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Artist Review: iPad Pro 2018 with Apple Pencil 2

My review, as usual, will be from the perspective of an artist. This review will not talk too much about specs as you can get that on Apple's website, and every other review online.

The new iPad Pro for 2018 has a new design, better processing power, and even a new Apple Pencil. But is the drawing experience as good as the 2017 model? Is it worth the money for digital artists? Let's find out.

Somehow, Apple has managed to make the new iPad Pro (bottom) even thinner compared to the 2017 model (top).

Corners are now rounded off.

The sides are now flat to accommodate the new Apple Pencil 2, which will snap to the side for wireless charging.

The bezels are also smaller. More noticeably, home button had to make way for FaceID because the top and bottom bezels are now smaller. The overall size is also smaller compared to the 2017 model.

The model that I bought was the 12.9-inch model. Its size is almost the same as letter size 8.5 by 11 inches, which is close to A4 size. It's a large and comfortable size to draw on. If you get the 11-inch model, the size is larger than A5, which basically means, you will have a drawing area of A5, and additionally, there will be space to show the user interface elements such as menus, panels, toolbars and buttons.

Which size you should get really depends on how much you value portability, and how you want to use your tablet.

The 12.9-inch weighs 633g vs the 11-inch which is 468g. The 2017 10.5-inch weighs 469g, 2017 12.9-inch weighs 677g.

The 12.9-inch is not a tablet where you can hold with one hand for extended periods of time to draw on. You will need to rest it on a surface or support. For me, I always rest the 12.9-inch on a table, or when I'm sketching outdoors, it will be on my lap. My thumb starts to feel sore after a few minutes. The 12.9-inch size is also a bit unwieldy to hold with just one hand. Note that adding a case will make it even heavier.

The 11-inch's 468g is more manageable for one hand use. And the size is also less unwieldy.

The screen's brightness goes up to 600 nits which is bright enough for working outdoors with strong sunlight. Contrast and colour vibrancy aren't affected by bright fill light.

The laminated screen is still a joy to draw on. There's almost no gap between the LCD and the glass. So whatever you draw or write appears as if it's on the glass, as if it's coming out from beneath the tip. This is the only aspect of the drawing experience that's different from the 2018 iPad non-Pro.

The screen is still very glossy and reflective. After an hour of use, mine was filled with fingerprint smudges that are difficult to wipe off even with a micro-fiber cloth.

I highly recommend getting a matte screen protector for it. The screen protector gives you a textured surface to draw on so you get the paper-like feel, and that also provides you with more control since the Apple Pencil tip on glass is quite slippery. The matte screen protector also prevents the screen from picking up fingerprint smudges, and is easier to clean.

This is the new Apple Pencil. It's US $129 and is more expensive than the already expensive US $99 Apple Pencil.

The Apple Pencil will snap to the right side of the iPad Pro (vertical). The magnet is strong and shaking the iPad Pro vigorously will not dislodge the pencil.

The first time you snap Apple Pencil to the side, it will perform the initial one-time pairing with the iPad Pro. Subsequently, it will just display a label telling you how much battery life is left, and of course, it will charge wirelessly.

The new charging mechanism works really well. This is form meets function, unlike how the previous generation charges.

Apple Pencil 2 now has a matte surface body and tip. The original Apple Pencil had a glossy body and semi-glossy tip. The tips are similar in size and interchangeable.

There's a flat side on the body that will flush to the side of the iPad Pro. This flat side also prevents the Apple Pencil from accidentally rolling off the table.

Tapping on the flat surface can also call up some shortcuts. Apple Pencil 2 can recognise single or double taps. Whether or not there are shortcuts will depend on the apps you use. With Procreate, you're able to customise the double tap action to any shortcut that's made available on Procreate, but there's no way to assign single tap action for some reason. With Apple Notes, double tap will switch between pen and eraser but single tap does nothing. With Medibang Paint Pro, Paper by FiftyThree, those tapping actions don't call up any shortcuts.

iPad Pro 2018 is just as responsive as the previous generation. When you're drawing fast, there's that little gap between the line appearing and the pen tip. The size of that gap will depend on the app you use. Under normal usage, you probably won't even notice that gap.

Despite having the powerful A12X processor that can handle 5 trillion operations per second, having 1000X better graphics power, 10 billion transistors, the drawing experience is the same as 2017 iPad Pro

There's no change in the pressure sensitivity levels between Apple Pencil 2 and 1 as far as I can see.

Video review


The new iPad Pro is the best tablet in the market right now for digital artists, but it's also quite expensive, significantly so compared to the previous generation.

The iPad Pro 2017 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch came out at US $649 and US $799 respectively, with 64GB storage capacity. The 2018 11-inch and 12.9-inch models are US $799 and $999. So the smaller and larger iPad Pro are now $150 and $200 more expensive. Apple Pencil 2 is also more expensive.

The new iPad Pros may have better specifications but the drawing experience is essentially similar. You will not feel any difference when drawing with any of the drawing apps. Maybe you will be able to see a difference when Photoshop for iOS comes out in the future, but I doubt so unless you're working on really huge files, like GB-size files.

If you are thinking of getting a digital sketchpad today, I would recommend the 2017 iPad Pros instead because they are significantly cheaper, and the drawing experience is the same. I did a search on Amazon and found sellers selling the 2017 iPad Pro 12.9-inch at US $1,049 with 256GB storage ( space gray | gold | silver ) and Apple Pencil included. So for an extra $50 on top of $999, you can get 256GB and Apple Pencil if you go with the previous generation. With the 2018 model, you can only get the 64GB model and have to spend extra for storage and Apple Pencil 2.

Which storage option you should get depends on your workflow. How often do you need to access your files, what are the file sizes, and how much files do you need to store?

For purposes of creating digital art, 64Gb storage is more than sufficient. Should you need more storage, you can save money by going with the 50GB iCloud plan that cost $1/month or $12/year. You don't have to spend $150 to upgrade from 64GB to 256GB storage. You can start out with the smallest iCloud storage plan of 50GB, and should you need more, you can upgrade later in the future, to the 200GB $3/month plan. Still way cheaper compared to upgrading internal storage.

If you work with lots of large files. Eg. You're a photographer and you import lots of RAW photos for editing, then it may be better to get more internal storage. But if you're a photographer, I recommend going with a proper laptop because using desktop OS is going to be way more productive. You won't be limited by the idiosyncratic file management system of iOS. I made a 20-minute video talking about how stupid it is.

The point of getting iPad Pro is so that you can use Apple Pencil with it. You could be a photo and video editor who uses Apple Pencil, but seriously, you know you will be more productive with a proper laptop. Yeah the iPad Pro is much lighter, but do you want to trade time with how light your device is?

Ultimately, whether you think the new iPad Pro is value for your money really depends on the work you do. If you've already decided on getting the 2018 models, go ahead. You don't need anyone's validation for your choice. No one knows your workflow more than you. But if you're budget conscious and still want to get a tablet for drawing, I highly recommend getting the 2017 models and save hundreds of dollars from not getting the new one.

The art above is by my colleague Raelynn.