Review: Wacom MobileStudio Pro 16

16 January 2018

When it comes to pen-based input for creatives, Wacom is a leader in both technology and product range. Its MobileStudio Pro offers its legendary technology in an all-in-one tablet device with some neat tricks hidden up its sleeve, writes Al Dean

Product MobileStudio Pro 16
Company name Wacom
Price £2,199 + VAT

Pen-based input for technical computing has been through something of a renaissance of late. While our older readers will remember the days of pens and digitising tablets, the more recent slew of devices from Apple (with the iPad Pro + Pencil combination), HP, Lenovo and Microsoft, has seen the combination of touch-screens supplemented with penbased input devices.

For decades now, Wacom has been one of the leaders in the field. From its tablet and pen Intuos devices to its more recent Cintiq displays, the Japanese outfit has mastered the ability to draw on screen using tools that replicate the feel and unique capability of physical pens, pencils and markers.

These are supplemental devices, designed to be used with a PC or workstation. But now Wacom is embedding its pen-based technology into complete computing devices — the latest of which is the MobileStudio Pro.

The MobileStudio Pro is a complete single, touch and pen-enabled tablet. There are two models with 13-inch and 16-inch displays but for this review we’re looking at the high-end 16-inch model which also includes a pro Nvidia Quadro GPU for 3D CAD work.

The spec

The MobileStudio Pro 16 is undoubtedly a slick example of product design. Once you’ve got it set-up and run through the inevitable Windows updates, you’ll find that you have a large scale Windows-based touch screen machine on your hands.

To the left of the 15.6-inch UHD (3,840 x 2,160) IPS display, you’ll find six shortcut keys along with a radial button that gives you an additional four shortcuts. For lefthanded, built-in sensors mean that flipping the device around will quickly switch the orientation of the display.

In terms of connectivity, the device is reliant on USB Type C connections (for both peripherals and power). There are no traditional USB Type A ports so you’ll need adapters to plug in older devices. There’s also Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and an SD card slot.

There are two cameras built into the unit. The first is the front-mounted HD webcam we’ve come to expect, useful for those collaborative sessions. Unlike most portable computing devices, it isn’t mounted on the top of the unit, but rather to the right (in a right hand configuration), but angled so it gives the usual field of view.

In addition, there’s an Intel Real Sense camera built into the rear of the unit. While this functions as a forward facing camera, it also has interesting depth scanning capabilities which we’ll get onto shortly.

As the MobileStudio 16 was launched in October 2016 it doesn’t have the very latest technology inside. The dual core Intel Corei7-6567U (3.30GHz, 3.50GHz Turbo) is a ‘Skylake’ 6th Gen Intel Core i7 processor, not Kaby Lake’ 7th Gen Intel Core i7, like all the other mobile workstations in this report.

The 512GB SSD is SATA, rather than NVMe and the 16GB of memory is DDR3 rather than DDR4. Also, for those looking to use this machine for 3D CAD, the Nvidia Quadro M1000M GPU (4GB) is a couple of years old, but on paper, is about the same speed as the HP ZBook x2’s Quadro M620.

Product specifications

■ Intel Core i7-6567U 3.3GHz, 3.8GHz Turbo) (2 cores, 4 threads)
■ 16GB DDR3
■ Nvidia Quadro M1000M (4GB) (369.59 driver)
■ 512GB SSD is SATA
■ 15.6-inch UHD (3,840 x 2,160) IPS display
■ 418 x 262 x 19 mm 2.08kg
■ Microsoft Windows 10 Pro
■ 1 year limited warranty

CPU benchmarks (single threaded) Seconds (smaller is better)

SolidWorks 2015 IGES export (single threaded): 133

CPU benchmarks (single threaded) Seconds (smaller is better)

Luxion KeyShot 6.1 render test (multi threaded): 1736
V-Ray render benchmark (CPU) (multi threaded): 374

GPU compute benchmark Seconds (smaller is better)

V-Ray render benchmark (GPU): 620

3D graphics benchmarks (3D CAD) Score (bigger is better)

SPECapc for SolidWorks 2015 (shaded + edges): 1.39 (test run at 4K)
SPECapc for SolidWorks 2015 (RealView + shadows): 1.38 (test run at 4K)
SPECapc for SolidWorks (RealView + shadows + AO): 3.39 (test run at 4K)
SPECapc for PTC Creo 3.0 (shaded + edges): N/A
SPECapc for PTC Creo 3.0 (reflection): N/A

