Review unit on loan from ASUS Singapore
The ASUS ProArt PA169CDV is a 15.6-inch 4K touchscreen pen display targeted at visual content creators and digital artists. According to the company, this is the world's first portable display that is Calman Verified and Pantone Validated. This display is only compatible with Windows because there are no Mac drivers.
Retail price is USD 899. Here in Singapore, the tentative price is SGD 1399. Release date is unknown at the time of review, but my guess is late 2023.
I've reviewed many ASUS products over the years and I am surprised they released a pen display for artists, but on further thought it's not really that surprising because ASUS is actually quite innovative and not afraid to take risks -- this is after all the company that sells Zenbook Pro Duo dual-display laptops and the ROG Flow gaming Windows tablets. They have a whole product line of ProArt displays and laptops released over the years for visual content creators.
Interestingly, ASUS has used Wacom EMR technology for the pen instead of their own ASUS Pen 2. It's a good move as Wacom EMR technology has better pen accuracy and consistency.
Bottom line: The ASUS ProArt PA169CDV is a sleek looking pen display. The Wacom EMR pen performance is good but drawing performance ultimately depends on the apps used.
Visual quality is really good but not quite what I would expect from a true 10-bit display. The touchscreen provides a smoother workflow that many artists with drawing tablets are already familiar with.
The downsides would include the installation of drivers and initial setup to get all the features to work properly.
Some of the setup includes:
- Touchscreen and pen input has to be enabled via Windows settings
- Certain touch gestures from Windows have to be disabled to prevent conflict with gestures from drawing apps
- Colour depth has to be set to 10-bit before colour calibration
- Intel Graphics Command Centre app may be needed for step 3
- ASUS display has to be set as main display using Windows settings
There are two potential deal breakers. There is no option to adjust the pressure curve with the ASUS software. Dual display setup is not idea because there's no switch display feature.
- Carrying bag with two zipped padded pockets
- 1m USB-C to USB-C video cable
- 1m HDMI to HDMI video cable
- Power cable
- USB-C 15W charger
- ProArt Pen with Wacom EMR technology
- Quick start guide
- Warranty guide
The two 1m video cables included are quite short.
The quick start guide doesn't include much information so you will have to download the full manual to learn the setup process, eg how to enable the touchscreen so that you can use "groovy touch gestures" according to the instructions.
The 15W charger is needed achieve over 400 nits brightness. Maximum brightness is locked to 180 nits if you power the display using your computer.
Everything is packed rather neatly in the box.
- Panel type: IPS LCD
- Display size: 15.6-inch
- Resolution: 3840 x 2160
- Display colour: 1.07b (10-bit)
- Refresh rate: 60hz, but 30Hz for 10-bit
- Pixel pitch: 0.09 (H) x0.09 (V) mm
- Brightness: 450 nits (typical) / VESA DisplayHDR 400 nits
- Contrast ratio: 1200:1
- Viewing angle: 178 degrees
- Response time: 23ms (Tr toTf)
- ProArt preset selection: 10 colour modes, 2 user modes
- Colour temperature: 5 options
- ASUS ProArt Pen: Wacom EMR solution
- Touch support: 10-point
- Auto-rotation: Gyro sensor
- Video input: HDMI 2.0, USB-C
- Power consumption: 15W (typical)
- Dimensions with stand: 370.2 x 237.2 x 12.1mm
- Weight: 1.07kg
Design of the pen display is quite minimalist with no hotkeys. Build quality is solid.
The back has two built-in kickstands for deploying the display at various angles, and there are four small pieces of rubber feet at the corners.
The lower kickstand can prop up the display between 75 and 45 degrees (lowest) as shown above. The two plastic feet under the display do not have good grip.
The smaller kickstand can prop up the display at 15 degrees which is more comfortable for drawing. This kickstand has rubber feet, thankfully. If you need other angles, you will have to buy your own stand. I recommend the Parblo PR100 stand.
The display is quite thin at 12.1mm and is 1.07kg which is considered lightweight.
One downside to the kickstand design is the lower stand does not extend to the two sides which means the stand has to be lifted to push out the kickstand. It is not possible to push out the kickstand from the two sides like you can with the Microsoft Surface Pro.
The lower kickstand is cut at an angle so that it can deploy the display in portrait orientation.
The buttons, controls and ports on the left are:
- Dial for adjusting settings, navigating through OSD menu
- Toggle switch free-scrolling or step-scrolling wheel
- OSD button
- Full-sized HDMI 2.0 port
- USB-C port for video input
- USB-C port for power input
The dial can be pushed in to register a press.
That's the factory calibration report that mentions average Delta E of 0.55 (anything less than 2 is good, under 1 is great) and gamma of 2.14. The display is factory colour calibrated but you will still have to do your own colour calibration especially if you use dual display setups.
With a Spyder5Pro colour calibrator, I measured colour support for 99% sRGB, 86% NTSC, 91% AdobeRGB, 87% P3 and a maximum brightness of 410 nits (15W charger needed). I've used the AdobeRGB mode in the ASUS display for calibration.
