I’ll be at Planet Comicon Kansas City2017 April 28-30 at Bartel Hall! Dunno my table number yet, but I’ll post it as soon as I’ve got it (or check back on the Planet site!). Buster Moody and I will be going hard with Task Force Rad Squad #5 and I’ll also have Ice Cream Warriors and lots of TMNT stuff! Stoked to see everybody!
Disclaimer: I worked at Wacom for almost two years as their social media dude. It’s on my LinkedIn. There you have it. I got this tablet doing consulting work for them after leaving and wanted to provide an honest, in-depth review because those matter in this crazy world. Also, this post is lousy with Amazon Affiliate links. Clicking on them helps me make comics. Cool? Let’s go.
Positives: It’s a beast that can handle ANYTHING, the pen is the best thing in digital art, the screen is beautiful and the texture is a dream to draw on, there’s zero friggin’ offset or lag, it’s basically silent — Holy smokes, this thing rules.
Negatives: The battery only lasts about four hours, it’s heavier than I’d like, it doesn’t come with a stand or a case or a connectivity accessory, the new rocker ring settings are a little too busy, replacement nibs aren’t available yet and the tablet only comes with three.
Here’s my long personal tablet journey review:
I’m a tablet maniac. I’ve been fortunate enough to try out almost every cool tablet from every cool company over the past several years. I’ve owned multiple Surface Pros, a Surface Book, the iPad Pro, a few Yiynova tablets, a few Monoprice tablets, Wacom AES stuff in Lenovo and Toshiba tablets — and yeah, a Bamboo Fun, a few generations of Intuos Pros, the Cintiq 12WX, the Cintiq 24HD, the Cintiq 27QHD, the Cintiq Companion Hybrid (the one with Android), the Cintiq Companion and The Cintiq Companion 2. I also got ahold of a Cintiq 18SX — the first Cintiq! — and it was a trip. I paid for all of them and returned or sold the ones I didn’t love (or just didn’t have space for!). Currently I only own an iPad Pro and the new Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16.
I’ve never been good at big tablet-ing. I don’t know how to make use of them and I like a clean desktop. I also hate having a bunch of peripherals around — if I could get away with it, I’d never touch a keyboard or a trackpad or anything else while I draw. For these reasons and more, starting with the Cintiq 12WX and continuing through the 13″ Companion line, I’ve gravitated toward smaller screens and tablets with buttons *ahem* ~ExpressKeys~ on them. I got into drawing digitally years ago on the first gen iPad with a capacitive stylus — basically a metal pen with a rubber nib. That experience was not great. When I got my first Cintiq circa 2013 I was euphoric, even though it didn’t have a hi-res screen, just because the pen was righteous. The euphoria’s continued through the Companion line, but not without hiccups. I’ll talk about those in a second.
Anyway, for the past year or so I’ve been inking comics almost exclusively on my iPad Pro. I had a Surface Book that I loved, but the pen never stopped feeling like rubbing rubber on glass (like on that G1 iPad!) and I couldn’t stop noticing pooling distortion when I’d draw. Who can stand watching a rainbow ripple around their pen all the time? Not this guy. I also had a Cintiq Companion 2, which I used to draw dozens and dozens of comic pages. I loved my Companion 2 even though it was heavier than I’d like and had a pretty short battery life of about 3.5 hours. Oh, and it was LOUD. Not as loud as a hand dryer, but about as loud as the MacBook I had in 2007. All that said, it was still the best thing on the market for me by far — best pen, most powerful specs, most portable, etc. The iPad Pro came along a year later, though, and I started using MediBang Paint — a freemium Manga Studio/Clip Studio Paint clone to make comics on it right away. I preferred its 4:3 aspect ratio to the widescreen aspect ratio on the Companions (and the Surfaces until recently) and the portability, battery life and familiar interface just made it a better day-to-day device for making my kind of comics. I’d draw all of my pages on the iPad and port them over to my CC2 for coloring in CSP. It wasn’t a perfect workflow, but it worked for me. The Apple Pencil is not as good as a Wacom Pen or the Surface’s current N-Trig pens (or Wacom’s AES pens), but I kind of like its limitations when it comes to drawing line art.
So when the Wacom MobileStudio Pro got announced (MobileStudio isn’t a typo, btw, that’s ~branding~), of course I had to have one. I’m always going to own a MacBook to write on and probably an iPad to read comics on, but I’m dying to have fewer screens in my life. I have messed with way too many dadburn tablets, man. I just wanted a perfected version of the Companion.
This is it. Or as close to it as science will currently allow.
After years of 12-13″ tablets, I sprung for the 16″ MSP mostly out of stupid tech person vanity. I wanted the biggest, most powerful thing. If I weren’t obsessed with this stuff, I’d have sprung for one of the higher end 13″ versions. They’re sick. Anything with an i5 processor or better is going to kill it for making comics unless you use crazy brushes on 1200 DPI canvases or do wild 3D modeling, etc.
