Friday, 25 September 2015

The Cintiq Companion 2 Saga

Wacom's Cintiq Companion 2, 26gb i7 enhanced model.
As most of my followers know I am a digital artist. I create all of my work digitally from the creation of rough layout sketches through to the finished product. I have been doing this with the aid of a Wacom brand, Bamboo/Pen drawing tablet which essentially means I have the drawing tablet in my left hand, whilst I draw with the remote stylus in my right hand. While my hands are busily making lines and squiggles on the drawing tablet, my eyes are glued to the computer monitor in front of me, and even though my hand-eye coordination has been steadily improving over the years with this set up, it's still a bit of a struggle at times to get the pointer on the screen to go exactly where I'd like it to go as I draw blindly on the drawing pad's surface. The undo button in Manga Studio 5 gets used quite a lot, so it's not really very productive having to second guess where my lines are going to end up on the picture I'm working on at the time, only to have to redo them again and again if I'm not quite satisfied with the finished result.
Wacom's Bamboo/Pen drawing tablet.

With this in mind, I decided I needed a drawing tablet that actually had a monitor screen built into it so I could draw directly onto the image I was working on. After much research I opted for the Wacom brand, Cintiq Companion 2, 256gb i7 model as it also doubled as a Windows 8.1 tablet computer, which meant I'd no longer be chained to the desktop computer. With the Companion 2 I could run my favourite graphics creation programs directly on the drawing tablet and sit anywhere I damn well liked. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I'd ever think about spending close to $3000 AUD on a drawing tablet. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I'd ever think about spending close to $3000 on a tablet computer either. But, as a business related investment it seemed to be worth the price.

After placing the order online from the Wacom estore I came across my first issue. Namely, Wacom will NOT deliver to post office box addresses. Naturally I assumed that this was due to Wacom using TNT Transport for courier deliveries. It seems though, that the courier delivery service is only used for items that weigh a great deal more than my single Cintiq Companion 2 does, so my parcel was eventually bundled off via Australia Post with an eTracking Number. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure Australia Post actually do deliver to post office Boxes, seeing as they quite often deliver various letters and parcels to our post office box on numerous occasions during the week. The main reason we got the post office box was because we didn't like having our parcel deliveries left on our front doorstep if we weren't home at the time of delivery. The post office box is a more secure option for us and for the sellers we purchase from as it means there's less chance we'll have to contact them that we didn't receive our purchase. So why can't Wacom deliver to flaming post office boxes then??? (On a side note, we recently purchased a 50 pack of coloured gel pens from an ebay seller, but we couldn't actually follow through and pay for our item because the seller also refused to send items to post office boxes. When we queried this he chose to just cancel our order altogether. I just don't see what the problem is with post office boxes being used as a secure delivery address.)

About a week later, the tracking number we had been given showed us that our parcel had finally arrived in Tasmania from New South Wales and would be delivered that day. We had a school run to do first, but we managed to get back home at around 9:06am. Unfortunately, Australia Post managed to get to our home at around 9:02am, so instead of the parcel, we had a small card in the letterbox that said we'd have to go to the post office to pick it up... the same post office where our post office box is situated, where Wacom refused to send our parcel to in the first place. Had our parcel been addressed to the post office box, we would have been able to pick it up that morning. Because the parcel had not been addressed to the post office box, it was still in the hands of the delivery person, and they noted on the card that I probably wouldn't be able to pick the parcel up from the post office until later that afternoon because they had other deliveries to get on with first. Thanks for that Wacom.

Later that day, we had another school run to get on with, so we stopped off at the post office on the way back home and I was given a box that was actually twice the size of the drawing tablet I'd ordered, with plenty of air bags to stop the tablet box inside from sliding around all over the place... or rather, they would have stopped the tablet box inside from sliding around all over the place if they'd actually used enough of the things to fill in all the empty space around the tablet box that was inside the larger box.

