Review unit provided by Parblo
The Parblo Coast 16 Pro is a 15.6-inch 1080P pen display for drawing. This is an upgrade to the Parblo Coast 16 released several years ago. This new pen display now looks sleeker, has USB-C support and the colour accuracy is much better at 100% sRGB vs the previous 75%.
In case you don’t know, a pen display is a monitor you can draw on. Since it’s a monitor, it has to be connected to a computer.
The pen display is currently sold on Parblo online store and Amazon (more links below). Official retail price is US $399 but you can probably find it at a lower price on Amazon (currently at US $339 after discount).
Here’s the bottom line up front. The drawing performance is good, but there are several issues with the driver that are potential deal breakers.
These are the items included in the box:
- USB-C to USB-C cable
- USB-A to USB-A extension cable
- 3-to-1 cable with full-size HDMI, USB-A for data, and USB-A for power
- Artist glove
- Pen pouch
- Pen stand
- 8 replacement nibs and nib remover
- Quick start guide and warranty info
The pen display supports USB-C video connection in addition to HDMI+data connection with the 3-to-1 cable.
What’s not included is a USB power adapter. If additional power is needed for the pen display, you can connect the red USB to to your computer or other USB chargers, e.g. phone chargers.
The two USB-C ports on the pen displays are labeled and are not interchangeable. The actual USB-C port is recessed quite deep inside the hole which is why you can’t see the shiny metal part in the photo above.
The USB-C ends of the cables included have this groove cutout designed to fit into the port shaped to handle the groove. If anything goes wrong with the cable, the groove on the cable and how small the USB-C hole is means you have to go back to Parblo for cable replacement. The good news is the cables are quite thick and look durable enough. If the USB-C cable is too short, you use an extension USB-C video cable.
Those are instructions explaining how to connect the pen display to your computer.
The pen display comes with a protective film pasted on top of a matte screen protector. Do not peel off the matte screen protector while peeling off the protective film. If you see the glossy screen, restore the screen protector and try peeling from another corner. The display is not supposed to be glossy.
Design of the pen display looks good. I like the rounded corners. The bezels provide enough space to rest the hand. The bezels are slightly thinner on the sides than top and bottom.
A 15.6-inch display is a good size to work with. Compared to A4-sized paper, the drawing surface area is noticeably wider but slightly shorter.
With a Spyder5Pro colour calibrator, I measured colour support for 100% sRGB, 92% P3, 84% AdobeRGB, 82% NTSC and a maximum brightness of 207 nits.
The brightness is controlled by the Backlight and Brightness settings in the OSD. I always find it confusing when companies include both backlight and brightness settings. With this product, adjusting Brightness to 100% will make the colours look wash out. To retain saturation of the colours, I use 100% Backlight and 50% Brightness settings and measured 172 nits brightness instead. This brightness is still sufficient for use in bright room environment.
Display settings that can be changed with the OSD are
- Colour temperature
Navigating through the OSD is easy with the directional toggle button and power button. You can press the toggle to Enter and Power button to Go Back.
When not in the OSD menu, the directional toggle can be used to adjust brightness, and the power button is shortcut for switching video input (Auto, HDMI, USB-C).
Here’s a potential deal breaker that relates to the display settings. When I restarted my M1 Macbook Air and M1 Mac Mini, I wasn’t able to get the pen display to remember the Backlight setting which will default to 30%. All other settings can be remembered but not the Backlight settings.
Why not use Brightness instead of Backlight to control the brightness? Because 100% Brightness will wash out the colours but 100% Backlight retains the colour saturation and contrast.
Below are the possible scenarios I’ve tested:
- Mac with USB-C: Cannot remember Backlight settings
- Mac with USB-C and power from 3-1 cable: Can remember Backlight settings
- Windows with USB-C or 3-1 cable: Can remember Backlight settings
I’m not sure if the problem is due to the M1 Mac that I’m using or the pen display.
The pen display is quite thin at 12.5mm.
The back is made with aluminium alloy and has a matte surface. The four rubber feet have good grip on the table. Near the corners are some holes which I’m not sure what they are for. The OSD menu has volume controls but I was told there are no speakers.
The location of the shortcut buttons at the top left isn’t ideal. You have to move your hand up to reach all the buttons. You can’t just stretch your thumb to reach the button that’s furthest away. If you’re a left handed user, the shortcut buttons will be at the bottom right.
But shortcut buttons work well. When the buttons are pressed, there’s a loud buzzing sound which unfortunately cannot be turned off.
The anti-glare of the matte screen protector isn’t that aggressive so even with diffused reflections you can still see the contents on the display easily.
The matte screen protector also introduces some grain or colour noise to affect the image quality. But overall image quality is still pretty good mostly due to the 100% sRGB colour gamut.
The matte screen protector provides a nice tactile drawing experience. The pen glides quite smoothly on it.
The pen display has good viewing angles with minimal colour shift and slight drop in brightness when viewed from extreme angles.
The display is laminated so there’s almost no gap between the pen tip and line beneath.
The 1080P resolution has slight pixelation but is still a very usable resolution.
You can have palettes on the left and right and still get a good amount of canvas space to work with.
This is the Parblo P10 pen. The body is matte textured and comfortable to hold. The pen is not powered by battery so no charging is needed.
The pen supports 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity. It’s said to support tilt sensitivity but I wasn’t able to get tilt to work on both Mac and Windows.
