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Review of the XPPen Artist Pro interactive monitor (2nd generation): a hybrid of a graphics tablet and an additional display

05.12.2023 09:38

The concept of graphics tablets originated decades ago, but they became widespread only half a century ago, after the rise of personal computers. Unlike standard input devices such as a mouse or keyboard, tablets have not become a widely accepted standard. To this day, when people say “drew on a tablet,” the image that usually comes to mind is of a person using an iPad Pro and a stylus, although graphics tablets debuted much later than the peripheral devices of “classic” computers.

This happened for a number of reasons. Graphics tablets often required a rethinking of traditional approaches to work, even if these habits were not so outdated. For example, a computer mouse uses relative addressing, in which its movement is important, while tablets work with absolute addressing. This means that every point on the tablet corresponds to a specific point on the screen. Simply put, wherever you clicked on the tablet, the click on the screen happened.

However, for many, the habit of working with a graphics tablet has become a challenge due to the difference in the visual experience: usually the tablet's work area is separated from the screen. This means that when working on a tablet, the drawing is created on the tablet and displayed on the monitor, requiring adaptation and transition to “blind” work. While it's possible to get used to it, it takes time and incentive to understand how the tablet can improve your workflow.

This adaptation can be difficult, especially if the tablet doesn't live up to expectations, and buying it «to try» can be risky.

Interactive monitors: in search of balance

For some time it seemed that the problem with the use of graphics tablets could be solved with the help of interactive monitors — hybrids of a tablet with an LCD screen. They provide the ability to visualize the image being drawn, but often become expensive. In addition, after mastering it, many users realize that in-place visualization is not necessary, and professionals use such devices as “blind” tablets. Economical models, such as A6 size, are becoming the preferred option for most, despite larger and more functional alternatives.

While price differences remain between different models, graphics tablets in general have become more affordable. After the expiration of many Wacom patents, their prices dropped noticeably, and more affordable models with and without screens appeared. Technology has become so advanced that the differences between models have become less noticeable to the average user.

The value of the additional display has also increased significantly. If previously the main audience for graphics tablets worked on desktop PCs with large monitors, today many use laptops with more compact screens. Interactive tablets can now be placed on top of a laptop keyboard and used as an additional monitor with a higher resolution. These solutions provide greater flexibility and improve your workspace at a relatively affordable price.

Of course, if interactivity is what is important, then various options for graphics tablets of different levels and price categories are available. The XPPen line has a wide range of models, ranging from the top-end Artist Pro to the more basic Artist, as well as budget options such as Star and screenless Deco. The older models may be more expensive, but even the more affordable options provide a high level of functionality. Do not forget that the decisive role is played not only by the device itself, but also by the skill of the artist.

Many people prefer to save money by choosing the minimum necessary graphics tablets. However, more advanced models usually provide more interest for study and a wider range of functional capabilities.

Key Features of the XPPen Artist Pro Line (2nd Generation)

Interesting observation. Introduced in the latest Artist Pro and Deco Pro lineups, the new X3 Pro smart chip stylus truly raises the bar in functionality. Recognizing 16K levels of pressure, as well as increasing the accuracy of stylus positioning, are important improvements, although it can be difficult to appreciate the significance of going from 8K levels to 16K or changing accuracy from 0.5mm to 0.4mm at first glance.

Indeed, relatively recently, the technical characteristics of graphics tablets were much more modest, and even small changes today already provide a high level of functionality. However, beyond the number of numbers and levels, it is important to understand that the latest development of the X3 Pro stylus from XPPen represents a major improvement in the graphics tablet field, confirming the technological progress and innovation in this field.

The main difference between the Artist Pro and Deco Pro is the display. This also separates the Artist Pro from the Artist model in many ways: the lower-priced model has a simpler matrix, including (but not only) a lower resolution. Both “sixteens” with interactive capabilities occupy an intermediate position between the larger Deco Pro LW and XLW, but fall slightly short of the latter. There is no equivalent in the Deco series: LW is the maximum size. Artist and Artist Pro also have 22- to 24-inch models that provide even more work area. This is an additional incentive to consider interactive displays, even if they are more expensive.