After getting home and feeding and watering our boys, who'd just got home from school, I proceeded to carefully open the package and then carefully open the tablet box. This was probably the most enjoyable part of everything that I'll be writing in this blog tonight. The drawing tablet had been very professionally packaged up, with layer upon layer of crafted black cardboard shapes holding everything safely in place. I was surprised to find that it not only came with an Australian standard electrical plug for the charging brick, but it also came with various cords suitable for other countries, which would no doubt come in handy if I was someone who actually travelled overseas from time to time. The tablet itself was sleek and stylish (and still is funnily enough), and the 2048 pressure sensitive pen with built in electronic eraser function was packaged in a very sleek and stylish little pen case.

The battery on it was as flat as a pancake, so I quickly and carefully plugged in the charger via the Australian standard electrical plug. A little light came on next to the power jack to let me know that the battery was now receiving power, so I flicked the on switch, then went through all the motions while Windows 8.1 asked me numerous questions in order to try and trick me into signing my first born child away to Microsoft before the operating system eventually stopped entertaining itself with its own bright colours as the system eventually sorted itself out, ready for first use.

So far, so good. While Windows sorted out its updates I proceeded to customise the settings to my liking. The next thing I knew, I was being asked if I wanted to upgrade to Windows 10. I hate Windows 8 and Windows 8.1 with a passion, so I quite happily told Windows to go ahead and upgrade itself. I was already familiar with the free upgrade process so I knew what to expect. On other computers that I'd previously upgraded, it only took about an hour before Windows 10 was asking me if I'd like to sign away the rest of my children before it could continue setting itself up to the point where it no longer needed to set itself up and I could just get on with using the thing. Windows 8.1 then proceeded to download the Windows 10 update.... or so I thought. I came back half an hour later to find it hadn't progressed past 0%. This was my first encounter with the crappiness of the Wifi hardware built into this almost $3000 tablet computer. I eventually just left it overnight to get on with itself while I slept.

The next morning, Windows 10 was finally ready to ask me how many children I had and if I actually needed to keep any of them for personal use or not. First, we had another school run to get out of the way, so once I was home again, I promptly told it that it was none of its business and the operating system kept itself amused with a pulsating blue screen for a bit instead of playing with its own colours like Windows 8.1 did.

Once Windows 10 had finished installing itself I had to go to the settings and tell it that I'd actually like to be informed beforehand if it ever needed to restart itself due to the compulsory update option that can no longer be changed to a not-compulsory option. Thanks for that Microsoft, I found out about that one the hard way when I upgraded the desktop computer. I was in the middle of drawing away on my Bamboo/Pen tablet when all of a sudden the computer shut down and restarted on me with no warnings offered whatsoever. I didn't even get an option to save my work. It was all just thrown away because a critical update for my power-on indicator was more important.

Once Windows was installed and I'd configured everything the way I liked it, it was time to install Firefox, Manga Studio 5, and PhotoImpact X3. This was all done via my WiFi internet connection, which on every other device in the house seems to work perfectly, but on the Cintiq Companion 2 it took forever. Not only was the download speed extra slow, but the WiFi signal to our Internet box kept dropping out, and again, it was only doing this on the Cintiq. My laptop remained happily connected to the network. My Windows 8.1 phone remained happily connected to the network. All with very strong signals. The signal strength indicator on the Companion 2 however was erratic. The WiFi hardware in this almost $3000 tablet computer is absolute crap!!!!!! Why does my almost $3000 tablet computer cost almost $3000 if it has inferior hardware on board???

