Review – Wacom Intel Core i7 256 GB Cintiq Companion 2

The Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 is an upgrade from Wacom’s first generation model in features, speed, and resolution. Working with Wacom products over the years has given me a user-based knowledge of their hardware from a photographic, digital imaging, and illustration perspective. Every time I use a Wacom device I ask myself a simple question; how does this new tool allow me to push my creativity, gain the competitive edge, and give me a runway for my ideas to take flight? With the Cintiq Companion 2 I created logo designs in Adobe illustrator CC (2015), sketched ideas in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro 7, adjusted photographs in Adobe Lightroom CC (2015), and painted in Adobe Photoshop CC (2015). The model I used for review was well equipped, sporting an Intel Core i7 processer with 256 GB, and was able to tackle any task I threw at it.

I also used the Cintiq Companion 2 as an everyday Microsoft Surface typing emails, editing papers, navigating the World Wide Web, and of course playing a few games. I incorporated my Wacom, Adobe, and Google cloud storage accounts, joined a Bose Bluetooth speaker to play music as I worked, and even purchased a few Christmas gifts on Amazon. Although I will not go into detail on the many things my family and I did using the Companion 2, it is worth mentioning how conveniently the non-creative use of the Companion 2 seamlessly functioned in my household. In all those moments I shared with the Companion 2 the last few months I found improvements in its screen resolution, workflow options, the ability to install the Cintiq Companion 2 as a standalone Cintiq to my Dell PC, and was pleased to see the issues that plagued the first generations of Companions corrected.

As I mentioned above I completed many projects working with the Companion 2. As I completed those tasks it felt, weighed, and functioned just like the Companion 1, except for one noticeable difference in the screen’s resolution and color. The Companion 2 is bright with colors instantly popping off the screen. During the process of creating several 8 x 10 @ 300 dpi illustrations I could not help but notice the amazing detail. Gradients are smoother with a broad range in tint and shade in Photoshop, the pencil in Sketchbook Pro was as accurate as a traditional HB, and the copies blended with incredible realism. The higher resolution of the QHD at 2560 x 1440 allowed for more accurate color management with crisp details unlike the original companion’s Full HD screen displays of 1920 x 1080. The higher resolution and over 1 billion colors is a digital artist dream giving the Cintiq Companion 2 the same resolution as an 8.5” x 4.8” print @ 300 dpi or a 10.5 x 6 @ 240 dpi. While working in the higher resolutions I was specifically looking for any type of slow down but the Companion 2 functioned unbelievably with no lag even when painting with a few of the larger brushes in Adobe Photoshop. This is an incredible feat of engineering that we can only hope continues to drive us closer to bring the creative visual process to the printed page.

One of the greatest advantages of working with Wacom products to create and expand my ideas is the ability to have any command at my disposal in conjunction with the right software to quicken the pace of my workflow. I have used a Wacom 22HD for several years and can complete most of my projects with minimal use of the keyboard. I have spent years creating quick functions for the express keys and radial menus for Adobe Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator, and Autodesk’s Sketchbook Pro. What was extremely disappointing was the Companion 2 inability to use the Tablet Preference File Utility “backup” file containing all the settings for the Cintiq 22HD in my office. I understand they are different hardware but it would be much more productive to have the ability to transfer settings from one device to another in some capacity. So, I had to reprogram all the functions I was accustomed to utilizing on my Cintiq 22HD to the Companion 2. Although it was inconvenient and time consuming it is a must for anyone working with Wacom’s Companion 2. My suggestion is that Wacom consider a way to import existing settings from a Cintiq to the Companion if possible.

No one wants to start drawing or touching up a photograph then have to pull out the Bluetooth keyboard to hit shortcut keys or name files while saving. It is a time killer and awkward especially if you are on the train, in the woods, presenting to a client, or sitting in one of those cushy chairs in Starbucks without a table in reach. Luckily the Companion 2 allowed me the opportunity to have all the adventures above while never needing to pull out the little Bluetooth keyboard. Wacom’s express functions such as the rocker ring, on-screen controls, express keys, and the radial menu are so intuitive and customizable I was able to create all the combinations for commands, hotkeys, actions and more. In combination with Windows 10’s Windows Ink software I was also able to access the on-screen keyboard conveniently found in the bottom right hand corner to type quickly, write using the window ink feature to quickly name files, layers, respond to emails, and of course search the web. Although the process for creating the shortcuts needed is a lot of up front work the benefits of utilizing the technology will allow any user to achieve the final result they have envisioned from the very beginning by expediting their workflow.

The most significant new feature developed for the Companion 2, which corrected a major flaw in the first generation of Companions, is its ability to connect to your laptop or pc to be used as a standard 13HD touch. I connected the Companion 2 to a 2009 Dell Studio XPS 7100 with an AMD Phenom(™) II X6 1045T processor, 6 gb of ram, ATI Radeon HD Graphics card, and Windows 7 operating system.

Installing the drivers and connecting the HDMI and USB was painless and the companion functioned as a Cintiq should allowing the ability to toggle screens, adjust resolution, access all the PCs software and none of the Companion 2’s. There is no switch to hit or icon to turn off and on, when the Companion 2 turns on it automatically switches to an extension of the desktop or another screen depending on the user's preferences. It allowed for more screen space that can be extremely helpful when multitasking with multiple applications and expanding the Companion 2’s 13.3 inch display. Not to forget that the companion can be touched and gives a normal pc another way to interface with the user.  However running Windows 7 with the touch feature was not as intuitive when running Windows 8 or 10.

Turning the Companion 2 into an attached 13hd touch Cintiq is an incredible feature but the QHD display resolution reverted to a standard 1920 x 1080 display and there is no access to the Companion 2’s hard drive. Some people would have considered this a problem in years past but with all the access available via cloud servers and services such as Google Drive, Adobe Creative Cloud, and of course using Wacom’s Cloud Drop Zone it was quite easy to access the same files and continue to work. Still, it would be nice to be able to access the Companion 2’s hard drive via my PC just as a USB external hard drive, but with the development of new technologies some features take time, research, and feedback to be fully utilized. Consider this an encouragement to add access to the Companion 2’s hard drive via USB.

The Cintiq Companion 2 is available in a variety of configurations. Choices include your choice of Intel Core i3, i5, or i7 processors, equipped with either 512GB’s, 256GB’s, 128GB’s, or 64GB’s of SSD storage, with each option packing between 4GB’s to 16GB’s of DDR3 RAM. Our review unit shared the Intel Core i7 processor with their flagship model, the main difference being an increase to a 512GB SSD, and of 16GB’s of DDR3 RAM.

The Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 is an incredible piece of engineering that has significant improvements from the first generation. The Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 is a wonderful mobile device that allows artists of all media or occupation a mobile digital studio at their fingertips to bring their ideas to life with incredible speed. The Wacom Cintiq Companion 2 comes highly recommended.

Michael Mann, with additional reporting by Harris Fogel, posted 12/15/2015

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About Mike Mann:

Mike Mann is a graduate of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia where he received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation 2000 and a MAT in Education in 2004. Since graduating Mike has taught Art and Photography at Springfield High School in Delaware County, PA., and coaches the SHS Soccer Team. He has a busy studio practice and has worked on various projects including illustrated office installations, specialized caricature illustrations, logo design, and children's book illustrations. He had been a Wacom user and digital art enthusiast since 1995 using the first generation Wacom Intous tablet. To see some of his work, visit him on Facebook, and Deviant Art. Links to current projects are: wiggle e tooth (2014), laced together (2015), TAP logo (2013).