Mobile drawing tablet looks like a toy but is actually well-designed

When it comes to drawing tablets for making digital art and designs, Wacom is most likely the household name since it has the lion’s share of the market. That doesn’t mean, however, that it’s the only game in town, nor that it has all the answers to all the problems in this field. There are definitely plenty of opportunities for different designs, especially those that cater to specific or even niche cases. Most of the drawing tablets in the market, for example, are designed to be used with computers like desktops or laptops, but smartphones are becoming just as powerful as these, opening the doors for creating art on the go. This small and portable drawing tablet aims to solve that with a “mobile-first” design, and though it might look like a toy for beginners, it actually has some well-thought-out details that put it above its Wacom counterparts.

Designer: Mai qianzhao for UGEE

The majority of paper that we write and draw on are vertical. Computer monitors, on the other hand, are horizontal, so the tools we use to draw on computers need to follow that layout. In contrast, smartphones are also vertical by design, creating an inconsistency between a tall screen and a wide drawing tablet. This can be “fixed” by turning the phone horizontally or tweaking a setting on the tablet, but these fixes are inelegant and unpolished at best. The UGEE Q6 sets itself apart with a design that caters primarily to this very small use case but still works pretty well with regular desktops and laptops.

Unlike almost all drawing tablets, the default mode for this mobile drawing tablet is vertical, mirroring the orientation of the phone itself. However, it actually supports a few modes where the active drawing area of the tablet can be set to match the aspect ratio and orientation of the device it’s connected to, which includes very slim phones, tablets, and regular computers. The UGEE Q6 also embraces a very small and portable size that makes it easy to take it with you anywhere and connect to your phone for an impromptu sketching session.

Unlike the minimalist trend that seems to also be gripping drawing tablet designs, this beginner-friendly device doesn’t even try to hide its large, tactile buttons, making it easier for users to hit them without looking. The row of buttons can be placed on either the right or left side, supporting the user’s handedness, or even on top when connecting to a desktop or laptop. One rather interesting small detail about these buttons is that they are visually grouped in pairs, because most of the actions assigned to them are also related pairs, whether it’s undoing and redoing, painting and erasing, zooming in and out, or rotating clockwise and counter-clockwise. It doesn’t technically change their functionality, but it’s a good visual hint nonetheless.

The UGEE Q6 is also one of the very few drawing tablets that can also store its own USB cable, making it easily portable. The cable is still detachable, so you’re free to use any other if you need a longer one, for example. Again, it’s a small detail that actually has a big impact on how the design is truly made for portability and mobile use. It may look like a kid’s device, but it’s definitely ready for some serious art and design work.

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Wacom Movink pen display ventures into the world of portable OLED monitors

Inspiration can strike when you least expect it, but there are often places and events that can help get the creative juices flowing. The chatter of a lightly crowded cafe, the pause after attending a convention, or even simply moving from your desk to the couch can sometimes make you want to reach out for a sketchbook or even a digital canvas. The latter is fine if you have a tablet like an iPad, but if you prefer doing your designs on a computer, you’re a bit out of luck. Designers and artists these days need a certain degree of freedom and mobility, and Wacom is attempting to fill that need with a new product that isn’t just a screen you can draw on but also a beautiful computer monitor you can take anywhere you go.

Designer: Wacom

Wacom is like the Apple of the digital creative world, making products that let artists, designers, and engineers bring their ideas to life. Its Cintiq brand, in particular, has been the household name for years when it came to “pen displays” or screens you can draw on with a stylus. These have traditionally been as large as computer monitors, though there are now smaller options within the 13 to 16-inch range. While you can definitely shove the smallest Wacom Cintiq or One 12 inside a bag, their designs clearly shout that they’re really meant to be drawing tools more than anything else.

Wacom Movink’s biggest change might be technical, but it’s a technology that is allowing the brand to move in a slightly different direction from the rest of its pen displays. In a nutshell, it is Wacom’s first-ever OLED pen display, immediately setting itself apart from the LCDs of the rest of its portfolio. This gives it the advantage of being able to display richer and deeper blacks as well as a wider range of colors, which will help designs pop out better and be more color-accurate.

This OLED technology, however, also brings the advantage of making the Movink the thinnest and lightest of Wacom’s pen displays. It also has a sleeker design that looks more in line with portable monitors in the market today. Given that it does perform exactly like a portable OLED touch display, that’s not an inaccurate assessment. It still has thick bezels, but not as wide and egregious as on the Cintiq line. There’s also no rubber “bumper” around the edges, resulting in a simpler and more minimalist appearance.

