Wacom's drool-worthy new tablets certainly made us lament our lack of artistic skill when we saw them online, but do they pass muster up close and personal? We just got a chance to play with both the Companion Hybrid, the one with Android, as well as the full-fat Companion (the one with Windows 8), and we thought we'd show you how they behave. Naturally, in order to do that, we had to unleash our creative side, so be warned -- we may need to throw an artistic hissy fit after the break.
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First up, Wacom's Companion Hybrid. In many ways, this is a Cintiq 13 HD that's been crossbred with an Android tablet. While connected to your PC or Mac, it behaves just like the older Cintiq tablet, but disconnect it, and it'll boot up to Android 4.2 for use on the go. The company insists that this isn't a media consumption device, but that said, it'd still be possible to watch a movie during a short journey, even if you do annoy Wacom's designers. Naturally, Wacom's talent is buried in its digitizer, which can recognize 2,048 levels of pressure, and if you think the Galaxy Note 10.1 (with its Wacom-powered hardware) is an inexpensive replacement, think again. The company insists that the technology powering that device is "several years" behind whats lurking inside its own Hybrid.
Now, though you're meant to use this in Wacom's traditional multi-point stand, we preferred to hold it in our hands to see what it'd be like to use on the go. While weighty, it's a little lighter than we expected, and while it's not as slender as a regular tablet, the stronger-armed of you out there shouldn't have too many worries. The aluminum and rubber construction is sturdy enough to take a pounding while out-and-about, although we'd counsel against dropping it as prices start from $1,499 (€1,399).
When we played with it, performance was impressively swift and its Tegra 4 internals were easily able to handle the meager tasks we threw at it. If we have one gripe, it's that the display didn't really match our pen inputs, which made it annoying when trying to edit pictures. We're sure that it's just a calibration issue, but be warned that you may need to fiddle with getting this precise to your hands out of the box. Speaking of hands, palm-rejection works very well, and there were no moments when the device registered an unintended swipe or press.
Targeted at people who want to knock out the odd mini masterpiece while on the go, it'll ship with three Android apps: Manga Canvas, Infinite Canvas and Creative Canvas, but we guess that the more experienced amongst you will snap up Photoshop Touch in very short order.
Turning to the Windows 8-powered Companion, the company has, in essence, built a Windows 8 PC into the same form factor as before. The benefit of which, of course, is that this has the potential to be a true desktop replacement, and is designed to be the centerpiece of a studio. There's a microSD card and two USB 3.0 slots, as well as miniDisplayport connections running down the bezel. When we tried it, we found that performance was a little on the laggy size, and part of that is perhaps, because of our expectation. We had hoped that this would behave like a Windows 8 tablet, but in reality, this is a Core i7 PC. Considering that even a high end PC would struggle with editing multiple DSLR images at once, we can't fault the hardware for stuttering every now and again. Again, it's hard not to be impressed by a 13-inch tablet that can run full-fat Photoshop.
While we're not sure that there's a benefit to a single studio-style device rather than buying a PC and a dedicated Cintiq, it's certainly a neat idea and there's plenty of scope for space-starved artists to capitalize on. Assuming, you know, you've sold enough to afford a $1,999 (€1,899) PC.
Dana Wollman contributed to this report.