If I was to use a few keywords to describe it they would be – responsive, quality, innovative, efficient, and portable.” Check out our review for Xencelabs Medium Tablet Bundle…
It’s always great to see a new company creating products for creatives. The world of digital pen tablets has for years been dominated by Wacom, but the introduction of companies like XP-Pen, Huion and UGEE has created greater options in regards to size, features, and price. I think all of these things are good for hobbyists and professional artists.
A new addition to that list is an American company called Xencelabs. They have a relatively small range of products vs some of the previously mentioned companies but are looking to make a splash with their new and very interesting tablets and excellent Quick Keys devices. This review will be looking at their medium tablet, including their Quick Keys set up all of which is available for $359.99 via their website (which is about £260 for UK readers).
This is the subject of this review – the Xencelabs Medium tablet with the Quick keys set up.
When reviewing a device it is good to put yourself in the mindset of its most likely typical user. I see this device as being ideal for a hobbyist or professional artist looking for a portable setup. It comes with a really handy carry case to aid with this. Additionally, I anticipate it will most likely be connected to a laptop PC rather than a desktop PC, based on the fact that a regular desktop user will most likely look to use a larger device, or a Pen Display tablet if they regularly work in one location.
For that reason, I connected this to my Mac book and sat down at my dining table at home. I’m a digital painter rather than 3d user and will be using it in conjunction with Krita which I have enjoyed recently.
A simple home set up on the table at home with the tablet connected to my Mac Book.
Who doesn’t love an unboxing video! Once you open the box you do get an immediate feel of quality. Everything is weighted well and a lot of care and love has been put into the presentation and packaging. I’ll talk about the individual elements below.
Everything screams quality when you first get your hands on it!
I guess you won’t be surprised that the tablet is pretty much so what you would expect. Clearly well made and at roughly 32 x 23cm it is plenty big enough to use for the purpose of digital painting or sculpting.
The tablet is roughly 32 x 23cm (and about 8mm deep).
I’ve used so many pens for tablets that they all start to blur into each other and it’s difficult to say anything interesting about them. These days most of them are basically the same with a couple of buttons with customizable functionality. They are well balanced and weighted with a few spare nibs etc, but again I would say that this is all typical – however, there are some non-typical things I wanted to talk about.
In many ways, the pens are pretty typical, but there are a few things that make these a bit special!
The case is top quality. It’s about the same size as a glasses case, and I honestly believe that if I threw it out the window onto the road and a car ran over it, the pens inside would retain their beautiful presentation. I mentioned earlier this is likely to be a device used by people who move about a bit, so this is an important element.
The case is very sturdy and about the size of a glasses case
Also very cool is the provision of 2 different pens – one with 3 buttons and an eraser which is slightly larger than the 2 button option (although that also has an eraser). I’m an iPad Pro user and love the apple pencil, so using the thinner pencil felt very familiar to me. I really appreciate the option and being comfortable with what you are using will have a big impact on your creative process. The pen bundle is very good and Xencelabs have done a nice job of thinking of the user with these diverse pen options.
The different options are excellent and they are very comfortable to use.
OK – on to the star of the show! I’ll talk about functionality and use below, but will just introduce this here. If you’ve seen Xencelabs products before I imagine it is the Quick Keys that caught your eye. Hot keys are pretty normal on the higher-priced tablets these days, and anyone who has given decent time to using them will endorse how much they can improve your workflow and creative speed.
These Quick Keys are kind of like the hot keys, but are super customizable and can be placed in a more ergonomic position than where they would be traditionally placed. It is weighted nicely so it won’t wobble around your desk. These Quick keys are very good – see below for more details.
The star of the show – the Quick keys is superb.
I’m one of those really lazy people that when anything needs doing with my PC I yell “Tristan” and our tech guy will be there in a heartbeat to fix something I’ve broken. Basically, I’m no computer whizz. I think it took me about 3 minutes to download drivers, work out how to connect this up and get the ball rolling and use it. It is really straightforward to get it going with the standard set up which I imagine will suit most users.
2 connections to the laptop for the Quick Keys and Tablet were needed to get set up. But after a bit of charge time, the wires can go all together! The Xencelabs site suggests 2.5 hours charge time gets you 16 hours of usage which is pretty fantastic. Again, I said this would appeal to users who want a portable device, so needing no wires at all has got to be the absolute dream for creatives on the move.
So this is where you get to see if all that apparent quality and innovation come together.
The first things I want to check are –
How responsive is it to move?
How accurate is the pressure sensitivity?
Does it intuitively respond to pen tilt?
The answer to all of the above is super positive. This is hardly a scientific or technical statement, but I think this is the most responsive pen tablet I’ve ever used (and I would guess I’ve used 20 or so tablets through doing reviews, etc).
Pressure sensitivity is very precise and within a few seconds of a simple stroke on the screen, you will feel comfortable and in tune with how the device responds to you. This is ‘make or break’ with pen displays – and this one hits the nail on the head. I would suggest that, in this regard, this specific device is more responsive to the user than others in its field and you should take special note of this. Painting on a pen tablet isn’t an entirely organic thing – so it being super responsive (as this device is) is key.
Not exactly Spielberg, but hopefully this gives a good impression of how comfortable the device is to use.
The Quick Keys are special. You can customize what each key does, you can customize its orientation and place it pretty much so wherever you like, in any position you feel comfortable with. You can adjust the function of the individual buttons as well as the functionality of the scroller. This is all done in the Xencelabs software which is super clear to use compared to other comparable devices.
You will work out how to customize the Quick Keys in no time at all
The little screen shows you the functionality of each of the buttons, so if you’re doing something less typical and changing your practices, you will be able to keep track of them in real-time. When you change the orientation of the device the words also change position – simple but really smart.
The small screen is really tidy and helpful when changing standard functionality
The dial is a familiar element of pen tablets – particularly on pricier models. This one works very well but can also change its functionality at the press of the centre button. This is super handy, I like to switch between Zoom and Brush Size when using a dial which is so easy on this device – I think the saying is “at the push of a button”.
So easy and comfortable to use!
I won’t beat around the bush – this is the best hot key set up I’ve used. If there is a better one I’ve not tried it. I use Procreate on the iPad Pro more than anything else, and I now find myself frustrated I don’t have the Quick Keys for the iPad!!!
Anyone familiar with using a pen tablet will tell you that what you want is a device you barely notice you are using because it’s intuitive, responsive, and efficient. Xencelabs has well and truly hit the nail on the head with this product, in all those areas. Of pen tablets, this is the best one I have used and the Quick Keys are frankly perfect, I can’t really think of what I would do to improve them. I’m one of those people that reviews a device thinking about what they should have done – the Quick Keys have me stumped – well-done Xencelabs!
I like to give a review that considers all factors though, so there are a few things I wanted to add. I personally find painting on a pen display screen a more organic and comfortable experience than a pen tablet – maybe it’s just what I’m used to. I’ve used many pen displays and even if they are marginally less responsive than this Xencelabs device and don’t have the Quick Keys, I think I would be drawn to them, just because it is a more natural experience. For that reason, if your budget allows it I would stretch to get a Pen Display. That said this device is priced really well – if this fits your budget – I think you’ll be very happy with your purchase.
If Xencelabs make a pen display – I’ll be there!
I’m going all out. I’m giving it 5/5!!! There are Pen Display tablets I would choose over this one if I could choose any device with any budget, but if I had a few hundred dollars to spend and wanted a portable device – this would be my first choice. If I was to use a few keywords to describe it they would be – responsive, quality, innovative, efficient, and portable.
I’ll say it again – well-done Xencelabs.