Wacom has won an enviable reputation in the art and design community for the quality and responsiveness of its pro tablets, as well as offering an Apple-like style and that oblique 'want-one' quality that only a few electronics manufacturers can claim to possess – handy, particularly as Apple wants a slice of the pro tablet market with the iPad Pro (opens in new tab), and with apps claiming that they can turn the iPad Pro into a Cintiq replacement (opens in new tab).
Wacom's gilt-edged reputation does not mean its products are above criticism – far from it, as many artists and designers prefer other forms of transferring their ideas into digital designs, and some find Wacom's products too expensive and bulky. The company countered these complaints to an extent first with their more affordable 12-inch Cintiqs, then with a high-resolution 13-inch model.
The original, non-touch version of the Cintiq 13HD (opens in new tab) was launched in 2013, with its high-resolution display, low weight and improved setup process making it an attractive proposition for digital artists and designers. However the latest touchscreen version, the clumsily-titled Wacom Cintiq 13HD Creative Pen & Touch Display (we'll just call it the 13HD Touch) also works with the fingertips, adding an extra dimension to the Cintiq experience.
To help us put this dinky piece of pro hardware through its paces, we let graphic designer and ACD at Havas helia (opens in new tab), Ian Fooks (opens in new tab), take it for a couple of laps round the track, so to speak, and try it out with his Mac set-up and Adobe InDesign.
Set-up is relatively quick and painless process, although those used to the simplicity of everyday portable tablets such as an iPad will be surprised by the mass of cables and accessories in the Wacom box. However this is comparing Apples and oranges; attach the slightly cumbersome split power/USB/HDMI cable to your workstation (annoyingly, no HDMI adapters are included, which will necessitate an extra purchase for most PC and Mac users), install the drivers and dodge the bloatware from the included CD (or from Wacom's site if you have no CD drive), and off you eventually go.
After that not-so-promising start, the Cintiq kicks into life. You can extend or mirror your desktop on the Cintiq, but whichever you choose to do it takes a little getting used to your secondary display being at your lap – although you can sit the tablet in a few different positions on its supplied stand until you're happy. The display is bright and sharp, identical to the non-'Touch' 13HD that we tested on its launch in 2013. It has relatively slim bezels as these things go and is usefully light and manoeuvrable making small-space working a cinch but without making the screen seem too titchy for serious use.
A few hours spent working in InDesign and Photoshop demonstrated the 13HD's talents to the full. The small screen's 1920x1080 resolution is bright and pin-sharp (there's no reason beyond one-upmanship to have a higher resolution for a 13-inch screen) but it never tires the eyes. Some may prefer to be able to see a large piece of work on the whole tablet but as a second screen it is perfectly satisfactory for most design work.
Despite the 13HD Touch's party trick of being finger-operable, the star of the show is Wacom's bundled Pro Pen, which comes with six nibs and offers 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt recognition. Okay, it's handy to be able to tap and prod the screen with your digits but why anyone would put down the tactile and responsive stylus is anybody's guess. It's a joy to use, and almost worth the admission fee alone.
The Cintiq 13HD also features the familiar-to-Wacom-users ExpressKeys, which are fully customisable and are a real boon particularly for Photoshop work. They also contribute to the overall feeling of quality construction that the tablet has – some may still baulk at the price but the sturdy build and soft-touch materials all help the 13HD feel like the professional piece of equipment that it undoubtedly is.