Cintiq Companion Review -Surface and Note 10.1- FIGHT

The new hotness.

Techno-nerd-wise, this was an interesting month. Our neighbors to the north, Wacom, (in Vancouver, WA), got in touch with me to test their Cintiq Companion for a few weeks and give them feedback/bug reports. At first I thought they’d given me a prototype, but it turns out mine is one of the production models. The fact that it’s now my own, my precious, and that it’s the same hardware that you, gentle reader, would be purchasing, means the flood gates are open, and I can tell you all about it. How it compares to my faithful Surface Pro, and even a little reference to the new Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition (jeepers, that’s a mouthful), which Samsung sent me (thank you). There are a surprising number of people asking for comparisons between the Note and these full-powered PCs, so I’m happy to tell you what I think.

Let’s talk Cintiq Companion. When Wacom finally announced it, the first thing people said (as they do) was, “Wah, $2,000+???” Let’s look at it this way, and move on: any manufacturer, be they Sony, Microsoft, Fujitsu, etc., charges a premium for a premium spec machine that will not offer drastic real-world performance gains (for most people), over something like the baseline Surface Pro (2), which starts at about a grand. If you load up a comparable Sony machine like the Duo 13 with an i7 CPU and 8GB of RAM, guess where your price point lands? North of 2 grand. And for those who feel they need 8GB of RAM to make their work lives easier (me), just having the option is huge. With the Companion, you’re paying dollaz for a pro-spec machine, and one with some serious user-interface advantages for art creation. That’s the gist of it.

That leads me into the heart of things; the machine and its interface. Some of what I like:

The build quality is very good. It’s heavier than the others I mentioned, but it feels solid in your lap, and the surface area/bevel really works well for its primary purpose as a drawing device. The funny thing about the Note 10.1, by contrast, is that it’s lighter and slippery(er), and I really need to set it on something solid for drawing. The Companion stays in place, thanks to rubbery grips, and yes, its almost-four-pound weight.

The surface of the screen also has enough tooth to make drawing a more controlled experience. It’s hugely helpful to getting a stroke right the first time. The pen itself is comfortable, and obviously better suited to extended use than the stock Surface or Note 10.1’s pen (or the Bamboo Feel I bought for the Surface Pro). Plus, you get additional control with the Companion Pen (buttons, tilt, pressure sensitivity). Tilt, I don’t really use (it’s often too processor-intensive for my canvas sizes… lag city), but the extra button and the pressure sensitivity are definitely helpful.

Other things that add up:  Battery life is surprisingly good (6-7 hours for twiddling your internet thumbs, about 4 for drawing/working). Two USB 3.0 ports instead of the usual one. The optional bluetooth keyboard has great key action (much more accurate/comfortable typing experience vs Surface Pro), is quite low-profile, and it’s USB rechargeable (nice). I’ve actually spent more time writing script for my next book on the Companion than doing anything else (SUE ME), and I’ve really enjoyed the little keyboard. The Companion’s included tote bag is also very nice (look for it hidden in the packaging, I missed it the first time).

Yeah, but can he do THIS?
Yeah, but can he do THIS?

The physical buttons on the bevel and pen go a long way to getting work done efficiently minus a keyboard. For pro applications like Manga Studio and Photoshop, that’s a big consideration for those who want real mobility with a device like this. I previously never strayed much from keyboard shortcuts, even with my old Cintiq 21″, but because I lacked a keyboard for a while with the Companion, I took time to configure everything and learn what I could do with Wacom’s buttons, Radial Menu, and software touch-strips. I came away impressed, and happily efficient in my workflow. That’s something you can’t do as well with the Surface Pro, the Sony Duo, or the Note. Yes, I made that lovely lap-board to support the Surface’s keyboard (wistful sigh), but then its overall weight and footprint is as much or better than the Companion’s. I still like my homegrown solution, but the fact is that Wacom designed their Companion with art creation in mind, and the others really did not. There’s an appreciable difference in both the feel of getting work done, and in the speed of getting work done when you’re on the go, without your keyboard.

The screen is very good. 13 inches is a good compromise for portability/usability, and its resolution is just as sharp as you’d want it to be for graphical interface use (something of a struggle on the Surface Pro). A quick side note: Manga Studio’s latest iteration (5.03- free update for people who own 5.0+) has a scalable tablet-friendly interface option that’s worth checking out). Colors on the Companion are more accurate than my Surface Pro (not sure about the Pro 2, I know they’ve made big improvements in their color fidelity).

