In the Field with the Wacom MobileStudio Pro

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I am a pretty creative guy. Well, I’m not pretty, but I am creative. I’ve always been a great fan of tech gadgetry, and I’ve always had this thing for video games. And I like to write. Besides a home full of useless tech that I’ve forgotten about, I also have drawers full of half-completed science fiction novellas about an alien race that wants to create an intergalactic space opera. Sigh, #brokendreams. But I do have an affinity for creative work, and have been known to dabble in painting, drawing, and computer animation, all to varying degrees of competence.

I have also loved the integration of technology and arts. When Wacom first came on the scene with its line of tablets for artists and graphic designers, I was the first to run out and get one. Now, I could easily transfer my thoughts to a digital canvas without the laborious process of scanning, digitizing, and correcting artwork. Now, thanks to these tablets, I could just as easily draw directly on my computer screen with a natural-feeling stylus as my brush. Oh, joy, thy name is Cintiq.

There wasn’t a lot of competition. Lesser-known brand names like Aiptek and Huion made cheap alternatives, but they couldn’t match the power and versatility of Wacom tablets. With that kind of lead on the competition, Wacom looked inward and found ways to better its product—making value-sensitive alternatives to its lineups, or releasing bigger and more productive graphics tablets.

Which brings us to the Wacom MobileStudio Pro lineup—a slight departure from Wacom’s normal line of graphics tablets. How slight? The new MobileStudio Pro, which I had the honor of testing for several weeks, is not a graphics tablet—it’s a full-fledged computer inside of a tablet shell. It comes in two flavors, a 13.3" version and a 15.6" version, with the 15.6" version sporting dual core Intel® Core™ i5 or Intel Core i7 processor (the 13.3" versions both come with an Intel Core i7 processor) and either 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD or 16GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD.  The 13.3" units also include a 13.3" WQHD 2560 x 1440 IPS display, while the 15.6" has a UHD 3840 x 2160 IPS display. Both come with a Wacom-crafted stylus with 8,192 points of pressure—more on that in a minute. If you want to really power things up, the higher end 15.6" version includes an NVIDIA Quadro M1000M GPU with 4GB of GDDR5 VRAM (the other 15.6" unit has an NVIDIA Quadro M600M GPU with 2GB of VRAM). The 13.3" versions both have Integrated Intel Iris Graphics 550 GPUs.

The design of these units gives a shout out to classic Wacom tablets, with the inclusion of built-in hotkeys to the left of the display and tapered edges that ensure you don’t skin your fingers holding them. The matte screen lessens the glare effects when using the MobileStudio under bright lights or outside.

Back to the stylus. There are definitely other styli-specific tablets out there (the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is a great example) and there are different types of styli that perform similar functions. But even with a superior feeling and intuitive stylus like the one found on the Surface, you’re only getting about 1,024 points of pressure (pressure sensitivity is essential for ease of use and replicating real handheld drawing tools, like pencils, pens, and paintbrushes). Even the Wacom Cintiq line, which is by far one of the best in graphic tablet lines, only has 2,048 points of pressure. The MobileStudio Pro has 8,192 levels. That’s more pressure points than a strained marriage (also a hobby of mine). There are a couple of other technical issues that, while not apparent to a casual user, are certainly worth mentioning. The MobileStudio Pro recognizes pen tilt, which when used in conjunction with programs that integrate it, adds another level of depth to this tablet. It also recognizes 96% of Adobe RGB, so it’s ready for graphics and design prime time.

But how does the unit perform? It performs better than any other graphics tablet I’ve ever used. The pen sensitivity is so acute that even feathering brush strokes or cross-hatching pen lines for depth was as natural as using real pen and paper. Recreating line drawings was absolutely flawless and even getting more in depth with painting programs was fun to experiment with (forget about going all Bob Ross’s Joy of Painting with a tablet program—the software just isn’t there yet). Architects, illustrators, and even animators will find the usefulness of this tablet apparent right from the get go; there’s very little you can’t do with it. Add to this the fact that you don’t need a separate computer monitor to do your work, and you’ll soon find yourself wondering how you ever lived without a fully functioning MobileStudio that can be as fluid and inventive as your own imagination will allow. This takes your creativity and lets you travel with it. Try lugging around canvas, drawing pads, pens, paints, and brushes on your morning commute, and you’ll get the picture. All artwork produced for this piece was accomplished during my one-hour morning commute, on the train, while squeezed between the snoring Wall Street broker and the overly perfumed and very talkative dowager on her way into The City.