Aside from the display upgrade, the Wacom Movink is functionally on par with the company’s other products. Where it really shines, however, is the newer and more modern design that makes it not only more portable but also more presentable. It’s not only a design tool made for designers but also one that designers will be proud to pull out of their bag and show off in public, empowering them to work on the go, whenever and wherever their muse calls.

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Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium Bundle SE Review: Every Little Bit Counts

PROS:


  • Premium build quality and packaging

  • Includes plenty of extras, such as a glove, pen case, and two pens

  • Bundles versatile Quick Keys remote

  • Good performance and accuracy

CONS:


  • Expensive compared to other pen tablets (except Wacom)

  • A few driver quirks with Quick Keys remote

  • Tablet has too few shortcut keys without extra remote

RATINGS:

AESTHETICS
ERGONOMICS
PERFORMANCE
SUSTAINABILITY / REPAIRABILITY
VALUE FOR MONEY

EDITOR'S QUOTE:

A formidable rival to the Wacom Intuos, the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium Bundle SE offers impressive performance, premium aesthetics, value-add extras, and a rather daunting price tag.

Plenty of designers love the simple joys and liberating functionality of pen and paper, but it gets harder and harder to escape the call of the digital realm. When it comes to tools for turning ideas and designs into digital artifacts, Wacom’s drawing tablets have long held the lion’s share of the market and continue to do so, at least on the high end. Plenty of alternatives have popped up in the past years, each trying to nibble at that large pie, especially with exponentially more affordable offerings. Almost out of nowhere, a new competitor jumps into the fray, loudly challenging the long-time champion on its own turf. The Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium makes quite a few promises, especially with its special Bundle, but are they just empty words or something that can truly stand the test of real-world problems? We put our creative hats on and give the pen a twirl to find out if this is a tool that designers and creatives can learn to love.

Designer: Xencelabs

Aesthetics

Even before you open the box, you already get the impression that this is no mere challenger. Granted, it goes back to the age of packaging that is more elaborate and sometimes wasteful than necessary, but it’s hard to deny that the quality of the Xencelabs Pen Tablet’s presentation definitely makes a good first impression. Fortunately, it isn’t just skin deep, and this high-quality trait continues to other parts of the product.

For one, you are immediately greeted by a tablet and accessories that are predominantly white with mixes of gray, a color scheme that is almost unheard of and unseen in the pen tablet industry. It’s definitely a nice touch that sets Xencelabs apart from its peers. Of course, not everyone will find this color appealing, and there’s a non-SE bundle that has the traditional black motif.

Although the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium is your typical plastic affair, you can definitely feel in your hand that it isn’t the cheap and flimsy kind of plastic. It has a solid build quality that will be important if you plan on bringing this along with you a lot. The white surfaces are smooth and shiny, while the grays have different textures, depending on their purpose. The drawing area, of course, has a frosted texture that produces a more realistic drawing experience, while the rubber grip on the pens makes them more comfortable to hold.

The package also comes with a pen case that fits the two bundled pens, replacement nibs, a USB cable, and dongles for wireless connection. A pen case is already a rare treat on other tablets, but one that looks stylish inside and out is an even bigger deal. All in all, both the tablet and its bundled accessories look as premium as Wacom’s high-end offering, which shouldn’t really be surprising considering how much this bundle costs.

Ergonomics

As a tool that you’ll be using as much as pen and paper, it is critically important that this tablet and its pen are comfortable to use, especially for long periods of time. Despite the “tablet” being the main part of the product, it is actually the pen’s ergonomics that is even more important. Fortunately, Xencelabs doesn’t disappoint in this area either, with not one but two pens to fit your preference and style. One is the typical Wacom-style pen that swells near the bottom before tapering at the tip, creating a bulbous shape that is something uncommon with normal ink pens. The other pen is the regular barrel, which is more common among laptops and mobile devices that support a stylus.

While both pens are comfortable to hold, the choice won’t simply be a matter of preference. The larger pen has three buttons, while the smaller rod only has two, forcing you to decide between functionality and form. Fortunately, missing a button isn’t as devastating as it sounds since there’s a remote that comes with the bundle. Both pens also have erasers on the opposite end that you can map to other functions, a feature that, so far, only Wacom has been offering.

