Impressions of the 9.7" iPad Pro & Apple Pencil

Mike Rohde
Apr 13, 2016 · 5 min read

Since the iPad Pro launched, I’ve flirted with the idea of using it with an Apple Pencil for my sketchnoting and illustration work. After a few in-person tests of the Pencil & iPad Pro, I fell in love.

I’ve heard designers, illustrators, and sketchnoter friends rave about the 12.9" iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, but I had one problem…

The 12.9" iPad Pro is too big!

The 12.9" iPad Pro is great for some, but just too big for my needs. I travel and present my sketchnote workshops and talks from an iPad, so an enormous, heavy, 12.9" screen wasn’t a fit for the ways I use an iPad.

The 9.7" iPad Pro is significantly smaller and easier to handle than the 12.9" model. This seems like a clear differentiation between the portable 9.7" iPad Pro and the more desktop-bound 12.9" iPad Pro.

The 9.7" iPad Pro is just right for me

So, I bought a 9.7" iPad Pro, an Apple Pencil, a MacBook 29 watt USB-C charger, and a USB-C lightning cable for super-fast charging.

The 9.7" iPad Pro is a perfect size — not too big and not too small. I can get the detail I need, and yet it’s light and easy to carry along when I travel.

The Pro’s screen is how the Pencil works as well as it does. This gives it the drawing resolution I’ve wanted since my first iPad in 2010.

As a bonus, the new high resolution camera lets me use the iPad Pro as a portable scanner with a great screen to see what I’m photographing.

The Apple Pencil

The star of the show is Apple Pencil. It is fantastic!

The hardware is not perfect. I’m sure the magnetic cap will go missing at some point, the Pencil barrel is a bit too long, slippery, and doesn’t have any way to clip it to pockets or my bag.

I fear the Lightning adapter will snap off while inserted into the iPad’s lightning port, and the Pencil is dead as a doornail when the battery goes kaput—most other styluses can keep working with dead batteries.

However, the quality of the tip and lack of latency between drawing and seeing a line on screen make up for these shortcomings, big time.

Here‘s a sketchnote that captures my impressions of the Apple Pencil:

A sketchnote of my first Apple Pencil impressions, created with an Apple Pencil, iPad Pro in FiftyThree’s Paper app.

Here’s a sketchnote of a few ideas for the Apple Pencil version 2.0:

Significance of the iPad Pro & Apple Pencil

This duo of tools will expand the ways I can work with visuals. They won’t replace pen, pencil, and paper in my arsenal of visualization tools. Instead, I have more options to choose from.

Illustration impact

My illustration work will be enhanced. I can achieve results more directly than the sketch-ink-scan-Photoshop flow I used to create illustrations for REWORK, REMOTE, and David Heinemeier Hansson’s RECONSIDER article:

My illustrations for David Heinemeier Hansson’s Medium article, RECONSIDER.

These tools are the equivalent of a wired drawing tablet without the snarl of heavy wires connected to a laptop. I’m excited that I can grab my iPad Pro & Pencil to draw anywhere I like. It’s great!

Sketchnoting impact

I’ve been experimenting with the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil as a sketchnoting platform using FiftyThree’s Paper app. I like the toolset, and its constraints keep me focused on sketchnoting instead of fiddling.

I’m still exploring how the workflow maps to my standard pen and paper method (or doesn’t), and I’m not used to editing my work on the fly. But I have to say, the power to adjust nearly everything is pretty amazing.

Paper, Concepts, Procreate and Sketches II are on my list to experiment with.

There are other iPad apps like Procreate, Concepts, and Tayasui Sketches II I’d like to experiment with as sketchnoting tools too, so time will tell.

I have to remember not to expect digital tools to act exactly like pen and paper. It’s better if I accept, embrace and enjoy digital tools for what they are, instead of what they aren’t.

My first live sketchnote using the iPad Pro & Apple Pencil with Paper by FiftyThree.

Final thoughts

I finally have an iPad that delivers on many of the dreams I had for my first iPad. I’m happy to have a these, high quality digital tools for illustration and sketchnoting, expanding on my tried and true analog toolset.

I’m especially pleased with the fine control of line quality, and lightning fast responsiveness of the Apple Pencil. Being able to use it like a physical pen or pencil and get a very similar reaction on screen is a huge deal. The Pencil’s high level of control means no more thick, mushy styluses for me.

I’m excited for the potential I see in the iPad Pro and Pencil, just a few weeks in. I highly recommend you check them both out for yourself.


Bestselling author Mike Rohde writes about sketchnoting, design, and visual thinking.

Thanks to Nikki McDonald

Mike Rohde

Written by

Designer. Bestselling author of The Sketchnote Handbook The Sketchnote Workbook. Illustrator of REWORK, REMOTE, $100 Startup. Founder of Sketchnote Army.



Bestselling author Mike Rohde writes about sketchnoting, design, and visual thinking.

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