What do we lose when compared to the Deco Pro series? Almost nothing significant. The only thing that may be missing is a wireless interface and a built-in battery, which can be convenient when working with a laptop on the go. However, for an interactive display, this option is not so important, since you will still need a cable to transmit the video signal. The styluses in both Pro series remain the same. There are no significant compromises in detail in either the Deco or Artist Pro lines. For example, both use a partially metal body, which sets them apart from more affordable lines made entirely of plastic. The second generation Deco Pro and Artist Pro replace the hotkeys on the body with a separate, convenient accessory included in the box as an alternative to the keys on the keyboard. The elaboration of related issues in these families has been thoroughly thought out.

In cheaper models, design simplifications are visible to the naked eye. For example, the Artist Pro's built-in stand means you don't have to worry too much about how to position the device on your desk, even if it's not too big or too empty. It would seem like a small thing, but in the case of a regular Artist with a large diagonal, it sometimes spoils life a little. In Artist Pro, we repeat, the little things are worked out perfectly.

The interactive monitor itself and switching issues

It is clear that 16″ is initially a serious size, to which you need to add edging, so the dimensions of the device are 405×291×20 mm.

It is clear that 16″ is initially a serious size, to which you need to add edging, so the dimensions of the device are 405×291×20 mm.

Due to the wedge-shaped shape, even just on the table, the tablet lies with a slight rise in the back, and with the help of the aforementioned built-in stand, this rise can be turned into a large one. The last option is perhaps the most convenient when working: at a larger angle it would be inconvenient to draw, and with the stand folded it would be inconvenient to look at the display. So in this mode, the Artist Pro 16 practically “degenerates” into a regular tablet, but with a large working area of 344x215 mm.

It is most convenient to connect it to laptops or desktop systems equipped with Thunderbolt 3/4 or USB4 ports — in this case, one supplied cable with USB Type-C connectors is enough. Previous versions of USB are not very suitable even if the port supports a video signal: it is common to have only 7.5 W to power connected devices, that is, half of the required 15 W (TB/USB4 has exactly 15 W).

If the power from the interface port is not enough, you will have to use the supplied power adapter and a USB A-C cable to supply power to the additional USB port on the bottom edge. When connecting to a mobile phone or tablet, it will also be necessary to provide external power. What to do if your computer or laptop is not equipped with USB-C ports with a video signal? Buy an additional “3 in 1” cable with an HDMI connector for video, USB Type-A for data transfer, and another Type-A for connecting the power supply. For a long time, this scheme was classic and familiar, but now it is already perceived as very inconvenient; you just need to try the modern and standard one for this tablet once.

As a second monitor, the device starts working immediately, however, to fully use all functions, you should install the driver that is needed for the absolute addressing mode (by default in Windows, relative addressing is used for coordinate devices, which is not very suitable for tablets) and various settings — from pen buttons to pressure sensitivity. The software is the same for all the company’s devices, including the additional keyboard, so the buttons are assigned here. In terms of supported operating systems, there is amazing omnivorousness: not only MacOS starting from version 10.12 or Windows, including the ancient “seven” and higher, but also various Linux distributions. As for Android and ChromeOS, they are formally supported, but there will be difficulties with the settings. However, they will begin already at the connection stage, most likely, since in reality there are not so many suitable models of phones and tablets. It seems to us that it’s easier to immediately buy the same Android tablet with pen support than to pair your existing one with a graphics tablet — such a solution will be more limited in capabilities, but it will start working almost out of the box and without the need to solve compatibility problems. But for computers, a graphics tablet still has no alternative.

By the way, an interactive monitor can also be turned into a simple graphics tablet: just hold down the power button for three seconds, and the “monitor” part will turn off, while the “tablet” part will continue to work. Sometimes this can be useful so as not to have to figure out where each window has flown, but then it is advisable to have a large monitor, since if you only have a laptop screen at hand, you should not neglect additional space.