Eventually I got everything installed. A quick check of the settings revealed that my 256gb i7 tablet had been upgraded somewhere along the way from the 2.7ghz model to the 3.1ghz model, so that was a bonus. Next step, let's try drawing something. That's primarily what the tablet was purchased for. But first, a quick pen calibration is in order because the pen cursor is not quite in line with the pen nib when it's making contact with the screen.... hang on... I just went through the calibration set up and now it's worse. In order to calibrate the pen, the Wacom software puts a cross-hair on each corner of the screen and you have to touch each one precisely in the middle with the pen nib. So you'd expect the pen cursor to be lined up perfectly afterwards, especially where the cross-hairs were in the four corners of the tablet screen.... Nope.... In the top left corner of the screen, the pen cursor lined up exactly with the pen nib. No problems.... In the top right corner of the screen, the pen cursor was out of alignment by about 3mm to the exact left of the pen nib. In the bottom left corner, it was out of alignment by about 3mm directly above the pen nib. Finally, in the bottom right corner, it was out of alignment above and to the left of the pen nib. The only way to fix this was to offset my calibration pointing for each cross-hair depending on how the cursor was originally offset. It took a few goes, but I managed to get the cursor location spot on in relation to the pen nib no matter where I touched the screen. For an almost $3000 tablet computer that's been designed mainly as a drawing workhorse, you'd think they could get the pen input a bit more accurate after using the calibration screen. That is what the calibration screen has been designed to do, after all.

Alright, we're now calibrated perfectly. Let's fire up Manga Studio 5 and have a draw.... wait.... didn't I just calibrate the pen? If I point it to any of the program's icons or menu options, it lines up perfectly, but if I actually point the pen at the drawing area of the screen the pen cursor is now about an entire centimetre out of alignment, to the bottom and right of the pen nib. A quick Google search fixes it by informing me that there's a setting in Manga Studio 5 that has a tick box. If the box is ticked then the program knows you're on a tablet computer and the offset while drawing problem goes away, which it did. Thanks Google.... did I say a quick Google search? With the WiFi signal turning itself on and off every few seconds??? I don't think so. Oh look, WiFi is still stable on my laptop and phone... this is going to be a problem if I need to use Google images to search for reference pictures to copy from when I'm drawing something.

So, Windows is now working, my programs are now working and my pen is now working. Apart from the WiFi, what could possibly go wrong? I then proceeded to start a few drawings for the book I'm hoping to publish and saved the images to the Solid State Drive (SSD). I'll probably need to get a good sized SD card to make backups on so I can transfer them quickly to my laptop. Transferring over the WiFi is near impossible with all the drop outs. Now.... back to my previous question of "what could possibly go wrong?" The next day I'd done quite a lot of preliminary work for various pages of the book and saved them to the SSD. At about 7pm I saved my work and shut down the tablet, using the proper procedures. That was the last time my almost $3000 drawing tablet was known to be working. When I plug in the charger cable, there is no little light that comes on next to the power jack any more. I have been very careful to make sure that when I'm using the tablet that it's on its stand with the power cord plugged in and I make doubly sure that the power jack is not being bent or twisted or pulled on. There is absolutely no reason for this to be happening... time for another Google search.... Oh look!!! Apparently the Cintiq Companion 1 has had this exact same issue. The power jack they used was an inferior product that they were replacing under warranty for affected users... BUT.... some of the replacements were actually of the same faulty power jack rather than of the new improved power jack that other people were getting, so some people had the same problem happening all over again on their repaired tablets. Never mind. It shouldn't be a problem any more because they've assured us all that only Companion tablets made before 2014 are affected and any tablets that were manufactured after this will have the new improved power jack as standard.... So why am I now having this problem, along with other Companion 2 users? (Lord Google told me about the others). The Companion 2 wasn't released until 2015.... you'd think they'd realise that if the inferior plug's going to go belly up on the Companion 1, then it probably won't survive very well on the Companion 2... but nooooooooooo... Using the improved power jacks would be the clever thing to do and quite clearly, those who work in the design department at Wacom are simply not clever things.