Also a plus: you can take this MobileStudio and hook up additional displays for an even more immersive design experience. With such a high-resolution controller in the high-end version, this means that you can even do some post-production video work when connected. Speaking of ports, the MobileStudio Pro comes with not one, not two, but three USB-C ports, along with an SDXC card reader, two speakers, and a 5MP front and 8MP rear camera. Some models also include a rear 3D Intel RealSense R200 scanning camera so that you an input objects in 3D and finish them up in your favorite application. And with 802.11 ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1, there’s nothing a laptop can do that this tablet cannot. Once again, class, it’s a full-fledged mobile computer workstation.

There were a couple of cons you should know about. The unit is not light, so mobility is relative. The 15.6" version weighs nearly 5 lb—a real shoulder breaker when lugging it from client to client, or class to class. The 13.3" fares a little better at 2.91 lb.

The other consideration is cost. The high-end model costs just less than $3,000, but think about that for a minute. A really good Surface Book is going to cost around the same, and you don’t get the awesome stylus, worth about $500 on its own. Or think of it this way: buying canvas, paper, pens, paints, and brushes is going to cost you well over that during your lifetime. And this fits in your bag.

Does every creative professional need a MobileStudio Pro? No, not everyone does, but those who need the flexibility of carrying around their workspace wherever they go, those working in a fast-paced digital environment, and those that know that having your artwork with you wherever and whenever you need it—those are the individuals who will appreciate this. 

6 Comments

what software is being used in the images ?

Hi Lawrence — based on your comments of being a gadget hound, I assume you've also tried the Cintiq 22HD? I'm finally willing to take the plunge on a massive upgrade to my 20 year old Intuos tablet (first generation and still going strong). No question Wacom builds products to last. Still, I can find plenty of comparisons of the MobileStudio to the Cintiq Companion, for obvious reasons. I have not found any comparisons to the desktop Cintiq 22HD. I work from a home office so don't need mobility. I'm a graphic designer so am using Illustrator, Photoshop, and MODO every day, all day. Is the MobileStudio the upgrade to the desktop Cintiq series as well? I can't locate this information anywhere and Wacom's site even seems vague about it since they carry both product lines. I need help. Thank you for this review by the way... comments about responsiveness are a selling point.

This “review” seems VERY one-sided, even for PC-only users. It would have been helpful to compare this tablet to the iPad Pro which has a high resolution Retina screen, high pressure sensitivity with the Apple Pencil, comes in memory configurations up to 128GB (gigabytes), is HIGHLY portable, and with the Apple Pencil is about $1,100. That is a far cry from $3000! Procreate on the iPad Pro rivals Photoshop or Painter and easily exports to DropBox as .PSD, PDF, JPG, or PNG. 

But you can not run full blown Capture One Pro, Lightroom or Photoshop on a iPad. This device is a near equivalent to a full blown laptop, not a content consumer device.

Hey Rich,

Thanks for writing in. You;re right, the iPad Pro is amazing (I use one myself), but the Wacom Mobile Studio Pro has a pen sensitivity pressure of 8192, which when drawing makes a big deifference on these tablets. The other aveat to this is that comfort and usage vary greatly depending on which program you;re using. The Wacom Mobile Studio Pro version worked well with the Adobe Suite, whiel the iPad Pro works great with programs like Procreate. We'd love to do a head-to-head of all tablets, like the Surface Pro and iPad Pro and Wacom, but first I have to really develop my drawing skills. 

For a digital artist who also works as a photographer and graphic designer, the iPad Pro does not meet my needs simply because it cannot run the adobe suite. When I add to that the occasional premiere pro edit or the after effects comp I need to put on a website banner, the iPad Pro is, ironically, not the professional tool that I need. I say this as an apple fanboy, mind you, I still think apple as a brand is better from a functional standpoint than even more powerful PC alternatives. Sadly, they overlook the exact functionality that I need as a hybrid artist/photographer/designer. There's a part of me that's hoping that I can hold out for apple to start edging their way into the truly professional art screen market, but until then Wacom tablets are the king. 

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