Stylus

The styluses are completely passive — the entire control process is carried out through the tablet, eliminating the need for an additional power source and charging. Describing their features is almost pointless: graphics tablets with similar styluses have existed for a long time and have almost reached their technological limit. An innovation like increasing the recognized pressure gradations to 16 thousand, although it is an internal modification that is hardware significant, is hardly noticeable from the user’s point of view. Styluses are similar between manufacturers and are a standard «pen» with a stylus, side buttons and an «eraser» on the back. It is important to note that buttons can be customized to suit specific applications and workloads, so the choice of functionality depends on user preferences and requirements.

The styluses are completely passive — the entire control process is carried out through the tablet, eliminating the need for an additional power source and charging. Describing their features is almost pointless: graphics tablets with similar styluses have existed for a long time and have almost reached their technological limit. An innovation like increasing the recognized pressure gradations to 16 thousand, although it is an internal modification that is hardware significant, is hardly noticeable from the user’s point of view. Styluses are similar between manufacturers and are a standard «pen» with a stylus, side buttons and an «eraser» on the back. It is important to note that buttons can be customized to suit specific applications and workloads, so the choice of functionality depends on user preferences and requirements.

The stylus comes with eight spare tips — in fact, these are consumables, but they wear out very slowly, so this supply should last for a long time. All this is packaged in a convenient aluminum case, which also has room for a wireless receiver used with another accessory.

The stylus comes with eight spare tips — in fact, these are consumables, but they wear out very slowly, so this supply should last for a long time. All this is packaged in a convenient aluminum case, which also has room for a wireless receiver used with another accessory.

Remote Control

Included in older models, it can be connected to a computer either wired or via Bluetooth. The receiver mentioned above is needed only for a wireless connection and only when the computer does not have a built-in adapter — in other cases you don’t need to carry it with you. You will have to use a wired connection at least to charge the built-in battery.

There are ten buttons, plus a touch wheel. In fact, you can set up four profiles for the buttons and switch between them by pressing one of the buttons, providing up to 36 hot keys on the remote. Even the gestures on the wheel are customizable — you can, for example, set two different key combinations for clockwise and counterclockwise movements. By default, the wheel controls scaling; you can replace this action with rotation (convenient in CAD systems), scrolling, changing brush sizes — or, as already mentioned, simply binding arbitrary hotkeys. The buttons offer the same flexibility: by default they are configured “for Photoshop,” but the usage scenario depends only on the user’s imagination and needs. The main point is that the remote control allows you to forget about the keyboard. Which is especially useful when the tablet is placed on top of the table.

XPPen Artist Pro 16 (2nd generation) as a monitor

In principle, almost all the features of Artist Pro, with the exception of visualization, are implemented in Deco Pro (similarly for the Artist/Deco pair), so, again, it makes sense to buy the first one only if you need visualization “under the pen”. Therefore, we did not fail to fully test the device as a monitor.

The tablet uses a 16-inch IPS matrix with a resolution of 2560x1600 pixels.

The outer surface of the matrix is ​​black, hard and semi-matte (the specularity is weakly expressed). There are no special anti-reflective coatings or filters, and there is no air gap. The maximum brightness value was 227 cd/m² (in the center of the screen on a white background). The maximum brightness is not high, but it is sufficient for typical lighting at home or in the office, and carrying a graphics tablet with you and working with it on a bench on the street or in a cafe is hardly a feasible scenario in any case.

To evaluate screen readability outdoors, we use the following criteria obtained from testing screens in real conditions:

Maximum brightness, cd/m²ConditionsReadability Score
Matte, semi-matte and glossy screens without anti-glare coating
150Direct sunlight (more than 20,000 lux)unreadable
Light shadow (approx. 10,000 lux)we can barely read
Light shade and sparse clouds (no more than 7500 lux)work is uncomfortable
300Direct sunlight (more than 20,000 lux)we can barely read
Light shadow (approx. 10,000 lux)work is uncomfortable
Light shade and sparse clouds (no more than 7500 lux)work comfortably
450Direct sunlight (more than 20,000 lux)work is uncomfortable
Light shadow (approx. 10,000 lux)work comfortably
Light shade and sparse clouds (no more than 7500 lux)work comfortably

These criteria are very conditional and may be revised as data accumulates. Note that there may be some improvement in readability if the matrix has some kind of transreflective properties (part of the light is reflected from the substrate, and the picture is visible in the light even with the backlight turned off). Also, glossy matrices, even in direct sunlight, can sometimes be rotated so that something quite dark and uniform is reflected in them (on a clear day, for example, the sky), which will improve readability, while matte matrices need to be blocked from the light to improve readability. Sveta. In rooms with bright artificial light (about 500 lux), you can work more or less comfortably even with a maximum screen brightness of 50 cd/m² or lower, that is, in these conditions the maximum brightness is not an important value.

