Last week Wednesday Wacom unveiled their new MobileStudio Pro device at an event at the Society of Illustrators in New York City. I was one of a handful of artists who were there as part of the event, and who had been sent one of the new devices to test drive beforehand. Now that the MobileStudio Pro has been announced, I can share my review of the unit. I had the 13 inch version with the I7 processor, 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD.
I have been using the Cintiq Companion 2 for some time now, and while I liked that device just fine (see my review here) I found the MobileStudio Pro to be a significant upgrade. It has addressed a number of the “cons” I had about the Companion 2, while at the same time really upping the game in terms of specs and performance.
My first thought when unboxing the MobileStudio Pro (MSP) was how much smaller and lighter it felt than the Cintiq Companion 2 (CC2). I was surprised to find it was only a little more than a 1/2 pound lighter (3.13 lbs)… seemed like a lot more. It’s the same thickness (without the stand) as the CC2, but about an inch less tall and a tiny bit less wide, despite having the same 13.3 inch screen real estate. Not a significant difference in size, but it does feel lighter and less bulky than the CC2.
After firing up the unit (which runs Windows 10) and opening PhotoShop, I immediately saw the benefits of the significantly ramped up specs of the MSP.
The biggest test for me is the performance of the pen on the screen, and the MSP knocks it out of the park. The new pen doesn’t just double the CC2’s 2048 levels pressure sensitivity, it quadruples them. 8192 levels for pen and eraser. I know… how much more pressure sensitivity do you really need? I can tell you that I really noticed a difference out of the box. In fact, I had to go in and adjust the setting for the firmness of the pen because the touch was so light and sensitive. Gone is the odd “offset” that plagued the CC2 in some cases. The brush/cursor is hyper-accurate to the pen point after calibration to your specifications. The feel on the screen is terrific, and the transition from thick to thin lines when drawing are fluid. There is no lag at all, even when furiously sketching.
The best part for me is the new “etched glass” screen. Unlike previous units, this surface provides a much more natural surface feel to the screen… it’s more like drawing on real paper or board. Just the right amount of drag and surface tension, with a little “give” of flexibility as well in the pen point. It’s by far the most natural feel of any digital drawing device I’ve used, including the iPad Pro and the rubbery Apple Pencil. I have always preferred using the optional felt tip with the Cintiq, but I am not sure I will need that now.
Just to test things out, I loaded and opened up a full resolution 2 page MAD spread on the MSP. These are 4900 x 3200 pixel images and with various layers the working file runs over 300MB in size. Not huge but when you start using up memory with saved history steps, multiple undo’s, etc., it’s easy for a smaller computer to get bogged down. The MSP worked like a pro, with no lags or delays in work flow. It didn’t break a sweat.
I was not able to test the option of tethering the MSP to my laptop and using it like a traditional Cintiq as the test unit did not include the cabling for that, but as that is very straightforward and worked like a charm with the CC2, I expect it to work equally well with the MSP. Frankly that is a bit of a dealbreaker for me. I loved that option with the CC2, since I am not a big Windows fan. Like the CC2, I can use the MSP when on the road as a stand alone, fully functioning PC using full versions of the software I am used to using in the studio. Then, when I have some room to spread out (in a hotel room for example) I can cable the unit up to my MacBook Pro and have a complete portable studio with dual screens and the whole works, just like back home. Apparently this feature requires a “Wacom Link” unit that is not included as standard… same as the stand. That’s a little disappointing but it should keep the costs down for those who don’t want to use those features.
I found battery life to be quite a bit better than the CC2. I ran the MSP flat but not all at once, so I don’t have an exact time for the battery life, but I’m estimating a solid 5 plus hours of work heavy work. Wacom’s specs say 6, so it’s in the ballpark. The CC2’s specs only give it 4.5 hours, and I would have said realistically 4 with heavy use. So, battery life is up and weight is down!
Other specs are also better, although in real life use probably only matters to the real geeks in the audience. Wifi goes from b/g/n to ac, Bluetooth uses the 4.1 standard as opposed to 4.0. Some models also have fingerprint sensors for unlocking, 3D Cameras, and other goodies. One thing that drove me a little crazy was that the MSP only has USB-C input jacks. I know this is the future but now I have to get an adapter for my thumbdrives or other USB peripherals. Ah, well… cutting edge tech does have a backwards compatibility price.
I should mention that the 16″ version of the MSP, which I got to briefly try out at the debut event last week, is a serious piece of hardware. Besides the extra screen real estate (15.6 inch) the resolution goes up to 4K, and the graphics move from an Intel Iris card to an NVIDIA Quadro. That is a big performance leap with the graphics, perhaps only needed by 3D artists and motion graphics creators.
The thing that makes Wacom products better than the tablet digital artist solutions out there is this: their whole world is the pen and the screen. 100% of their focus is on that interaction and input, and developing the hardware and software to do it best. Tablets like the Apple’s iPad Pro and Apple Pencil work great for certain tasks, but that feature will always be just one more thing they do among many other priorities. Digital art is all Wacom does, and they do it the best. The MobileStudio Pro isn’t a sketchy toy for the coffeeshop, or an exercise in compromise by juggling multiple apps to try and get around the limitations of the hardware. It’s a truly portable full digital art studio without excuses as to why you can’t do with it what you do in the studio.
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925 New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550
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