The Xencelab Pen Tablet Small may be a small tablet, but it comes with all the bells and whistles you would expect from the brand’s excellent devices. If you think it can be a stretch to get down to a small tablet in size, think again, because this drawing tablet performs well, packs away easily for travel and comes with everything you need to get started with digital art.
Let’s start with what’s in the box. Like my favorite drawing tablet, the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium bundle, this smaller device from the same maker is packed with a range of excellent accessories. This includes two different sized stylus pens and nibs in a smart hard case, a tactile carrying case for the tablet with space for the USB-C charging and connection cable, USB dongle and palm rejection glove.
What it doesn’t include, but what its larger cousin does, are the Xencelabs Quick Keys (opens in new tab) accessory to access hotkeys and a handy radial dial, which I think is essential, but I’ll get to why later.
For this review, I used the Xencelab Pen Tablet Small for two weeks and tested it on a selection of the best digital art software, including Rebelle 6, Sketchable, and Concepts. I am using a Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio with the Xencelab Pen Tablet Small. Read our ‘How we test and review on Creative Bloq’ guide for general information about our process.
The specifications of the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small
The Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small measures 9.21 x 7.27 inches and has an active drawing area of 6.93 x 3.89 inches, which may sound small (and it is), but it’s still a handy size and ideally suited for use with a laptop.
This drawing tablet can be used wirelessly via Bluetooth or connected via the included USB cable, which conveniently comes with a USB-C adapter. You’ll need to use the included dongle for wireless support rather than connecting directly to your laptop’s Bluetooth, which means whether you’re using the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small wirelessly or connected, it will take up a USB port. Not a problem for me, my laptop has four, but it’s worth noting as some devices may have fewer ports.
This tablet has an impressive resolution of 5080 lines per inch (Lpi), which is equal to the Wacom Intuos Pro S and double that of the Wacom Intuos Small. The same goes for the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small’s pressure levels, which are 8,192 levels, the same as the Wacom Pro S and better than the Wacom Intuos Small.
Where Wacom excels is with touchpad gesture support; the Wacom Intuos Pro S has this handy technology, while neither the Wacom Intuous Small nor the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small have it.
This, and just three buttons on the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small, means you’ll ideally need the Xencelabs Quick Keys add-on, which costs $89/£95. This clever little gadget lets you customize key commands to the six buttons and radial dial, which is great for zooming in on your art. For this review I was sent the Xencelabs Quick Keys accessory.
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Overall, there’s not much that sets the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small apart from the Wacom Intuos Pro S, aside from touchpad support. Even though you have to buy the Xencelabs Quick Keys as an extra, there are value-added reasons to love the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small, such as the addition of two stylus pens.
In the box you get the standard three-button pen and a thinner model that resembles an Apple Pencil in design. Which one you prefer may depend on usage, for example I find the narrower stylus ideal for sketching and painting, while the thicker Wacom-style pen is best for 3D such as sculpting in ZBrush. Both pens feel great and are well made; they have a weight and soft feel that make them excellent to use.
Using the Xencelabs pen tablet small
The Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small is easy to set up and you can use it in minutes. I even tested it first without downloading the app, plugged it in and started writing. The advantage of the app is that you can customize the tablet to how you want to use it, as well as customize the pen pressure and button settings. There are also software-specific presets for apps like Photoshop and Corel Painter.
In use, the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small is excellent, creating precise and clean lines and strokes. Pressure sensitivity is excellent and I found it very satisfying to lightly build up layers of paint in Rebelle 6 before applying pressure and creating deeper colors and highlights.
This is a small drawing tablet, so you’ll have to adjust to its size and working area at first, but within minutes I got used to it and it became a natural extension of my workflow. This is really just a smaller version of the excellent Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium, and uses the same drivers, which is why I love it; the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium is my personal favorite drawing tablet.
There are also some nice design touches, for example four small corner LEDs that light up to frame the active drawing area (these can be color-customized) and the tablet tapers in an elegant curve to the edge facing you, giving you it is comfortable to use.
The three buttons on the top of the drawing tablet can be customized through the app, but by default they are set to change the pressure, adjust settings and change the view. main screen while leaving a second monitor free for other tasks.
The size and wireless nature of the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small make it an ideal drawing table to take with you on a trip. For me, the battery lasted just over 15 hours, and it only takes about two and a half hours to charge (it can easily be used wired too).
The great thing about the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small is that it can be used with Windows, Mac and Android devices, making it another great tablet for on the go. The added value of the travel pouch with space for cables and the hard stylus case means you can easily put it in a bag without worrying about it breaking.
Should you buy a Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small?
I love the larger Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium bundle and this is the same drawing tablet but smaller so what’s not to like? I found the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small pleasant to use and easy to set up. It comes with a number of value added extras such as offering high quality stylus pens, extra nibs and a hard case. The travel case is also a great addition. In fact, the experience from opening the box to setting it up and using it is second to none.
Priced at $199.99 (opens in new tab) / £179.90 (opens in new tab) the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small is cheaper than its closest rival, the Wacom Intuos Pro at $249.95 / £199.99, but the Wacom does have touchpad support, which is handy. I’d recommend you get the Xencelabs Quick Keys add-on for an extra $89/£95 which puts the overall package above the Wacom, but you get a fantastic setup.
My only hope is that Xencelabs will eventually release a bundle deal like the one that exists for the Medium tablet that will bring down those costs and increase the value. But if you already have the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Medium bundle (opens in new tab) and are looking for a travel tablet you have already given the Xencelabs Quick Keys accessory.
Overall, I enjoyed using the Xencelabs Pen Tablet Small and recommend it to everyone; it’s a well-made and reliable drawing tablet, and a fantastic package overall.