If the brightness setting is 0%, the brightness is reduced to 36 cd/m². Thus, in complete darkness, the screen brightness can be reduced to a comfortable level.

At any brightness level, there is no significant backlight modulation, so there is no screen flickering (no PWM). As proof, we present graphs of brightness (vertical axis) versus time (horizontal axis) for different brightness settings:

Due to the semi-matte surface of the matrix, an image with a subpixel structure could not be obtained. We note the presence of a weak “crystalline” effect — the screen does not shimmer with small sparkles, but there is color variation on a subpixel scale, the image looks slightly blurry.

We measured brightness at 25 points on the screen, located in increments of 1/6 of the screen width and height (screen borders not included). Contrast was calculated as the ratio of the brightness of the fields at the measured points:

ParameterAverageDeviation from the average
min., %max., %
Black field brightness0.20 cd/m²−7.3eleven
White field brightness210 cd/m²−8.9eleven
Contrast1100:1−175.9

If you step back from the edges, the uniformity of all three parameters is acceptable. The contrast by modern standards for this type of matrix is ​​slightly higher than typical. Visually, you can see that the black field is slightly brightened in places, mainly closer to the edges. However, the unevenness of black illumination is visible only in very dark scenes and in almost complete darkness; it should not be considered a significant drawback.

The screen has good viewing angles without significant color shift even with large viewing deviations from perpendicular to the screen and without inverting shades. However, when deviated diagonally, the black field becomes very bright and acquires a red-violet hue.

The response time for the black-white-black transition is 16 ms (10 ms on + 6 ms off), the transition between halftones of gray in total (from hue to hue and back) takes an average of 22 ms. The matrix is ​​not fast, there is no explicit overclocking.

We determined the total output delay from switching video buffer pages to the start of displaying the image on the screen (remember that it depends on the operating characteristics of Windows OS and the video card, and not just on the display). The delay is 12 ms. This is a small delay, it is not noticeable when working on a PC and even in very dynamic games it will not lead to a decrease in performance.

Next, we measured the brightness of 256 shades of gray (from 0, 0, 0 to 255, 255, 255). The graph below shows the increase (not absolute value!) in brightness between adjacent halftones:

The increase in brightness on the gray scale is mostly uniform, and each subsequent shade is brighter than the previous one. In the darkest area, all shades are distinguished hardware-wise and visually:

The resulting gamma curve was fitted to a value of 2.25, which is only slightly higher than the standard value of 2.2. In this case, the real gamma curve deviates little from the approximating power function:

Color gamut is close to sRGB:

Therefore, visually, the colors of images oriented to output in the sRGB space on this screen have a natural saturation. Below is the spectrum for the white field (white line), superimposed on the spectra of the red, green and blue fields (lines of the corresponding colors):

Apparently, this screen uses LEDs with a blue emitter and green and red phosphors (usually a blue emitter and a yellow phosphor), which, in principle, allows for good separation of the components. Yes, and the red phosphor apparently uses so-called quantum dots. However, specially selected filters cross-mix the components, which narrows the coverage to sRGB.

The balance of shades on the gray scale is good, since the color temperature is quite close to the standard 6500 K, and the deviation from the blackbody spectrum (ΔE) is below 10, which is considered an acceptable indicator for a consumer device. At the same time, color temperature and ΔE change little from hue to hue — this has a positive effect on the visual assessment of color balance. (The darkest areas of the gray scale can be ignored, since color balance there is not very important, and the error in measuring color characteristics at low brightness is large.)

