The new Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16 may be too little, too late

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Only the MobileStudio Pro 16’s insides have changed.


Sarah Tew/CNET

After a long two years, Wacom has updated its MobileStudio Pro 16 Windows tablet (the company calls it a “pen computer”) bumping the processor up a couple generations from dual core to quad core (Core i7-8559U) and the graphics processor up a generation to an Nvidia Quadro P1000. It’s a lot faster, USB-C connections have bulked up to Thunderbolt 3, the must-have stand is now bundled and it still incorporates class-leading, latest-generation Wacom EMR stylus support.  

But the updates are almost beside the point. In a world of Microsoft Surfaces (and clones) and a much less expensive, better-designed iPad Pro and Apple Pencil running a new iPad OS, is the $3,500 (£3,200, likely won’t be available in Australia) Wacom MobileStudio Pro still relevant or worth the money today? It probably is, though only for an even smaller group of pros than ever. For everyone else, a Microsoft Surface or similar device is the way to go. 


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Even compared to its only true direct competitor, the 14-inch HP ZBook x2 detachable, the MobileStudio Pro is still unique in many respects. It’s bigger than competing tablets, with a 16-inch screen which makes it a lot more functional as a computer. Just watch out because it’s a hefty five pounds (2.26 kilograms). Like the x2, it has a matte, etched-glass 4K touchscreen that feels much more natural and pleasant to use than the slick, reflective screens of the Surface-alikes and iPad Pros. And none can match Wacom’s battery-free stylus with 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity — the best competitors have 4,096 levels, though who knows what the iPad Pro/Pencil’s sensitivity specs are, since Apple doesn’t disclose them.

Plus, since it has a Quadro GPU, it’s certified for professional graphics applications, and has programmable buttons and software menus that make Windows tablets fit more seamlessly into complex workflows and collaborations, since they’re truly native. Despite the iPad getting a more full-featured fork of the iOS operating system this fall in iPad OS, developers still need to write apps specifically for it and they tend to be stripped down. 

When I spoke with Adobe, the company raved about the iPad Pro’s GPU acceleration and how fast and fluid it could make Fresco feel — which it does — but the brushes can’t get nearly as big or complex as the ones that still bring Photoshop to its knees, even on the MobileStudio Pro. (You can import Photoshop brushes, but a lot of the editable settings don’t transfer.) 

One of the biggest advantages the MobileStudio has over any of the competitors is color management. It comes with hardware-based calibration profiles for Adobe RGB, sRGB and Rec.709 and two slots for custom profiles, which means that you can bypass Windows 10‘s byzantine and undocumented software system. (Seriously, this complaint about Windows color management from 2017 is still valid.) Apple wants everyone to use P3 so it pretends Adobe RGB and other platforms don’t exist, and like Android, its mobile operating systems lack a color management. 

But…

Even though it comes with dedicated color profiles, the color gamut remains disappointing: as tested, 96% sRGB and 83% Adobe RGB. The default uniformity compensation setting improves gray-scale tracking by dramatically cutting full-screen brightness from 236 or so nits to 151.  (While that sounds low, most color spaces are calibrated for low brightness values.) However, in sRGB with screen uniformity enabled, it’s color-critical accurate with a white point that varies less than 3% from 6500K.  

Most of the graphics pros I’ve spoken with who want the pressure sensitivity — though clearly not a representative sample — don’t really use the their iPads as a part of a complex or collaborative workflow. It’s either used for conceptualizing, or to create the final project itself, which is then exported and sent to a publisher for incorporation in some larger work. If it needs editing, they go back to the original and export it again. That’s not to say the work couldn’t be used natively in desktop applications, but some types of projects don’t yet roundtrip well. And it’s just not how a lot of artists use the iPad Pro.

And while the iPad Pro broached uncomfortably warm when I was using it outside on a summer day, the MobileStudio runs a little hotter — not ouch-my-lap hot, but the bigger screen radiates more heat at you. It’s relatively fast and hot because Wacom overclocks it — the i7-8559U CPU’s base frequency is 2.7GHz, but it’s always running in Turbo, at 4.2-4.5GHz.   

Given how heavy the 16-inch model is, the MobileStudio Pro is and with a battery life of at most 5.5 hours, it’s isn’t quite as mobile as an iPad Pro or a Surface-alike either. The 13-inch model is more suited to compete on that level, but it will probably still be relatively expensive when it ships later.

$2,999

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Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16