Those are a lot of the good things, and they make the Companion a great solution for my needs. That said, I’ve been testing this thing for a month, and I have a clear sense of its faults, some of which may be fixed with software updates. Bear that in mind as you journey with me, into the realm of Nit Picks.

Things I don’t like:

The stand functions well for what it is, but what it is is hardly mobile, or very well designed. It seems to me that in V2, Wacom could easily incorporate a multi-stage stand into the device itself without adding much weight, and still retaining the rigidity and strength needed to rest your arm weight on the thing and have it stay put. It’s a design challenge, but not an insurmountable one, especially as the computer components themselves shrink with future generations.

I dunno, man.
The biggest and scariest stand since Stephen King’s The Stand.

Another weird bit is the power button. It’s placed right where I touch the device to shift it in my lap, and because of the button’s design, it’s easily depressed, putting the Companion to sleep (by default- you can change it in the Power Button options in Windows 8, but your shouldn’t have to). There’s a handy spring-button on the other side of the Companion for locking screen orientation. Making the power button something more like this would solve the problem. It’s a weird oversight.

Also annoying is the inability to use this machine as a drawing display for a different computer (ie, a much more powerful workstation). Wacom EU’s FAQ on the device says it’s a limitation of Windows hardware, lack of interest from consumers, yadda and yadda. I really think this could, and should be done. It’s not even about being able to use the device when its hardware is out of date, it’s about using the device right now for applications that need more power than it can muster with its own internals. This uses a ULV processor, of the same ilk as the Surface Pro. The i7 vs i5 means you’ll see maybe 10% additional horsepower. That’s not as much as some people may be expecting. These machines are plenty fast for most illustration purposes, but just as I run into limitations on the Surface Pro, I run into similar limits with the Companion. They both comfortably process 11×17 600 dpi color files with a good number of layers. Double the canvas size, though, as I need to for Batman ’66’s digital edition, and things bog down. Again, that’s a fairly small fraction of my work, but it’s an important one. I’d like to either have a full-voltage chip inside this thing, and/or the option to hook it up to a much more powerful PC when I need to cut through a jungle of giant art files. Quick note: If you find brush strokes lagging on the Companion, make sure you have its power mode set to ‘High Performance’, not ‘Balanced’. Click the battery icon and select ‘More Power Options’ to find it. 

Finally, there are a few quirks with drivers and software that could be improved. Touch and gesture support is the least configurable of the Companion’s typically robust control-set. It’s also the most finicky. Bringing up the software keyboard, for example, often de-registers the cursor in a text field, forcing me to bring up the keyboard, then tap the text field again to start entering text. A small annoyance, but it’s there until they fix it in future drivers.

Driver and software issues may not happen to everyone in the same measure they happened to me, but they’re part and parcel of a first-gen device like this (and, let’s face it, most Windows devices), so you should approach a purchase knowing you may need to sort through a few more software woes than you would with something like the Surface Pro, which comes straight from Microsoft (still, that machine isn’t perfect either).


So there you have it: the good, and the not-so-good. In the end, I feel the good of this machine far outweighs its faults, and I’m very happy with it. My wife now has the Surface Pro, and I’m forging ahead with my digital art creation using the Companion. It feels good, it functions well, and it’s by and large a thoughtfully designed art tool. It has plenty of room to improve, but so do the other options. If you’re a professional, the Surface Pro 2 with 8GB of RAM is a compelling option, but one lacking the interface and form factor considerations of this machine. With the Surface, you really have to get the keyboard and find a way to use it on a flat surface, whereas the Companion can function pretty well without one (for art). Comparing them that way, you’re looking at saving about 500 bucks if you go the Surface route, barring warranty and some extras (these mostly in Wacom’s favor). To me, the Companion is worth it. If you’re like me, and your file sizes are too large to make the cloud a viable means of working in the studio and at home on multiple devices, the Companion may be a very good solution for keeping everything with you, anytime and anywhere you need to work.

Can I play too? … Hey, guys?

Then there’s this little guy. Isn’t he darling? That lovely screen, that lightness. It’s a nice tablet.

