Creative Journaling with the iPad: Part 1, Review of the 2018 iPad and Apple Pencil

In this series we’ll be investigating the options for digital journaling on the iPad. We’ll take a look at the available software along with various techniques  for bullet journaling in a digital format. First we’ll say hello to the new iPad 9.7 with Apple Pencil support. This series has a twin based on Windows Tablets: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 that you may also enjoy.

Until now, if you desired to use an instrument for writing or drawing on your iPad, other than your finger, there were only a couple of options. None of which were particularly grand.

The first thing most of us try is a capacitive stylus; a mesh tipped stick that works for tapping but is too wide for precision marking. Next up are the 3rd party active pens like Fifty-three’s Pencil. These these types of tools use various electronics to send more data about your strokes to the tablet, usually over bluetooth. They work better, but not great, and have some severe limitations; chiefly, they only work in the app that comes with them more often than not.

Your other option was to shell out some serious cash for the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. I’ve enjoyed being teased by the wealthy Apple fans of the world that could drop close to $1000.00 so they could draw with precise results on their tablets.

Lucky for me (and my wife) Apple has decided to grace the rest of us poor sobs with a non-pro tablet that works with the treasured stylus. The new iPad has pencil support and pricing starts at $329.00. Of course, the pencil itself is just shy of $100.00. I was able to find the 128GB iPad for $399.00 and decided that model was the winner.


So, what’s it like you may be wondering? It’s both amazing and frustrating. Allow me to explain. The pencil itself is well-balanced, totally round, the same lenght as a #2 pencil, and pleasant to hold in your hand. The iPad supports pressure sensitivity, tilt (used for shading), and it tracks well. It’s fantastic when using it in one of the supported apps.

A fine line trace done in Autodesk’s Sketchbook

Unlike Windows Ink or Samsung’s S-Pen, Apple’s Pencil only works in designated apps. You can use it to tap on the screen anywhere but there’s no handwriting recognition, you can’t just draw and scribble on any screen, it’s not a general system input tool. It also lacks the hover mode (think mouse pointer) that is typical for most active writing tools. For someone who writes with a digital pen most of the time (doing it now) this is a big let down. Apple is still fairly new to the digital pencil club, so hopefully future editions of iOS will add handwriting support. There are a few apps that have built-in handwriting recognition like Writepad that are a step in the right direction but using them to write WordPress and Facebook posts is clunky.

Fire up your favorite drawing app and you’ll soon forget all about the handwriting thing. Personally I like Autodesk’s Sketchbook, it has most of the pro level tools but is far less complicated than Photoshop. There’s not much resistance between the pencil’s tip and the iPad’s screen. Some artists may not like the slide. Personally, I’ve grown to prefer less resistance; drawing on paper feels slow and awkward to me now. Especially when coloring and shading. The pencil is responsive and the tilt and pressure sensitivity work well in apps that support the features.

Lisa's cone
An original freehand done in Autodesk’s Sketchbook

The new iPad is fast, really fast. It runs on Apple’s new A10 brain chip and it sings. Now that iOS supports multiple (2 + a video) windows and has the horsepower to run them, it’s capable of replacing a traditional computer for general use. The 9.7 inch screen looks great. The rest of it is what you’ve come to expect from the latest generation of Apple’s tech. It feels great to hold in your hand and because it shares a footprint with the previous 9.7 there are a plethora of accessories already available for it.

Some reviewers and owners complain about the screen bezel on this and other tablet devices. I see not having a bezel causing another issue. Without it there would be nowhere to put your thumb(s) when holding the device that didn’t interfere with the view.

Overall I really like the new iPad and am thrilled that Apple added pencil support to the base model. For me, the lack of handwriting input and hovering will keep me using Windows or Android based pen tablets. Alas, I didn’t purchase it for my use. My wife absolutely loves it. If you’ve followed my blog for long, you’ll know that I was trying to convert her to a Galaxy Book. She learned to use it but never truly enjoyed Windows. That’s ok, it means the Galaxy tablet is mine now. Look for a review of it soon.


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