PC

Excellent pen display for budding artists

Wacom has long been the gold standard for pen displays for professional artists and designers. These devices are basically external monitors that connect to a computer and work with a pressure-sensitive pen.

Last month, the Japanese firm announced at the CES trade show its most inexpensive pen display yet, the Wacom One. This 13-inch full-HD display is available now at $549.

The One comes on the heels of last year's Cintiq 16 which, at $888, had been Wacom's most affordable pen display. Its affordability is especially apparent when compared with Wacom's Cintiq Pro products, which cost thousands of dollars.

Wacom's introduction of cheaper pen displays may come as a surprise to some. But it reflects the increased competition from cheaper devices by rivals Huion and XP-Pen. Wacom also has to contend with Apple, which threatens to wean users from pen displays entirely with its iPad Pro tablet and Pencil combo.

Perhaps with the iPad in mind, the One adds support for compatible smartphones from Huawei and Samsung, a first for a Wacom pen display.

When connected to a supported Android phone, the display is in landscape orientation using a desktop mode such as the Samsung DeX for Samsung phones and Huawei's Easy Projection for Huawei ones.

A USB-C dongle with HDMI and USB Type-A ports (sold separately) is required when connecting the Wacom One to a smartphone.

It is needed because the Wacom One uses an X-shaped cable - with four connectors - to connect to a Windows or Mac computer.

The HDMI and USB Type-A ends of this cable plug into the computer. A USB-C end plugs into the Wacom One while a second USB Type-A connector plugs into the included power adaptor.

This can lead to quite a bit of cable clutter, which could have been avoided with using a single USB-C cable between the Wacom One and a computer. But perhaps cost and compatibility necessitated such a scheme.

Cost is probably the reason the One - unlike Wacom's higher-end models - do not have any shortcut buttons that can be mapped to key functions, such as Undo or Redo. A possible solution to this is Wacom's ExpressKey Remote ($104), which comes with 17 customisable buttons for shortcuts.

  • FOR 

    • Excellent paper-like drawing experience 

    • Comes with useful software 

    • Affordable for a Wacom pen display 

  • AGAINST 

    • No shortcut buttons 

    • Cable clutter 

    • Screen looks slightly washed out 

  • SPECS 

    PRICE: $549 

    SCREEN: 13 inches, 1,920 x 1,080 pixels, 72 per cent NTSC colour 

    PEN: 4,096 pressure levels, 60-degree tilt 

    HARDWARE REQUIREMENTS: USB Type-A, HDMI 

    SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS: Windows 7 and later, Mac OS X 10.13 and later 

    WEIGHT: 1kg 

  • RATING 

    FEATURES: 4/5 

    DESIGN: 3.5/5 

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5 

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5 

    OVERALL: 4/5

The display looks slightly washed out compared with typical screens, probably because of the air gap between the LCD screen and its matt external layer. It could also be brighter, though the fact that it supports only 72 per cent of the NTSC colour space may be a concern to some of its intended users.

But the drawing experience is excellent and replicates a paper-like feel. This is because the screen has more friction than, say, the iPad Pro's slick glass surface.

The bundled Wacom pen, which does not need a battery, has only 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity - half that of Wacom's more advanced pens - but it should more than suffice.

You can also use the pen display with compatible pens based on similar Wacom technology, such as the Staedtler Noris and the Lamy EMR.

Three replacement pen nibs are included. They are found under the One's fold-out legs, which elevate the display at a 19-degree angle for greater comfort.

As a sweetener, Wacom has bundled a suite of creative software apps with the pen display. They include a six-month subscription to Celsys' Clip Studio Paint Pro drawing app for comic and manga creation, a two-month subscription to Adobe's Premiere Rush video-editing software and Wacom's own Bamboo Paper app for note-taking and sketching.

Wacom may have cut some features for the One, but it still offers an excellent drawing experience for budding artists and illustrators.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 05, 2020, with the headline 'Excellent pen display for budding artists'. Print Edition | Subscribe