- Great display
- Best-in-class stylus
- Customisable express keys
- Optional RealSense camera is great for 3D work
- Relatively slow SSD
- Battery life should be slightly better
- 13-inch and 16-inch options
- Optional RealSense camera
- i5 and i7 CPU options
- 8-megapixel rear, 5-megapixel front cameras
- UK Price to be confirmed
- Wacom Pro Pen 2 stylus
- 4-16GB DDR3 RAM
- 64-512GB SATA SSD options
- Manufacturer: Wacom
- Review Price: £2,400/$3,600
WHAT IS THE WACOM MOBILESTUDIO PRO?
2016 has been a creative professional’s dream. First we had Microsoft’s attempt to wow artists with its i7-powered Surface Book and glitzy Surface Studio. Then, mere weeks later, Apple unveiled its new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, a product tailor-made for videographers.
For me, though, 2016’s holy grail of doodling tech comes from Wacom. Its latest iteration of the MobileStudio Pro has been designed from the ground up with creatives in mind, and other than a few niggling issues, it’s the ideal choice for designers, artists and photographers alike.
However, with prices starting at a hefty $1,999.95 for the most basic 13-inch model and $2,499.95 for the 16-incher, the MobileStudio Pro will be complete overkill for anyone else. Wacom hasn’t stated its UK price yet.
DESIGN AND STYLUS
The MobileStudio Pro isn’t for general consumers; it’s for creative professionals and “prosumers” who take their hobbies very, very seriously. This fact is reflected in its design, which places functionality firmly ahead of aesthetics.
The tablet PC comes in 13-inch and 16-inch options. I had a brief hands-on time with the 13-inch model but my week of in-depth testing was spent with the 16-inch model. Both models are a design revelation compared to Wacom’s Cintiq range of tablet PCs: thinner, sleeker-looking and generally less boxy. Neither model has the design chic of the more consumer-friendly Surface Book and MacBook devices, though.
Wacom is marketing both as mobile workstations for creative professionals and enthusiasts. The 13-inch model that I had the opportunity to have a brief play with is reasonably portable. Despite being slightly chunky, it’s suitably satchel- and travel-friendly, and its 1.42kg weight is roughly on a par with most 13-inch laptops – such as the MacBook Pro, which weighs 1.37kg.
I’m also pleased that the tablet comes with an attachable physical dock for the MobileStudio Pro’s Wacom Pro Pen 2 stylus. Too many tablets I test use a magnetic mechanism to dock the stylus, which inevitably leads to numerous games of “where’s the damned pen”.
The 16-inch model on review here is a particularly cumbersome beast, which won’t fit into regularly sized satchels and backpacks. At a hefty 2.2kg, it’s also a little on the weighty side to lug around 24/7. It’s not designed for that and you shouldn’t treat it like a go-everywhere laptop.
Build quality is excellent. The device may be hefty, but its plastic chassis feels solid; it survived the rigors of my commute without coming to any harm.
I’m also super impressed with the Express Key system that Wacom has created, which makes it easy to use professional graphics and editing software packages, despite the lack of an attached keyboard. If you want one, a wireless keyboard is available as an optional extra via Wacom.
The 13-inch model comes with six Express Keys on its left, while the larger 16-inch version has eight. The keys flank the left side of the tablet’s front face and are split into groups of three or four via a useful touch wheel and central control button.
Express Keys are fully customisable, and can be set to application-specific configurations. This means you can set them to switch to your preferred keyboard shortcut setup for software such as Photoshop, Adobe Premier, 3D Studio Max, Blender, Krita and ZBrush.
The control wheel acts a second input that lets you switch between menus, or adjust settings on the fly. Out of the box, the bar brings up options basic for scrolling between layers, brush sizes and colour hues and zooming in and out. The system is great for digital painters, photographers using the tablet for touch-up work, and videographers working on edits.
Those who wish to can adjust the dial’s settings to make it open more specific menus, or to take different actions for tasks such as 3D modelling or CAD design work.
Having used the tablet to ink and colour a couple of comic pages, I can confirm that the system works a treat. After a few minutes tinkering with the shortcut key settings, I was able to doodle away distraction-free, using the Express Keys and Wacom Pro Pen 2 stylus in a variety of different software packages, without yearning for a keyboard.
The Wacom Pro 2 Pen stylus is one of the best I’ve used and makes competing hardware, such as the Surface Pen – which is powered by N-trig tech – appear slightly clunky. Wacom claims the new Pro Pen 2 is four times more accurate than its predecessor. On paper, this gives the stylus a staggering 8,192 pressure sensitivity levels. The Surface Book’s Surface Pen has a meagre 1,024 by comparison.
Initially, I thought the figure was simply showing off – and I’m still not entirely convinced that people coming from Wacom’s older Pro Pen will notice the difference in pressure sensitivity. However, there’s no denying the Pro Pen is still the king of digital styluses. It’s super accurate and when used with compatible software packages – such as Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign – it was wonderfully reactive to changes in pressure and angle. Put simply, this is the only stylus I’ve used that actually replicates the nuances of drawing with a pencil, pen or brush.