Me? I need something that will shred on 600 DPI pages in Clip Studio Paint EX, SketchBook and my other art apps of choice. This MSP16 yawns in the face of such tasks. It’s the tablet of a warrior.
Open the box of the MSP line and you find a tablet, a new cigar case-like case (that holds the pen and has a screw top containing extra nibs) plus the USB-C power cord. There’s also a nice microfiber cloth for wiping off your screen. Get an art glove if you can tolerate the dorkiness factor, though. I couldn’t for years, but here I am using one more and more. I’m through being cool.
The Wacom Pro Pen 2 rules. It has new, finer nibs. It has “8192 levels pen pressure, tilt and multi‑touch” — so four times that of the previous Pro Pen. That’s an insane number and pretty hyperbolic, but the pen is the best thing you can get and it feels great. Don’t sweat the number unless you decide to become a robot that, like, weighs grains of graphene for space ship parts or whatever. Form factor-wise, the pen is a lot like the previous Pro Pen (including swappable colored rings to ID your pen at a glance if you’re in a studio or just like the flair). The biggest difference is that the side switch buttons are a little bit click-ier and don’t jut out as far. It seems like every new generation of Wacom pens has a less and less pronounced side switch. People have OPINIONS on this, but it feels good to me and you’ll get used to it if you are a person of valor. It feels good to use and I have held probably every iteration of this thing across the Intuos and Cintiq lines. Trust me. If you have an older Cintiq pen, keep it around as a spare. Several of the older pens will still work on the MSP, including the last-gen Pro Pen and Grip Pen. The Pro Pen 2 will not work on previous generation tablets, however.
The screen is “UHD (3840 x 2160)” so it’s no joke. It’s basically the best thing you can get outside of the Surface Studio right now. There were rumors that the MSP would have an etched glass screen and ditch the usual texture film applied to glass. That didn’t happen for whatever reason — I don’t know anything about what it would look like to draw on etched glass or if this decision was a cost-saving measure or what — but the texture film is still great. It doesn’t diminish the look of the screen and I like the slight matte quality it delivers, plus the friction that it provides while using the pen. Some reviewers HATE the texture film, but just look at it and see if you care. It will make you feel alive.
What’s more, there’s some new bonding process that’s put the screen glass closer to all the wild radio tower board guts inside Cintiqs on the MSP. You will notice a HUGE difference. There’s virtually zero offset between the pen tip and your cursor and you’ll experience the least amount of lag of any digital art tool. You don’t notice anything. It just does what you want like a traditional implement. It’s the best thing in 01010101 drawing. You can expect to see this tech on all future screen-y Wacom tools, but the debut on the MSP is IMPRESSIVE. Nothing can touch it at the moment.
If you’re a person who is super irritated by pooling on LCD screens, you WILL be able to produce some on the MSP16 — but only if you’re trying. I’ve noticed more on the iPad Pro, and that’s only when I go hunting for reasons to whine about pen displays like a true seeker of knowledge. Don’t worry about it on this thing.
Lastly on the screen front — the bonding process I was talking about earlier basically eliminated jitter in the corner of the displays. All Wacom tech up to this point produced jitter when a cursor moved to the corner of a given active area on an Intuos, Cintiq or whatever tablet you’ve used (Graphire and old school Bamboo fans, reach out and high five me through your screen!), but the MSP16 and presumably every other piece of Wacom tech moving forward won’t give you this issue. It’s nice not to have to deal with it anymore, particularly after becoming accustomed to the iPad Pro, Surface and Wacom AES-enabled products.
The ExpressKeys on this thing are plentiful and easy to use. There are eight normal programmable buttons on the 16 (six on the 13), plus a rocker ring. The new rocker ring is a departure from previous models. It used to be, the rocker ring was just a donut with a button in each cardinal direction slot, plus a button in the center. On the Companions and on this machine that center button is a Windows button. I hate the Windows button. It needs to go away forever. I believe it’s a requirement on third-party machines that run Windows OS, though, so I don’t blame Wacom. On the new MSP, the rocker ring has taken on a form Intuos Pro users — or people who have used desktop Cintiqs including the 24DH or the 27QHD’s ExpressKey Remote — will recognize. Instead of giving users the option to set the four rocker ring buttons to whatever keystroke, click or other touch command they like, the rocker ring is more like a touch wheel. You can set different points to achieve different ranges of commands and sort of slide things around. This is good for things like zooming in and out of a page or changing brush sizes. I kind of hate this feature and want to return to the ways of old, but I also kind of love it. I’m so torn. It’d be cool to have an option to toggle between either format and supposedly Wacom might deliver on that. You listening guys? Please, do that thing.
The MSP16 comes with a pen holder that locks into the unit’s Kensington lock slot on the upper-righthand side. I didn’t think I’d ever use it, but a few days later I haven’t taken it off. I can see it getting lost if I travel, but it’s useful for now. I’d rather have a stationary pen stand that I can pop on my desk — kind of like what’s furnished on a desktop Cintiq or Intuos unit, but I shall live on.
