A review of Wacom's new Cintiq Pro 27" screen. Is this the holy grail of pen displays that I've been looking for?
For years, I’ve wanted a single 27” monitor that I could also draw on. The iPad Pro is an almost perfect solution for this, but 12.9" isn't large enough. I don’t like using multiple monitors - so one screen has to do everything: positioned upright and further back as default, and then brought in close at an angle to draw on. Just like the elegant Microsoft Surface Studio, a product that Apple should've made and has been available for six years now.
For some reason, Apple are dragging their heels in bringing out a pen display larger than the 12.9” iPad Pro. After the release of their new Studio Display came and went without Pencil support I gave up hope. So, other than migrate to Windows, what were my options? Up until now, Wacom’s Cintiq’s have either been lower resolution (27 QHD), too small for normal work (24 Pro) or too large to use with a pen and touch (32 Pro). The large bezels make it dominate a desk, and users complain of noisy fans. Their touch capability was so bad, that most users turn it off. There are other competitors such Xencelabs, Huion and X-Pen, but none go higher than 24", and they all lack touch capability.
I was just about to buy a secondhand Cintiq 27” QHD from eBay when mere hours later, Wacom announced the new Cintiq Pro 27. The specs looked good (for a pen display), but for a very hefty price (£3250) that didn’t even include a stand. It lacks the retractable feet Cintiq’s normally have, so you either need to buy the specially designed stand (a further £500) or make use of that VESA mount. You can't use the screen without a form of stand.
(Also, their copywriting is weird- "Engineered for harmony" - what on earth does that even mean?).
It’s an eye-watering cost, but one I’m prepared to pay if it’s the right solution. It certainly seemed like what I've been looking for, but there was only way to try it. I had to buy one and trial it in the 30 day returns grace period. Here’s how I got on.
With this review there are three factors to bear in mind:
- Little annoyances can be tolerated when you perceive a product to be ‘good value’, but at this cost level the expectations are higher and the critique much stricter.
- My use case of 'Pen Display that can also become a normal monitor' is fairly niche. People who buy Cintiq's are normally artists drawing 100% of the time.
- I normally use an iPad Pro & Pencil for drawing, with an MacBook Air & LG Ultrafine 5K for everything else. I'm not an existing Cintiq user, but up until the iPad Pro came out, I've always had Wacom tablets.
Let's start with positives! I can finally draw on a large screen and the pen feel on the surface is more natural - with none of the ‘tapping glass’ feeling of the iPad. I also found the size is ideal - plenty of workspace, but not too far to reach menus. There was also no parallax, and drawing felt very 'direct'.
Screen quality, despite being only 4k - good colour and brightness. I found I was getting much less eye strain at the end of the day (maybe due to distance to face & higher refresh rate?). It’s been wonderful not to the end the day with a headache. The pen is very customisable both in feel and balance (a metal insert can place more weight either centrally or to the rear).
In terms of pen lag, the Cintiq was good, but not quite as quick as the iPad Pro. We're talking minute differences that are only visible on a slow motion video though.
Not so great
Note that I haven't put screen quality in the 'Great' category. The screen is ‘good’, but it doesn't match my iPad or LG display in terms of crispness, brightness and contrast. The matte drawing surface gives everything a slightly soft appearance. After a long period of using the Cintiq I saw a big difference going back to using my iPad Pro and LG 5k.
The build quality is sturdy, but very plasticky. There is also fan noise, and while not loud, it is constant. It doesn’t quite feel like £3k product. Another element of cost is the lack of built-in webcam or speakers, which isn’t a surprise but is yet another cost on top. While I don’t really need speakers, I use my Mac in clamshell mode which means the sound is a bit muffled. The webcam is more of an issue.
Wacom’s Touch capability hasn't been greatly improved from my previous experiences. For example, I can’t pan at the same time as zooming, which feels incredibly clunky. Zooming in/out can be very slow and laggy, and is best done with shortcuts instead. This is better in some apps than others - Photoshop is appalling, Illustrator a little less so, but Affinity apps are smooth. Here's a wee comparison video I did, using the same file on both iPad and Mac/Cintiq:
You also can’t reassign the basic touch gestures, such as setting a two finger tap as undo. I could change the three finger tap, but two is the standard on tablets.
The 'Express Keys' for shortcuts and modifiers are high up on the back and out of sight, and arranged in an irregular layout. This all makes it hard for muscle memory, and meant I had to 'feel around' to be sure I was about to press the right button. I always ended up using my keyboard instead.
The special stand for an extra £500 really isn't worth the money. It has limited adjustability to switch between upright mode (it doesn’t go high enough) and drawing modes. When I'm not drawing I need the screen further back, but it’s almost impossible to move the whole thing back and forth on the desk - even moving the display itself needed a lot of effort. The stand base ‘feet’ at the front also got in the way of my mouse.
Finally, the Lock/unlock mechanism is hard to reach round the back, so I always had to stand up to access it. I can imagine it working well for someone who kept their Cintiq in the same position, and just wanted to rotate it a bit. For me, a monitor arm, such as an Ergotron LX (£140), worked so much better.
The Wacom drivers seem to interfere with other apps like Figma. Simple actions such as drag and dropping an image from the desktop onto my Figma file no longer work unless I use the Pen. And then... it just stopped working altogether. Neither pen or touch input worked. The only solution was to restart my Mac. I think the Wacom drivers had crashed, but it was at this point that I shouted "NOT WORTH IT" and packed it all up to be returned.
I had such high hopes of it being the solution I was looking for, I really wanted this to work. I would maybe put up with some of these niggles on a £1500 screen, but not one costing twice that. In the end, the only real advantages were in workspace size and pen feel. I would prefer to trade the natural pen feel for the better screen quality.