I wasn’t expecting to receive my Wacom Companion until after I returned to California, but I received an e-mail from Wacom saying they shipped my tablet.
It was like waking up on Christmas morning to find out your parents bought you a pony, a diamond pony. I’ve never owned a diamond pony but I imagine this is what it would feel like. Diamond pony tablet of awesomeness.
I quickly changed the shipping address to my hotel in Renton so that I could start using it immediately, plus I wanted to make the other guys jealous. Sam ended up getting his the day before I got mine, so I went to his room and oohed and aahed over his new tablet. He let me look at the stylus case. It was pretty.
The next day I think I checked the status of my package every 30 minutes. I ended up having to wait until I got off of work before I could play with my new tablet.
Let me say this, it is a lovely piece of equipment. Everything that came with the tablet is top-notch and almost perfectly designed. Here are some quick specs.
• Display Size 13.3 inch
• Full HD 1920 X 1080
• 2048 levels pen pressure, natural feel and multi-touch
• ExpressKeys™, Rocker Ring, Home Button, on-screen controls
• Adjustable stand
• Windows 8
• Intel® Core™ i-7
• RAM 8 GB DDR3
• 256 or 512 GB Solid State Drive (SSD)
• Dimensions 375 ｘ 248 ｘ 17 mm / 14.8 x 9.8 x 0.7 in
• Weight 1.8 kg / 3.9 lbs
• Price $1999 (256 GB SSD) $2499 (512 GB SSD)
I should probably mention that I bought the smaller 256 GB version. My Fujitsu only had 80 GB and my Asus had 64 GB so 256 seemed like plenty for me, plus it would save me $500.
I finally finished the video tutorial. If you don’t like reading, you can watch it instead.
The Stylus Case
As soon as you see the case you think “Man, this thing is fancy.” Fancy indeed.
Each individual nib has its own slot and there are several different colored rings that you can use to give your stylus a more unique look. It also comes with a metal ring to help you change the nibs.
The design of the stylus itself is also very impressive. While the design is very similar to the previous versions, it has a few nice additions like the metal ring around the trigger buttons.
The case is heavy. Heavy is good, heavy is reliable. If it doesn’t work you can always hit someone with it.
The Carrying Case
I guess I forgot that the Companion comes with a carrying case because I was surprised to see one.
It is a simple case, but very well designed. There is a special slot for the stylus case, the tablet, and an extra little section where you can put other things like the cleaning cloth. The case is made out of neoprene with a soft interior. It zips closed and has an extra magnetic flap that closes over it.
You might wonder if I can write an accurate review given the fact that I just got it a couple of days ago. In the past two and a half days I have clocked over 20 hours of painting time in Photoshop on the Wacom Companion.
At first I encountered several problems with my tablet. The first problem I found was that my tablet drivers would turn off randomly. The computer wouldn’t recognize the stylus at all and the express keys wouldn’t work. If you tried going to the Wacom control panel, you would receive an error message saying that there are no drivers installed. The only way to fix it would be to restart your computer or restart the “Wacom Professional Service” under the “Services” window.
If that wasn’t bad enough, I was experiencing extreme lag while working in Photoshop. It was so bad that it made painting extremely difficult. I tried just about everything. I reinstalled the tablet drivers, turned off Open GL, changed the amount of RAM Photoshop uses, changed the Open GL settings to Normal, Basic, and Advanced, I turned off various features in Photoshop, I turned off touch, I tried both the 32 and 64 bit version, I tried CS5, I changed the cache and tile size, I tried documents of various sizes, nothing helped.
I even tried changing the power options, but that didn’t help either. What I didn’t realize was that the “high performance” energy option is hidden by default. I must have not noticed this or maybe I was too distracted by the fact that my new computer didn’t work very well, either way, I didn’t try the high performance option. After contacting Wacom, they suggested switching to the high performance option. Luckily this completely fixed the problem.
I still have problems with the tablet driver randomly turning off, so I’m not entirely sure how to fix that. It seems to happen when I’m either messing with the express keys or when I’m using the on-screen keyboard. My other friends don’t have this problem, so it seems like I’m the lucky one.
There is also the cursor drift issue when you get near the edges of the screen. Every tablet PC I have used has this problem and I hear that Cintiqs have this problem too. While it still doesn’t make it ok that all of these devices have this problem, it wasn’t unexpected. Update – Wacom just released the new 6.3.7-5 drivers and they seem to have helped with the cursor drift around the edges of the screen.
One big gripe I have about the design is the placement of the power button. For some reason they decided to place the power button on the right side of the tablet near the bottom.
If I’m not working at a desk, I usually have to move the tablet around by grabbing the sides of the tablet, which is where power button is. I can’t count how many times I accidentally put my computer to sleep while trying to reposition my tablet.
My friend Sam kept doing the same exact thing. I think it would have been better to place the power button on the top instead of the side, or at least on the top of the side instead of the bottom. -1 for poor button placement.
Power adapters with a tiny pin also make me really nervous. The Asus EP121 has that same adapter pin, and mine ended up snapping in half. If you have ever had to replace an adapter, you know they are extremely expensive.
Speaking of adapters, Wacom decided to put the Windows 8 product key on the adapter. When you are setting up your computer for the first time and Windows asks you for your product key, look at your adapter. It took me the longest time before I realized where they put it. It is funny because a few of my friends couldn’t figure out where the key was either.