Let's summarize. The screen has a maximum brightness sufficient for indoor use (227 cd/m²). In complete darkness, the brightness can be reduced to a comfortable level (up to 36 cd/m²). The advantages of the screen include low output latency (12 ms), natural colors (sRGB coverage) and good color balance. The disadvantages are the low stability of black to the deviation of the gaze from perpendicular to the screen plane. In general, the quality of the screen for its intended use is quite high.

Artist's opinion

We asked an aspiring artist, a 6th grade student, to comment on the practical operation of the device.

Julia, in addition to traditional “analog” skills in working with paints, pencils and sculpting, regularly uses a Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 11″ tablet in her creativity. There is also experience with the Wacom Intuos3 Pen Tablet, which allows for a more accurate comparison with the new XPPen Artist Pro 16 (Gen 2).

According to the young artist's review, using XPPen allows you to enjoy a large 16-inch workspace, which is especially useful when working with applications like Photoshop. The tablet screen has excellent viewing angles and excellent coverage. The kit includes a convenient stylus with several attachments — this is a significant advantage, considering that a set of attachments for the iPad stylus costs almost 5 thousand rubles.

The XPPen stylus offers up to sixteen thousand pressure levels, which can be useful when working on fine details, although this range may seem excessive for most users. A rubber eraser is conveniently located at the other end of the stylus, which speeds up the process of adjusting the drawing.

Overall, a tablet can be an excellent tool for artists working in Photoshop or similar applications on a computer using a tablet like a Wacom. Such work often involves many settings and parameters that need to be changed regularly with the same knob, creating the feeling of an analog process. In addition, the tablet can be connected to an Android device, even a phone. However, since many Android apps are designed for touchscreen use, the user may need to constantly interact with both the Android device's screen and the tablet's screen while drawing.

Those who are used to working on tablet computers with touch displays will find it difficult to get used to this type of tablet. When drawing on such devices, you often have to scale and rotate the image with your fingers, which can be difficult.

The wheel remote provided by XPPen makes it partly easier to use the zoom in or out function, but the classic pinch gesture with your fingers remains a more convenient, faster and more efficient method in this case.

I would like to give an example of a simple illustration created using this tablet. It took longer to create than if I had used Ibis Paint or Procreate with an Android tablet. However, the XPPen device made certain points clearer and cleaner.

Total

The review touched little on aspects of the operation of graphics tablets. However, the reason was explained immediately: the market is too conservative for radical changes. The need and target audience for graphics tablets have long been clear. On stage, no fundamental changes in performance characteristics are expected that could dramatically change use cases. Manufacturers continue to improve and refine devices, but this is more about quantitative rather than qualitative improvements.

The new generation of tablets has more pressure levels, but it is worth noting that the existing 8000 levels already fully satisfy the needs of most users. From time to time, the increase in such indicators becomes less noticeable: the difference between 512 and 1024 levels was almost imperceptible if you did not know about it in advance.

Visualization of drawing «in place» appeared later than graphics tablets themselves, but it is also not new. Many people still prefer to use tablets without this feature due to the significant price difference. However, interactive monitors are easier to learn than regular graphics tablets. This is demonstrated simply: you can put a 7-8 year old child, who has no experience with a computer, but is passionate about drawing, at the device for 15 minutes, running even a simple program like Paint, and...

So the barrier to entry for regular graphics tablets is quite high, and not everyone makes it past that barrier. Going from drawing in one place to viewing the result in another can be difficult for some, even if the tablet is beneficial. However, most people are capable of this, especially when it comes to professional work and not a hobby. The XPPen Artist Pro device is designed specifically for professional work. Using it for children's drawings may be excessive. In such cases, it is easier to purchase something like the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 with a corresponding stylus. This solution may be more affordable, although less powerful, but more convenient for some tasks.

There is no universal answer to the question “what to choose”. Graphics tablets without a screen may be more attractively priced, but high-end models are also expensive. The XPPen Artist Pro offers the combination of a top-end tablet and a decent secondary monitor at a relatively affordable price, which is a big change from the situation twenty years ago. Therefore, we should not recommend that everyone choose “interactivity”. However, when choosing a graphics tablet, you should pay attention to such models, as they may be exactly what you were missing.