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My Wacom Cintiq Companion Hybrid Review

The Backstory

When I first walked onto the expo floor at Photoshop World Las Vegas on September 5th, one of the stops I knew I’d be making was at the Wacom booth. Part of the reason was to catch up with some old friends, like Joe Sliger and Wes Maggio, but who are we kidding? I was there to see the newly announced 13” Cintiq Companion Hybrid (CCH) that not only serves as a pressure sensitive input display device for your computer, but also doubles as a fully functional Android tablet! Now, while I’ve been a user of Wacom products for many years now, my experience has revolved around the Intuos tablet lineup. My Intuos is an indispensable part of my editing workflow and I have one with me wherever I go. But, when Wacom offered to let me put their new CCH through its paces, I jumped at the chance. Because I work at Google and love the Android ecosystem, this was a match made in heaven for me. Ultimately, the folks at Wacom wanted to know how this device would fit into my workflow, so let’s begin.

The Basics

Given that there will surely be a plethora of technical reviews, along with the product details that you can find here, my aim is to keep this review more subjective, focusing on my usability. I did receive a 32gb unit that was fully charged upon unboxing it. While the device does have a MicroSD slot, I did not use any expanded storage nor did I connect any peripherals to it’s USB port beyond using it as a my primary display with my Macbook Pro Retina (latest generation).

This review is based on my experiences using the device for a week (I’ve since sent the test unit back to Wacom and am eagerly awaiting my production model). The goal of my review was two-fold:

1. Experience using the CCH as a standalone Android (4.2) tablet and
2. Experience using a Cintiq device as part of my image editing workflow

Beyond that, I’m more hoping to field your specific questions via comments.

The CCH Android Tablet

As an avid Android user, having a Cintiq device that runs Android 4.2 as a standalone device was the most intriguing thing to me. Tablets are a dime-a-dozen these days but none have the refined functionality that would benefit a photographer, graphics designer, or illustrator of the CCH. Namely, having 2048 levels of pen-pressure sensitivity (including tilt recognition) with the added bonus of ExpressKeys and a Touch Ring really piqued my curiosity.

Setting up the Android experience from the first boot up was exactly as you’d expect. There is a convenient wizard that you’ll use to calibrate the pen to your display, which takes no time at all. In fact, I commend Wacom wholeheartedly for delivering as close to a vanilla Nexus experience as you could ask for. Other than some basic apps that Wacom loaded to help you get the most out of the tablet, all of the system controls, apps, and UI are stock. The overall performance of Android was superb and there was absolutely no noticeable lag anywhere. Most of my usability tests with the tablet were limited to me on my couch with the TV on – the way I usually use any other tablet. While the CCH is certainly heavier than an iPad or a Nexus 7/10, it isn’t that heavy that it’s uncomfortable to use. At no time did I experience any fatigue using it. If anything, browsing the web, Google+, FB, etc was a joy because of the massive 13” display. Battery life was also admirable. I was able to get four days of usage at several hours per day before having to charge it up.

Once I got my basic Google account information set, I began the hunt to find apps that would take advantage of using a pen in lieu of my finger. Wacom does help by including its Creative Canvas software and offers up some recommendations of other 3rd party applications (like Adobe Photoshop Touch, for example).

Because my goal was to see how I could adapt the workflow of editing a photo on a tablet with a pen, I opted to go the route of using Photoshop Touch first. Unfortunately, the experience was more frustrating than I had hope but it’s really important to note that this has nothing to do with Wacom or the CCH but rather because of the clunky and unintuitive layout of the PS app itself. After about a half hour of trying to make progress with a two-layer image project, I abandoned the app altogether. I did have more success using other editing apps but because their inputs were more focused on function taps rather than actual editing strokes, I felt like I never really got a good opportunity to delve into the real power that this device could offer on the Android platform. Again, this is not a knock at Wacom at all but rather a call to action for Android developers to start thinking of ways to build meaningful apps that would take advantage of pressure sensitivity and a pen input device.

The CCH as a Cintiq Display Tablet

The next part of my user review involved eschewing my 27” Dell display & Intuos tablet and use the CCH as my primary display and input device. The CCH comes with a proprietary data/power cable that charges the unit and allows you to pass the display from your computer via the USB and HDMI ports. The other side of the cable connects to the tablet using a proprietary connector. Once connected, my CCH came to life, showing me my Mac OS desktop in all its glory. And like any faithful photographer, the first thing I did was color calibrate it using my X-Rite i1 Display Pro. The calibration process worked exactly as you’d expect and when I was done, I had a properly calibrated Cintiq display that reproduced my photos beautifully, brightly and clearly.

photo 2

This was the first time I’ve had a chance to use a Cintiq device for an extended period of time and I was really eager to see what would change by actually making all of my draw gestures on the display itself rather than on my Intuos tablet, as I’d always done. Right out of the gate, it was a complete joy using the pen to navigate Mac OS on the display itself. The cursor tracking and tapping were responsive and never lagged behind. Pen taps were also accurate so when I tapped on the close gem on a window title bar, it would execute properly. The same could be said about navigating menus and scroll bars – it was totally effortless.