This display supports 10-bit colour depth and you have to switch it from the default 8-bit to 10-bit using either Windows Settings or Intel Graphics Command Centre app.
10-bit colour depth limits the refresh rate to 30 Hz. Since there is no substantial improvement to colour support between 8-bit and 10-bit for this ASUS display, there's no advantage to choosing 10-bit.
410 nits brightness is not far off the advertised 450 nits and is suitable for use in a bright room environment. Most pen displays I've reviewed rarely go beyond 300 nits or even 200 nits. Note that brightness is not adjustable with certain colour modes from the OSD menu. According to the user manual, when detecting HDR content, "HDR ON" will appear on the display and brightness will automatically be set to 400 nits.
Viewing angles are good with minimal colour shift and minimal drop in brightness.
The display surface is matte textured with anti-glare for reflections.
Most matte textured drawing surface will introduce slight film grain or colour noise to affect the image quality. The more texture there is, the more the image quality is affected.
This ASUS display surface is somewhere between low gloss and matte. In other words, it is not as textured compared to the more textured surfaces. As such the surface does not diffuse reflections completely. But more importantly, there is minimal film grain and colour noise so image quality isn't affected much. The compromise is the textured surface is more subtle. You will still feel the texture while drawing. The pen is smooth but not slippery on this surface.
The display is glass so it's not going to scratch.
The display resolution of 4K UHD 3840 x 2160 at 60Hz. You will have to use Windows UI scaling to make the UI elements larger. 200% to 250% is good. For those apps that do not scale well, e.g. Medibang Paint, you can override the app's high DPI support with the system's high DPI support. To do that, right click on the app, under Compatibility tab in the Properties window, click Change high DPI settings, check the box next to Override high DPI scaling behaviour, and select System (Enhanced) from the dropdown menu.
The display is laminated so there's no gap between the glass and the LCD beneath. When drawing, there's no gap between the line and the pen tip.
Cursor tracking is accurate. Cursor is always directly beneath the pen tip even at the extreme edges of the display, and regardless of how you tilt the pen.
There is some latency with pen input so the line can be seen trying to catch up with the pen tip when drawing really fast, eg hatching lines. The amount of latency doesn't bother me and is not something I think about while drawing.
There's slight ghosting issues or image retention which can be seen when moving the canvas quickly, and that's probably due to the 23ms response time.
10-point touch support is not enabled by default. To enable touch support, go to Windows Control Panel -> Tablet PC Settings -> Configure, and go through the setup.
Windows has its own set of gesture shortcuts. Drawing apps may have their own sets of gesture shortcuts. If the gestures are similar, there will be conflicts. To turn off Windows gestures, go to Settings > Bluetooth & Devices > Touchpad. There's also the Windows edge swipe shortcut for notification and widgets which requires more steps to disable so I just leave that as default.
The gesture shortcuts supported by most drawing apps are for pan, zoom and rotate. Some apps may support double finger tap for undo. Generally speaking, touch support for drawing apps on Windows is still not that great in 2023 beyond the usual navigation gestures.
You can open the OSD menu with the side button below the dial.
Colour modes available are
- Rec 709
- DCI P3
Display image adjustments options are
- Colour temperature
- Black level
- RGB tuning
There's also Picture in Picture and Picture by Picture mode.
The ASUS ProArt Pen uses Wacom EMR technology. The pen supports tilt, 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity and palm rejection. There's one side button (right click) and an eraser button at the back.
The pen is hexagonal shape and has good grip thanks to the matte surface. The pen is made with plastic and build quality is good.
The pen is not powered by battery so no charging is required. Before the pen can be used, you have to enable pen support the same way touchscreen support is enabled as mentioned earlier.
The plastic pen tip is quite smooth but not slippery on the drawing surface. There's still the tactile drawing experience. The pen tip is quite firm and has little to no movement when in contact with the drawing surface.
Since the pen uses Wacom EMR technology, this ASUS display can also be used with other pens such as the Lamy AL-Star EMR pen, Staedtler Noris Digital original, Staedtler Noris Digital Jumbo, Samsung S Pen and the Wacom One Pen. If you want a textured or soft tip, you can go with the pens that have soft tip options, e.g. Samsung S Pen and Lamy AL-Star EMR pen.
I wish the pen has an additional side button which can be set to Switch Display. With a dual display setup, it seems like there's currently no way to move the cursor from one display to the other using the pen. So to move the cursor onto the other display, you have to switch to using a mouse or touchpad unless your other display somehow also supports Wacom EMR tech. Without the Switch Display feature, using dual display setup can be inconvenient.
Driver and companion software
The two companion apps or driver for this pen display are the ASUS Dial & Control Panel and ProArt Creator Hub.
The driver allows you to customise shortcuts for the dial which can be pressed to switch between the different functions. E.g. You can use the dial to adjust brush size, zoom, scroll or any control that makes sense with a dial. You can create customised groups of shortcuts that will load automatically whenever the app you use is active.
It's probably more productive to use a keyboard or shortcut remote for keyboard shortcuts though.
