XP-Pen Artist 24 Pro Review

For creators these days, a pen-based interface is pretty important. It has a much more direct interaction method versus traditional mouse or trackpad interactions. The old mouse and trackpad are disconnected from the information that you’re actually interacting with on the screen. Touch displays solve that to some degree, but fingers are big and clunky. A more-precise stylus provides much more accuracy. We’ve covered some Wacom displays here on Pocketnow before, and I’ve personally been a big fan of since starting as a graphic designer in the late 1900’s. Today, we get to review a competitor to Wacom’s high-end pen displays in the form of the XP-Pen Artist 24 Pro. I’ve always sworn by Wacom pen tablets/displays, so it will be very interesting to see how the XP-Pen Artist 24 Pro compares, especially since its price is considerably less than a comparable Wacom pen display.

Specs

The Artist 24 Pro’s screen size is about 23.8 inches diagonally which is 20.74 x 11.67″. The display resolution is a nice 2560 x 1440 pixels. In terms of the whole monitor’s size, it’s 24.88 x 14.57 x 1.76 inches. For color gamut options, we’ve got an awesome 90% of Adobe RGB color gamut! You can also use 88% NTSC or 120% sRGB with a color depth of 16.7 million. The contrast ratio is 1000:1 and the response time is 14ms. The viewing angle is about 178 degrees and you can get a brightness level of 250 cd/m2. There’s a 100x100mm VESA mount, too. The stylus doesn’t require a battery and supports 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity as well as 60 degrees of tilt sensitivity.

What’s in the box

The XP-Pen Artist 24 Pro includes a slew of wires and accessories for connecting the display to your computer.

If you have a display port capable USB-C port, you can use the USB-C to USB-C cable in the middle of the above photo to connect the pen display directly to your computer. This works really well and supports the full resolution of the display. If you don’t have a USB-C display port, you’ll have to use the USB-A to USB-C cable on the left to connect to your PC for data transfer AND you’ll have to use the HDMI cable on the right to connect to your GPU. If you have to use the HDMI cable, then you’ll probably only get a 1920 x 1080 pixel display resolution, so it’s better to have a USB-C display port.

You actually get two pens for the Artist 24 Pro! There’s a big cylindrical case to use to keep one safe as well.

The other end of the pen case also unscrews to reveal 8 spare pen tips for when you wear out the one that’s already in the pen.

All of the ports you’ll need are on the back in the above inset area. You’ll need the DC power whether you use the USB-C display port or not. There are two additional USB-A ports here (labeled “Host”) which you can use to connect other peripherals such as a keyboard or whatever.

Hardware and Design

First of all, the 90% Adobe RGB color gamut is beautiful. Getting as close to 100% Adobe RGB as possible is very important for photographers and graphic designers. It’s a wider color gamut than you would get with other monitors or laptops. The Adobe RGB color gamut is an improvement over Apple’s DCI P3 color gamut as well.

The Artist 24 Pro ships with a screen protector over the monitor display area, and that screen protector sheet was very reflective. I was much happier after peeling off the protective plastic which revealed a beautifully anti-glare screen. This is so much better than using iMac’s or Macbook Pro’s which have extremely reflective screens. The Artist 24 Pro diffuses ceiling light reflections really nicely. It’s a joy to work with. Still, I like to keep the ceiling lights off and use a well-placed lamp for room lighting in order to avoid glare completely.

The display looks great, but what about the pen interaction interface? Well, that works great as well. Windows 10 has pretty good inking and pen interaction usability, except for a few bugs that were added in the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. The Artist 24 Pro software driver has some good workarounds for Windows 10’s problems, and we’ll talk more about those in the Software section below.

Let’s talk about those express keys and roller dials in the bezels though! There are 10 express keys on each side! That’s 20 programmable hardware buttons. Twenty!! There’s also a dial on both left and right bezels and this too can be programmed to control whatever you want.