The real problems began to show up when I started editing photos in Adobe Lightroom. However, just like with the Android experience before, this wasn’t due to Wacom but rather with Adobe. You see, I’m left-handed and up until now, that had never been a hinderance. In fact, Wacom’s control panel allows you to customize the orientation of your device based on whether you’re left- or right-handed, so you’re great there… especially if you’re using an Intuos tablet. As you’d expect, using Lightroom’s Adjustment Brush to draw selections directly on the display was great and I felt that I had total accuracy by ‘tracing’ on what I wanted to edit.

photo 1

However, also in Lightroom. all of the sliders in the Develop module are located on the right side of the display. This meant that adjusting a slider required me to lay my entire left arm over the top of the unit and pivot my wrist down to make changes. This was the only way I could edit my photos without actually covering the Cintiq display with my arm and I can honestly say that it was neither comfortable nor sustainable. Using Photoshop was more forgiving, though, because I was able to create a saved layout that had all of my essential panels docked on the left of the display, allowing me to edit with ease. Additionally, having built-in touch gesture support was a blessing because I could pinch in and out to zoom accordingly for finer edits. It was that intuitive. And I do admit, I am hooked on having such refined selection controls afforded to me by drawing directly on the image. It’s not better or worse than my process with the Intuos – it’s just different.

photo 3 copy

The Conclusion

All in all, I really do like the CCH. It brings some much needed, refined control for anyone who works on photos, sketches, drawing, etc with its pressure sensitive display. If you’re planning on using it primarily as an Android tablet, you may find yourself missing out on being able to really take advantage of what this device has to offer mostly because of the lack of apps in the Google Play Store that support pressure sensitivity. Beyond that, it is a superb Android tablet that offers a virtually unadulterated Nexus experience and that’s a really good thing for the Android purists out there.

As far as using the CCH as a primary or secondary display, you can’t go wrong. The device is small enough that it can easily travel with you (thanks in part to the beautiful case that is bundled with the device). Connecting to your laptop is a breeze and using the Cintiq to navigate Mac OS is easy. Editing photos also is a pleasure but left-handed users should take heed of the potential issues that non-customizable UIs could introduce.

  • http://timsquires.com Tim Squires

    Hi Brian,
    Thanks for the great review. This may be a strange question, but can you use the CCH without internet connectivity? I have an iMac for all of my online requirements at home, plus an iPad for internet access while on the go. I’d love the portability of the CCH to use as a mobile illustration studio, or as a Cintiq at home in conjunction with my iMac, but would I need another interent access package specifically for the CCH to make it work properly?
    Regards, Tim

    • Roger Mexico

      The cintiq companion and the the hybrid both have wifi capability so long as their is wifi it can connect to the internet if that is what you are asking.

  • Anderson G. Mailho

    Procurei em diversos sites e especificação do produto, mas não encontrei em nenhum lugar a informação se a Cintiq Companion Hubrid para Android possui acesso 3G ou 4G. Por ser um tablet, imagino que essa seja uma condição obrigatória em um equipamento desse porte e que possui em seu apelo de venda e uso a liberdade de trabalhar em qualquer lugar.
    Visto que outros tablets, já lançados a muito mais tempo, possuem a conectividade a Internet através de 3G e agora em 4G.
    Poderia me informar se o CCH possui esse recurso?
    Agradeço desde já.

    Anderson

    • http://guzforster.com Guz

      Seria bom você escrever em inglês, Anderson. Ele não entende português, provavelmente. Mas não, nenhuma das duas tem 3G/4G.

  • Cly

    I’m currently using a Surface Pro because while I have the pen in hand the screen will only accept commands from the pen. It’s nice being to use the screen like paper with my hand resting on it without screwing up my drawings.
    Is the same function in this new tablet? can I draw with the pen, when my hand rest on the screen?

    • http://www.EleGeniusPromo.com Seth Benton Parr

      I came to your review from Wacom.com

      I was strongly considering going the Android route but thanks to your information, i realized at the end of the day I need a device to run the Adobe suite when it’s being used as a stand alone tablet.

      Thanks for the review.

    • Roger Mexico

      Yes it has palm rejection so while using the pen it won’t read your palm same as the surface. It also supports multi touch, meaning it will read fingers to zoom and pan.

  • Patrick Mckeown

    Thanks Brian for the review and the unboxing. Looks like a nice device, but it’s too bad that the windows8 version doesn’t allow you to plug into another computer (like my mac) and use it as a second display/tablet. Then that would be useful. :) This looks like a potential alternative, but if they apps suck like you say, then no point for me either.

