A few years ago I made a decision, one that would change my workflow forever.
For a long time I had worked with a Wacom tablet in one form or another, these being primarily the Intuos graphic tablets and earlier versions. So, as you may know, your hand is drawing on the desktop while your eyes are on the screen.
This worked well for me initially, but I longed for more. I wanted the precision and ease of actually drawing onto the screen itself, so my eyes were always on the more desirable and more expensive Cintiq range.
Eventually I plucked up the courage to order a Cintiq 24HD and to be honest, and as you can read from my review, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. My work improved, I was more productive and I felt my drawing skills were also getting better. In short, I could never go back, but as it was such a huge investment I also didn`t want to upgrade any time soon. The 24HD was my Cintiq for life, and I was more than happy with that.
So, technology moves forward and eventually Wacom revealed the 27QHD, with its higher quality screen and separate ExpressKey remote. It looked great, but was it good enough to warrant an upgrade?
Initially I was eager to try it out, but my heart had been stolen by the 24HD, so it would take a lot for me to push that aside for a younger, slimmer, more attractive model.
Wacom generously agreed to allow me to try one out for four weeks, so below is my full review, but now my time with it is over do I still feel the 24HD is enough for me? Read onto find out…
Unboxing & Setup
When I first received the Cintiq 24HD it was in a huge box clearly labelled that it should be handled by two people. It was heavy! This was mainly due to the Cintiq Ergo stand it came with, which had a solid base enabling you to position the Cintiq which it held firmly, with no chance of it toppling over.
When the 27QHD arrived the delivery man carried it to my door and I was thankfully able to pick it up and take it to my office with relative ease. The main reason for this is that the 27QHD doesn`t come with an adjustable stand as the 24HD did, this time the device has a small built in stand but if that’s not enough for you, you are also given the option to buy a full ergo stand separately, but more on the stand later.
After opening the box the Cintiq simply slides out, and in a second box you find all the cables, the Pro Pen and ExpressKey remote as well as all the instructions etc.
There are a few connection options available with the 27QHD but initially you won`t find a DVI cable as you would expect. Your options are either HDMI or a DisplayPort for optimal screen resolution and colour range. Wacom have also supplied two adapters, a HDMI to DVI-D and also a DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort adapter if you prefer.
Connecting the device to your computer is pretty straight forward. A panel on the rear of the Cintiq opens up to reveal all the ports nicely hidden away along with a cable tie to keep things tidy, and, as the device itself is quite light, it`s not too much trouble to get connected and be up and running in minutes.
The Cintiq itself is a whopping 33.3 by 18.3 inches with a physical screen size of 27 inches, (measured diagonally). The most striking thing is the lack of any physical buttons around the screen itself, which almost feels a little strange when coming from a more traditional Cintiq set-up.
This isn`t entirely true though as once powered up, via a power button on the top, three touch buttons above the screen become illuminated, these are shortcuts to an on screen keyboard, the Wacom control panel and a third to enable and disable the touch screen functionality. All of which do come in handy as your working.
Distributed on both sides are four of the five USB 3.0 ports giving you even more connectivity options. The fifth is hidden inside the back of the unit and reserved for the ExpressKey remote`s USB dongle, which comes pre-installed.
All in all the device is sleek, smooth and well designed, with everything exactly where it should be. As mentioned previously all the cables are combined into a closed compartment on the back meaning they aren`t left hanging around asking to get in your way, and the USB ports are within comfortable reach.
Even though I love my Cintiq 24HD there has been a long standing issue, and this also spread to the Companion range. With other touch screen or pen input devices I have used, the screen is always crystal clear, yet with the Cintiq there is a graininess to them. This doesn`t stop you working, and eventually you kind of tune it out, but it is still noticeable.
My main concern with the 27QHD, (which stands for Quad HD meaning you are getting four times the pixel density of HD), was that the grain would still linger here.
Well, I can sit here and say that they finally cracked it. The high resolution screen is bright, colourful and so crisp it’s like Hank Pym devised a way to shrink pixels to a level where they aren’t visible to the human eye.
Now this may be exaggerating slightly, and is it really totally grain free? Well, unfortunately not. On close inspection you can still see a slight grain but compared to previous devices it’s nowhere near as bad, and in normal use the 27QHD is truly glorious.