The bezel buttons feel great. Not only do they have nice tactile feedback, but they also have some texture differentiators. As seen above, one button has a dot protrusion while another has a dash protrusion. This helps you identify the location of your express key buttons simply by touch. You can keep your eyes on the display and what you’re doing with the pen, while feeling for the programmed controls you’re looking for by using touch alone. This is a huge efficiency booster. Most people use regular keyboard shortcuts for this kind of thing, but being able to program your own hardware buttons to do the things you want is a huge advantage. If you’re left-handed, you can program the buttons on the right side to be your most-used functions, while if you’re right-handed, you can program the buttons on the left side to be your most-used functions.

Wacom’s Cintiq Pro 24 doesn’t have this many programmable bezel buttons at all. It doesn’t have any. Instead, they sell a separate programmable remote that you can hold in your non-dominant hand. Personally, I kind of like the bezel buttons since they’re built-in, don’t require charging, and won’t be as easy to lose as a wireless remote.

20 programmable express keys to memorize is an awful lot though. Some people make stickers to place on the buttons so it’s easier to remember what they do. I might start with programming only 5 of them since that would be easier to memorize and personally, I was really happy with the 6 programmable bezel express keys on my Wacom Mobile Studio Pro 13.

Pen accuracy is quite good as well. It’s very precise and very smooth. The pen has two hardware buttons that you can program as well, but it does not have an eraser on the back end. Also note, that XP-Pen includes a nice drawing glove for resting your hand on the display without getting sweaty hand grease all over. Excellent touch including this!

The included stand attached to the back is very robust. There’s a lever at the top that unlocks the stand’s angle.

It’s easy to pull the lever forward with one hand and lift or lower the display to whatever angle you want. Release the lever to lock the stand in place at the desired angle.

The top right corner is where some normal monitor controls are located. The button on the right is the power button. To the left of that is a display settings menu button that looks like a hamburger. Then there are + and – buttons for navigating the settings menu and changing things like brightness or contrast.

A small clip style pen holder is included, but it’s not so obvious how to use it.

It turns out there are two little rubber circular insets on the left and right sides of the monitor. If you pry the little piece of rubber out, a screw hole appears behind it. You’ll need a flat head screwdriver to screw the pen holder clip into the side.

Even though I tightened the screw, the clip still spins and wobbles, so maybe I didn’t install it properly. I didn’t see any instructions about this aspect of the tablet. Anyway, you might want to buy a different kind of stylus holder. I think I would prefer a desk-top stand that holds the pen upright for me.

Software

There are two driver versions available for download from the XP-Pen website. At first, I tried the “Official” driver and later tried the “New UI” beta driver. The normal official driver software is shown above. It’s not terribly customizable, but certainly good enough.

The dialogue for programming the bezel express keys and dials is not super intuitive. The keys are labeled with numbers and drop-down menus let you add customized functions. At the top, there’s a row where you can add specific programs and when that program is in focus the buttons will use the customized functions for that program. One issue with this driver is that I can’t program the pen to behave differently in different programs. So for example, the “Windows Ink” option is pretty terrible in certain apps like web browsers, the Windows 10 Photos app, the Windows 10 OneNote app, etc. I would want to turn that off in those programs, and it’s not possible with this software. However…

Later on I decided to uninstall the official driver and try the “new UI” beta driver, and it was much better. The user interface design is obviously different, but my previous complaint about not being able to control the pen behavior on a program-by-program basis is fixed.

The interface for customizing the programmable dials and express keys is much improved in the new software as well.

The Express key customization interface now has labels for where the buttons exist on the bezel, but now there’s side-scrolling for matching the key numbers to new functions.

The new software even has the ability to disable certain aspects of the software completely. Thankfully an import/export for saving your configuration settings is here as well.

The interface for programming the Express keys is very extensive too. By default, one of the pen buttons was assigned to the eraser function, but I was able to change it to a “double left click” function pretty easily here.