3D graphics benchmarks (design viz) Frames Per Second (FPS) (bigger is better)

LumenRT (hotel model) (FPS): Would not run
LumenRT (roundabout model): Would not run
Autodesk LIVE (Villa Enhanced model): 9 (test run at 4K)
Autodesk VRED Professional (AA off): N/A
Autodesk VRED Professional (AA medium): N/A
Autodesk VRED Professional (AA ultra high ): N/A

3D graphics benchmarks (VR) Frames Per Second (FPS) (bigger is better)

VR Mark (Orange): 38.20 (VR resolution)
VR Mark (Blue): 6.64 (VR resolution)
VR Mark (Cyan): Would not run

In use

The MobileStudio Pro is a well built device, something we’ve come to expect from Wacom. It weighs in around the 2.2kg mark and the dimensions are a pretty reasonable 418 x 262 x 19mm. Whether you’re using it on a desk or on your lap, it sits nicely and the 15.6-inch display is crisp.

This is a Windows-based machine, so you’ve got the full array of applications that can be installed and licensed. The system operates as both a touch-screen computer, and ships with Wacom’s standard Pro Pen 2.

This gives you not only the potential for digital sketching with the likes of Photoshop, Sketchbook Pro or whatever flavour of app you prefer, but also control over your 3D CAD applications.

The pen features two ‘mouse’ buttons, but thanks to Wacom’s mature experience in the field, the drivers also give you a lot of options for customisation — both of the functions of the pen as well as the shortcut keys on the face of the unit.

Using the pen in conjunction with 3D CAD applications, you quickly find that there’s a mismatch between the way you typically interact with a CAD system using mouse and keyboard shortcuts and how you interact with the pen.

This is where Wacom’s new Pro Pen 3D comes into play. After an additional £72 outlay it provides you with a third mouse button on the side and has some clever tricks in the drivers that allow you to control your CAD models more effectively. There are built in options for SolidWorks, Fusion 360, Maya, Inventor, Alias, 3ds Max, Mudbox, Z-Brush, Cinema4D, Modo and Rhino.

The third, large button can be assigned to replicate your middle mouse button.

Depending on your application, this allows you to quickly pan, zoom or rotate your model using it in combination with the express keys on the face of the unit. It solves one of the major headaches of using a Wacom pen with 3D design tools.

Pen-based input and 3D design tools

Pen-based input has been part of the CAD industry for decades, but with the rise of tablet computers, it’s seen something of a renaissance of late. With Microsoft (and many other vendors) releasing touch screen computing devices which also allow you to control the software with a digital pen, we’ve seen more professionals looking to these devices in recent years. Much of this has been driven by the attractiveness of the iPad — but without the software issues that many users come up against (namely, that their chosen software doesn’t run on the Apple iOS platform).

Of course, with this ‘new’ way of working come some challenges. Most professional applications in the engineering fields have been developed over the last twenty years with a keyboard and mouse as the primary input methods — which isn’t a good match when using a pen.

That said, there’s been developments in some applications that make pen-based inputs more useful. Siemens has been at the leading edge of this with both its mainstream-focussed Solid Edge and its enterprise-focussed NX, with both tools gaining additional controls specifically for penbased input.

NX has a complete set of user interface adaptations that allow you to control the 3D design process with a pen

Solid Edge’s work focusses on the use of gestures with a pen to quickly add in sketch entities (such as lines, circles etc.) which are quickly converted into ‘proper’ geometry.

SolidWorks has also introduced similar tools into its latest 2018 release.

NX, on the other hand, has a complete set of user interface adaptations that allow you to control the 3D design process, from stripped back user interface to a numerical pad that pops up when needed at dialog-inputs.

This last item, relating to numerical input for is perhaps the one big stumbling block. Within Windows, there’s no way to easily pop up a numerical pad for dialling numbers into CAD systems in general and we’ve yet to find a satisfactory workaround.

Wacom has recently introduced an update to its drivers that solve this problem with a pop-up numerical keypad that solves the issue. You’ll need to update your drivers to the latest version, reset the settings (so you’ll lose your customisations) and it’ll be available in the set-up dialog under “On-Screen Controls” as Keypad so can be assigned to your express key of choice.

