December 4, 2022


Capturing Magic Moments

Versatile photo and video editing tools: We test the Xencelabs hotkeys and pen tablet

6 min read

Pen tablets and controllers for editing and retouching definitely help photographers, especially when working on large batches of images. These editing tools from Xencelabs seem to take that to a whole new level.

Tools used for editing, retouching, designing and creating graphics are generally universal. However, creating a tool that can be used by more people often limits how it can be made more efficient for specific workflows. Most pen tablets consist of a few buttons and a stylus, and these should suffice for use by graphic designers, photographers, retouchers, and everything in between. Similar to camera gear, the most helpful tools are the ones you can customize to make your workflow more efficient while also making the tool more efficient to work with. For this reason, most of the digital tools that have come out in recent years not only offer better performance, but also aim to allow for as much customization as possible. The Xencelabs Pen Tablet and Quick Keys combo are notable examples of such tools.

building and designing

The Xencelabs tablet is available in three sizes: small, medium and large depending on your personal preference. The small tablet takes up 9.21 x 7.27 inches of space on your workstation and is 0.3 inches wide. Inside, the active area is 6.93 x 3.89 inches, characterized by an adjustable LED display on all four corners. There is a USB-C port and a power button on the top edge. There are three adjustable buttons in the center of the upper part of the tablet surface, and the lower edge gradually tapers to provide a better support surface for the user’s wrist. It has a built-in rechargeable battery that can last up to 16 hours and can be fully charged in 2.5 hours.

The Xencelabs Quick Keys Remote is a 6.2″ x 2.48″ pocket-sized tool that is 0.47″ wide and weighs just 142 grams. There is a 1.41″ diameter dial at one end and a central switch button in it, occupying 0.6 inches. At the other end is a single Set button for changing modes within a specific editing app. The middle half of the surface is occupied by a 3.18 x 1.0-inch OLED screen, which is accompanied by four customizable buttons on each side. There’s a single USB-C port on one side for charging and connectivity, while there’s a power button on the other.

Inclusions and Packaging

Along with the tablet, the box includes a soft padded carrying case, a USB-C to USB-A cable, a mitt, and a tool pouch with a hard silicone mold to keep the contents safe. The case includes two pens, six extra plastic nibs, four felt nibs, plus a USB-A dongle, a USB-A to USB-C adapter, and a nib removal and replacement tool. One of the pens is a thinner one, measuring 0.37 inches in diameter, with two custom buttons, a pen tip on one end and an eraser tip on the other. The second is a thicker pin, measuring 0.55 inches at its largest diameter and tapering for a better feel. This second pen has 3 customizable buttons and the same dual-ended configuration for a pen tip and eraser tip. Overall, it’s pretty impressive to see users having a choice of two pens, as well as safe and efficient carrying cases for better portability.

The Quick Keys come with their own hard carrying case, USB-A dongle, USB adapter and USB-C to USB-A cable. The case offers space for all the accessories mentioned and a few extras.

Perhaps another important aspect of these tools is the packaging. Both the tablet and the Quick Keys have very little plastic in their packaging, except for the foil that protects the entire cardboard packaging when it’s brand new. Sustainability and avoiding plastic waste are steps many brands have been taking lately, and it’s impressive that this relatively new brand seems to be heading in that direction as well.

Setup and Connectivity

Setting up both devices is simple and straightforward. The first step is simply to download the driver from the website and connect it via the cable. This step also sets up the product for wireless connection with the dongle, which means that after removing the cable and inserting the dongle into the USB port, the device will automatically pair and connect to the computer.

When setting up the tablet, you can customize the three buttons on the top of the tablet and the buttons on the pen. These buttons can be designated for keyboard shortcuts, mouse buttons, navigation tools, and shortcuts to various apps. The same configuration steps apply to the shortcut keys. However, it’s obviously more buttons that can be customized for the same functions. The shortcuts within a given app can be customized into groups that can be assigned to specific workflows such as sketching, retouching, or drawing. Each app can have up to five sets and each set has eight different shortcuts with up to 40 functions per app. Each function on each key can be labeled differently according to the user’s preference, making the labeling available at all times when the device is powered on. The watch face can also be customized for scrolling, zooming in, switching layers and brush sizes by pressing the function button on the watch face. The orientation of the device can also be rotated at the user’s discretion and the text on the display can also be adjusted.

functionality and application

Like all other pen tablets, the Xencelabs pen tablet acts as a more precise input tool instead of a mouse or trackpad. The sensitivity of 8,192 pressure levels and the 60-degree tilt function are indeed impressive. Besides the three or two buttons available depending on your preferred stylus, the functionality of the other end of the stylus as an adjustable eraser tip is quite unique and impressive. In general, the tablet is compatible with every app. However, the custom buttons are of course dependent on the shortcut features available in the app being used.

The Quick Keys are the part of this combination that perhaps brings in the modularity. Just like the tablet, the buttons for any app function or navigation tool are customizable as long as a shortcut is available within the app or on the main computer system. This makes the device not just a tool that photographers can use, but virtually anyone who needs handy shortcuts.

At first glance I was personally intrigued as to whether this device could double as an editing console, not only for photography-related apps but also for editing videos, and it’s a pleasure to see that all the necessary tools I have on my Adobe Premiere and would prefer Davinci Resolve Shortcuts can be set up on the device. I personally use a Tourbox Neo which was helpful for efficiency when editing videos, but it took me quite a while to memorize all the shortcuts I assigned and ended up only using about half the buttons because I I couldn’t immediately remember where I had placed functions I used less. The Quick Keys have addressed this issue due to the custom on-screen labels and are built to be more travel-friendly with less protruding dials and buttons and comes with a dedicated carrying case.

The tablet and Quick Keys controller can be used together or independently depending on the user’s preference. In general, functionality increases when the tablet is used in combination with the controller. The dongle can also be configured to work for both devices, although they would definitely be a lot more convenient if Bluetooth was an available option.


Overall, the pen tablet offers convenience and a good range of options with the extra buttons and tips. The option between a thinner stylus with fewer buttons and a more tactile stylus with more buttons is a thoughtful bonus, alongside the well-made carrying cases. In terms of my personal use of these devices, the Quick Keys controller adds to the functionality and efficiency of the tablet and is a very useful tool on its own as well. Since the buttons and functions of virtually any app can be customized to fit a variety of functions, this tool can be useful for photographers, digital illustrators, designers, architects, and can (potentially) even be used for video games.

What I liked

Impressive design and functionality Thoughtful integration of accessories and pen options Eco-friendly packaging Extensive modularity for use in a variety of workflows

What can be improved

No Bluetooth connectivity at this time Rotary knob on Quick Keys controller does not retract for safer storage Wheels or even a touch slider on the sides may add functionality


You can buy the tablet here.

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