The Note 10.1 is less money yet than the Surface and Companion, and also less useful in its capacity for getting work done, or drawing something easily/accurately. It’s a totally different piece of hardware, nice for media consumption and a doodle/rough, but in no way capable of being your only computer/digital art device. Drawing on it is a bit laggy and inaccurate; I was surprised given its specs, but my Galaxy Note 2 phone actually draws and navigates with less lag. Weird.

If you have questions about the hardware I’m reviewing (and I know you do, based on my Surface Pro review), I’m glad to help. Google probably knows better than I do (and is faster at responding), but I’ll do what I can.

Til next time!

57 Replies to “Cintiq Companion Review -Surface and Note 10.1- FIGHT”

  1. Thanks for the review. You were the main reason I looked at a Surface Pro a while ago, and you aren’t helping with this either 🙂

    I was wondering if you could answer one thing though. I find that the pen calibration on the Surface Pro changes slightly when changing from landscape to portrait. No amount of calibration trickery has fixed this. Does the Companion have the same issue, or is it much better at it?

    Thanks for your help and the great review.

  2. The Companion is hugely better at calibration- when you switch to portrait the first time, it automatically prompts you to calibrate the pen, then stores that info so it loads when you go from one orientation to another.

  3. Great review. I recently bought one of these but had to send it back when the battery failed. Waiting for my replacement. I was curious have you had any issues with dust under the screen? I had a fairly large crumb of dust under mine, but near the edge so not a problem.

  4. I just purchased Surface Pro 2 – 256gb + 8gb ram,

    Thanks for the reviews man, I’ll definitely enjoy working on it,

    Do you feel the Wacom has that much of a boost of the Surface Pro 2?

  5. Thanks. I normally use SketchBook Pro for drawing, but when I rough out toy turnarounds I need Photoshop for the grids and guides.

  6. One of the issues with a built-in stand is making it accessible to both righties and lefties. This is a big issue for Wacom because of their express keys, while MS can ignore that problem.

    Thanks for the review, Sam.

  7. Thanks for the review. Do you find the companions size to be much of a hassle over the much smaller Surface? As someone who’s picked up the Galaxy Note and while I like it, I find it just too limited as far as what I want out of a portable sketchbook/workstation, and that had has led me to looking at the Surface Pro 2 and the Companion, whereas I was originally looking at the Companion Hybrid.

    While I’m really drawn to the better pen and capabilities of the Companion, the potential of just throwing the Surface Pro 2 and a touch cover in my bag and being a lot more portable is very enticing. I don’t suppose the Companion pen would work on the Pro, or are the digitizer techs incompatible?

  8. BTW how do you find Windows 8 in daily use? I’ve only used it for a few minutes, but I have found Windows 7 to be the first iteration that I really enjoyed using. Apart from that I’ve been a Mac user. The Surface Pro and Companion got me thinking about switching to Windows.

  9. Jonathan, what are your thoughts on drawing on a glossy surface vs a matte/textured surface? Is there enough difference to, say, go for a regular Cintiq 13HD instead of a Surface Pro 2 (which is 1299 for the 256GB/8GB)?

  10. Hi Steve-

    For my work, I need more control than you get just drawing on the Surface Pro as a slate, so the footprint comprared to the Companion is similar once I build a little support for the keyboard. If you just want something for loose (non-time-sensitive) sketches, using the Surface Pro without a keyboard could be fine. Just realize that extended drawing on the Pro doesn’t work with the stock keyboard angles, so if you need more control, you have to get creative.

  11. It takes some getting used to. The hybridized mobile/desktop OS is mostly an annoyance- I use next to none of the Windows 8 features that make it Windows 8, because they’re so much less productivity-oriented. Some of the app switching and touch stuff is nice, but the reality is you’ll basically be in the Windows 7 desktop environs when you’re doing work. You should be pretty well at home there.

  12. You can get the Bamboo Feel with rubber nibs for the Surface Pro, and that will improve traction. It’s not as nice feeling, but it’s quite acceptable. I did it for almost a year, and had no issues with it. I wouldn’t get a 13HD simply because I don’t want a whole separate thing to go along with a laptop, but some of my colleagues have them and like them.

