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Companion 2 Review

By: Mich Donovan

I reviewed the first version of Wacom’s tablet PC a few months ago, mostly focusing on how the device could work as an all-in-one studio for creating video lectures. The verdict: a little overpowered (and in some ways limited) for that express purpose, but a promising tool otherwise. Six months later, we’re shifting the way we create video lectures. We still use Camtasia video kits here and there, but more often than not, we’re shooting with 4K cameras and editing it all in FCPX. With the Companion 2 newly released, it seems like a good time to consider how tablets can interact with our workflow.

First off, there’s a big improvement in its usability: the Companion 2 can plug directly into a Mac or PC and work just like the Cintiqs that are already a part of the video lecture kits. The tablet still runs on Windows 8 as a standalone OS, but I can plug it directly into my MacBook Pro and use it as a second screen complete with the hotkeys and pen function that make the Cintiqs a crucial tool. Unplug it from the computer, and you’re right back to Windows 8 in a seamless transition. This flexibility is a crucial benchmark for our work.

Yet, as mentioned, we’ve expanded the scope of production for online courses. Rather than being the central focus of recording, the Cintiq has become just one of many tools we use. In my last review, I found that the Companion was a lot of machine for what would be a pretty narrow purpose: screen-recording annotated powerpoints. If you still wanted to record video, you’d need to plug in a webcam, and if you wanted to really edit, you’d want a keyboard. Now, we shoot on 4K cameras not webcams. And we edit in FCPX, not Camtasia or Screenflow. So where does that leave the tablet?

Last week, we went into production on a new course – we were prepared with camera and lights, but the faculty member still wanted to annotate his powerpoint. So we rushed to get a kit to him as well, which meant updating the OS so that it’d be compatible with Camtasia. And at the shoot, in addition to all of our normal equipment, we needed to set up the tablet and the MacBook as well, just to record annotations. What would’ve made all of this simpler? Having a Companion 2, ready to go, that we could just hand to professor. After all, the pros in that first Companion review still apply: no cords and seamless annotation.

That use case aside, there’s also a huge community of video professionals that use tablets as part of their editing workflows. Its easy to think of creative tablets as primarily Photoshop machines, but with a little getting used to, they can transform the editing suite. As both a tablet PC and a second-screen tablet, the Companion 2 would easily fit this use as well while not sacrificing the primary use case. That potential is bit beyond the scope of this blog post but I found this post noteworthy:

A big sticking point for the first Companion was the price. The new model also allows a bit more flexibility as well. There are now 5 models, ranging in power and size, that start at $1299 ($300 more than our Cintiq 13HDs). There’s a host of our features but there’s a few that would pertain to our workflow: built-in WiFi, two SD card slots and three USB ports. Transferring files back and forth would not be an issue.

With technical upgrades to nearly every other component of online courses production, the Cintiq is really the only thing that’s stayed the same. If and when we’re ready to upgrade to a more multi-functional solution, the Companion 2 may very well be the answer.

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