Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 review

Illustrator Ben O'Brien steps away from his desk to discover if Wacom's Cintiq Companion tablet computer is as good as you hope it is.

Price: from £999.99 plus VAT. Model reviewed, £1,083

Straight out of the box and the Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 is as smart and solid as I’ve come to expect from Wacom equipment. An hour’s experimenting discovers three points in its favour. There’s a great 13.3-inch screen: colours look good, and that’s an area I know about and hold up as very important. There’s perfect pen tech - although I was asked to calibrate the pen more than once for some reason.

Wacom’s new Cintiq also has a very satisfying weight - twice as heavy as the Surface Pro, but personally I like something that feels strong and secure to work with. The only true test though is to work with it, as this ain’t no toy.  

Every illustration I do starts with a pencil drawing; it’s fundamental to what I do, I also work in two specific, different illustration styles.  My ‘main’ illustration style relies on original detailed pencil drawings, flowing lines, sketching away at elements to perfect how they look, maybe catching likenesses in portraits or encapsulating movement in liquids.

Here the Cintiq Companion 2 didn’t compare on creating these perfect detailed drawings. Perhaps with if I dedicated a lot of time to mastering it, I’d find a way – but in my experience all tablets lack the tactile - and purely enjoyable - nature of working with pencil and paper.

My second illustration style (shown here) is far more graphic – which is usually for editorial and infographic work. This is where the Cintiq Companion 2 came into its own: from start to end I can neglect pencil and paper and rough it out straight into Illustrator – although here I’m not ‘roughing’ anything: it’s spot-on, clean and tidy.  I could completely skip the ‘rough’ stage and show a client vector linework straight away, greatly reducing the time it takes me to do a graphic editorial commission, a win/win situation for me and the client.

Within a day or two of using the Cintiq Companion 2, I actually found myself developing a potential third illustration style – though this is not something I’d recommend to illustrators, becoming jack of all trades master of none.

There’s a flexibility to freehand drawing in Photoshop on this Cintiq with 2,048 pressure levels - that’s, essentially, more than you could possibly compare between – so you can achieve some really great linework and brushstrokes, get that comic-book line art you always wanted to achieve, play with brush-lettering typography without the paint thinners and years of training, or just sketch, for fun, without having to find your pencil sharpener.

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One restriction I found was the shortage of shortcuts you’re able to use while working in Illustrator or Photoshop.  In my usual set-up – an Apple iMac and Wacom Intuos tablet, I work with one hand on the Wacom pen and one flying around the keyboard hitting shortcut keys. It’s become second nature and I’m able to work super-efficiently, uninterrupted and unrestricted.

The Companion does have customisable shortcut buttons – called Express Keys – but without as many keys as a keyboard available to my non-drawing hand, I found myself havin to use menus and panels to pick tools or achieve effects and processes. This interrupted my flow and left me feeling restricted.

There is a way out of this restriction of course, the Wacom bluetooth keyboard, available separately, but less convenient if you’re on the go).

I’m not one to focus on restrictions though, and with new equipment like this I wanted to benefit from the positive, unrestricted opportunities, so I left my studio and tried it out at home on the couch. This worked brilliantly.

Take it to the cafe, take it on the train, take it to the forest, use it to sketch the view, demonstrate something to a client or finish up a project on the commute home – for this ability to work away from the desk you, and I, can be forever grateful.  So long as you only need to do it no more than four and a half hours away from a plug socket.

Back at my desk, and the Cintiq Companion 2 throws one other great use at me - something you couldn’t do with the previous companion or the Surface Pro – you can connect it to your Mac or PC and use it as a traditional Cintiq screen you can draw on.  

Used in the right way, managing yourself and the apps you need to run concurrently and you can greatly improve your workflow – and your deskspace will look way cooler too.

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As a digital illustrator, I’m going to give the Cintiq Companion 2 a thumbs up. Use it right and you can improve your efficiency and take work away from your desk.  As a graphic illustrator I’m giving it a second thumbs up, being able to do loose sketches or clean vector linework for client roughs is a real development on everything that came before.  

As a pencil and paper drawing traditionalist too though, I’m sorry to say it’s not a thumbs up hat-trick, it’s too digital for me to achieve the detailed pencil drawings I have always done (and probably always will do) on paper: which is tactile, soft and not backlit.  My portraits, landscapes and atmospheric scenes will remain at their best thanks to an HB and a sheet of A3.

It’s very well named, the Cintiq Companion 2, to the right designers and illustrators it can be as good as any other working companion. It won’t pour the coffee for you or brainstorm an idea, but it can work alongside you in plenty of your daily tasks. It’ll travel with you, sharpen up your workflow, check your emails and keep you entertained, and that’s before you’ve even opened up your Adobe app of choice and started working.  

If your creative output is more digital than traditional, then I think Wacom might have just produced your new working buddy.

Cintiq Companion 2 review: benchmarks

Alongside Ben’s review of what it’s like to use the Cintiq Companion 2 as a professional creative, we also ran our standard set of benchmarks to see how it measures up against the first version – and the Surface Pro 3.

First, the specs. The first Cintiq Companion (top) was available in a single configuration (if you ignore the poorly conceived, Android-running Cintiq Companion Hybrid model) for £1667 plus VAT: Intel Core i7 3517U dual-core processor running at 1.9GHz, 8GB RAM, a 512GB SSD, Intel HD 4000 graphics, and a 1,920 x 1,080-pixel, 13.3-inch screen.

There are five models of the Cintiq Companion 2 (bottom). Ours was the mid-range , £1,083 model – featuring a Intel Core i5 4258U chip (dual-core, 2.4GHz), 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, Intel Iris 5100 graphics, and a 2,560 x 1,400-pixel, 13.3-inch screen.

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The Cintiq Companion 2’s natural competitor is the smaller Microsoft Surface Pro 3, which I reviewed back in February. This has a Intel Core i5 4300U chip, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD, Intel HD 4400 graphics, and a 2,160 x 1,440-pixel, 12.1-inch screen.

First off, those screens. The Cintiq Companion’s hi-res screen is a definite benefit over the first model – and it has approximately the same pixel density as the smaller Surface Pro 3. If you tried a Cintiq Companion when it first came out, it’s worth noting that both Windows 8 and creative apps have got a lot better at working with HiDPI touchscreens since then. Touching and drawing your way around Windows, Photoshop, Illustrator, Painter and even day-to-day apps like Evernote and web browsers is a breeze.

All of the screens had near-identical colour gamut and accuracy - capable of producing around 70% of the Adobe RGB colour gamut, 90 of sRGB and having a Delta-E of 0.7 (lower than most eyes can tell the difference between).

Using Cinebench, the Cintiq Companion 2’s performance was about 20% faster than the Surface Pro 3, and 25% faster than the first-gen Companion. It’s 3D performance was a bit lower than that of the Surface Pro 3 and while ahead of first-gen model – don’t expect great 3D performance or GPU acceleration.

Image: The Cintiq Companion 2 has a larger powerpack (right) than the previous generation (left)

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Image: The pens are the same though.