So what happens from here? Well... I have to contact Wacom to get my almost $3000 tablet computer fixed under warranty after a whole 2 days worth of usage. According to the warranty card that came with the thing, once they get their hands back on it, the first thing they are required to do, to protect my privacy, is to wipe the hard drive completely, and reinstall it back to factory standards, which means I will lose those 2 days worth of drawings that I was about to buy an SD card for to use as a backup option. Thanks Wacom. I suppose it was a bit silly of me to think I'd get at least three days usage out of my almost $3000 tablet computer, which would have given me time to make a backup of the work I'd produced in that time. Hey, and I get to have all the fun of waiting all night for Windows 10 to download and install again, and then wait while my drawing programs download, and then having to recalibrate the pen with your off-centre calibration program....

Seriously, if you're going to charge almost $3000 for a tablet computer that's meant to be a workhorse for artists, you could at least use quality hardware, like for instance a decent power jack or maybe a half decent WiFi chip and have a calibration program installed that actually works. And because you're selling these almost $3000 tablet computers to artists who will most likely be temporarily saving their works to the solid state hard drive, you could at least leave the contents of the hard drives intact when your inferior products break down every couple of days.

Thanks again Wacom. You're doing yourselves proud.


Update: 25th September 2015

I called Wacom Australia today and told them the problem with the tablet no longer receiving any power and being unresponsive and unable to boot, etc, and they sent me an email with a list of troubleshooting suggestions to try before they decide if it needs looking at or not. What were the suggestions? There was a grand total of one suggestion to try and it was for me to try holding the power cord at different angles to see if there was any response..... apparently that suggestion had to be delivered via email and couldn't be asked of me while I was on the phone with them. The email also informed me that once I return the unit for repairs, they will wipe my hard drive for my own privacy and simply can not do any data recovery for me whatsoever, and that I should probably make a backup of all data before I send it off.... erm.... there's no power and it's not booting up... how exactly do I manage to back up what's on the SSD if I can't actually get the thing powered up to begin with? Finally, the email finished with a link to a website that tells me I should try resetting it factory settings, which involves swiping from the right side of the screen, selecting settings and.... erm... again, there's no power and it's not booting up, so there's no way I can actually access the reset to factory options setting from within Windows. So I've sent them a lengthy reply with a scanned copy of the service request form that they needed me to fill out and hopefully they'll be organising for the warranty repair job to take place fairly soonish. Hopefully they'll also send me a repaired unit with an upgraded power jack and not a stock standard model from another box that still has the old faulty power jack. I just paid almost $3000 for a brand new drawing tablet, so I'd actually like to have my new tablet fixed and not end up with a refurbished unit, which I probably could have purchased for a cheaper price to start with. For the price you'd expect more than 3 days worth of usage from the shiny new hardware device you've just paid for before it gets replaced with someone else's broken down unit that needed fixing last month.

Update 30th September 2015

After carefully repackaging my dead Companion 2 back into its box and then back into the postage container it came in, it was with a heavy heart that I handed my poor dead drawing tablet over to the Star Track courier service delivery driver on Monday afternoon (two days ago) when he came to the door to pick it up for its long journey back to the mainland. Wacom Australia had finally decided that I was due for a repair under warranty job and had organised (and paid for) a courier service to pick the tablet up from my home address. A courier service that actually has a better reputation than the one they use when they're sending heavier products out to their customers. I was actually quite relieved to learn that they use Australia Post for deliveries that don't weigh a tonne after I'd initially made my purchase and had the Post Office Box refused as a legitimate postal address. Unfortunately, by the time the courier service had emailed me with the paperwork and mailing labels for the controlled return, which I had to print out, and instructions on how to organise a pick up time, they were closed for the weekend. So I used the weekend to grab a bus into town to get the paperwork and labels printed up at one of the self serve kiosks at Officeworks. I think it cost me a grand total of 16 cents in printing costs, plus the $3 or so in bus fares for the return trip. Why did I go to Officeworks for this I hear you ask? Because as a freelance cartoonist and caricaturist, it's actually cheaper for me to outsource my printing jobs, instead of paying for my own paper and inks to use on my own printer, which decided to stop printing one day and has been shelved ever since. The quality of the prints is also better this way and I can get prints done larger than A4 size. So I don't actually have a working printer with which to print out courier labels and forms. So as I waved my precious almost $3000 piece of junk goodbye, I took great comfort in the knowledge that it was already broken as the driver threw it into the back of his van with a loud crashing thump and that it was going to a better place, the Wacom Service Centre, where it will most likely be refurbished and offered for sale at a cheaper price to someone who couldn't afford a brand new model. Someone who ends up with a fully working Cintiq Companion 2 for a cheaper price than I paid for a brand new one that broke after three days. The bastard!!!!

