Let me preface this review with some information about myself and what I use it for. I’m an Indie animator, illustrator, graphic and web designer. I’m also a professional writer. I tend to use Adobe Photoshop, Flash Professional CS6 (because CC is eww) and Manga Studio Pro/Ex.
I’ve had a Wacom Cintiq 12WX for 4 years now. I’m the creator of an Indie animated web series, Shattered Heaven. Lately, I’ve been adding a much bigger work load onto my shoulders. With a full time job to keep me financially afloat so I can dabble in my passion, I’m out of the house and away from my studio a lot. I decided to give the Companion a try. I was using my iPad and the Wacom Creative Stylus to do a lot of my rough sketching and storyboarding. It was working, but it wasn’t really solving my problem. I wanted the ability to work on my animation on the go. Up til now, I’ve only seen the Companion being talked about with Photoshop. It was practically impossible to see any review of the tablet mention Flash. All I would hear is that “it’s a full Windows computer, so yes, you can run full software”.
I was a bit hesitant to drop around $1,800 on a tablet. It’s marked down on Wacom’s site, I’d advice anyone to purchase it there.
As I was saying, I was a bit reluctant to drop that much money. Whenever I feel I’m going to make a massive decision, I do a lot of research. I read various reviews, PC reviews, Amazon customer reviews, forum discussions,.all of it. I want to know what I’m getting into. For the most part, the reviews were stellar. The design, the power, the typical stylus and pressure sensitivity quality you would expect from Wacom, all of these were high remarks. What brought some initial concern was the consumer reviews.
People complained about the performance, the lag between strokes and the software’s execution. This seemed to be a frequent occurrence. I don’t know what people expected from this when the specs are listed in plain sight. The Companion was not designed to be a super powerhouse of a machine, able to handle 600 dpi, 10k px by 10k px. The Companion is more of a supplement to do work on the go. That’s how I viewed it. But even with that being said, this computer is more than powerful enough for what I use it for. I was working on a 5K px x 6K px at 600dpi and even on “Power Balance” mode it was working with no lag. I tried it on “Energy Saver” mode and it still was working with no lag. This was in Manga Studio Pro, while having iTunes and Flash Professional CS6 open. I have to wonder if those people complaining about lag were using it on a mode that intentionally restricted the Companion’s power to save battery life.
There are 3 modes for the battery.
Power Balance: The recommended setting that has power usage and battery drain at a good level.
Energy Saver: Where the power of the computer is restricted to a point where it does minimum drain. You’ll most likely see some lag here if you’re working with excessive file sizes or even 3D modeling programs.
High Performance: Where you can utilize the Companion at its highest potential. I often use this when I’m running on AC power.
I’ve been running Flash Professional CS6, working on a minute and a half animation with full graphics on Power Balance, even Energy Saver and I do not see any noticeable lag. For my purposes, animation and drawing, the Companion is more than enough. It’s more powerful than the Desktop I was using at home for this work.
The other common issue I noticed in researching the Companion was the notorious “Plugged in but not charging” issue. This was everywhere on Wacom’s forums. People sent in their tablet to be replaced, only to see the same issue. It frightened me, honestly. Almost to the point where I chose not to invest. But I’m glad I did.
When I first got it, I noticed it was at 98%, plugged in but not charging. I freaked out initially. But upon further research, this seems to be a standard issue with Windows 8. Other Windows 8 based tablets have this problem. It seems to be a Microsoft driver issue, not a Wacom problem. It seems there’s a problem with the sync ratio. It might say 98% but then later, it’ll say 100% (Fully Charged). I tested it and noticed that when the Companion starts to charge when it hits 95%. I have never seen the Companion not charge when it’s under 95%. I think people are misdiagnosing the problem. I’m sure there are some defective battery units, but I don’t think this is a standard Companion flaw. The battery does charge, and seeing it say “Plugged in, but not charging” when it’s in the high 90s is typical. It’s most likely a feature to help sustain the battery life.
The stand is a bit flimsy, but it does its job. It could be a bit more sturdier but it’s not something that devalues the product as a whole.
It comes with a felt case which I love, and the pen case that holds the pen and extra nibs is great. I was introduced to the case idea when I purchased the Intuos Creative Stylus and I’m happy to see it being used for the Companion.
I’m do like my Mac OS since I don’t often have to deal or fight with drivers. Windows has given me driver problems in the past where my Cintiq 12WX would suddenly stop working and I’d have to uninstall all the drivers, reinstall them and make sure one of the Windows’ microsoft tablet drivers was turned off so there wasn’t a conflict. That happened to me at least 4 times within a 6 month period. But I have no issue with Windows 8 so far. I feel like I wouldn’t like Windows 8 if it was on a normal laptop, but since it was designed for tablet use, it works smoothly for me.
The battery life is pretty good for the work I do. I’m noticing about 4-5 hours when working in Flash. I could probably even squeeze it a bit more if I tried and was more conservative with the other programs that I keep on.
Overall, the Companion is perfect for me. An Indie animator who wants to be able to work whenever I’m out of the house. The matte screen has a perfect feel and it gives me a much smoother working experience than the 12WX did. I still would recommend using a Smudge Guard glove or something similar. It reduces the potential friction to 0.
This tablet does everything I need it to do. It gives me the chance to increase my productivity by being able to work when I’m at the coffee shop before work, when I’m at lunch and during long travel. It’s definitely a good investment. Just don’t expect this to be a full 3D rendering powerhouse studio on the go. It’s not. It’s perfect for high end art work, photoshop, 2D animation and quick sketching as well. For the average professional, this is great. For other Indie artists and animators, it’s perfect for you all as well. If you’re able to invest in this, I highly recommend doing so.