The ergonomics of the drawing slate itself boils down to two things. First is how light or heavy it is to carry around, which, in this case, is more on the heavier side, which adds to the weight of the laptop you already have in your bag. The other aspect is how well it supports your hand and your wrist while you draw on it. Unlike any other pen tablet, the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium has a gently sloping bottom edge supposedly designed to be an ergonomic wrist rest. For those starting out with this tablet, that might indeed be comfortable, but those switching over from existing brands might find the curve a bit unfamiliar.

Performance

Xencelabs entered the drawing tablet scene with guns blazing, claiming to challenge Wacom on multiple fronts, especially the price. Of course, a lot of other brands have already been shouting the same thing, and their focus on the price tag produced less than impressive results. Admittedly, they have improved significantly over the years, but there’s still a gap between them and Wacom, a gap that the former Wacom employees that have formed Xencelabs are now trying to fill.

The good news is that Xencelabs isn’t all talk. Whichever of the two pens you choose, you’ll be able to get smooth, crisp lines with no jitter. You can definitely feel that 8,192 levels of sensitivity to the point that you might even want to dial it down a bit to suit your style and hand strength. The tablet’s surface has enough resistance that it doesn’t feel like you’re gliding plastic on glass, especially if you switch to the felt nibs that offer more traction. It’s definitely close to what you would expect from Wacom, but other more affordable tablets from XP-PEN, Huion, and the like are already catching up anyway, making this advantage less significant as time goes by.

The tablet’s value, however, goes beyond its raw drawing performance. For example, driver installation and software management has always been a bane of these computer peripherals, including Wacom. Xencelabs’ software, however, is almost perfect, except for a few glitches involving the included Quick Keys remote. The drivers work without problems, and the software to configure the tablet, pens, and remote is clearly labeled and easy to use. There are definitely a lot of features, almost too many for beginners.

One small but nice feature is the lights on the corners of the tablet’s active area, whose colors you can set on a per-app basis. It might sound inconsequential, but having very visible cues on the boundaries of the drawing area, as well as which app you’re focused on, can help a lot in staying sane during a crunch. That same light-changing feat can be seen on the remote’s dial, which can also change its hue depending on the mode it’s in.

If the tablet and the pen are the stars of the show, the bundled Quick Keys remote plays the supporting role. An accessory that comes as an expensive add-on on other brands, the remote offers 8 keys that can be assigned to different functions and 5 modes that bump up the total to 40 configurable shortcuts. That’s not counting the LED-lit dial that can be used to, for example, zoom in and out or change the brush size with a simple twist. Unlike other similar remotes, it has an OLED display that doesn’t force users to memorize which button does which action. The remote definitely works great and is one of the highlights of this package. Although it’s technically an extra, it actually becomes a necessity because the tablet, unlike others of its kind, only has three buttons that are awkwardly placed at the top. That might be far too few for the professionals that Xencelabs is targeting, making this $99.99 remote an essential part of its proposition.

Another thing that sets the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium apart is that it can work both with a USB cable and the included wireless dongle. The latter offers more flexibility in setting up your workspace or when working away from your desk without having to deal with the instability of Bluetooth. It does mean you’d be giving up a USB slot even when going wireless, which can become even more problematic when you use up another slot for the Quick Keys remote.

Sustainability

As a device that needs to be thin and lightweight, it’s really no surprise that the Xencelabs Pen Tablet and its accessories use plenty of plastic, although the packaging thankfully doesn’t have that much. If that weren’t bad enough, the track record of these kinds of devices being repaired and recycled isn’t that good, and most consumers opt to throw away and replace broken products instead of getting them repaired, especially when repair costs far outweigh new purchases. In that sense, there is very little that Xencelabs does differently from its peers, at least nothing that it has proudly revealed yet.

As an extremely young brand, it’s probably not that surprising that Xencelabs is laser-focused on actually cementing its place in the market. It has pit itself against a giant, and its survival and success is currently the most critical aspect of its business. At the same time, however, it is a young brand that could have made a difference right from the start with a stronger and more visible sustainability commitment. Only time will tell if it can get up to speed in this aspect, presuming it actually makes it through its first products.