Pricing & Availability

The XP-Pen Artist 24 Pro is only about $899.99 USD which is less than half the price of a Wacom Cintiq Pro 24. That’s some significant savings. You can order the Artist 24 Pro from the XP-Pen online stores in the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and Australia.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • $900 is half the price of something comparable from Wacom
  • 20 programmable Express keys in the bezel
  • Included stand has a great range of angles
  • Gorgeous 90% Adobe RGB color gamut and anti-glare screen
  • USB-C displayport compatible
  • Includes all the accessories you could possibly want
  • Included stand can be replaced with a Vesa mount stand

Cons

  • There’s no easy way to show an overlay of what each of the bezel Express keys is programmed to do while you’re working (in case you forget)
  • Included pen doesn’t have an eraser on the back (hold a button down to erase instead)
  • 90% Adobe RGB isn’t as good as 100% Adobe RGB color gamut
  • Some may prefer a desk top pen holder rather than the included bezel mounted holder

Conclusion

That list of “Cons” above are very minor nitpicks compared to the list of “Pros” which are pretty excellent. As a pen display, the XP-Pen Artist 24 Pro feels very similar to the high-end pen displays from Wacom. The Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 is probably a good competitor. Wacom’s Cintiq Pro 24 has a 99% Adobe RGB color gamut though, plus a higher resolution display, more ports, and there’s a version that also supports touch… but it’s more than double the price of the XP-Pen Artist 24 Pro! So yes, the Wacom Cintiq Pro 24 is better, but is it twice the price better? Maybe not.

If we look at how the XP-Pen Artist 24 Pro compares to something that’s closer to its price range, for example, the Wacom Cintiq 22 for $1200, the Artist 24 Pro still looks like a much better deal at $900 with its better resolution, better color gamut, better bezel buttons, and better stand.

If you’ve been craving a new Wacom pen display for graphics and drawing, but are still saving up for a good one, you just might want to consider an XP-Pen Artist 24 Pro instead.

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Amazon Fire HD 8 (2020) review

While many Android tablet manufacturers have given up on the market, Amazon has found some success with their very affordable, very customized, and very easy to use Fire HD tablets. The 2020 version of the Amazon Fire HD 8 should be no exception. If you love Amazon’s ecosystem of video, music, books, audiobooks, apps, Alexa compatible accessories and everything retail, the Amazon Fire HD 8 is going to be a great portal to that world.

Specs

The MediaTek MT8168 2.0 GHz quad-core processor and 2GB RAM is 30% faster than previous versions of the Fire HD 8. You’ve also got an 8” 1280 x 800-pixel screen, its form factor is 8.0 by 5.4 by 0.4 inches, and it weighs 0.78 lbs.

Onboarding Experience

I want to start with the out-of-box onboarding experience. This is what users see first, and with the Amazon Fire HD 8, it is very very good. Amazon has gone to great lengths to make the setup experience very informative and easy to use. It starts with a video about Alexa and goes through a bunch of the features of the device. Then it proceeds to explain basic navigation which is very useful for people who are not super familiar with computers or tablets. Here’s a video of it:

The out of box experience is going to be top-notch for new users.

The onboarding tutorial even teaches you how to scroll content pages.

Here’s a screen explaining the shapes in the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen. This is one of the things Android does very poorly… and now that Google is switching to a wiener-shaped gesture bar, the new-user usability is even worse. Something Amazon could do to increase the usability here would be to add text labels to the navigation buttons. There’s PLENTY of room to add the works “Back”, “Home”, and “Active Apps” to the navigation bar to clarify the navigation buttons for beginners (and reduce cognitive load required to memorize the functions.)

When you finally get to the Amazon Fire home screen, you’ll see that it is very well designed for easy navigation. There are words written in the language you chose on first boot that clearly identify the functions of most of the elements on the screen. Every app icon has a label, and the sections at the top are clearly identified. This concept of making the user interface obvious to the user has huge advantages. There are less cryptic icons to memorize. There are no hidden gestures to discover and memorize (other than the top-edge gesture.)

This attention to “ease to learn” usability is probably what makes the Amazon Fire tablets so much more popular than other Android tablets.

