A pen display is actually a monitor that you can draw on. While this product may look as thin as a tablet, it's not a tablet. It's a thin monitor that you have to connect to a computer in order to use it, and you need to provide power to it.
The new model has several improvements that addresses the downsides I mentioned with the previous model. The screen is now more colour accurate, brighter, and has more physical shortcut buttons and a dial control. The price is also higher, but not by much thankfully. At the time of this review, the XP-Pen Artist 15.6 Pro is US $399 on Amazon USA while the Artist 15.6 Non-Pro is US $359.
To give you the bottomline up front, the improvements are worth the extra US $40, and the pen display itself is worth the money. But let's find out why in detail.
The packaging design looks simple. The display is well cushion by soft foam inside. Accessories are laid out very neatly.
These are the things included:
- Artist 15.6 Pro pen display
- USB wall plug with four types of pins for different regions
- Data connection cable
- mini-DisplayPort to HDMI adapter
- USB extension cable
- Artist glove
- Pen, case and stand
- 8x replacement nibs
- A stand
- Micro-fiber cleaning cloth
The inclusion of various international pins for the power plug is a good move. However, if your computer can provide sufficient power through the USB port, you do not need to use the wall power plug..
That's the 3-in-1 data/power/graphics cable on the left. There are two full size USB type A and HDMI on one end. The other end that goes to the pen display is a USB type C port.
Notice the USB ports are coloured black and red? You need to connect the black one because that transmit the data and allows the pen display to be detected. If your USB port has sufficient power, you only need to use the black USB. If your USB port does not have enough power, you'll need to connect the red USB to another USB port, or to the wall power plug.
The two graphics ports you can use are HDMI and mini-DisplayPort (via the adapter cable provided) so your computer will need those. If your computer uses other graphics port, you will need to buy your own adapters.
A free stand is included. The build quality is sturdy. It has large rubber pieces on the back to prevent slipping, and on the front to cushion the pen display. The stand can only be propped up to one height/angle for a more comfortable drawing experience.
The pen case provided feels extremely solid. It really protects the pen in it. You can screw off one side to reveal the pen, and the other side to reveal the eight replacement tips and the nib remover.
The pen case is cylindrical so it rolls. Be careful not to let it roll off the table. You can have the pen case stand vertically. You can also use the cap of the case as a pen stand. Both ends of the pen case have rubber to prevent slipping.
This pen supports tilt sensitivity and 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity. It has a large rubber grip that's comfortable to hold. It is not powered by battery so it does not require charging. There are two shortcut buttons on the side but no eraser button on the back. The pen is lightweight but not too light, and feels solid enough.
Design and build quality
The XP-Pen Artist 15.6 Pro is a good looking pen display.
It's thinner than most laptops. Because it's so thin, many people (based on my past reviews of such products) actually mistake such pen displays as portable battery powered tablets. This is certainly not a tablet. It's a monitor so you need to connect it to a computer. Because of this thin factor, I have on numerous occasions thinking that this was a touchscreen (it's not) and tapped on it with my fingers but nothing happened.
The build quality feels solid. The body is matte textured, and there's also a matte screen protector already applied. When you take out the pen display for the first time, you are supposed to peel off the protective film for the screen protector. Do no peel off the screen protector unless you want a glossy reflective screen. You can see my screen protector has some scuffles at the edges.
There are eight physical shortcut buttons or expresskeys and a dial control. The previous model only had six expresskeys and no dial. The more the merrier.
On the back there are two large pieces of rubber. On the right side there are the power button, brightness control and a single USB type C port for the cable provided.
The 15.6-inch screen is a good size to draw on. The resolution it supports is 1920 by 1080 which is good enough for a screen this size.
The screen uses an IPS panel so colour accuracy is quite good.
After colour calibrating my screen with the Spyder5Pro, I got readouts for 100% sRGB, 81% NTSC and 86% AdobeRGB colour gamut support. That's very good colour reproduction and this screen suitable for editing photos, professional graphic design work or digital art. The previous model had only 78% sRGB support so this improvement is fantastic.
The brightness has also improved. I measured a maximum of 210 nits. It's not as bright as typical computer or laptop monitors, but it's certainly bright enough for normal indoor use.
Viewing angles of this IPS screen isn't that good though. Colours will shift when you look at the screen from an angle, and when you have strong light source from the side or overhead, you can expect the white glaze from the anti-glare matte screen protector.
You get the best colours when viewing the pen display directly from the front. So it's unlikely you will see colours shift from normal workflow but the anti-glare screen protector may affect colours depending on your lighting environment.