  • Abucad

    Nice video. I’m wondering about the multi-touch feature in photoshop. Specifically, when using the transformation tool. Are you able to use your fingers to scale, rotate, widen, lengthen, etc in photoshop? Or do you have to use the pen?

  • http://martinherbert.com Martin Herbert

    Thanks for the review – I’m hoping to get one of the stand-alone Companions running Windows 8 soon so interesting to see this. Would have liked to hear about Wacom’s Android apps… I did a feature comparison for artist here: http://artedstates.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/windows-8-tablets-for-artists-comparison.html.

  • http://everforward.petertcrowell.com Peter Crowell

    This is a great review. Thanks for taking the time.

    How was the exprience of opening files? For example, opening and working in Photoshop Touch on the tablet, then opening the same file on the desktop.

    I’m using Sketchbook pro, and I’m curious about the experience of opening a file in the android app version, then saving, closing, and opening the same file in the desktop mac version.

    • Kate

      Apparently there is some sort of utility installed on the hybrid which allows you to do this with no problem

  • http://www.500px.com/kashseff Kash Yusaf

    A word of caution to anyone who has bought a Wacom Companion Hybrid. My Companion had a severe pink tinge in 25-50% grey and 75-100% grey which caused horrible banding on the display. I’m currently waiting for my replacement from Wacom but I encourage anyone who has bought one recently to find a greyscale ramp image on google and check theirs immediately. You won’t notice it at first because of the green background that shows up, it took me 2 days to completely notice that there was a problem with the Hybrid.

    Do yourself a favour and open up Chrome on your Cintiq and point it here: http://www.avsforum.com/t/1343997/white-balance-calinration-test-pattern. If you discover pink hues in the greyscale ramp on the display, you have a problem. My recommendation is to use the returns form and mark the product as defective, going through tech support is too slow.

    Not knocking the Hybrid, I actually believe it’s incredibly useful, but if you’re going to fork out £1300, it better be fully functional.

  • http://grace.ac Grace

    Hey there, I loved your review!

    I am considering the Hybrid to act as my “digital notebook”. So I can use it to sketch interfaces, mind mapping and other related workflows. I am not a drawing artist but I love having everything digital. I have tried to use the iPad for that purpose but the lack of control bothers me.

    I considered the Win 8 version but then thought I would really like to connect to my macs. Also with my Creative Cloud subscription I am only allowed to have CC installed at two computers so I would have to remove it from one of the macs (if buying the Win8).

    So, as someone who never used Android (only iOS), I ask if for the purpose I mentioned above, would you buy the Hybrid? I only consider the Hybrid because it can run disconnected from the computer and that could be useful.

    What’s your opinion?

    • http://dizzypixel.smugmug.com Eric

      Grace,

      I bought a CCH for the same exact reason. I do draw, and love having it all in one place. I haven’t hooked it up to my mac yet – don’t know if I will as I have a 24″ Cintiq as well. But one thing to consider – its bigger than an iPad. That makes it less easy to carry. But for what you’re looking to do with it – it will fit that need well.

      My only wish for it would be to have somewhere to put the pen – similar to the way ModBook does it. Aside from that, I am loving the CCH.

      Eric

      • Kate

        I so wish the modbook was updated with a retina screen – I would pay for that! I have a modbook and love it but it’s getting old now and the new one really doesn’t offer enough of an improvement to justify the upgrade. Will be interested to try the Companion Hybrid, see if it fits the bill. Still hasn’t got retina resolution though :(

  • Jon

    Could you please explain a little bit more the software included?

  • Ordeith

    For the price, features, and mobile capability; it looks like Surface Pro is the way to go.

    • Brian

      I just bought a Surface Pro 2 and I love it but the screen feels a little small for me. I was thinking of returning it and buying a Cintiq Companion Win 8, but then it occurred to me to take a look at the Companion Hybrid, which I could use with my surface Pro and any other computer that I get in the future. Seems like that option affords a lot of flexibility.

      • Arnaudb

        Yes Brian, it is more flexible because it will work with any computer on the market Mac & Windows.

  • Ryan Dinan

    Hi,
    I used to work on a Cintiq 22WX and had issues with the parallax due to the distance between the glass surface and the actual LCD panel. Does the Companion solve this issue by having the LCD and glass surface fused together, or at least minimize the issue by reducing the distance between the two surfaces?

    Thank you!

  • Cynthia

    I’m a novice, and am confused by the difference between the Cintiq Companion and Cintiq Companion Hybrid. I have the Wacom Intuos-4, but have not mastered it due to the hand-eye coordination necessary for creating and editing. I am an Apple user; with an iMac-27 and MacBook Pro with retina display. I work with Adobe CS6. Please advise on the differences, and recommendations on the best ‘fit’. Thanks!