Why is PORTABILITY so great?
Currently, I work 100% digitally on a Gateway C-141 XL Convertible Tablet. It’s about 7 years old and has served me well, although I am stalking social media threads on similar devices in preparation for my next workstation. The key proponent of my Gateway tablet, one that has spoiled me so much that I cannot ever go back, is the PORTABILITY. Put it this way, I was a mac-head, I learned all the Adobe software on a mac, used it exclusively through art school and as a professional designer… yet the portability made me convert to a Windows machine. And you know what? Windows 7 ain’t so bad. And Windows 8 looks promising as well. Lets all just take a moment to relish in that fact that Vista is long gone.
Some people may enjoy having their studio space, a place that spurs their creativity and is private, quiet, and perfectly customized for their creation process. I get that. Especially when I penciled and inked my comics traditionally, I needed that space. But part of working 100% digitally is that ALL I NEED is my tablet. That’s it. My current work area (typically) is a tiny laptop stand in front of a very comfy chair, in my living room. I am one that can put on a TV show or game that is tolerable-yet-ignorable, or some music, and even in a more social/open area of my home, be able to crank out comics or freelance work. In fact, I am sitting here right now with a random football game one as I type this. However, what I also like is that if a friend calls and says “hey, lets watch the game at my place”– I can, and also get work done. Or I can bring it on a trip. Or to a cafe. Or just to another room with a door, if I DO need privacy. I have flexibility. So, while I can understand why it’s not for everyone, I am the type of person that CAN work in many environments, and really appreciates the technology we have today that can offer me that portability.
So, what kind of PORTABLE devices are out there today?
Look, I’m not going to review all your options. There’s SO many. I mean, you could get an iPad and use apps like SketchbookPro if you don’t need a full OS on your workstation. Or you mac-heads could sell off an organ and snatch up those spiffy Modbooks (trust me, I’ve drooled over them). I even heard the Lenovo Helix is pretty decent. What I’m going to do today is review 2 of the most discussed devices, the Wacom Cintiq Companion and the Windows Surface Pro 3. These two seem to be pretty solid machines, for less than the price of a firstborn, while also offering you a pro-quality drawing experience. After my research, I can honestly say they are worth the money and neither is a terrible choice. It just depends which better suits your needs as an artist, which is easier on your wallet, and what else you may wish to do with this computer.
Personally, I have only ever tried the Surface Pro, and only the 1st one. I actually drew in Illustrator, like I do now, and it felt almost identical. I have yet to try out the Companion. So, I took to the internets and youtubes, read real reviews from fellow artists, watched a lot of videos, and did my best to compile some information for you. And, well, ME. Two main links I have for you, which I thought were very helpful:
So, bring on the contestants!
Contestant 1: Surface Pro 3
The Basics (Surface Pro 3):
TechHead specs: Intel® Core™ i7 processor (suggested for design apps & drawing), Resolution: 2160 x 1440, 256GB+ with 8GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 5000 Card, OS: Windows 8.
Screen size: 12”
Battery Life: Up to 9 hours of web browsing (less for drawing)
Pen/Touch Technology: N-Trig, 256 levels of pressure sensitivity
Things to keep in mind:
- N-Trig is a brand new pen digitizer technology that Windows decided to go with. I’ve seen many panic about this, some bad reviews about drawing sensitivity issues. Palm rejection, which is how the Surface decides to just read the pen and not your hand/fingers, isn’t as good as it should be for artists. But I’ve also seen this thumbs-up from Penny Arcade’s “Gabe”. Test yourself, to decide for yourself.
- The Surface 1 and 2 used Wacom technology instead. They also seem to be decent devices, but the 3 has a larger screen and the usual improvements in the operating system, mainly the processor upgrade.
- The stylus that comes in the package isn’t the greatest. May need an upgrade. But that’s hard to find for the Pro 3, as the N-Trig tech is so new. The Wacom Bamboo Feel worked well for the Pro 1 & 2.