  13. I hear ya- I’ll look into it. If you haven’t tried Manga Studio 5 yet, give it a shot. It has grids and guides, works great on the Surface/Companion, and I don’t think there’s an artist in my 20 person studio who enjoys going back to drawing in Photoshop (some are in their 50’s, some in their 20’s, but it seems pretty unanimous). The brush responsiveness is so good, it’s really quite a helpful difference.

  14. Hi Jonathan,

    Is there any difference in terms of drawing experience (digitizer, position etc) between a surface pro and pro 2? Also can you elaborate a bit more on why the galaxy note 10.1 (2014) is only for sketching?

  15. As far as I know, the Surface Pros share the exact same digitizer, so the experience is the same.

    Regarding the Note, it’s less accurate (a little like trying to draw with a crooked pencil that doesn’t keep up with your hand), but the main reason it’s not suited to professional use is its power limitations. You can’t work on a canvas large enough for print reproduction, and if you did, the lag and inaccuracy would likely be much worse. It’s just a much less precise and efficient tool for creating art than the PC alternatives.

  16. Hi Jonathan,

    I went with the Cintiq companion after lots of thought and research! Anyway, I draw in Photoshop CC. I have never used Manga Studio. What would you say the differences are for each? Advantages & disadvantages?


  17. Hi Diana-

    These days I use Photoshop mostly for color correction and image reduction/resizing, as those features feel a little more refined. Text manipulation is also better by quite a bit.

    For everything else related to digital art creation (painting, inking, pencils, etc), I find Manga Studio superior in terms of its features, which are too numerous and different from Photoshop to go into here, and its accuracy as a drawing tool. You get much, much better control over your line weight, tapering, and overall brush behavior in Manga Studio. Once you start using it for your brush work, you can’t go back. The other good news is that MS5 is designed to feel like Photoshop in most regards, so the learning curve is minimal.

  18. Oh! I see. That makes sense. I’m comfortable using the Adobe programs so I am sure the learning curve for MS5 wouldn’t be too bad. That’s so interesting. From what you say it seems like I will love it. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  19. Thanks for the Vs review.

    As a digital artist im really sitting on the fence at the moment, living in Australia the companion is 2500 for the 256 option. this is pretty price! Despite the companions flaws it does sound like an excellent art tool. Then there is the surface pro 2 which costs $1469 for the 256 8 ram model. This is quite a lot cheaper for a similar spec’ed machine with only the a few buttons, pressure sensitivity and larger screen going for it. Im starting to think the surface pro 2 is the way to go because it seems abit more versitle device. Ill seat a bit longer and then go for either one! 😉 ina few years this sort of device will be run of the mill. ;D

  20. From my experience with using a Motion Computing tablet running XP and trying to go keyboardless with Sketchbook Pro and other paint programs, I would appreciate any company that adds full shortcut customizeability, but I’ve never encountered that company yet. Invariably, some critical operation, like zoom/pan or eyedropper, uses some key that can’t be changed. However, it is possible to go keyboardless: 1) I used Auto-Hotkey to create a graphical pop-up shortcut ‘activator’. I basically could program it to spit out almost any kind of keyboard output, as if a real keyboard had done it, and not a piece of software.
    2) There are apps for the Android that can turn your Android device into a remote control pad, where the interface on the Android can be customized, and then in conjunction with Auto-Hotkey, any desired keyboard output can be produced.

    AutoHotkey is extremely powerful, and can recognize which app is active at any moment, and then can be coded to provide a different short-cut output with the same input, based on which app is active. Thus you can have a unified shortcut system that outputs the right key codes for the desired action regardless of which app is active. And it can send the codes that make the app think that you are continuously holding down a key, thus helping you sidestep the need for a keyboard.

  21. This is a late reply to this, but thanks for taking the time to write out and share this review and your thoughts. ^^ I’m currently in search of a new computer and have been wowed by Cintiq Companion.

    Although as an artist that is not a proffessional in the least would you recommend taking the leap and buying the Cintiq Companion? Or, being young and with a limited budget, do you think it’s best to go with the Surface Pro 2 and maybe just upgrade later?

    Thanks for your time~

  22. Hi Danica- That’s a tough one. It really depends on your budget. If I were to choose between them as a pro artist, I’d go with the Companion. If you’re not producing work hour after hour, you’ll probably be perfectly happy with the Surface Pro. Check out some of my other posts on it to get a sense of its pros and cons. It’s a very good option, just not quite as polished and comfortable to use as a drawing tool.

