Wacom MobileStudio Pro review

Artist Sam Gilbey discovers that Wacom's new tablet PC really is the best tool for drawing wherever you want to.

Wacom’s MobileStudio Pro is aimed at creatives who want the convenience and portability of a mobile tablet PC, while being able to use the full applications they prefer, such as Photoshop and Illustrator, on a day to day basis. It’s effectively a replacement of the Cintiq Companion, being a tablet PC, albeit with a redesign, a performance upgrade and a new pen. There are 13-inch and  16-inch versions (with a range of configurations for each). We’ve reviewed the latter. The lowest spec 13” is currently £1,399.99 and the highest spec 16” is £2,749.99.

I currently work with an 5k iMac and a Wacom Intuos Pro tablet. I’ve considered a Cintiq (and I reviewed the Cintiq 27QHD for Digital Arts back in 2015), but generally I like a key advantage that drawing on a separate tablet brings, where your drawing hand isn’t obscuring what you’re working on. When I want to work ‘on the go’, I use my iPad Pro. I generally use it as a sketchpad, and that may be partly because, while apps like ProCreate are excellent, and many are using it to create stunning final work, just personally I find it’s still not the same as having Photoshop with me.

I’ll declare now that I’ve not used a Windows PC (including a Surface Pro) for at least a decade. That’s not going to factor into my review of the kit per se, but if like me, you’re also a longtime Mac user, it’s certainly something to consider, as naturally there’s a bit of a learning curve to make the switch.

I like working at my desk, but it was great to be able to work on the sofa, and also take a ‘proper’ piece of artwork out with me to a café for a change of scene. Working on the 16” MobileStudio Pro in public is certainly not as discreet as beavering away on even the larger iPad Pro, but I found it was very comfortable to use, either propped at an angle against a table, having it flat on the table and leaning over, or just sitting back on a sofa. A stand that lets you work at three different angles is available for £89.99.

The device weighs 2.2kg – only slightly heavier than a laptop such as a MacBook Pro or a Dell's Precision 5510. It isn’t exactly heavy, but compared to just 723g for the heaviest iPad Pro, its hardly the most portable piece of kit. The 16-inch just about fit into a conventional laptop bag, but I’d need something more substantial if this became my preferred hardware. The plus side of that extra effort though is that, once set up, you feel like you’re committed to a good solid drawing session. The bevels at the edges are significant, but this is great for being able to draw into the corners without your hand falling off the device. It’s a practical inclusion for artists, where Apple and others look to reduce their bevels as much as possible, because pen users are their secondary audience.

A switch lets you release the orientation and rotate the device. It’s no different to other tablets in that regard, but with the large portable drawing screen, I found it especially compelling to be able to work in portrait mode.

So, how does it actually feel to draw on? In short, fantastic. It’s not quite got the lovely subtle resistance of an Intuos, but the matte screen, coupled with the Pro Pen 2, makes for a lovely drawing experience. Whilst the Apple Pencil is great, especially being able to make broader strokes when held at an angle (something the Pro Pen 2 doesn't do), drawing on the glossy iPad Pro is a long way from perfect. Once you’ve calibrated the pen by tapping a cross in each corner, you feel in control and drawing is incredibly natural. Lag is minimal/barely noticeable, even if some larger textured brushes did slow down a fraction as they rendered.

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Wacom say that you get up to 6 hours from the battery (depending on what you’re doing). I ran it down considerably faster than that – somewhere between 3 and 4 hours. Towards the end of the battery life it ran down incredibly quickly. A warning that I had 10% battery left was followed three minutes later by a 7% warning, and that I should plug in now. 7% of 6 hours is 25 minutes, but 30 seconds after that warning, the device unceremoniously switched off.

I experienced a problem with palm rejection (a feature I’ve become accustomed to on the iPad Pro and of course my Intuos), and thought perhaps it wasn’t included. Fellow illustrator (and animator) Liam Brazier kindly pointed out that this is something that has recently been compromised by either a Windows 10 or a Wacom Driver update. As such, hopefully this will be rectified soon (and may already have been by the time you read this).

Being able to draw with one hand and pan around/zoom in and out of an image with the other, really comes into its own with such a significant screen size. Working on a portrait, I had two images open side by side in landscape mode (the painting and the reference). I really felt ‘in the zone’, either zooming out to see the whole piece or going close in to the details.

I often work on incredibly large Photoshop files with lots of effects and textures. I tested an existing 3.15GB layered TIF file for example, which if flattened would be 326MB, and as a working file represents 13.3GB. It’s at the point where even my iMac is starting to slow, and I thought the MobileStudio Pro might really struggle. There was some lag when drawing, but the effect was fairly minimal, and not prohibitive.

As with the Cintiq, an initial workflow barrier is the realisation of just how much you rely on a keyboard for all manner of shortcuts in traditional desktop apps. This is where both the Cintiq and the MobileStudioPro come into their own as professional devices (over the iPad Pro and Surface Pro), with the customisable Express Keys and TouchRing. Because they’re physical buttons on the device (in the case of the Cintiq it’s a separate magnetic remote), with a bit of work (and sensible customisation) your muscle-memory kicks in and you’re going to be at least as fast as you were with a keyboard, if not faster. Presuming you’re going to use this for a couple of years at least, it should quickly pay dividends.

The screen itself looks great, although I’d still want to check the colours of any finished work on my iMac’s retina screen. It’s certainly not as bright (even at the maximum brightness) or sharp. The resolution of the 16-inch is an impressive 3,840 x 2,160 with 94% Adobe RGB (the 13” is 2560 x 1440 with 96% Adobe RGB). Again that’s probably partly due to my history of being a Mac user, but I will say it’s more impressive than the screen of the largest Cintiq, with the colour and brightness feeling consistent across the screen even when you look from a few feet back and/or from an angle.

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The speakers don’t sound great, so you’ll need headphones. Both the 13-inch and 16-inch have 3 USB Type C ports – but no standard USB ports. If like me you have no Type C peripherals whatsoever, you’ll also be needing some adaptors.

It also gets noticeably warm in the bottom right (if you're right-handed), both on the top but especially underneath. So in fact if you’re left-handed this is less of an issue.

Just to save one of the most exciting features to last, you can effectively use the device as a Cintiq with another PC (or Mac) with an optional Wacom Link (£59.99). I wasn’t able to test this feature, but in fact this one detail is a huge plus.

The Wacom MobileStudio Pro is an undoubtedly expensive, but highly impressive, professional piece of kit, both in terms of how it looks and performs. If you want to work away from the studio, the relatively short battery life is something to bear in mind, but you really can take all your full scale applications with you, and have a truly mobile studio.

The bonus of being able to use it like a Cintiq via the Wacom Link makes it even more desirable. The initial learning curve while customising the Express Keys to your liking (and moving to Windows if you’re a Mac user) means your workflow is likely to take a bit of a hit at the start, and you’ll probably want to have a keyboard with you. Beyond this temporary hurdle though, you’ll be working in comfort, wherever the mood takes you, on a striking device which feels fantastic to draw on.