Pen performance depends on the drawing app used, and more specifically whether there is any option to adjust the pressure curve.
Drawing apps that let you adjust the pressure curve can produce a wider variation of line width.
These are line tests created with Medibang Paint Pro with no brush smoothening for the lines.
1. Since there's no way to adjust the pressure curve with this app, it's difficult to rely on (light) pressure draw thin lines with a thick brush. To draw thin lines, you have to adjust the brush size manually, and doing so repeatedly will interrupt workflow. There's slight jitter with the slow diagonal lines.
2. Lines are able to taper but not as smoothly compared to other pen displays.
3. Line transition is smooth enough but the thin lines are not the thinnest due to the inability to adjust the pressure curve. There's hint of jitter for the diagonal lines.
4. Line width can be produced consistently by applying consistent pressure. There's hint of jitter for the diagonal lines.
5. Dots can be drawn easily.
6. There are no issues with joining separate lines. Lines do not overshoot or leave gaps. Line width variation isn't much since the pressure curve could not be adjusted.
Medibang Paint Pro usually performs quite well with my pen display tests but this time it did not do so well because there's no way to adjust the pressure curve.
These are line tests created with Clip Studio Paint which has much better performance.
I was able to adjust the pressure curve with CSP to produce a wider variation of line width from extra thin to extra thick. I have not applied smoothening to the lines.
1. Initial activation force is low but slight pressure has to be applied to get a line. There is slight jitter with slow diagonal lines but it's not that obvious.
2. Lines are able to taper sharply and smoothly.
3. Line transition from thin to thick is smooth. I was able to draw thin lines after drawing thick lines. Jitter is not noticeable with the diagonal lines.
4. Line width can be produced consistently by applying consistent pressure. Jitter is not noticeable with the diagonal lines.
5. Dots can be drawn easily.
6. There are no issues with joining separate lines. Lines do not overshoot or leave gaps. The line width variation here is more obvious than what you can get with Medibang Paint.
The pen is quite sensitive even if it's not as sensitive compared to the best performing pen displays from Wacom, Huion, XPPen, etc. The pen performance and line quality is still good enough for creating professional art.
Drawing experience for me with Clip Studio Paint is great. I did not experience any issues. After I adjusted the pressure curve, I was able to get the lines to come out exactly the way I expect them to. Drawing experience with Medibang Paint is not ideal because there's no pressure curve adjustment, and hence line width variation is limited.
The ASUS ProArt PA169CDV has good hardware. The design looks good and build quality is solid. Support for touch can improve the creative workflow. The touchscreen is especially useful if the drawing app you use actually has good support for touch features, otherwise you will still have to rely on keyboard shortcuts.
Drawing performance is highly dependent on drawing apps that let you customise the pressure curve. For apps where the pressure curve cannot be customised, line width variation is limited and that will affect drawing performance and experience.
The setup process to get touch and pen input to work is lengthy. You also have to make sure Windows gestures don't interfere with gestures used by drawing apps. Thankfully you only have to go through setup once and everything works fine after that.
One big downside is the lack of Display Switch feature for dual display setups.
There aren't many pen displays in the market that support touch. Wacom Cintiqs with touch support are even more expensive. There's the USD 999 Gaomon PD1621 (4K) with touch support but I've not tested that so I can't say much about the performance. The USD 799 XPPen Artist Pro 16TP (4K) that I have reviewed has some issues with drawing performance. And the latest model in 2023 is the USD 599 Wacom One 13 Touch (FHD+).
One selling point of this ASUS pen display is Windows support. If you don't need Windows support, for USD 899, you can actually get the 12.4-inch Samsung Tab S8+, a refurbished 12.9-inch iPad Pro (Apple Pencil not included) or Microsoft Surface Pro 8.
So is this worth the money? Can it play a part in your creative workflow? You can decide.
Pros and cons at a glance
+ Beautiful compact design
+ Good build quality
+ USB-C video connection supported
+ Good colour accuracy
+ Over 400 nits brightness with 15W charger connected
+ Display is laminated
+ Two built-in kickstands for various deployment angles
+ Portrait orientation deployment possible
+ Matte drawing glass surface with minimal colour noise
+ Wacom EMR pen tech supports pressure, tilt and palm rejection
+ Accurate cursor tracking
+ Reasonable good drawing performance depends on the app used
+ Other pens with Wacom EMR tech can be used with this pen display
+ ASUS dial can be used for shortcuts
+ Compatible with Windows and not MacOS
+ Display can be used as softkey control panel for other apps
- Setup is required to enable touch and pen support
- ASUS software does not provide pressure curve customisation
- Drawing apps that do not have pressure curve customisation have limited line width variation
- There is slight diagonal line jitter with some apps
- 10-bit colour depth isn't substantially better than 8-bit
- 10-bit colour depth reduces refresh rate to 30Hz
- USB-C video connection can only drive display at 180 nits
- USC-C and HDMI cables are just 1m long
- No hotkeys
- Ghosting or image retention can be seen but it's not severe
- Built-in speakers have low volume and lack of bass
- No Display Switch feature for dual display setup