The iPad Pro Experiment: Traveling with a Pro and Pencil is pretty much the best

Welcome back to the iPad Pro Experiment, where I'm using an iPad Pro, Logitech Create Keyboard, and Apple Pencil in lieu of my traditional laptop setup. We go on the road in this installment: I headed down to Florida with my boyfriend for some Thanksgiving revels and opted not to bring the laptop along. That means, yes, I'm extending the iPad Pro experiment another week. Will I survive? Read on.

Packing for a Pro-ful world

I'm leaving the temptation of my Macs behind: I'm going on a much-needed vacation to Florida this week for Thanksgiving with my boyfriend's relatives, and the computers are staying home. This is the first time in at least four years that I haven't brought a MacBook Air along with me on a trip, so I'm a little nervous—but I've got the iPad Pro to keep me company.

Packing for a trip with an iPad and accessories is a smidge different than my usual travel bag. For one thing, I find myself packing a lot more power plugs. Until I properly pick up a multi-USB charger, my bag has one plug for my Apple Watch, one for my iPhone, and the 12-watt charger for my iPad. Add in two lightning cables and a Watch charging cable, and my bag is a mess of white adapters and cords. (Still lighter than carrying my MacBook Air's adapter around, though.)

In addition to the cord-a-palooza, I'm taking a few necessary accessories on my travels:

I left my (rather weighty) sketching stands at home, as well as (for the first time) my paper sketchbook. Instead, I'm going all digital this trip, relying on the Apple Pencil and my iPad's apps to document my trip.

In the end, my backpack was... about as weighty as it was with a MacBook Air. Given all the extra goodies I inevitably take on trips, I don't expect that pack to ever be "light"—though I opted not to take my extra camera lenses this time around, so that's something.

Up in the air with a Pro

I've been noticing this all week, but traveling with a Pro reinforced it: It is a hundred times easier to pull out an iPad on the go than a laptop. In part, that's due to form factor—I can hold the iPad's display in one or two hands and still use it, whereas a laptop's a bit harder to pull out in the middle of a ticketing line.

I just feel more comfortable, in general, working with the Pro. On the plane, it feels a lot less intrusive than a laptop. I don't have to worry about plugging it in or charging it—if that option is even available on my flight—and the Logitech case lets me quickly swap from using the Pro with a hardware keyboard to having it lie flat in my hands.

Almost a week in, the Pro's battery life still astounds me. I was able to draw several fully-illustrated pictures, browse the internet, watch an episode of Star Wars Rebels, write an article, and came off the plane with 40 percent battery life. I've waited years to have a laptop I only have to charge at night, and I finally have one. Paired with the 6s Plus and my Apple Watch, I have three gadgets with all-day battery life—and I am loving it.

Sketching on the Pro in-flight was wonderful. When I bring a sketchbook and markers, I inevitably leave one of my tools behind—because working in full-color necessitates markers and inks and pencils, and someplace to put said tools (usually in my seat pocket), and praying you didn't bring the markers that smell on the plane because you don't want to be a bad seatmate... The list goes on and on.

On the iPad Pro, I needed one tool: the Pencil. In an hour and a half with the Pencil and 53's Paper app (opens in new tab), I made this:

(Note: Probably the best attempt I've ever had at drawing clouds.) I also drew this.

And this bit of Jessica Jones-inspired art.

In a 3.5 hour plane ride, where I'd normally get maybe one or two illustrations done, I drew three. In color. These tools are making me love to draw again, and moreover, making it easy to draw again.

One thing I noticed on the plane ride that made me downright giddy: You can turn the iPad Pro while you draw on it. This may not mean much to folks who haven't tried to draw digitally in the past, but on Cintiqs and other Wacom tablets, you can only rotate the canvas, not the device itself. Trying to spin your tablet like you might a sketchbook was a non-starter.

Not so with the Pro. I've turned it at all sorts of odd angles to shade, fill in detail, or even draw upside-down. It's another bit that adds to the feeling of "natural" drawing, and I love it.

More on the Pencil—the good, and the bad

Short version: If you couldn't tell from the above section, I'm still obsessed with the Pencil. It's the best 1.0 product Apple's put out in a long, long time. But there are still bits Apple could improve.