There are two side buttons which are customisable. The pen has minimal movement.
The pen holder is tilted at an angle. There’s some weight added so it’s not just a plastic shell. The bottom is padded with rubber for grip.
Stored within the pen holder are 8 replacement nibs and a nib remover.
Cursor tracking is mostly accurate.
With Windows, I find that the cursor would stray away from the pen tip on the edge even after calibration. If the left edge has accurate tracking, then the right edge doesn’t, vice versa. On the Mac, cursor tracking seems to be accurate on both edges. So the workaround on Windows is when you want to click on things near the edge, look at the cursor instead of the pen tip.
The drivers I’ve tested are Windows driver v188.8.131.52 and Mac driver v3.5.8(4). The drivers can be downloaded from Parblo’s website.
These screenshots below are from the Windows driver.
If you’re a left handed user, you can change the orientation here. For Mac users, unfortunately the setting is greyed out and does not work. Mac users can still change the orientation via MacOS System Preferences though.
Here’s a potential deal breaker for Windows users. With a dual display setup, the calibration screen appears on the other display and not the pen display, and hence the pen display cannot be calibrated. There are no calibration issues if you use the pen display as your main and only display. Actually if there is no cursor misalignment, there’s no need for calibration.
Here’s another potential deal breaker for Windows users. When using dual display setup, there is tracking issue on the pen display. The cursor will only stay below the pen tip near the top edge of the display. Once the pen moves down the cursor will move even further down.
In the photo above, if I place the pen at point A and D, the cursor will be at A and D. When I place the pen at point B and E, the cursor will be at C and F.
These possible customisation for the shortcut keys.
If you’re using dual display setup, there’s the important Switch Display functionality that allows you to move the cursor from one display to the other. The Switch Display functionality is not available with the Mac driver.
To summarise, the main issue I have with the Mac and Windows driver is you cannot use dual display mode with the pen display.
Drawing performance may vary depending on drawing app used.
These are line tests done in Medibang Paint Pro (Win). Click for a larger view.
1. Initial activation force is quite low. Thin lines can be drawn easily. There is slight jitter with diagonal lines.
2. Lines don’t taper as sharply.
3. Lines can transition from thin to thick and back to thin easily. This means the pen is capable of detecting changes when you apply minimal pressure.
4. Lines with consistent width can be drawn easily by maintaining consistent pressure.
5. Dots can be drawn by just tapping the pen.
For the quick sketch of the lady drawn above, I wasn’t able to get the hair to taper sharply. Note the black and coloured strokes for the hair. I didn’t have any issues with the slight diagonal line jitter while drawing.
Medibang Paint Pro usually works great with pen tablets and pen displays so I’m surprised at the less than ideal drawing performance with the drawing tests.
When actually drawing with Medibang Paint Pro (above), drawing performance is alright, just that the lines can’t taper sharply.
These are line tests done in Affinity Photo. Here the lines were able to taper sharply.
This was drawn with Affinity Photo (Mac). Drawing performance is good.
This was drawn with Clip Studio Paint (Mac). Drawing performance is good. The background hatching lines are able to taper sharply.
This was drawn with Photoshop (Mac). Drawing performance is good except lines cannot taper sharply.
You may be able to go into the drawing software settings to tweak the lines so that they can taper sharply, but the thing is you have to spend the time and effort to tweak the settings. This would be unnecessary if everything worked alright out of the box, such as with Affinity Photo and Clip Studio Paint which worked really well and did not have any line tapering issues.
Pressure sensitivity does not work with Adobe Illustrator on Mac but works with the Windows version.
Tilt sensitivity did not work on both Windows and Mac.
The Parblo Coast 16 Pro is a beautiful pen display with good colour support.
Overall drawing performance is good but is very much dependent on the drawing software you use. With certain drawing apps, the lines may not be able to taper smoothly and sharply. That’s the only downside to drawing performance. As someone who doesn’t rely solely on a particular drawing app, I could switch to using a drawing app that works better with the pen display and pen. So my overall drawing experience is still positive.
There are several downsides to the pen display, and some are potential deal breakers. The main downside is the both Mac and Windows driver have issues with dual display support. The other downside is for Mac users the pen display cannot remember its Backlight settings when USB-C connection is used instead of the 3-to-1 connection.
The official retail price of USD 399 is competitive with other brands. But of course if you can get this at a lower price, it’s even better. So look out for deals on Amazon.
Pros and cons at a glance
+ Nice looking design
+ Good build quality
+ USB-C support
+ 100% sRGB colour support
+ Max brightness 207 nits
+ Laminated display
+ Tactile drawing surface with matte screen protector
+ Good drawing performance dependent on app
+ Pen is not powered by battery
+ 8 replacement nibs included
+ One artist glove included
+ 6 shortcut buttons
+ 8192 levels of pressure sensitivity with pen
+ Pen is not powered by battery
+ Does not produce much heat
– Stand not included
– Unique USB-C connector design
– Mac USB-C connection cannot remember Backlight settings
– Matte screen protector affects image quality
– Tilt sensitivity not working when tested
– Issues with dual display setup on Mac and Windows
– Mac driver does not have Display Switch
– Shortcut button placement not idea
– Pressure does not work with Adobe Illustrator (Mac)
– May have cursor misalignment at the extreme edge
You can find the Parblo Coast 16 Pro at Parblo online store.