Hardware

The 8″ screen is not a spectacularly awesome screen. This is, after all, a very affordable $89 tablet. Still, it’s absolutely usable with a1280 x 800-pixel resolution.

You’ll notice quite a good-sized bezel here as well. Thin or non-existent bezels are very popular now, but the problem there is… how do you hold the device without touching the touch screen and accidentally activating buttons. I have this happen many times with bezel-less touch-screen phones. It doesn’t make sense unless you can someday make a touch screen recognize your intent and decipher between holding or interacting touch actions. Of course, that’s not possible right now, so a good thick bezel makes for a good place to hold the tablet.

One one of the longer edges, there is a small 2MP front-facing camera in the bezel. It’s on the long edge so that you can place the device in a stand-in horizontal landscape mode and use it as a video conferencing screen. This comes in handy in “Show mode”.

The top, or right edge depending on how you’re holding it, has the power button and volume up/down buttons. There’s also a USB-C charging port.

On the opposite end next to the USB-C port there’s a 3.5mm headset jack for plugging in headphones.

The longer top/left edge has two speakers with a series of holes to let the sound out. The sound is nice and loud, which is important since “show mode” makes the tablet act as an Alexa device.

The opposite longer edge has a little plastic flap that you can open with a fingernail in order to reveal a MicroSD slot that you can use to add up to 1Tb of more storage space.

The final edge is just smooth clean plastic.

There’s a 2 megapixel camera on the back, too, but this is a tablet so don’t expect to use this for anything other than maybe showing something on a video call. The image quality is not impressive.

Software

The software is really where the Amazon Fire HD 8 differentiates itself from other inexpensive Android tablets. It runs the Amazon Fire OS, which is really Android 9 with a highly customized launcher, lots of integrations with Amazon’s other services, and no Google Play services. So instead of having to log in with your Google account like most Android devices, you have to log in with your Amazon account.

Even the lock screen is customized with Amazon content. Above is an advertisement for some best selling books that you can buy and read in the Amazon Kindle app.

The Fire HD’s “Home” interface consists of side-scrolling panels that let you flip to different sections. It’s similar to the excellent Windows Phone and Windows 8 “Metro” UI design styles as everything is written in plain English (or your language of choice) in order to make it all very easy to understand.

Each panel lets you browse a different type of content offered by Amazon. There’s books, music, audio books, movies & videos, news, games, apps, and even a “shop” section where you can browse for and order real-world things on Amazon.

Amazon’s “Silk” web browser is based on the open-source Chromium 81, so it works just as well as Chrome on Android in terms of HTML rendering.

Besides the Amazon product apps, the Fire HD 8 also includes a lot of must-have apps and utilities that work quite well. These are all built by Amazon. The email app supports POP3, IMAP, and Exchange Servers. At first, it didn’t seem to work at all with Exchange, but after a hard reset and re-add, it’s totally working fine. The Contacts and Calendar apps also sync with Exchange as well as Google accounts. There doesn’t seem to be a way to manually specify CardDAV or CalDAV sync servers though.

The Maps app is basic but functional as well. It uses Nokia’s HERE maps data, not Google’s. Unfortunately it does not offer offline map downloads like the normal HERE apps.

“Show Mode” turns the Amazon Fire HD into an Alexa powered smart speaker display. Be sure to turn on the “Alexa Hands free” mode first though, otherwise nothing will work and Alexa won’t hear your commands.

While just about all of Amazon’s software is very well designed and easy to use, one of the issues you might run into is the lack of app selection in the Amazon app store. Your mileage may vary, but some of my must-have apps were actually missing. OneNote wasn’t available. Xbox App wasn’t available. Nine wasn’t available. With OneNote, I thought I could just use the web app version in the browser, but it turns out copy/pasting URLs or other content between other apps and the OneNote web app is impossible.

It is possible to hack the Google Play services and the Google Play Store onto the Amazon Fire HD if you really want to though.