  23. Thanks for the review! Just curious as im on the fence, But is there any chance that the Companion/ 13hd stylus will work on the surface pro or any other tablet pc? Thanks

  24. How does inking compare between the Surface Pro and the Cintiq Companion (or regular CIntiq)? I’ve heard that for hobbyists, the Surface Pro is fine, but for professionals, it’s too inaccurate. I thought they used the same technology?

  25. Hi John-

    The tech is Wacom on both, but they are tiers of hardware. The Surface is the consumer grade hardware, and the Companion is the pro hardware (more pressure levels, tilt, etc.). As far as the accuracy, the Companion is only a little better, mostly due to the bigger screen (the Surface accuracy isn’t great with the stock pen – better with a Bamboo Feel, per my earlier writeup.

  26. Regarding trying to draw in Photoshop after using Manga Studio 5: I barely can, and I was extremely proficient in making art with Photoshop.
    I used PShop for some quick drawing task and it was miserable: like drawing with oven mitts on! MS 5 is totally the thing to have for making comics digitally.

  27. I am looking at getting a tablet for my husband who is a 3d character and texture artist with a traditional background. I have heard the new Samsung note pro is a great improvement on the 2013 note have you heard anything to this effect. Also not sure what the difference for an aritist would be between the surface 2 pro and surface 2. I don’t think I can justify the companion or hybrid as I am honestly just trying to get him to handout in the garden or do work while sitting next to me watching tv but i also don’t want to spend money on something that will become obsolete in a matter of months. I remember how he thought he could work and network from the PSP but that didn’t pan out so what are your thoughts?

  28. Hi Elizabeth-

    I’d recommend getting last year’s model of Surface Pro. You can find it new for 500-600 bucks, probably less used, and get a fully functional computer that can your husband’s pro applications (maybe not 3D Studio Max with great ease, but certainly Photoshop and all other 2D art apps). The android tablets are nice for media consumption, but they don’t have the functionality and power needed for many professional uses.

  29. Thanks for the review! I was looking for more comparisons of the Companion and Surface. I was considering getting a Cintiq alternative to start getting into Illustration again, but everything I found around the $500 range has gotten mixed reviews at best. I was hoping with the recent price drop that the original Surface Pro could be an option for me.

    Your original review of it is one of the main reasons I was leaning towards one, but the points made in this comparison review has given me doubts. So are you saying that the Surface Pro is really only good for sketches and working out ideas as opposed to doing finished illustrative pieces? I thought you mentioned that 11X17 600dpi full color images with a decent amount of layers were fine on the Pro? Also, can you explain what you mean by “…Just realize that extended drawing on the Pro doesn’t work with the stock keyboard angles, so if you need more control, you have to get creative.”

    Thanks again for your reviews! They are extremely helpful and your digital work inspiring!

  30. Hi Tony-

    The Surface Pro is pretty much every bit as responsive as the Companion, so yes, I stand by the original review. They both work very well for what I do- it’s just that I had to modify the Surface Pro’s setup with my lap board (see the other posts about this) in order to make working on it efficient. I require about 30-40 keyboard shortcuts on a regular basis to keep my workflow optimal. The Companion has hard buttons on the side and some driver features that stand in for keys. The Surface has none of that, unless you use it with the keyboard (and you cannot comfortably draw when it’s propped up at an angle like a laptop). Make sense?

  31. Haven’t used it, but I’m not too keen on Android as a work space. I’d say your dollars could be better spent on a Surface Pro (last year’s model is great for hi-res art creation and now costs LESS than the Note Pro… which won’t handle hi-res, dense images).

  32. Jonathan, another heartfelt thank you for your in depth, art-driven reviews of the surface pro and the cintiq companion.
    I’m light of your time with both, I’m wondering if you can help with my tech decision.. I’m currently looking at selling my brilliant, but sadly not portable cintiq 22HD, and possibly my laptop as well, in favour of a more portable option partly because I’m hoping it will allow me to get out of my studio and office chair more often, and partly because I’ll be doing more travel over the next year and possibly beyond.
    I’m trying to decide between the surface pro 2 (8GB/512) and the companion (512) as my one and only digital work station.
    I’d appreciate your thoughts on wacom express keys vs something like art dock on the surface pro 2. I primarily use MS5 for drawing and painting, PS4 for image editing, and occasionally Painter 12.
    My other concerns are:

    Stylus/screen ‘feel’, but I appreciate this is largely personal preference.

