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Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16 review

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 may be the fine general-purpose Windows 10 hybrid that launched a category, but the Wacom MobileStudio is a more flexible mobile computer that takes the category to the max with essential sophisticated capabilities for professionals. For one, it offers 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity with its new Pro Pen 2, far and away the industry leader. It has application-specific programmable hard controls for streamlining operation without a keyboard, because pro content creation is a two-handed job. But as it’s a hybrid, you can connect any Bluetooth keyboard to turn it into a Windows 10 laptop. And like the Cintiq line from which it evolved, you can connect it to a system and use it as an interactive pen display and graphics tablet — a not-so-cheap way of adding a touchscreen to your Mac!

It’s not Wacom’s first pen computer — that launched during the Windows 7/Windows 8 era — but those operating systems simply weren’t pen- or touch-friendly. (And MacOS sadly still isn’t.) Now, thanks to a rising-Windows 10-tide-lifts-all-boats environment, there’s finally software support to make the MSP a truly useful product.

Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16

Prices for the MobileStudio 13 run from $1,500 (£1,400, AU$2,650) for the Core i5 model with a 64GB SSD up to $2,500 (£2,300, AU$3,500) for a Core i7 with a 512GB SSD; the MobileStudio 16 costs $2,400 (£2,200, AU$3,500) for the Core i5, 256GB SSD version and $3,000 (£2,750, AU$4,300) for the top-of-the-line Core i7, 512GB SSD model. All the 13-inchers use the integrated Intel Iris Graphics 550 GPU driving a WQHD (2,560×1,440-pixel resolution) screen, while the bigger tablets use discrete Nvidia Quadro workstation-class GPUs (M600M for the Core i5, M1000M for the Core i7) with 4K UHD (3,840×2,160) displays. The top configurations in both sizes incorporate Intel RealSense R200 3D cameras. While the MSP 13 is a reasonably light 2.9 pounds/1,320 g, the MSP 16 weighs a not-insubstantial 5 pounds/2,202 g.

These are not cheap systems. But given how much the MobileStudio does and how sturdy it feels, the prices don’t seem too out of line. What does is Wacom’s failure to include a stand with them; and frankly, the design should have incorporated a kickstand. As I write the $100 stand isn’t yet available, so I didn’t get a chance to test it. (I don’t see it for the UK or Australia, but the price converts to about £79 and AU$132.) I do know it’s only a three-position stand, which isn’t as nice as one with continuous tilt options, and it doesn’t look like it supports portrait orientation. If the camera/webcam weren’t on the side (in landscape mode), that would be a little less irksome.

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The RealSense 3D camera sits at the top of the back, above the slots where the extra-cost stand latches in.


Sarah Tew/CNET

To take advantage of the tablet as a pen tablet/touch display, one of the capabilities that makes it worth the price premium, you also need to spring for the $70 Wacom Link adapter (£60, AU$99). It requires two ports on your system, USB-A and DisplayPort, which the adapter funnels into a single USB-C connection.

When it’s good it’s very, very good…

Though I have a few quibbles with it, overall the MSP is terrific. Though there currently aren’t any applications that can take advantage of the increased range of pressure sensitivity (it usually takes a little time for them to catch up), you can feel how smooth the higher sample rate makes it feel, and there’s the exactly right amount of friction between the nib and the screen. There’s no perceptible parallax, the offset between the pen tip and the cursor display, and most of the time there’s no noticeable lag. All that’s needed to complete the experience would be haptic feedback to let you feel the interaction of the brush and the paper texture.

Once I overcame my typical bout of user stupidity (look at the big graphic showing that it only works with the center USB-C connector, Lori!), it worked quite well hooked up to my desktop via the Wacom Link adapter. And my system is the configuration from hell. The MSP plugged in as the third display on a Mac Pro still running Yosemite with Windows (8!) in a virtual machine and every connector plus two hubs filled to capacity. I had to disconnect a couple of things to make room for the two Link connections, though

The stylus feels physically similar to other current Intuos styluses; some users find them too bulky and prefer the feel of slimmer active styluses. I like the extra heft, though after all these years I still end up accidentally pressing the buttons on barrel.

The display only covers 94 percent of the Adobe RGB gamut, which is a bit disappointing, but I can imagine it’s hard enough to cram Wacom’s electromagnetic resonance (EMR) stylus technology and 4K resolution (a pixel density of about 280 ppi) into a panel that doesn’t suck all the power out of the universe, much less deliver a broader gamut. Though antiglare, it delivers nice, saturated colors.

You’ll notice some unsightly light leakage in the corners of the display, but according to Wacom that’s the trade-off for the bonding process used to reduce the parallax. If you don’t need perfect display uniformity it’s only occasionally jarring.

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