- Only 254 levels of pressure, right? Well, like I said, I tried out the Pro 1. My current gateway has 512 levels of pressure, and I couldn’t see a difference when stepping down. I think this feature may be a bit overhyped; not every artist may need 2000+ levels of sensitivity. Obviously, the Penny Arcade guys seem to work just fine with a measly 256.
- If you like your express/hot keys, well… the Surface is void of them. You may wanna keep that keyboard close.
- The Surface is a tad more portable, in that it’s lighter, has better battery life, and slightly smaller & thus more manageable.
- Finicky? The Surface Pro’s noticeable gap between the glass and the actual screen can be distracting. Also, the Surface’s screen is more glossy than the Companion’s. One last one: awkward placement of the home button that gets in the way of artist’ hands.
Video review?? Found one for ya.
Contestant 1: Wacom Cintiq Companion
The Basics (Wacom Companion):
TechHead specs: Intel® Core™ i7 processor, Resolution: 1920 x 1080, 256GB+ with 8GB RAM, Intel® HD Graphics 4000 Graphics Card, OS: Windows 8.
Screen Size: 13.3″
Battery Life: 6-8 Hours
Weight: 3.9 lbs
Pen/Touch Technology: Wacom, 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity
Things to keep in mind:
- Wacom remains the industry standard for pen digitizer technology. Even the artists who can deal with N-Trig tend to prefer Wacom. I haven’t anyone state they prefer N-Trig OVER Wacom, yet.
- If your art style is very complex and you have a gentle painterly approach to drawing, the 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity will probably be more noticeable for you.
- Solid stylus included, along with extra nibs and a carrying case.
- 8 express keys you can program for those who would like to ditch the cumbersome keyboard when drawing.
- The smaller gap between glass & screen, along with a matte surface to draw one as opposed to gloss, makes most artists happy. However, the Companion screen tends to scratch easily.
- The Companion is nearly twice as heavy and bigger than the Surface. If you plan to go everywhere with it, think of the Companion like hauling around a full laptop as opposed to an iPad.
- That extra 1.3″ inches on the screen can be a big deal.
Video review?? Found one for ya.
Two More Videos:
A handy one that compares the specs, hardware, screens, and more, geared towards what artists would want.
…and one that shows the differences in the ACTUAL DRAWING, with Wacom vs. N-Trig (using the Surface Pro 3, and 2– but the 2 uses Wacom like the Companion does). Y’know, the main purpose of this device for us creators. If you can’t actually try out each computer, this may be the best second option. Also, HERE is a very in-depth article on how that technology works.
The Final Nutshell Breakdown
Like I said earlier, neither are terrible devices. You can feel pretty confident in your purchase of either. But, if you have the cash, the Companion is a better artists’ tool and won’t disappoint in terms of power and sensitivity for painterly intricate styles. If you want to do plenty of other computing stuff along with more simplistic cartooning, the more bare-bones Surface is better machine for that purpose, and cheaper. But honestly… $250 difference isn’t much. If price has really got you hung up, consider the Surface Pro 2– yes, the screen is smaller, but the wacom technology may be better anyway (that’s for those of you still fearing the N-Trig, too)
I welcome any reviews and helpful hints in the comments! Every artist’s style and process is different, and it’s good to see what others who work the way you do (or close) would have to say about each tablet.
Now, for this sad old Gateway…. I think a Companion may be in my future. If my clunker car doesn’t die on me first.
Dawn Griffin is the resident “crazy chick”. She likes steak, Cleveland sports, video games and oh yeah, comics. She spent her formative years either playing street basketball, pitching, or drawing comics and submitting them to syndicates. Once she –accidentally– discovered the world of webcomics, the syndication route became a pointless hurdle. After all, “Crazy Chicks” do things their *&%$ selves. Dawn is the mastermind behind Zorphbert and Fred, and you can find her portfolio site HERE. She can be easily bribed with ice cream.