Hands-On Review of the Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16

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The first thing you should know about the new Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16 is that it’s probably the most powerful pen tablet on the market. Wacom calls it a “pen computer,” which might be more apt, considering the MobileStudio Pro functions as a stand-alone Windows 10 device. But whatever the name, whatever you want to call it, the fact remains that the MobileStudio Pro 16 is an absolute powerhouse. So much so, it’s basically without rival—a fact that begged the question: Who exactly is this thing for? I brought the MobileStudio Pro 16 home with me for a couple of days to try and find out.

Wacom 15.6" MobileStudio Pro 16 Graphics Tablet
Wacom 15.6" MobileStudio Pro 16 Graphics Tablet

Design

When you set the current MobileStudio Pro 16 next to the 2017 model, it’s difficult to tell the two apart. Both have the same screen size, panel type, active drawing area, and overall footprint. Likewise, they feature the same ExpressKeys and Radial Menu layout, have the same number of ports and connectors, same number of front and back cameras, and a similar weight. At first glance, this might suggest a lack of innovation, but the fact is the 2017 model had a very sleek and, in terms of functionality, darn near perfect design. So why change it? If it ain't broke, etc.

Now, on the inside, it’s a different story. Wacom kitted out the MobileStudio Pro 16 with some major upgrades, including a new Intel® Core™ i7-8559U processor and dedicated NVIDIA Quadro P1000 graphics card, and boosted the USB-C connections to support Thunderbolt™ 3. It also has 16GB of expandable RAM and 512GB of upgradable storage. Based on the specs and rating, the battery might be a lower capacity than the 2017 model, but I achieved similar usage times from each.

Lastly, about design, the new MobileStudio Pro 16 comes with the Wacom Pro Pen 2. It’s the same stylus the 2017 model used, and it, too, falls into the category of things that didn’t need fixing. In terms of ergonomics and feel, only the Apple Pencil can rival the Pro Pen 2. In terms of everything else (sensitivity levels, battery requirements, etc.), nothing can. The Wacom Pro Pen 2 is the best-designed stylus on the market, full stop.

Wacom Pro Pen 2 with Pen Case
Wacom Pro Pen 2 with Pen Case

Performance

The question of performance is where we start to answer the question of who the MobileStudio Pro 16 is for. Having reviewed several Wacom tablets and seen what they’re capable of, I felt comfortable opening up my review with some pretty big projects. After getting the tablet all set up, I opened a half-gig file in Illustrator. It booted up right away, with no lag at all. Drawing vectors and points was like working on real paper, and handling all the different layers was as seamless and smooth as working on my desktop. Same thing with Photoshop. I opened up a fairly large multilayered file and experienced no real lag, no delay, and no parallax while working. The ease with which the MobileStudio Pro handled these applications left me impressed and incredulous: If these tasks are so easy, then do I really need all the horsepower?

Before we try and tackle that question, let’s talk about the other performance features. For starters, the screen. The MobileStudio Pro 16 has a nice etched glass display that’s probably the best in the business when it comes to emulating a “natural” feel. At 13.6 x 7.6", the active drawing area is plenty big, and the 4K resolution and color gamut are solid (though, for the price, you might expect better than 85% Adobe RGB coverage). As I mentioned above, the Pro Pen 2 is the best stylus out there, so, not surprisingly, using it was as pleasant and natural an experience you could hope for. For the most part, I used the MobileStudio Pro as a stand-alone device, but it can also connect to a desktop. I linked it with my iMac and it worked great. The ExpressKeys, Radial Menus, and touch technology were also very useful and responsive, as they have been in nearly every Wacom device. Basically, what I’m saying is that, in terms of performance, everything about the MobileStudio Pro is exceptional—except battery life.

Wacom originally put the battery life of the MobileStudio Pro at around 6 hours, which isn’t terrible, especially considering its hardware. The only problem is, while I could get between 5 and 6 hours of operating power on lower settings, I was only getting around 3 hours of use when I adjusted it to my preferred settings. That’s definitely less than what I’d want from a mobile device that isn’t equipped with a removable battery. Now, if you’re working by a power outlet, it’s no big deal, but, on the off-chance there aren’t sockets nearby, battery life could be an issue.

Competition

As mentioned above, the MobileStudio Pro 16 doesn’t have a lot of legitimate competition. That’s because there really aren’t a lot of devices out there that can match its size, portability, power, and overall performance. However, that doesn’t mean rivals don’t exist. For starters, Wacom’s own Cintiq Pro 16 is a decent contender.

