet internal GPU from NVIDIA or AMD, and a last generation ‘Ivy Bridge’ processor from Intel, I’m not entirely sold on that route just yet. nonetheless, the Hybrid is a dynamic evolution of their definitive graphic tablet.