The only time I ran into any problems was when I tried using the pen with freeware. Krita works fine, but freeware GIMP was more of a mixed bag and I never got it working in a satisfactory manner. It’s worth checking compatibility with your creative suite of choice before buying.
I’d also have liked Wacom to build a stand onto the MobileStudio Pro, instead of selling one as an optional extra. Cheaper tablets such as the Surface Pro 4 have innovative kickstand solutions that make it easy to adjust the screen to a comfortable angle, so you don’t have to sprain your wrist or awkwardly lean over the device when drawing. This is a professional device, and perhaps some buyers will have their own drawing board setup and don’t need a stand, but it still seems very tight-fisted to not ship with a stand. The one you can buy can be attached using screws, but I wasn’t supplied with one so can’t comment on its usability.
I’m also not entirely happy about Wacom’s decision to include only USB Type-C ports with the MobileStudio Pro. The 16-inch comes with four USB Type-C ports, which lie across its right side.
During the London launch of the product, a Wacom rep said that, “since Apple went that way with it’s new MacBook, we know that’s the direction the industry is going”. To an extent, I understand the argument: time and again we’ve seen the creative industry follow Apple’s lead, and it’s inevitable that more devices and peripherals will rapidly appear using the standard.
But we’re not at that point right now. Today, USB Type-C is still relatively new and most people’s scanners, memory sticks and monitors won’t have the correct cable connectivity to work with the port. As a result, those who want to connect the MobileStudio Pro will have to shell out for new cables and adapters. Given the device’s generous proportions, I can’t help but think that Wacom could have squeezed in at least one USB 3.0 and a mini-DisplayPort.
The addition of an optional RealSense camera is another interesting feature that I can see being a huge selling point for some, but completely pointless for others.
The RealSense R200 3D-scanning camera is an optional extra on the more expensive configurations of the MobileStudio Pro, and it replaces the tablet’s basic 8-megapixel rear camera. It won’t be of much use to people who work in 2D, but I can definitely see the appeal for CAD designers and 3D modellers – even though the tech is still very much in its infancy.
RealSense is a specialist camera and sensor that can detect and record spatial information, such as depth. The latest version used on the MobileStudio Pro does this by shooting out a dot pattern that isn’t visible to the human eye using a custom IR camera.
Paired with the specialist Artec scanning software that comes bundled with the MobileStudio Pro, the tablet studies how clustered or spread out the dot pattern is at various points, and cross-references it with the main underlying image being captured by the camera. From there it can detect depth and create a basic, low-polygon 3D model.
Testing the software I had mixed results for a variety of reasons. For starters, the software has very clearly been designed with engineers in mind. As a result, the Artec scanner UI has more boxes, sliders and glitzy dials than a steampunk mech and will be fairly difficult for regular artists to navigate. My early scan attempts generally resulted in a wire-frame model that resembled a Lovecraftian monster, not my intended subject matter.
After a few attempts I did partially get the hang of it, managing to get some decent basic wire-frame models that were good enough for me to work into Blender. I still haven’t managed to get the textures up to scratch for UV mapping, but I’m guessing that’s more due to my ineptitude than the tech itself.
There are also some technical issues around RealSense as a product, however, which can’t be so easily fixed. For starters, the system doesn’t work with black or shiny objects very well at all. If you try to scan objects with either of these finishes you’ll end up with a messy, noisy, chaotic model.
The scanning process also requires a lot of space. The Artec software offers a variety of capture angles and distances, but I found the that the camera’s range only really works when you’re scanning from between 0.5 to 4 meters. Outside of these ranges, models have a lot of holes and there’s noise in the depth streams, even if you tick all the auto-fill boxes.
The fact that you have to walk around the subject to get a reliable model also means you require a lot of space, which will be an issue for startup studios and amateurs working from home.
The Wacom MobileStudio Pro’s display is one of its biggest selling points, and is one of the only reasons I’d recommend the 16-inch model over the smaller version. This version has a 15.6-inch, UHD (3,840 x 2,160) IPS display. The smaller 13-inch version has a lower-resolution 13.3-inch WQHD (2,560 x 1,440) panel. For amateur artists the 1440p resolution won’t be an issue, but the 16-incher is the only option for those who need huge resolution.
Wacom quotes the 16-inch screen as covering a whopping 96% of the Adobe RGB colour gamut that’s favoured by most artists. While my tests revealed the figure to be slightly optimistic, the screen is still one of the top performers this year and easily matches, if not beats, the Surface Book and MacBook Pro.
In my tests, the MobileStudio Pro screen covered 94.5% of the regular sRGB gamut, which is pretty par for the course on a tablet or laptop at this price point. What’s more impressive is its 89.3% coverage of the Adobe RGB and 80.8% coverage of the DCI-P3 colour gamuts.