    The potentially unwieldy size and weight of the companion and dodgy stand (I’m a 5’5″ female, so would it be too big and heavy to sit and work with it on my lap? And is the stand awkward to set up at a desk if you’re moving it a couple of times each day?)

    The screen real estate of the surface pro and the lack of express keys when working without the keyboard, but I guess this is where art dock could help?

    I’m a keyboard shortcut kinda girl, and never got used to the express keys on the cintiq, but if I want to unshackle from a permanent desk I’m guessing I’ll have to adapt now whether I go companion or surface pro. How versatile are the wacom express keys/menus compared to art dock for the surface pro?

    And finally, how annoying if the placement of the power button on the companion? Do you get used to it eventually?

  33. Hey jonathan i have a question i wanted to know what you think if i should get the cintiq companion or the cintiq companion hybrid because the companion cant be used as a second monitor with your computer and people say that the companion will be outdated and useless?

  34. Hi Dawn- The Companion is probably a better rec. for you. The power button only annoys me sometimes when I use the unit in landscape with the expresskeys on top. If you’re at a table/stand, it’s a non issue. The feel and weight of the unit is great- not too big for you, I’m guessing. It weighs about the same as a 13″ Macbook Air. The stand’s not difficult to set up- I hardly use it though, given my inclined desk or lap use.

    The Surface Pro is great when used with the keyboard shortcuts (flat, like on my lapboard), but by itself… Artdock isn’t nearly as efficient, and Wacom has their own software version of that, in addition to the expresskeys (I use them a lot now, and find them about 80-90% as efficient as a keyboard.

  35. Hi Tony-

    I wouldn’t personally get the Hybrid, as Android pales in comparison to Windows for drawing of any sort. I’d just get the 13HD, or Companion, if you want portability. Will you be able to draw pro work on it in 5 years in much the same way you can now? I’d say that’s likely. But that’s for the work I do…

  36. Thank jonathan. And one more question do you prefer drawing on a cintiq thatis hooked up to a laptop amd used as a second display or the all in one concept like the companion. Which one would you prefer as a professional. And one more thing im also going to go to a graphich designing school thats why i need one which one would be better for taking with me the companion or hybrid and then im mostly going to work from home. And also one more thing which one do you have the cintiq companion or the hybrid?

  37. Hi Tony-

    I have the Companion, and that’s the one I recommend. I like the portability/versatility. The Hybrid is limited by Android’s weaker pressure/tilt sensitivity and underpowered applications. If you’re looking to save money, get a Surface Pro, or hook up a regular 13HD to your laptop.

  38. Thanks jonathan . One more thing sorry to bother but is the hybrid the same thing as the 13 hd with added android on it. And for what kind of people would you prefer the hybrid for
    Sorry to bother againg

  39. Hi Jonathan, wondering if you’ve tried the galaxy note pro 12.2. I’m looking for something I can carry around as a sketch book, and looking at getting it or the surface pro (sub $1000 budget).

    I’m wondering specifically about the feel of drawing on the screen. Is there a difference in that regard, or does that really come down to the nib of the stylus? (obviously the more paper like, less glass feel the better).

  40. Hi Jonathan, just an update. I decided to go with the note pro and this thing is amazing for sketching. I tried the surface pro 3, and the drawing experience was inferior in my mind. (seemed like the glass was thicker, creating more of a buffer between the nib and the actual pixels).. Anyway you should definitely check it out. Here’s an interesting comparison of the note pro vs the companion, worth a look as well..

  41. How is your Companion holding up now that you have had it for a good amount of time. I had 3 different units fail on me, 2 of which had the “plugged in, not charging” issue after about 5 months of use each that a lot of people complain about. So I am just curious how your Companion has been doing, and if you have run into any issues/malfunctions with the device.

    I love your reviews, thanks so much for taking the time to post about cool new art tech!

  42. Glad you like it! I’m a one-computer guy, so I don’t really have much use for android tablets, but they are definitely lighter and more portable for sketchbook purposes.

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