Value

From a design and performance perspective, the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium is already quite a heavy hitter. It performs just as well as an equivalent Wacom Intuos Pro but also goes even beyond that with features like wireless connectivity, configurable LED indicators, and two pens right off the bat. The bundled Quick Keys remote definitely adds to the value, something that you’d have to buy separately with other brands.

Things get a little less clear-cut, however, when you start talking about the price. At $380 for the white Bundle SE or $370 for the standard Black version, it isn’t exactly the most affordable kit outside of Wacom. If you remove the remote, you’re still left at $280, easily three times the price of a medium-sized pen tablet from XP-PEN or Huion. Of course, compared to Wacom, you’re actually saving quite a lot, especially if you consider all the extras you’re getting. Needless to say, the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium is in a middle ground of sorts, muddling its overall value when compared against more affordable options, with or without an extra remote.

Verdict

Although it is still the household name among drawing tablets, both with displays or without, Wacom is no longer the only player in the field. A lot of rivals have risen up and have eaten away at its bottom line. There might still be a discernible difference between Wacom and other players when it comes to performance, but that gap is closing after years of improvement and development. Suffice it to say, there isn’t any lack of “Wacom alternatives,” which is what makes Xencelabs’ arrival both surprising and a little bit questionable.

Make no mistake, the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium Bundle SE is impressive in almost all aspects. It looks and feels premium, especially with its uncommon white design, and its accuracy and responsiveness demonstrate its pedigree that can be traced back to Wacom itself. The bundle throws in plenty of nice extras, not least of which is the Quick Keys remote, which is still a great deal, even considering the price. It’s that price, however, that will cause many creatives to pause for thought when there are exactly many alternatives that can do just as well for a lot less. Xencelabs’ pricing makes a clear statement that it is aiming for Wacom’s throne, launching a premium device that puts it closer to the titleholder than other rivals. It remains to be seen, however, if this strategy will pay off or if the Xencelabs Pen Tablet will be a one-hit-wonder.

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This quirky contraption is a non-perforating compass that does more than draw circles

Anyone who has worked with paper and pen will most likely have come across the venerable drawing tool that is the compass. For centuries, it has been the standard way to draw circles of any diameter, and for centuries, artists, designers, and engineers have been forced to deal with holes in their canvases and papers. Fortunately, that’s a thing of the past, and designers today have come up with multiple ways to draw circles without harming your paper, but that’s as far as many of these modern compasses go. At the end of the day, it’s yet another tool to add to your pouch or drawer, taking up space for something you might not use that often. In contrast, this tool looks a little bit complicated because it sort of is. Although you’ll probably use it to primarily draw circles and ellipses, this modular stationery can actually replace almost a dozen of your other tools as well.

Designer: Pik Shan Lee

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It’s difficult to blame product designers of the ancient past for how they made compasses that would become a staple of the trade. It wasn’t until recently that we’d have access to better materials, more accessible resources, and more unconventional design thinking to create a tool that doesn’t need to poke a hole in the middle of your material. These non-perforating compasses are starting to become more familiar with designers today, but Exlicon takes that idea to the next level and beyond perfect circles.

The basic concept behind Exlicon is the same. You have a disc that you set in the middle of the circle you want to draw, and then you swing a movable arm to draw that circle. In this tool’s case, however, the arm or arms or wings can attach in different ways to draw not just circles but also ellipses of different orientations. Going beyond round forms, however, the tool supports drawing other geometric shapes and can also measure things you’ve already drawn.

It mostly depends on how you use or connect the wings, with one serving as a typical ruler while another can measure angles like a protractor. Another wing has holes and cutouts to draw golden ratio triangles and curves. You can even draw hexagons and pentagrams without having to pull out a different tool from your arsenal. There are also add-on discs that can do spirals, mandalas, and perspective guides.

All in all, the Exlicon and its discs can replace about nine other drawing tools you might have to carry separately. With an all-steel build, the tool has its own distinct appeal and a promise of longevity that many plastic rules and curves can’t deliver. That said, the multi-shape design tool does look a bit daunting because of its many parts and complex use, but it is the price that must be paid for an all-in-one solution to many of your drawing and measuring needs.

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Bring the coveted Japanese paper to your desk with these minimal drawing pads

In an age of sophisticated apps and devices, the simplicity of paper can actually help remind us to think outside the box.

