Surface Pro vs the Cintiq 13HD

Why I switched from the Surface Pro to the Cintiq 13HD

Months ago, after watching a friend effortlessly draw comics on a Surface Pro while sitting on his couch, I picked one up for myself. I was thrilled at the prospect of having a device that let me work comfortably from the couch or on a plane, at a coffee shop or a hotel lobby. The Surface Pro seemed to be the answer to my prayers. Completely portable, recognizes pressure sensitivity, and the stellar testimony of another cartoonist. I immediately ran out and bought one for myself.

I used the Surface Pro exclusively during a month long trip visiting family. I drew at the airport, on the plane, from an easy chair at my dad's house, and at the family kitchen table. I had a very difficult time at first, but chalked that up to there always being a learning curve with a new device. Also, my workflow is quite dependent on using hotkeys or (Wacom express keys), and my keyboard muscle memory is oriented for macs, not Windows, which powers the Surface.

Photoshop, was almost impossible for me to use. The UI was just too small for me to see effectively and it lagged terribly. Manga Studio worked better, and has a UI mode for tablets that makes things much easier. But again, the program would lag behind at times and sometimes lock up. It was frustrating, but I hoped things would improve with practice. Finishing a comic strip took twice to three times the normal amount of time for me, and while the finished art looked great on the Surface Pro, once I uploaded it and viewed it on a bigger screen, my flaws became visible and obvious. I tried to adjust settings, tweak drivers, purchased a nicer stylus, and kept practicing. But in the end, using the Surface Pro for anything more than leisure sketching became too frustrating, and I eventually just gave up on it.

Cut to earlier this month where, while visiting friends in Portland, I got a chance to test out a friend's Wacom Cintiq 13HD. The Cintiq is tablet with an LED screen, about the size of an Intous 5 (in fact, it fits perfectly in the sleeve I bought for my Intous 5). It's very light and sits comfortably in my lap. It has a set of programmable express keys on its left side and an onscreen radial menu that's programable and easy to access for when you want to work without a keyboard. The Cintiq felt like a familiar friend. It had a larger screen than the surface and after using it my heart sank. I immediately regretted purchasing the Surface Pro. I wish I had bought the Cintiq 13HD instead. Luckily, I had a little extra money come in that month, and confident I could sell my Surface for some of the difference, I bit the bullet and ordered the Cintiq.

I do not regret this decision.

Now, if you're shaking your head and screaming "Why didn't you buy one of the new Cintiq Companions instead?" let me explain. I have colleagues who have purchased Cintiq Companions and they are reporting similar issues to those I experienced with the Surface pro: odd response time or lag, driver tweaking, etc. In addition, using the Surface Pro turned me off from working in Windows, let alone a hybrid Android OS (that's a personal preference, not a judgement on those operating systems) The Cintiq 13HD will always be as powerful and easy to operate as the laptop I plug it into. And Cintiqs have a good life-span in my opinion. I purchased my desktop Cintiq 21UX six years ago and it still works great. The display is still bright, and despite there being a couple model upgrades since it was first made, it still does everything I need. The higher price, the additional weight, and negative testimonies turned me away from the Companion line.

Yes, the Cintiq 13HD needs to be plugged into a laptop and a power source. So you're tethered to a wall and a laptop. This is a sacrifice in "portability" I'm happy to make in exchange for the benefits I'm gaining. I say portability in quotes because nothing, not even the Surface Pro, is any more portable than the battery life of the device. At some point, if you want to keep working you're going to have to plug it in somewhere. The Cintiq 13HD cable system is leagues above the cumbersome breakout box that came with it's predecessor, the Cintiq 12WX. The 13HD's 3-in-1 cable is no more troublesome than the power adaptor of my laptop. It's got a nice length and let's me easily place my laptop to the side (sometimes I just close it an leave it in my backpack on the floor) and work.

One last thing: I know there are a lot of artists out there who have a real hate-boner for Wacom products. I see a lot of talk about Wacoms having terrible pen response.  I don't know what these guys are requiring of a tablet, but it's clearly beyond any artistic ability I have. I pride myself on my line-work and I've never had any problem putting down the marks I want with any wacom products. That being said, I never really go beyond simulating pen and ink. I've never done any digital painting, so your mileage may vary.

Hope this was helpful for you.