XP-Pen Deco Pro Review
If you’ve followed me online or watched some of my other reviews, you will probably know that I’m primarily a Wacom user, and have been for a long time now.
I fully admit that I am probably a bit of a graphics tablet snob, in that I’ve been using a Wacom for so long now that I rarely look at other brands when I need to upgrade. Yes, there are lots of cheaper options available, but then that just means they are inferior, doesn’t it?
When XP-Pen asked me to look at the Deco Pro Medium I was initially skeptical. I’m always happy to review devices, its important for people to get an honest view from an actual artist, before they spend their hard-earned money on something, so I happily agreed.
After a while, the Deco Pro arrived and I started to use it, but now, a few weeks later, has it changed my mind about these more affordable tablets?
Read on to find out…
The Deco Pro comes in a bigger box than I would’ve expected, but once you slide off the lid and see the device itself you can see why, although, with how slim it is, the box is certainly much deeper than it needs to be.
The tablet sits proudly on top and is the first thing you see, wrapped in white plastic, with your eyes being drawn to the support sticker placed in the centre.
Sliding the tablet from its wrapping you are immediately struck by how sturdy it is. For a device of this price range I was surprised by the build quality, which feels more like a premium tablet. The sleek black plastic mixed with aluminum has won several design awards, and I can see why.
The eight shortcut buttons are a welcome addition but on first inspection, the wheel looks a little strange, especially when you’re used to a more recessed dial.
Beneath the Deco you will find a thick tube which is home to the stylus and spare nibs. Again, this seemed a lot chunkier than it needed to be.
The stylus is very similar to the Wacom Pro Pen 2. It’s the same shape and the two buttons are in the same place. Now this isn’t a bad thing. The Wacom stylus is a tried and tested design and works well, although the Deco Pro stylus does feel slightly lighter and not as high quality.
What’s good though is the stylus is batter free, this is always a plus point in my book.
Next to this you have two boxes, one holding the warranty and setup information and the other has the main USB cable. You also get two USB adapters, USB-C and Micro-USB. These are used to connect the Deco Pro to other devices, as we will discuss later.
What I like is that XP-Pen also supply a smudge guard too. It’s a small thing, but it’s something every digital artist needs, and I am constantly being asked about the one I use and where I got it.
Having one supplied with the tablet is a nice touch.
The Deco Pro isn’t just built to work on both Windows and Mac computers, it can also be connected to an Android device so you can paint and sketch on your phone or tablet. Unfortunately, I don’t currently have an Android device to test this with, but from what I’ve seen and heard it works really well and it’s great to have that extra option available.
To setup the tablet with a PC or Mac, all you need to do is connect it to your computer and then download and install the drivers. You can get these from the XP-Pen website or by scanning the QR code which you can find in the box.
Installation is quick and easy, and once installed it walks you through the setup process and gives you a very brief introduction to the pen tablet software.
The only issue I had was that it took me a few restarts before Photoshop would register the pressure levels.
All in all, it wasn’t long before I was sketching away.
As mentioned earlier, the Deco Pro feels like its more expensive than it is. Its slim and sturdy with its black plastic front and cool aluminum base. There are also two rubber strips to keep it from sliding around on your desk.
It only has one input and that is a USB-C port on the side, but then again, you shouldn’t need any more.
The active area on the medium version, which is the version I am reviewing, is 11” by 6”. On the smaller version it drops to 9” by 5”. With both sizes you do end up with a large border around the active area which is not used. Initially I wasn’t sure about this wasted space, but after using it I found that it helped to support my wrist as I painted, whereas with a smaller border my hand would be hanging off the edge which can become uncomfortable over time.
What I also noticed is that the surface has a slight grain to it, meaning you get a good degree of friction as you sketch. This gives it that paper feel, plus it helps to control your stylus.
On the side, and I’m saying the side because you can rotate the Deco Pro so it can be used either right or left handed, is a silver strip which is home to the eight shortcut keys and the double wheel. The keys have a nice feel to them with a satisfying click as you press them, but the wheel is what’s most impressive.
Rather than just being a dial which you can use to change your brush size, you also have a trackpad in the center. This can be configured to do whatever you like but its nice to have that extra level of functionality, literally at your fingertips.