This is the angle when the stand is propped up. Not the two feet extension at the bottom that prevents the pen display from sliding off.
The driver disc is not included so you have to download the display driver from XP-Pen's website. The driver I'm using here are the Windows driver from 5 March 2019 and Mac driver from 27 Feb 2019.
The pen display travel has a lot of useful functionality.
You can assign specific keyboard shortcuts or pre-defined functionality to the expresskeys or control dial. Pressure sensitivity can be adjusted with a pressure curve, which allows for finer tweaks than a slider control.
With the tablet display settings, you can adjust the colour temperature, RGB, brightness and contrast, and flip the tablet 180 degrees if you're left handed.
You can create keyboard shortcut sets for specific software you use. Each time you launch the software, the specific shortcuts will be called up. Very convenient.
Look at the Other section. There are the Brush/Eraser toggle, Dial Mode Switch, Switch Monitor and Fine Detail Mode.
Dial Mode Switch allows you to switch between the different functionality you have set for the control dial. You can assign Dial Mode Switch to the expresskeys (I assign it to the button directly below the dial), and each time you press, there will be a label on the screen telling you which mode you are in.
For Switch Monitor, when you are using dual monitor with extended desktop mode, you can press a button to switch your cursor from one screen to the other.
With Fine Detail Mode, when you press a button, the cursor will move extremely slowly allowing you fine control while drawing. The speed is a bit too slow for me liking though. Fine Detail Mode is not available with the Mac OS driver.
All the driver functionality work pretty well and are very convenient.
Drawing performance is good on both Windows and Mac OS.
Photoshop works well with pressure and tilt sensitivity. There's no jitter with slow diagonal lines. Strokes are smooth and taper well. Lines transition from thin to thick smoothly. All these performance is similar to the other graphic apps I've tested.
Pressure and tilt sensitivity works well with Krita (Win)
The circle on the right was drawn with a tilt brush. The outer circle was drawn with the pen tiled to face outside and the darker edge is outside. The inner circle was drawn with the pen vertically so the software could guess the angle and in this case have the darker edges towards the top left.
You need to turn off Windows Ink in the driver to get Medibang Paint Pro (Win) working properly. With Windows Ink on, they were be stray strokes when drawing (as I've circled in red above). Without Windows Ink, line quality is fantastic.
Clip Studio Paint (Win) works well with pressure.
Performance of the pen display with the various graphics software on the Mac is essentially similar to that on Windows.
Photoshop (Mac) works well with pressure and tilt sensitivity.
Medibang Paint Pro (Mac) works great too.
Clip Studio Paint (Mac). No problems.
Pressure and tilt works well with Krita (Mac).
If you're using Windows and there are glitches, eg with Medibang Paint Pro as mentioned above, consider turning Windows Ink off or on to troubleshoot the problem. Other than that, I've not faced other issues on Windows.
With Mac OS, the old Adobe Illustrator CS5 did not have pressure support. You got to install Wacom Intuos driver in addition to the XP-Pen driver to have pressure working.
Overall, drawing experience on the XP-Pen Artist 15.6 Pro is fantastic. The lines came out just the way I want them to. Performance is predictable and dependable.
The design looks nice, and build quality feels sturdy.
Improvements over the previous models to the colour accuracy, brightness and having more expresskeys are welcome. They've also included a functional stand. All those improvements for an extra US $40 over the previous model is a good deal. Even when you don't compare it with the previous model, this pen display alone is a good deal. It's priced very competitively against other brands, and most importantly, it works really well.
So if you're in the market for a pen display, seriously consider this model.
Pros and cons at a glance
+ Sturdy build quality
+ Nice looking design
+ Pen does not require battery
+ Pen supports 8,192 levels of pressure sensitivity
+ There's tilt sensitivity
+ 8 replacement tips included
+ 8 physical shortcut keys and control dial included
+ Matte anti-glare screen does not have reflections
+ Nice texture on screen to draw on
+ 1080P resolution on the screen this size is sharp enough
+ Screen has good colour accuracy, 100% sRGB support
+ Does not heat up significantly. Can be used for long periods of time without discomfort
+ Drawing performance (line quality) is good.
+ Lines have little to no wobble and jitter
+ You can power this display from a single powered USB port
+ HDMI-miniDisplay port adaptor included
+ Price is very competitive for a screen of this size
+ Stand included
- Matte screen protector affects sharpness of the screen but a good tradeoff for the texture it provides
- Colour shift if you are not viewing the screen directly from the front
- White haze from matte screen protector if there's strong light source beside
- Some issues with the specific drawing apps mentioned in the review
- Parallax exists, corrected by calibration
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