The new 16.9 aspect ratio along with the 2560×1440 resolution give you much more screen real estate, so when using applications like Maya, Photoshop or ZBrush you have much more room to breathe. Even when using Maya 2015 the UI wasn`t ridiculously tiny, and Maya 2016 now has a scalable UI too which makes things easier.
As mentioned earlier in the review, the 27QHD doesn`t come bundled with a separate ergo stand but it can be bought separately if you feel you need one.
The 27QHD does however come with a built in stand, meaning you can lower it to desk level and use it quite easily as more of a drawing board. The stand comes in the form of two legs which can be lowered out of the back of the device holding it at an elevated level of around 20 degrees. You can also use it with the back flat against your desk which offers a smaller 5 degree increment.
This may be too low for some people and I was a little wary initially, I had visions of developing back ache after being hunched over it for a few hours, but I actually found it quite comfortable. At the end of the day if it’s too low just prop it up with a box to get it to your preferred angle.
For me, I have the legs out all the time and have the device resting on a shelf when it’s raised and being used as a monitor. This is when I am using Maya or writing so I need full access to the keyboard.
As the Cintiq is so light I can then easily move it down when I need to paint, sculpt or draw and as I suggested above, I have a sturdy box to rest it on if I need to raise it slightly.
I have found that not having the huge ergo stand, as I do with my 24HD, has freed up lots of space on my desk so my work area feels a lot roomier than it did before.
The ExpressKey Remote
Let’s talk about the new kid on the block, the ExpressKey remote.
From the outset I loved the idea of this. With previous Cintiq`s, where the express keys are fixed to the surface, I did find I ended up leaning more on the device itself as I held my hand over the buttons and touch ring, which for me isn`t a bad thing. For some people though, the fixed button positions could be a struggle to reach or maintain a comfortable grip on.
What the new remote brings to artists is freedom.
Now as you work you can hold the remote comfortably in your hand, which can be anywhere. Alternatively, the remote also magnetically sticks to either side of the screen so you can use it in a more traditional way, but again, wherever it is most comfortable for you.
What makes the ExpressKey Remote even better are the amount of buttons available for you to fully configure, per application. Although the touch strips have been sacrificed you still have a total of seventeen buttons at your disposal, and the Touch Ring returns with the usual three options for brush size, canvas zoom, rotate or whatever you fancy.
The remote is battery powered and you charge it via a micro USB cable which comes supplied, and a handy icon on your desktop keeps you informed on the level of charge it has. Although the charge is suggested to last for 160 hours with continuous use so you shouldn`t need to charge it very often.
In short I feel Wacom have made a huge leap forward with the inclusion of a separate remote rather than static buttons, but it gets better…
Remove the USB dongle from the back of the Cintiq and you can plug it into any other device, like a Surface Pro 3 for example, and use the remote on that too. Say goodbye to those clunky and intrusive on screen keyboards and instead download your settings from the Wacom Cloud and have the same remote running on your laptop as you do with your 27QHD.
It’s amazing that Wacom allowed for this functionality, and they do sell the remote as a separate accessory which is a great move. They just need to offer a Bluetooth version, for those tablets without a USB port like the iPad.
The Pro Pen
No Wacom device would be complete without its trade mark stylus and with the 27QHD comes the tried and trusted Pro Pen, along with a stand and a host of replacement nibs including 6 standard, 3 felt and one stroke nib.
The Pro Pen has been bundled with Wacom devices for a while now and to be honest, if it ain`t broke don`t fix it. It feels nice in your hand and has a good weight to it, plus there are no batteries to replace or charge.
You get the same 2048 levels of pressure, plus 60 levels of tilt recognition so you are free to paint as hard or as soft as you need and at whatever angle. The only difference this time is it doesn`t come in its nice carry case, but then again you aren`t likely to be travelling with the 27QHD like you would with a Cintiq Companion.
The main improvement here is the feel of the stylus on the actual screen, and what you will find is a slight resistance as it moves across the surface. This gives a more natural feel to each stroke, almost like drawing on paper which for me is a much better experience.
All Wacom devices use the same software for configuration purposes and calibration, so if you’re used to using the Wacom Desktop Center with one device it will be a very familiar process.
The software itself is very user friendly and allows you to configure both the remote and stylus on a per application basis. This means that if you’re using Photoshop you can change how the touch ring and buttons work compared to Maya for example where you won`t necessarily need to adjust brush size, or rotate the canvas.
All these settings can also be uploaded and stored on the Wacom Cloud making them transferable between desktops and devices, so you don`t have to spend time setting up a new system with your preferred configuration.