On the form-factor front, I like the way this thing looks. It’s matte black and the bezel is thin, which pulls you into the work and helps you get into a flow state. The chrome-y stuff around the ExpressKeys had a Captain Phasma vibe I wasn’t into at first, but it helps you find your buttons in the long run. It’s the sleekest mobile Cintiq yet by far and that’s a very good thing.
What else to talk about? The specs on the MSP line are basically the PC version of the MacBook Pro line in a good way. Pick a processor and a hard drive size and go make cool stuff. My MSP16 has wild specs. It’s got an Intel i7 processor, 16 GB RAM, a 512GB SSD and a, uh “NVIDIA® Quadro® M1000M graphics with 4GB GDDR5 VRAM” (a really nice video card – you could do 3D sculpting or design and play cool games on this thing, easily). My MSP also has an “Intel® RealSenseTM 3D camera and scanning software,” which I haven’t used yet, but plan to check out. The cameras on previous Companions have been famously sub-flip phone, so this is a vaaaaaast improvement. The cameras on the MSP are as good as any contemporary legit laptop or tablet, so be sure to wear a hat if you have to wake up for a 6 a.m. global call for work or something. Your bosses or clients or whoever will be able to see how terrible you look otherwise.
Oh, right. Let’s talk about the stuff that everybody else has talked about. This thing doesn’t come with a stand. I use this one instead. I’ll probably get the official Wacom one once it’s out, but no word on when that’ll be. On the plus side, there are grips on the back of the MSP that are really convenient when you’re carrying or otherwise holding your rad tablet. There’s a pretty funny graphic in the instructions showing you what will happen if you drop or submerge your MSP16 in water. Don’t do either of those things.
The MSP also doesn’t come with a case. It’s wide enough where it won’t fit in a lot of 15-17″ laptop sleeves, and that’s kind of farcical to behold. It’s no wider than the original Companion or Companion 2, believe it or not, so it WILL fit in most 13″ cases with a vertical opening, but there’ll be a few inches left sticking out. Supposedly it fits into this cheap sleeve, but I’ve been using an old Companion 2 case with a flap to cover the excess part.
This thing is also on the heavier side at 4.45 lbs. Compared to an iPad Pro or a Surface/Surface Book (or even the old Companion 2, which weighs 3.75 lbs) the MSP16 is going to feel a lot more noticeable in a backpack, but for the radness within, it’s worth it to me. Some people may not like the heft if they draw with a tablet in their lap. To those people I say: Stop drawing with a tablet in your lap. You are ruining your back. Think of your future.
One last topic: Connectivity and other accessories. Like the Companion 2 and traditional desktop Cintiqs (like the new Cintiq Pro 13 and the Cintiq Pro 16 — also great solutions for making comics) the MSP connects to any PC or MAC. There’s a $70 accessory called the Wacom Link that’ll be available soon to accomplish this via USB-C, Mini DisplayPort and USB classic. There may be a cheaper generic option on Amazon someday, but I can’t find one. Nobody is talking about the fact that you can’t just plug a MacBook Pro to the MSP via a single USB-C cable in reviews I’ve seen, but I can’t make it work and I’m me, so… you’ve been warned in case you’re buying an MSP for its connectivity powers. I suspect in a year or so USB-C dongles will be a lot cheaper and this won’t be such a headache. IMO, the MSP should’ve come with a stand and the Wacom Link. The Companion 2 had both things, you know? Oh, and there’s no keyboard included of course, so you’ll want to grab a bluetooth one or a corded one. The Wacom-branded one fits nicely in a bag, but I’m pretty sure it’s just a reskinned version of this cheap Toshiba one, so choose wisely. Also, also, also — this thing only comes with 3 replacement nibs (two standard, one felt), and the Wacom store doesn’t have any you can buy yet… so ration accordingly for the time being.
So, which one do I get???
That’s the question, right? For most people making comics, I’d recommend the Wacom MobileStudio Pro 13 – Intel® Core™ i5, 128GB SSD model. It’s powerful enough to get any comics job done AWESOMELY as long as you can live on 128GB. Between cloud storage options and the tablet’s Micro SD memory card slot, you can make it work if you want to save some money.
Of course, if you can spring for the i7 models — either the 13 or the 16 — they are a luxury cruise ship to the stars. I seriously can’t put my full-spec MSP16 down. Wacom did a fantastic job on the main tablet design and delivered a powerful, premium experience for users who spend their days and nights with their noses to the proverbial digital grindstone. If they can just make these things lighter, pop in a battery that competes with the Surface machine’s and get the accessories included again, they’ll be, like, level 1,000 mages. I’ll be on the lookout in the future, but I am PLEASED with this thing in the meantime. It’s my new go-to. Try one if you’re in the market. It’s the best thing out there.
That means you can find Buster Moody and me at Emerald City Comicon 2017, March 2-5 in Seattle at Artist Alley table D4.
I’ll have copies of the Mermaid: Evolution TPB, plus a brand new comic called Ice Cream Warriors! I’m finishing it up this weekend and I’ll post a preview or somesuch once it’s colored. This biz is down to the wire hahahahohgod