The resemblance between the Cintiq Companion Hybrid and the Cintiq 13HD is uncanny. Unless you take a look at the right side first and notice the extra ports or the front-facing camera, you're sure to mistake the two upon first glance. In fact, the gunmetal grey tablet is only a hair larger (about a tenth of an inch in each direction) than the 13HD we got cozy with a few months back. This device ticks the tape at 14.8 inches wide x 9.8 inches tall (375 x 248mm) and is 0.6 inch (16mm) thick and weighs in at a beefy 3.6 pounds (or 3.9 pounds, depending on the storage capacity). While that's a beast compared to your typical Android tablet, it's important to remember that -- like the name suggests -- this is indeed a hybrid device and also serves as a pen display. The extra heft can certainly be attributed to that feature set, though there's no denying it'll weigh down your backpack.
Up front, you'll find Wacom's trusty programmable ExpressKeys and Rocker Ring along the left side (when situated for a righty, anyway). On the opposite side of the display is the 2-megapixel front-facing camera along with a light sensor. Along the right edge are various ports, including a USB socket for storage expansion (among other things), micro-HDMI, a microSD reader, a headphone/mic jack and a 3-in-1 connector for charging or linking up with a computer. The Cintiq Companion Hybrid connects via HDMI, so unless your machine wields one of those jacks, you'll need an adapter like the $35 Belkin unit we had to employ. There are also dual microphones, a battery status LED and the power button in the same area. What you won't find around the edges here is a volume control -- that adjustment can be made on the Rocker Ring. As for wireless connectivity, you've got your choice of Bluetooth and 802.11b/g/n WiFi.
Again, similar to the 13HD, the back side has a large soft-touch panel on one end and two small foot-like pads on the opposite end. Thanks to their soft, rubbery finish, those feet kept the tablet from slipping around on my desk when the stand wasn't in play. Midway down on the longer edges lies a pair of stand slots for securing the device on the included stand. That accessory offers the same 22-, 35- and 50-degree viewing angles that we've seen before and also allows the unit to lie completely flat when needed. Beside one of those slots is the 8-megapixel rear-facing camera; next to the other one is the tablet's lone speaker, which performs admirably when called upon.
It wouldn't be a Wacom release without the Pro Pen and indeed, there's one included here. As ever, it registers 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, just like the pen we tested with the Cintiq 13HD. Once again, it has its own carrying case with extra nibs, swappable ID color rings and a nib-replacement tool. This time around, though, Wacom also included a carrying case that fits both the penholder and the tablet. The neoprene, zippered sleeve has a leather-like flap to cover the closure, and a soft, fur-like material inside. On the opposite end, a dedicated pocket ensures that the stylus won't roll around your rucksack. The case is spacious enough to accommodate the Hybrid with the stand attached, allowing the entire setup to be stored in one spot. This all makes for a pretty welcome extra and eliminates an additional accessory purchase, too.
The Cintiq Companion Hybrid's display panel is a matte affair -- much like on other Wacom devices we've tested. In general, we prefer it over a glossy screen, especially when we're in for a marathon work session. Once again, we're looking at a 13.3-inch TFT LCD (IPS) panel with 1,920 x 1,080 resolution, just like the one on the 13HD. This, combined with the matte exterior, provides a nice work surface, but it's not the best for catching up on episodes of The West Wing. That IPS panel doesn't afford the same sharpness as, say, Apple's Retina display, but fewer pixels in exchange for less eyestrain ultimately makes for a fair trade. Don't fret, though: you can expect the same viewing quality we've already seen on the 24HD touch, 22HD touch and 13HD.
What this does offer over pen-only displays is touch gestures. If you recall, this was one of our main gripes with the Cintiq 13HD. The fact that gestures are enabled here provides a welcome productivity boost, and means we don't always need to utilize the physical buttons along the bezel. Here, the active area measures 11.6 x 6.5 inches (294 x 165mm) and the panel itself handles 75 percent of Adobe's RGB gamut while serving up a 700:1 contrast ratio -- typical specs for a Wacom pen display.
Setup and pen display use
Getting the Cintiq Companion Hybrid up and running follows a similar protocol as many other Wacom devices we've tested. Once connected to a laptop or desktop machine, an on-screen wizard guides you through cursor calibration, mobile and desktop setup and driver installation. From there, firing up the Wacom Center on both the tablet and desktop side allows you to configure those helpful ExpressKeys, Rocker Ring and radial menus so that you have easy access to the tools you use most often. And you can set up each mode independently, too. Just like we've seen on other recent Wacom peripherals, on-screen reminders help guide selection so that you don't have to rely on memory to navigate the pencil case.
So, how does the Hybrid handle "regular" pen display duties? Just as advertised. After using a small arsenal of Wacom's pro-grade, pen-driven devices over the course of the last several months, we can say with confidence that this performs just as well as the other Cintiq offerings when used as a pen display. The Pro Pen is still a great tool to use for design tasks like editing snapshots in Photoshop and getting doodles straight into Illustrator -- among a slew of other jobs, of course. Similar to how we felt about Wacom's earlier products, the touch gestures here are welcome, but we found them most useful with simple movements like pinch-to-zoom and two-finger canvas rotation. In terms of three, four and five-finger swiping, those movements all work reliably, but can be a bit flaky at times, with performance that's generally on par with Apple's Magic Trackpad. The palm-rejection technology here is also up to the task; the tablet never once registered accidental hand presses.
As we mentioned earlier, the Cintiq Companion Hybrid runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean. The good news here is, despite a few pre-loaded apps, the OS itself is unskinned. That's right; you'll be able to enjoy all that an untarnished version of Google's OS has to offer on a tablet. Unfortunately, this also means that you'll have to contend with some limited creative software offerings. Android doesn't offer a selection of apps to take a project from start to finish; Photoshop Touch just isn't going to cut it for most serious work sessions. However, Wacom has included a few of its own offerings to lend a hand here and apps like Autodesk SketchBook Pro are certainly useful for getting ideas down before they're forgotten. Sure, what's available is great for digital sketching, but a photographer or designer will need much more robust software in order to make their work production-ready.