Wacom Cintiq Pro 16 Creative Pen & Touch Display
Wacom Cintiq Pro 16 Creative Pen & Touch Display

Obviously, the major difference between the two is that the Cintiq Pro is a pen display, while the MobileStudio Pro is a pen computer, which means the Cintiq Pro isn’t a stand-alone device. However, once you hook it up to your computer, you’ll enjoy a lot of the same features. Same screen size, active area, resolution, better color gamut, same stylus, and so on. The Cintiq Pro is a lot cheaper and, because it’s a display and not a computer, it’s not going out of date any time soon (seriously, my Cintiq Pro 16 is almost 3 years old and I wouldn’t be surprised if I kept it for another 3 at least). However, the Cintiq Pro 16’s overall performance isn’t quite as strong as the MobileStudio Pro’s, nor should you expect it to be. Parallax, although almost mostly eradicated from the Cintiq Pro, does sometimes pop up around the edges or when I’m drawing from a weird angle. That never happened with the MobileStudio Pro. I mentioned that the Cintiq Pro isn’t a mobile device, so obviously its portability isn’t on the same level as the Mobile Studio Pro, and, because it’s a display and not a computer, it can’t do any of the same stand-alone tasks.

In terms of rivals that have the same overall functionality, HP’s ZBook x2 G4 is the only thing getting remotely close. It’s a 2-in-1 laptop that functions as a pen computer, just like the MobileStudio Pro. It features a similar screen design, resolution, arguably better color gamut, and much better battery life. The ZBook also comes with some handy programmable QuickKeys (à la Wacom’s ExpressKeys) and solid internal hardware. Better yet: The 16GB of RAM version of the ZBook (which is the most comparable model) will run you about $500 less than the MobileStudio Pro 16.

HP 14" ZBook x2 G4 Multi-Touch 2-in-1 Mobile Workstation
HP 14" ZBook x2 G4 Multi-Touch 2-in-1 Mobile Workstation

Now, all those things are great, but here’s where the ZBook falls short in comparison. For starters, it has a smaller 14" display, so there’s less room to work. That definitely matters if you’re someone who primarily works with large-scale projects Also, the ZBook’s internal hardware is good, but not nearly as strong as the MobileStudio Pro’s. For instance, the MobileStudio Pro’s graphics card is a workstation-class card, which, compared to the ZBook’s mobile workstation card, is significantly better. It’s faster, has a higher bandwidth, is better suited for more demanding tasks, such as 3D applications, and overall has much higher benchmarks. In addition to hardware performance, the other big difference between the ZBook and the MobileStudio Pro is that while the ZBook’s stylus is nice, it is nowhere near as good as the Pro Pen 2. The ZBook stylus has half as much pressure sensitivity, only one button (which makes it virtually unusable for some 3D applications), and, in my own personal experience, some latency issues, depending on the application you’re using. Differences and similarities aside, what you should know if you’re comparing the two is that if you’re someone who needs all the power the MobileStudio Pro affords, neither the ZBook nor any other pen device will do. Which leads us to finally answering our most pressing question.

So, Who Is This Thing For?

The question about the MobileStudio Pro was never about power or performance. If other pen devices are speedboats, then the MobileStudio Pro is a nuclear sub. It’s a space rocket, a supercar, it’s incredible. The question is: Does anyone actually need a nuclear sub? The answer, somewhat surprisingly, is yes, though with some pretty exclusive caveats. If you’re someone who primarily works with very demanding tasks (3D tools, rendering, stuff like that) and want to be mobile, it’s a fantastic and warranted tool. Likewise, if you’re a professional illustrator or designer who wants to produce top-caliber work without being tethered to a desktop, you could also make a case for the Mobile StudioPro—though if your projects aren’t super demanding, there might be more appealing alternatives. Sadly, the MobileStudio Pro 16 isn’t for people like me—that is, hobbyists, non-professionals, etc. Don’t get me wrong, I love this thing. It’s all I want to draw on. But it’s too much machine and too much price to justify my silly cat drawings. However, if you are a professional who needs the power of a desktop, the portability of a tablet, and the best stylus experience in the world, then the MobileStudio Pro 16 is definitely for you.

Questions about the MobileStudio Pro 16 or any other Wacom products? Let us know in the Comments section, below.

3 Comments

Innovative product.  It makes sense and looks great.. I have a surface pro though, full specs, and it ain't that bad! For work at home i have a more powerful desktop pc, with old 22" XP-PEN Artist 22E Pro drawing display . When i can afford a new one i'll just get the screen type I guess.

Excellent review/info - Thanks

Hello Dan,

Thanks for the positive feedback.

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