As an extra flair to the design the tablet is illuminated in areas. There’s a nice blue light around the wheel and the four markers around the active area also light up so you can see them if working in a darkened room.
Again, it’s a small thing but it’s a useful feature to have.
I’ve already discussed how similar the XP-Pen stylus is to the Wacom Pro Pen 2, there’s no getting around that, but that just means it a nice stylus to use.
It sits comfortably in the hand and you can access the two buttons easily. The rubber grip helps to make it more comfortable as you work, although with my stylus I had two raised seams running either side so it wasn’t as smooth as I would like, but this is just a small thing.
Its stylish with its mixture of black and sliver, matching it with the Deco its paired with, plus you get eight extra nibs. These are all identical, so there’s no difference in tip feel, and changing them is done easily with the tip removal tool.
Along with the drivers comes a pen tablet tool. On opening this you are given a whole host of options to play around with to configure the tablet to suite your own needs.
You can adjust the pressure sensitivity and the active area. You can also configure the two buttons on the stylus to do whatever you like, be it a key stroke or a more custom action.
There are also options to configure the express keys, the dial and the track pad. So again, these can be customized to suit your own working style.
There are even sliders so you can adjust the light level on the wheel and the active area.
All these can be customized on a per application basis, although I was disappointed to find that the buttons on the stylus aren’t. This meant that I had to stick with one setup, whereas I prefer to have the option to change these depending on what I’m doing, be it 3D or 2D.
This could always be addressed in a future software update though.
One other nice feature was that two of the shortcut keys could be configured to change what the outer ring and touch pad do, as you're working. So, for instance, you could use the outer ring to change the brush size, but then quickly swap so that it rotates the canvas or zooms into it, and then change back.
It's these extra little touches that can help to make you much more productive.
The Tablet In Use
I spent quite a bit of time playing with the configuration options to get myself setup for painting, but this is the same with any new device. Once I was ready though I was up and painting in no time.
Drawing on the tablet with one hand while using the shortcut keys and the double wheel with the other, soon became second nature. I used the outer wheel to control my brush size while the touch pad was for zooming in and out of the canvas.
With the actual shortcut keys I didn’t change much initially as the default settings worked quite well for what I needed.
The only thing I did miss was the option to change the stylus buttons configuration, as I mentioned earlier. I like to use the lower button as Alt while painting, but need this to go back to a right mouse click when navigating the operating system. I ended up just leaving it set at the default values and used the shortcut keys instead.
Painting worked well. The pressure came through with each stroke and I didn’t notice any lag or jittering when doing straight lines. The friction the surface of the tablet gave me was just enough that I felt like I was drawing on paper, rather than glass, which makes for a much nicer experience.
If I were being really picky, I would say that even though the Deco Pro boasts over 8,000 levels of pressure sensitivity, I did feel it wasn’t as accurate as an equivalent Wacom tablet. To be fair, most people wouldn’t even notice this though, and I only did because I am coming from a Wacom background.
Should You Invest?
I fully admit that when it comes to graphics tablets, I have been spoilt. I’ve used Wacom devices for so long, the mere mention of another cheaper brand always made me think that they were inferior, and I’m not alone. If its half the price then its half the quality, so why bother?
Having spent some time with the Deco Pro I can stand up and say that I was wrong.
For the price, this is simply a great device. You're getting a whole host of features along with what feels like a premium product.
If we compare it with the Wacom Intuos Pro, which is currently £359 on Amazon. For just £129 you’re getting something which is very similar with respect to features. They have the same pressure levels; they both support 60 levels of tilt and have similar pens.
Yes, to a professional there are areas where you can tell the difference, but these are minor in the scale of things. I also didn’t get to try it with an Android device, plus there is the issue of how long it will last you. I have only used it for a few weeks so I’m not sure if the surface will eventually wear down and become scratched or scuffed, or how long the wheel and buttons will continue to function, but only time will tell.
So, when it comes to my view on cheaper devices, I think the XP-Pen Deco Pro may just have changed my mind.
Although XP-Pen supplied the Deco Pro for me to test, the opinions offered in this review are my own.