Performance in Photoshop CC
Now that I solved the lag problem, Photoshop works like a dream. Even when working on files that are 1.5 GB, I still don’t experience much lag. I can say, without a doubt, this tablet PC is by far the best one I have ever used. There is virtually no lag, the stylus is far superior to any other stylus, and the mixture of express keys and on-screen keys increases your efficiency dramatically.
I would expect nothing less of Wacom. The stylus boasts a whopping 2048 levels of pressure. Just to give you some perspective, the Fujitsu ST5112 and Asus EP121 only have 256. This machine also packs 8 GB of RAM, a 256/512 GB SSD, and an i-7 processor.
If the 8 customizable buttons weren’t enough, there are also various on-screen menus that you can customize.
You might be familiar with the PaintDock app I reviewed for the Asus EP121. The Wacom on-screen menus are very similar. You can see in the screenshot that I am using two different on-screen menus. I keep these open while working in Photoshop.
I will say that the PaintDock app is superior. What I don’t like about the Wacom on-screen menus is that they don’t disappear when you move the stylus over them. This was something that I loved about PaintDock. Right now my on-screen menus are under the “File” and “Edit” menu in Photoshop. That means whenever I open “file” or “edit,” they appear behind the on-screen menus, making them a bit difficult to read.
The other thing I don’t like about them is that they have that large push pin and config icon. I’m super picky about streamlining everything, which is why I like PaintDock. This isn’t much of a problem, it is just an aesthetic issue.
If you open the on-screen keyboard, it shifts the on-screen menus to appear above the keyboard. When you close the keyboard, it doesn’t replace the on-screen menus to their original position, which means you have to reposition them by hand each and every time. I have several issues with the Windows 8 keyboard, and Windows 8 in general, but that doesn’t have anything to do with Photoshop or Wacom so I won’t go into it.
The touch capabilities seem to be much better than other multi-touch tablets. Well, I’ve only really had one other multi-touch tablet, the Asus EP121. I always had a difficult time accurately pressing things on the Asus, even after calibrating multiple times. The touch on the Companion seems very accurate and responsive.
While you do have the option to turn off multi-touch, you don’t necessarily have to. When the stylus is within range of the screen, multi-touch is automatically disabled. This means your hand won’t make marks or do crazy stuff while you are working in Photoshop.
There have been a few times when I accidentally moved stuff around with my hand, but that was usually because I was in the process of flipping my stylus around to use the eraser. Yeah I know, I use the eraser end.
Of course that also means you can’t use the on-screen menus while you are working. You have to make sure to move the stylus far enough away from the screen before you can press the buttons. Sometimes I think my stylus is far enough away, only to find out that the buttons still don’t work and I have to move it farther away.
I would suggest keeping touch turned on, otherwise you can’t use the on-screen menus or gestures.
I’ve never had a computer with 8 GB of RAM before, so the first time I saved a file in Photoshop I had to double check that it actually saved. Booting the computer only takes 4-5 seconds. Zoom zoom!
I haven’t tested any games yet because I only use this computer for work. I try and keep it completely separate from anything that isn’t work-related. That being said, so far I am very happy with the processing power.
Ahhh, everyone wants to know about the battery life. Well, I haven’t been able to test it that much yet because I’m always by an outlet, but I have tested it a little.
When I first got the tablet I went and worked in the hotel lobby with Sam. I spent roughly 2 hours and 20 minutes working in Photoshop and it had used 30% of my battery. That could mean over 7 hours of Photoshop use, although I haven’t tested all 100% of the battery yet so I can’t say for sure. I believe I was in the “balanced” power mode at the time.
So far this seems pretty amazing, especially considering I would get less than 2 hours of full battery life on my Asus while running Photoshop.
Update 10.6.13 – Today I tried working without the power adapter while running on “high performance” mode. After 3 and a half hours I had used 85% of my battery.
Most of the complaints I hear from people about the Wacom Companion and Hybrid is the price. I posted a table comparing the Companion with some of the most popular current and past tablet PCs, and the Companion isn’t really that expensive, especially for what you get.
First of all, no other tablet PCs on the market offer 2048 levels of pressure. You also get 8 GB of RAM, an i-7 processor, and a 256/512 GB SSD. Just SSDs alone are expensive. Not to mention you also get a full HD 13.3 inch screen.
You also get the trusted Wacom name. Wacom has proven themselves time and again with tablet and Cintiq technology, so you know they are going to produce a high quality product. Take a look at the table again, you will see that the price of the Companion is very reasonable.
I’ve only had the Companion for a few days, but so far I am extremely impressed. It has performed on every level. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s perfect, but it is close.
After the repair company broke my Asus EP121 and never returned it, I was planning on purchasing the Fujitsu T902 because it seemed to be the best option at the time. I am very familiar with Fujitsu tablets, so I knew it was going to be a good product. I had heard rumblings that Wacom was going to announce their new tablet over the summer, so I’m glad I waited. The Companion just seemed to be the better option for me.
Yup, I absolutely love this tablet. I don’t normally give out too many 5-star ratings, but I would definitely give the Wacom Companion 5 stars. ★★★★★
Most likely I’ll do a video review after I get back home, so stay tuned!
Last night I was working in Photoshop while in “balanced” mode and there was no lag. I even tried large files and brushes and it still worked fine. I’m not sure why there is no longer lag while working in balanced mode, but I’ll take it!