Built-in 3D scanner

The Intel Real Sense depth sensing camera on the rear of the unit is similar to the one found in many of the lower-end 3D scanners on the market, as well as the core technology in the Xbox Kinect, which can also be used as a pretty low cost, rudimentary 3D scanning device.

What’s interesting with the MobileStudio is that Wacom has teamed up with 3D scanning specialist Artec, to provide MobileStudio Pro users with a licence of its pretty impressive Artec Studio Pro software. This means that if the need arises, you can fire up Artec Studio and start to scan using the camera on the rear of the unit.

While the scanner isn’t the best resolution, it does allow you to capture scans of objects at a pretty rough resolution, both in terms of physical geometry and texture.

Performance

On test, the MobileStudio performed OK but the Intel Core-i7-6567U showed its age a bit. It was about 10% slower at rendering than the HP ZBook x2  and 18% slower in the single threaded SolidWorks IGES export test, a score that may have also been influenced by the slower SATA SSD. In terms of 3D, we had a very similar experience to the one we had on the HP ZBook x2. 3D performance was fine in SolidWorks and PTC Creo but because of the 4K panel it showed the strain with some of our more demanding test models.

Conclusion

The MobileStudio Pro is a nifty bit of kit.

The spec is a little old, but reasonable and in line with an entry-level mobile workstation. It’s a touch-screen computer that runs Windows, so you have maximum compatibility with today’s professional software and IT infrastructure.

Of course, you then have all of the special sauce that Wacom brings to the party in terms of pen-based input and control.

The addition of the depth sensing camera (and Artec’s software to do something useful with it) is a nice touch, but if you’re expecting high quality scans, you’re going to be disappointed.

In terms of portability, it’s on par with most laptops, but if your workflow centres on digital sketching combined with CAD use on ‘not too heavy’ 3D models with industrial grade software — it’s a nice combination.


This article is part of a DEVELOP3D CAD/Viz/VR workstation special report. To read articles and reviews in this report click on the links below.

Choosing a workstation for design and engineering is no longer straightforward
How to future proof your workstation to support new and emerging product development workflows

Desktop Workstation Buyer’s Guide
Essential advice for those looking to buy a workstation for product development

Lenovo ThinkStation P320 Tiny
In a world of shrinking workstations, Lenovo’s ThinkStation P320 Tiny in the smallest yet

Fujitsu Celsius W570POWER+
This compact workstation delivers the goods for 3D CAD, game engine viz and VR

Boxx Apexx S3
The overclocked six core ‘Coffee Lake Core i7 CPU makes this CAD workstation fly

Workstation Specialists WS-1160A
AMD CPU and AMD GPU combine for a powerful workstation for CAD,viz and VR

AMD Radeon Vega GPUs
What does AMD’s Vega GPU architecture bring to CAD, VR, viz and GPU rendering?

Scan 3XS WI6000 Viz
An overclocked 18-core Intel Core i9-7980XE CPU makes this a phenomenally fast workstation for CAD and design viz

Armari Magnetar R80 (Pre Production Unit) 
This dual Intel Xeon Gold workstation delivers the goods in single and multi-threaded workflows

Boston Venom EPYC (Pre Production Unit)
Dual 32 core AMD Epyc CPUs make this rendering beast fly, but it’s at the expense of single threaded performance

Iceotope EdgeStation
‘Total liquid cooling’ makes this specialist machine ideal for harsh and dusty environments

Mobile workstation buyer’s guide
A rundown of the things to look out when buying a professional 3D laptop

HP ZBook x2 G4 (Pre-Production Unit)
This detachable 2-in-1 combines Wacom pen technology with a Quadro GPU for 3D CAD

PNY PrevailPro P4000
This slimline 15-inch mobile workstation breaks all the rules by putting a powerful ‘VR Ready’ GPU at its heart

Fujitsu Celsius H970
This 17.3-inch mobile workstation offers incredible power for demanding VR and viz but there are some downsides

Dell Precision 7720
With powerful processors, impressive cooling, good serviceability and excellent build quality, this 17” mobile workstation is hard to beat

Samsung Portable SSD T5
This portable drive offers fast, secure solid-state storage in a sleek package

Download a PDF of the 36-page workstation special report, complete with charts

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