Personally, a lot of my preferred apps are actually open-source apps that can be side-loaded or installed via F-Droid. F-Droid can easily be installed on the Amazon Fire HD 8 via the F-Droid website. You obviously have to allow it in the settings and the browser will prompt you for that. While F-Droid also does not have as much of a selection as Google Play, it’s good to support more ethical software developers.

I installed OsmAnd for offline GPS mapping, Twidere for Twitter, Fedilab for Fediverse access, Frost for a customized Facebook, Termux for Linux emulation, OpenVPN to access private networks, and Jitsi Meet for standard WebRTC video conferencing.

While most of the included Amazon apps work quite well, the Alexa app only ever shows an animated circle on a black screen. I tried hard-resetting the entire device, clearing the app’s data/storage, etc. Nothing got it to work. Alexa itself works fine with voice commands and show mode, but the app just doesn’t work for me. Luckily, after a week or so, the app updated itself and now allows for seeing the history of commands, adding skills, and adding IoT devices, so yours will probably work correctly.

Another bug is in the “Alexa, what’s my next appointment?” command. If I ask that, Alexa responds with “I don’t see a calendar set up. Want me to send a link to your phone to set up your calendar?” This happens even if I have the calendar open with appointments clearly visible in the Amazon Fire HD’s calendar app. I can see the next appointment on the screen, but Amazon doesn’t think I have a calendar set up.

Also, what phone are you going to send a link to? I’m not using a phone, I’m using an Amazon Fire HD tablet. It turns out, saying “yes” to this will put a notification on the tablet which you can tap and navigate to the Alexa app. You have to set up your calendar AGAIN in the Alexa app instead of in the Calendar app. The Fire HD has the same problem with email. Alexa can’t read the email in the email app on the Fire HD. You have to add the accounts AGAIN in the Alexa app. Furthermore, the Alexa app doesn’t support the same types of email accounts as the email app does.

Alexa only supports Microsoft O365Hotmail/Live/Outlook.com and Gmail. It doesn’t support open-standard email protocols like IMAP and POP3 even though the email app does, and it doesn’t seem to support self-hosted Exchange servers. So if you’re not using Gmail or Microsoft hosted email, you’re out of luck when it comes to Alexa. Though that might be just as well given privacy issues concerning Alexa’s software reading your messages anyway.

Battery

The battery life is rated to last about 12 hours. It may be less than that if you’re constantly watching videos. For me, using it on the couch for web browsing, email, and social network apps, it can last almost 3 days without a charge.

Pricing & Availability

One of the big advantages of the Amazon Fire HD 8 is that it’s very affordable. It’s only $89.99 and it’s available on Amazon.com.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Very affordable $89 price
  • Very user-friendly software design
  • Heavily integrated Amazon services
  • 12 hour battery life
  • Loud speakers
  • Alexa hands-free show mode makes the tablet work like a smart speaker appliance

Cons

  • Amazon Android app store doesn’t have as many app choices as Google Play
  • Sends a lot of information to Amazon to help sell you more stuff

Conclusion

Instead of being designed to lock you into doing everything within Google’s ecosystem like most Android devices… or lock you into doing everything within Apple’s ecosystem like iOS devices… the Amazon Fire HD 8 is designed to lock you into doing everything within Amazon’s ecosystem. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since Amazon’s ecosystem of content and products to sell you is quite diverse and expansive. The Fire HD tablets are very inexpensive as well, so instead of getting one $400 iPad, you could get 4 $90 Fire HD tablets and have internet-connected tablet computers for the whole family. If you’re on a budget, the Amazon Fire HD 8 is a great choice for couch consumption of content.

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Bamboo Ink Plus is an alternative pen for Windows Tablets

Some Windows tablets these days don't come with a pen even though their screens support pen interfaces. Usually, you have to buy a specific pen from the manufacturer. Now, Wacom has another option that actually works with a couple different pen interface protocols.

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6th-gen iPad 9.7 is actually more affordable in Canada, Europe

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In many cases, these discounts are roughly in the range of US$20 to US$50, which makes Apple’s claim about this iPad being “the most affordable” one pretty true. Just don’t worry about the Apple Pencil.

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