The Adobe RGB colour gamut is favoured by professional photographers and digital painters, and is used as a standard when migrating digital projects into print. DCI-P3 is the standard used by videographers for HDR content. The Adobe figure is particularly impressive. By comparison, the Surface Book covers only 67.6% of the Adobe RGB. and the MacBook Pro is slightly better at 81.9%. This makes the Wacom the best choice for artists and photographers. For videographers, however, the MacBook’s 98.3% DCI-P3 coverage makes it a slightly more compelling choice.
The MobileStudio Pro’s 6,840K colour temperature is suitably close to the 6,500K standard, and means that colours, while slightly cool, are suitably realistic and balanced.
The only area the Wacom falls down slightly is maximum brightness. I detected a modest 0.37-nits black level, but the 287.17-nits white level is middle of the road, resulting in a rather disappointing 777:1 contrast ratio. By comparison, the Surface Book has a 1,750:1 contrast ratio and the MacBook’s sits at 1,457:1.
PERFORMANCE AND SPECIFICATIONS
Wacom is offering the MobileStudio Pro in six different configurations, each of which will offer radically different performance.
The lowest specced 13-inch model costs $2,000 and comes with a sixth-gen Intel Core i5 CPU, Iris 550 graphics, 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 64GB SSD. The top-end 16-inch variant I tested comes with an Intel Core i7-6567U CPU, Nvidia Quadro M1000M graphics with 4GB GDDDR5 VRAM, 16GB of DDR3 RAM and a significantly larger 512GB SSD.
Running TrustedReviews’ suite of synthetic benchmarks, the tablet performed reasonably well without any impressive surprises. In Geekbench 3, the tablet ran in with 3,656 single and 7,708 multi-core scores. These are slightly above the Core i5 MacBook and Surface Book. The MacBook Pro achieved 3,300 and 6,947 single/multi core scores in Geekbench 3, while the Surface enjoyed slightly better 3,522 single-core and 7,362 multi-core scores when docked. The Wacom’s 3070 PCMark 8 Creative score is also solid and puts the MobileStudio Pro on a par with most equivalently specced laptops.
The Wacom falls down when it comes to SSD read/write speeds, however. In the AS SSD benchmark, the SATA SSD in the MobileStudio Pro managed 509.1MB/sec and 461.3MB/sec read and write speeds. This puts it well behind the MacBook Pro, whose PCIe SSD is capable of incredible post-2,000MB/sec read and 1,700MB/sec write speeds.
In real-world use the Wacom performed well. I never noticed any slowdown while digitally painting, even when working on gigantic multi-layer projects – although the back of the device did start to heat up to the point it was uncomfortable to work with it on my lap after the first hour.
The same was true for 3D modelling, where the Wacom proved capable of opening and running projects that broke the 20-million polygon mark. As a frame of reference, most TV studios don’t go above 9 million.
Video-editing performance on Adobe Premier was solid (tested by TrustedReviews’ video guru Marc Forster-Pert) – although once again, the device did begin to noticeably heat up with prolonged use, especially when rendering. However, it still easily beat the performance of the Surface Book, which is an important marker.
Noise isn’t too much of an issue with light workloads, and the MobileStudio Pro is significantly quieter than past Wacom Cintiq tablets – but it’s still far from whisper-quiet when running heavy workloads.
The 16-inch tablet is powered by a 11.4V, Li-polymer, 52Wh battery that Wacom claims will offer around six hours’ mixed use off a single charge. Running TrustedReviews’ synthetic Powermark test, which loops 10 minutes of web browsing and five minutes of video playback with the screen brightness set to 150 nits, I found the quoted life optimistic – the MobileStudio Pro lasted two hours before dying.
In real-word use, the tablet performed slightly better. Inking and colouring a comic page with the screen at the same 150 nits, I managed an average of between 2-3.5 hours use.
Considering its focus on performance and the fact that I can’t see many people using the 16-inch version away from the mains, the battery life isn’t terrible. I’d still have liked it to manage at least four hours, which is roughly how long it takes me to finish a page, however.
Should I buy the Wacom MobileStudio Pro?
The Wacom MobileStudio Pro is an incredibly focused device that most regular consumers shouldn’t even consider buying. However, if you’re a serious photographer, artist or designer it’s a worthwhile investment.
The screen is wonderfully calibrated, and the Pro Pen 2 is one of the best styluses I’ve ever used. Add to this the optional RealSense camera and customisable Express Key system and the MobileStudio Pro becomes one of the best devices available to creative types – and in my mind it’s a superior choice to the Microsoft Surface Book.
However, there are a few flies in the ointment that stop it achieving true artistic greatness. The SSD is much slower than top-end machines, and the MacBook Pro has a better-quality screen. If drawing directly onto a screen isn’t crucial for you, a combination of a MacBook Pro or Surface Book hooked up to a Wacom Intuous tablet might be a better bet, but this will be down to your own personal preference.
I’m also not convinced that anyone other than CAD designers and artists will need the top-end 16-inch version. The 13-inch model is cheaper, more travel-friendly and will meet most amateur artists’ needs – despite having a lower 1440p screen and Intel Iris; not Nvidia graphics.
The Wacom MobileStudio Pro is a dream device for artists ready to make the next step, but its high price means it’s unlikely to find a home with hobbyists.