The addition of the quick access settings button on the Cintiq 27QHD itself, also makes changes and tweaks to your settings quick and easy.
The only thing I could suggest is a new UI for the Wacom Tablet Properties window. The same layout has been used for many years now and with each new device a new series of settings are just bolted on. At times this can leave it feeling cluttered, but this is just a small gripe.
The Cintiq in Use
So, let`s get down to business. All these details and technical specifications are good but what’s the 27QHD actually like to use?
After the initial set-up, configuring the ExpressKey remote for each of your applications will take up a chunk of your time, although Wacom do offer some default configurations per application. To access these simply open the Tablet Properties window and add your application in the usual way.
Once done simply click the Default button and the configuration will be populated with a suggested layout for that application.
Once configured and my settings backed up to the Wacom Cloud, I found I could settle into a painting or a 3D model quite easily.
The colours simply pop from the bright, high definition screen and the larger canvas area is really nice to work on, with the resistance you get from the screen enhancing the whole experience.
Again, the remote took some time to get used to, learning where to put my thumb and fingers etc. but the ability to place it anywhere was a comfortable way to work. It’s important to state however that it won`t stick to the actual screen area itself. The rear of the ExpressKey remote has a rubber coating so if you have the device lowered onto its legs it will rest on the screen and not slide off, but still won`t stick to it magnetically.
Even without the ergo stand I found moving it into a desired position quite a simple task, but this is more due to my own setup. If you don`t have anything to prop the device up against when in “monitor” mode then you may struggle with using it lying flat all the time, unless your a dedicated painter that is.
If you have used a Cintiq before then the results are very similar, with it having great pressure sensitivity and no visible lag when drawing. Although I didn`t detect any major improvements in performance compared to the 24HD the upgraded hardware certainly improved its usability.
To Touch or not?
There are two options available when deciding which 27QHD to purchase and that’s whether to have a touch screen enabled model or not, which is similar to what was offered with the 24HD. The main difference when looking at a cost point of view is around £300, so it’s a big chunk of your budget for something that you may actually never use.
So is it useful?
Well, in general use you can use it as you would any touch screen device. So if you’re browsing the web or reading a document you can simply scroll, pan and zoom by touching the screen. With Microsoft Word, which i`m using now, this is great and makes it much quicker to navigate a large document and the same can be said of any web browser.
The gestures also come in really hand. For example, tap the screen with five fingers and the on screen keyboard pops up. A three finger tap will show the Radial Menu and three finger swipe will navigate your open apps.
With painting applications like Mischief and Photoshop you can`t use Touch input to paint, instead this is used primarily to navigate your canvas. Zoom, rotate and panning with your fingers is quick and easy and for professional painters not only will this feel more natural but also speed up your workflow.
For more 3D based applications the touch screen had varied results. Maya 2015 & 2016 were great for rotating around a model but buggy when you tried to zoom or pan around a scene. ZBrush had similar results when it came to being able to rotate a round a sculpt, but I couldn`t easily navigate the scene, or find any obvious ways to configure the touch input.
Yes, these issues could be solved by using the remote and pen as you would normally but then you wouldn`t need the touch screen.
I`d say at this point if you’re primarily a 2D artist then the touch input is worth the money. If your more 3D orientated I think you might find it a novelty at most, but ultimately never really use it.
Should You Invest?
At the beginning of my time with the Cintiq 27QHD Touch I was expecting to like it, return it and happily go back to using my trusty 24HD. At the end of the day it’s another £2,099 to find to upgrade to the newer model and if it wasn`t that different was it really worth the upgrade?
What I discovered was a Cintiq which is finally what a Cintiq should be.
The 27QHD has been designed along side existing Cintiq users, and its because of that essential feedback we now have more freedom to create how we want to create. Yes the screen still has a very slight grain to it, but in all honesty the only real issues I found were more application based rather than the hardware itself.
In short, the screen is amazing and the new ExpressKey remote is truly liberating.
So after four weeks with a 27QHD I found I just couldn`t go back to my 24HD with its lower resolution, grainy screen, heavy stand and fixed express keys. So now I’ve purchased my own 27QHD Touch and said a tearful goodbye to my 24HD. It served me well but in my opinion, if you can afford it, the 27QHD is well worth the upgrade. You won`t regret it!
Although Wacom supplied the device for me to test, the opinions offered in this review are my own.