The best drawing tablet for online tutoring
updated by Will Chambers on 21st April, 2021
This post is now part of a series of articles exploring the best equipment for online tutoring.
We designed our online classroom to work across a variety of input devices: from laptop and mouse to tablet and touchscreen. Indeed, an analysis of our 2019 power users showed that most aren't using touchscreens – with 80% of users simply using a laptop or desktop computer. However, we've had a number of tutors without touchscreens ask how they can improve their drawing. Drawing tablets represent a quick win. They're relatively cheap but make drawing on an online whiteboard a lot easier. As ever, there's a somewhat overwhelming array to choose from, so we thought we'd review some of the best, affordable options.
Back in 2017, we selected 3 tablets to test: Parblo Island A609, Wacom Intuos Draw and Huion H420. Wacom are the big name in the drawing tablet space, the Intuos Draw was their entry level offering and more than sufficient for online tutoring. The Huion H420 was the budget option, it works well but is a little small. The Parblo Island is the same price as the Wacom but you get a much bigger drawing surface for your buck. We rated each tablet in 3 categories: drawing quality, installation/setup and value . The Parblo came out on top because it offered the best drawing experience by virtue of being the largest tablet. It was a little trickier to setup than the Wacom, which remains a solid bet.
Come 2021, things have changed a little. Wacom have introduced a new entry level drawing tablet. This entry level drawing tablet has an RRP of $70 on the Wacom website. For some truly inexplicable reason they have chosen to give it the same name as their $400 pen display tablet. To clarify, we're talking about the $70 One by Wacom not the $400 Wacom One – no idea what they were thinking when they decided to give them the same name.
Parblo have also brought some new devices to the party too. You can choose between the $80 A610 Pro and the $30 A640. It's worth noting that they're no longer offering support for the A609 (our previous top pick) and the basic A610, so don't buy one of those if you want it to work with the latest operating system on your computer. We've updated our reviews below to include those new devices, whilst labelling those that are no longer supported.
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Updated Reviews for 2021
Price: £50 | Size: Medium = 21x14cm (~A5)
Drawing Quality: 5 | Installation/Setup: 4 | Value: 5
With the One by Wacom (Medium), Wacom have reclaimed their crown as kings of the drawing tablet world – in the context of online tutoring at least. Our biggest criticism of the Wacom Intuos back in 2017 was size. The bigger a drawing tablet is, the easier it is to work with. The Intuos had an active area equivalent to A6 paper. The One by Wacom (Medium) has an active area equivalent to A5 paper, for the same price as the A6 Wacom Intuos. That now makes it our number one pick thanks to it's combination of size, value and ease of use. Wacom's software and setup remains slightly better than Parblo's.
However, there is one rather large caveat. Our recommendation is predicated on getting hold of the Medium size version of the One by Wacom. That is currently available in the UK via Amazon for £50, which is great value. However, I've not been able to track down the Medium size version in the US. The Wacom website is only listing the Small version for $70, which is a losing combination of smaller and more expensive.
To summarise then: if you're in the UK, we heartily recommend the Wacom One (Medium) – it's great value (£50) for it's size (A5). If you are based in the US or anywhere else in the world, the One by Wacom (Small) is not a terrible option . It will still offer good performance at an okay price. But you might like to consider the Parblo A640 which is half the prize and the same size as the One by Wacom (Small).
Price: $30 | Size: 15x10cm (~A6)
Drawing Quality: 4 | Installation/Setup: 3 | Value: 5
The Parblo A640 is an absolute bargain. When we reviewed the Huion H420 at a similar price point back in 2017, we concluded that it was too small (A7) to be a practical solution. The A640 resolves this by giving you an A6 size active area for just $30. For comparison the One by Wacom (Small) is the same size but costs more than twice as much at $70. If you're looking for a cheap but effective solution and you're based in the US or internationally then the Parblo A640 could be a good option for you. A word of warning though: the A640 runs via a USB-C input so check your laptop is compatible before buying.
Price: $80 | Size: 25x15cm (~A4.5)
Drawing Quality: 5 | Installation/Setup: 3 | Value: 4
Here comes the big one. The Parblo A610 Pro is the biggest device on our list and therefore the easiest to draw with, albeit at the expense of portability. If you're planning on taking your graphics tablet out and about so you can tutor on the go, then you might prefer the smaller One by Wacom or Parblo A640. If you want the best possible drawing tablet to use at home, then the A610 Pro is what you're after. Its active area sits somewhere between the size of an A4 and A5 sheet of paper, which is plenty big enough for drawing whatever diagrams, graphs or equations you desire when tutoring online. At $80 it is a lot more expensive than the A640. It compares more favourably to the One by Wacom (Small) US price of $70 though. For just $10 more you're getting a drawing area 2.5x the size. It also runs via USB-C so check compatibility before purchase.
The Best Drawing Tablet for Online Tutoring in 2021
Let's wrap things up then. If you can get hold of a One by Wacom (Medium) for around £50 / $70, then that is our number one recommendation. If you can't find one of those wherever you live, then you should consider the offerings from Parblo. The A640 offers phenomenal value as well as being very portable. As long as you have a USB-C input, then we'd highly recommend it. If you want the best possible drawing tablet that works via USB-C, then the Parblo A610 Pro is the one for you. If you don't have a USB-C input on your laptop, then you could consider the One by Wacom (Small) which is available in the US and internationally for $70.
Old Reviews from 2017
Price: £45 | Size: 15x9cm (~A6)
Drawing Quality: 4 | Installation/Setup: 4 | Value: 4
A solid contender. The Wacom is the easiest of the 3 tablets to install and setup, although it does still require the download of a driver from the Wacom website. Once installed, it's reliable and flexible. It probably has the best drawing sensitivity, although any differences versus the Parblo are barely perceptible. At just under £50 I still think it represents good value, given how much of a difference it can make. Size is the only issue. The active area is roughly that of an A6 piece of paper. That's reasonably small so sets a limit on your writing size and fidelity. Aside from that, the Wacom isn't a bad choice.
Parblo Island A609 [Discontinued]
Price: £35 | Size: 20x13cm (~A5)
Drawing Quality: 5 | Installation/Setup: 3 | Value: 5
If you're after the best drawing experience, the Parblo comes out top. It's got good sensitivity, it tracks the pen when it's held above the tablet (vital for easy drawing) and it's big. Size is the primary strength over the other contenders. The drawing area is almost twice that of the Wacom, which makes neat handwriting so much easier. The only downside comes in the installation and setup. Installation wasn't so bad, I had to head to the Parblo website to download a driver but once that was installed, and my Mac reset, we were up and running. Setup was fine, until I plugged in my second monitor. With the Wacom, I could choose for the tablet to just map to my second display. This wasn't possible with the Parblo: I either had to map to both displays, reducing the effective active area, or just use one display. Upon reflection, this may be a somewhat niche problem. If you just use a single screen, you should be fine. At just over £30, the Parblo offers the best improvement to your drawing abilities. If you're serious about tutoring online, it probably pays for itself in a handful of sessions.
Huion H420 [Not Recommended]
Price: £22 | Size: 10x6cm (~A7)
Drawing Quality: 2 | Installation/Setup: 3 | Value: 4
The Huion offers superb value, coming in at less than half the price of the more than reasonable Parblo and Wacom. However, you do rather get what you pay for and in this instance that means a very small drawing tablet. To continue the paper size comparions, we're down at A7 now, which is pretty tiny. As such, writing much more than a couple of lines/equations per page becomes difficult. To that end, we'd recommend stretching to the Parblo or Wacom, if possible. If not, I guess you can always try the Huion and return it if it's no good.