It's now a waiting game. A waiting game to see if I get the same tablet back in a repaired state (it has a brown dot on the back of the casing in permanent marker, so I'll know if it's the same one or not, unless they clean it off), or a refurbished model that stopped working for someone else a few weeks ago, or a brand new one that hopefully doesn't have the same faulty hardware.

Update: 3rd October 2015

We have received your unit safely at QSL Wacom repair centre.
The fault on your unit has been confirmed.
Your feedback has been noted and  we have escalated it to Wacom Australia.

They have informed us we will be replacing your unit due to no availability of repair parts.
The replacement unit will not be a refurbished or second hand model.

The process will take 3-5 business days to complete, not including freight time.
We apologies (sic) for any inconveniences caused.
This is the email I received yesterday at around 4pm. So it's now a matter of waiting for the replacement unit to arrive in the mail and hopefully everything will work perfectly, including the WiFi. Apparently other folks who have had their faulty units replaced under warranty have noticed the WiFi suddenly working for them on the replacement model, so there's probably a few faulty WiFi cards installed in the same units that also have the faulty power jacks.

Update: 5th October 2015

On the 12th of September this year, I placed a very expensive order online with the Wacom Australia shop. The main reasoning behind this decision was so I could continue to have extra digital drawing time while my two teenage boys took turns taking over the desktop computer for their gaming and Internet time during the school holidays. The unit arrived on the 21st of September, which isn't too bad a time frame considering it had to be shipped from the mainland and across the Bass Strait to get to my address. A few days later, as explained above in the main content of this blog post, the tablet refused to start due to a faulty power jack and Wacom Australia organised for the return of the faulty tablet at their expense so they could evaluate the damage and whether it was covered under warranty or not. They quickly deduced that the unit was indeed faulty and let me know that I was due a brand new replacement unit and I'm very happy with this decision. It looks though as if the school holidays will be well and truly finished before I actually get my replacement tablet, which defeats the purpose of trying to get it in time for the holidays in the first place. While I will still get much use out of the replacement unit, if it lives more than a few days this time, I'm not happy about having to wait for 4 weeks from the point of purchase to actually having a working device in my posession. The fact that Wacom are selling faulty professional drawing tablet computers that cost as much as they do is not the best way to generate favourable reviews and get customers to recommend their products to the people in their network. For example, my Facebook buddy list alone contains over 40 professional artists, cartoonists, caricaturists and comic strip writers who have all been following my Wacom saga since it began. Professionals who create editorial cartoons for big newspapers, professionals who work regularly for Mad Magazine, professionals who work for Bongo Comics which covers the entire Simpson's franchise. Over 40 professional artists who will be thinking twice about purchasing a Companion 2 drawing tablet based on the experience I'm still in the middle of experiencing and who will probably tell their colleagues about the problems they saw one of their artist buddies have to go through should someone ask them if they think the cost of the Companion 2 is worth the investment or not. Not a good look Wacom.

I shall now stop updating this particular blog post before it becomes a candidate for a 4 part mini-series on pay TV. Once the replacement unit arrives and I've had a play with it for a while, I'll create a new blog post and hopefully I'll have something positive to say with a working CC2 in my hands.

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Update: 25th October 2015

The replacement unit review can be found here