There are definitely many things that apps on our computers and mobile devices can do that would be nearly impossible in the physical world. They can turn back time to undo mistakes, make multiple copies of a project, and use a single stylus for both drawing in pencil and painting in color. Those conveniences, however, can sometimes turn into crutches, and these digital tools can sometimes bring more distractions and confusion to our consciousness. That’s why many creatives from different disciplines still have a love for paper, and this simple yet evocative drawing pad is the perfect break that your brain needs to get those ideas flowing.

Designer: Tenkei Project

Click Here to Buy Now: $24

There is something to be said of paper, both as a medium and as a metaphor for creativity. Despite physical limitations, the blank canvas invites the mind to wander and put your indelible mark on it. At the same time, the physicality and texture of paper also serve as a bit of anchor and distraction to some parts of our brain, leaving the creative side to work better. To some extent, it is one of the earliest forms of what would be categorized today as fidget toys.

When it comes to the different kinds of paper, Japanese paper is often held in high regard because of its smoothness, softness, and ironic toughness. It is often the paper of choice for calligraphy, drafting, and many other disciplines that require paper that can withstand the merciless stabbing and slicing of a sharp pen nib. It is also perfect for sketching art, creating designs, and any other creative pursuit, accepting your ideas and your mistakes with the serenity and openness of a blank page.

These are the thoughts and emotions that will welcome you whenever you take out these Drawing Pads mounted on a black base. The classic white paper invites a clean start, while the contrasting color of the black mount gives a foundation of stability, anchoring the infinite to the finite. The black paper, in comparison, intrigues and challenges the mind, blending seamlessly into its black base. It’s like the darkness at the infancy of the universe, the pause before a Bing Bang of creativity.

The Black Mount isn’t merely for show, of course. It holds the paper sheets together right at the perforated header, making it effortless to tear off pages, hopefully for filing. It is also made from recycled cardboard, making both paper and base a statement of sustainability as they are of creativity. Even when the end of their use comes, your conscience remains as clear as the paper this pad once held.

Whether it’s for professional work or for simply letting your creative juices splash, paper remains the perfect medium that will withstand even this age of apps and computers. Simple yet beautiful, bare yet full of potential, this Drawing Pad Black Mount lets you ponder, draw, and design with simplicity, a striking visual reminder that sometimes, the best designs and the best products are the simplest ones.

Click Here to Buy Now: $24

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A compass and ruler hybrid concept is the perfect upgrade for designers

Just because you can’t draw a perfect circle doesn’t mean your paper needs to be filled with holes.

No one can actually draw a perfect circle, at least not without tools. Sure, there might be exceptions that come once in a lifetime, but most designers, artists, architects, and engineers have to contend with less than perfect circles or, if necessary, tools that let you draw perfect ones. The compass, not to be confused with the navigation tool, is the most-used tool for that purpose, but it is also the worst one because of how it damages the material underneath. There have been a few attempts at redesigning this centuries-old drafting tool, and one of the latest extends an existing product with an ingenious feature that really changes the game even more.

Designer: Ilya Evtushenko

Not too long ago, a budding startup sought to do what very few in multiple disciplines even bothered to think about. The venerable compass has been around for centuries, but it was still the go-to solution for drawing circles, even if that meant putting holes in your paper. The Rotio was born out of the need to protect paper and other materials while still offering the flexibility and convenience of a compass.

Instead of a pin that will puncture a hole on a sheet of paper, Rotio has an “eye” that lets you see the center of the circle you want to draw. You simply press down on it to secure it on the paper, fit the tip of the pen or pencil into one of its holes, and then swivel away to your perfect circle. The minimalist metal design of the Rotio also ensured that it would outlive the often flimsy compasses produced for mass consumption.

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This concept builds on the foundation that Rotio laid with a feature that is critical for engineers, architects, and industrial designers. These often need more than just the ability to draw perfect circles, they also need to be able to draw precise circles based on a certain measurement. The Rotio offered only fixed holes with very few markings, which is why this version uses a slider instead.

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The body of the compass, which has been changed to a stadium shape, now has ticks marking different distances, just like a ruler. The biggest change, however, is the slider that will let you adjust where your pen goes, which, in turn, determines the diameter of the circle. You don’t have to settle for fixed points and even draw sizes in between those marks.

The concept even upgrades the materials that would be used for such a compass, giving it a spring-loaded brass button for its centering and similar materials for the slider and its knob. It is presumably still made of metal to help prolong the life and usefulness of the tool, not to mention making it more sustainable when it does reach the end of its days.

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