The feel of the Pencil is still great, as is the way it draws in Notes and Paper, the two apps I've primarily tested it with so far. The tip is just spongey enough for me not to feel like I'm click-click-clicking away on the screen, but retains control for precision movements.

The cap, however, is an abomination. I'm pleasantly surprised that Apple put breathing holes in the top (in the event of accidental ingestion by small child or pencil-chewer), but that's about where my praise of it stops. The magnets are too weak and the cap too flimsy, which led to my first heart-stopping moment of vacation: I moved the Pencil and my things off our bed onto a rug to make the bed, and when I returned to the Pencil, it was missing its cap.

Five minutes of frantic searching later, I found it snagged on one of the loops of the rug, but it was unreasonably terrifying. It's just a stupid cap! But without it, the Pencil's Lightning Port sticks out like a sore thumb.

And that's when the Pencil is just sitting there. It's even worse if you want to charge the Pencil, whether you're going the iPad "looks-like-it's-going-to-stab-somebody" route or using Lightning adapter. There's no place to put the cap, so you just put it nearby and pray no one knocks it behind a cabinet or your animals eat it.

There are other styluses with caps—Wacom's Bamboo Styluses come to mind—which have a very smart solution to the losing-the-cap problem: Put the cap on the drawing end. Alas, the cap is both too short and designed solely to fit with the Lightning port; there's no way to cap it on the Pencil's drawing end. (Version two request, please.)

Friend of iMore Myke Hurley wrote in his review that he'd also like to see a pen clip on the Pencil, which I wholeheartedly agree with. I assume third-party manufacturers are working on Kickstarter projects as I type, but as nice a business venture it is for them, I'm still a tad irked Apple didn't put something on the Pencil itself. Yes, perfectly-round cylinders with self-balancing magnets are cool and all, but you know what's even cooler? Being able to clip the Pencil somewhere I'm not going to lose it.

Now, as weird as the Pencil's Lightning port charging situation is—and believe me, having the Pencil lunge out of the iPad's charging port like a deranged fencer is not my first choice—I'm pretty enthused about having it charge from the iPad. In a week with the Pencil, I have yet to plug it into a traditional Lightning to USB charger; every time it gets low, I plug it into the iPad for 30 minutes and it's fully charged. Heck, five minutes of charge raises the Pencil from 5 percent to 35 percent. Apple's fast-charging system is stellar, and not having to worry about accessories dying on the go—whether it's a Smart Connector keyboard or a Pencil—is a wonderful feat.

But I do wish Apple had figured out a Smart Connector solution for the Pencil. I'm sure the company tested it and didn't like how it looked or worked, but c'mon, guys—having the Pencil stick out of the side of the iPad doesn't look great, either.

Next up, on the iPad Pro experiment...

I record three podcasts in two days—one out by the pool!—and lament once again iOS's shoddy audio implementation.

A note for folks following along: I'm going to be testing some writing apps with the Pencil while I'm on vacation and don't have the first idea of where to start. Anyone have favorites they want to see examples with? Holler in the comments.

Serenity Caldwell

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

  • I'd say Apple phans are the biggest hypocrites in tech today. Gonna have a hard time with that when you get a real job.
  • I honestly wish we could have a discussion but... what's the point?
  • ^this. was going to reply and then figured I would save my breath.
  • what a troll cc3d! lol im sorry your life is so sad!
  • I don't even know why this cc3d is even in this side to start, if hates Apple so much!! I wonder maybe He/She envy Apple and can't afford to have one :(
  • This is the best use case ever. :-) Would love to see how the pencil works with Evernote (especially handwriting recognition if that's an option?). Also video editing in iMovie.
  • I use Evernote, OneNote and NotesPlus. I don't use recognition...but if you ask about inking I would rate NotesPlus, EverNote and OneNote. The standard iOS notes has crappy inking.
  • Evernote and penultimate (Evernote handwriting app on iOS) is sweet! I normally carry around 3-5 journals everwhere I go. Well, I don't carry them around anymore! And the update is choice. It's even better now.
  • Simple thing to add clip to Apple Pencil. I used one from a Pigma MICRON drawing pen. Fits perfectly. Looks like it was made for Pencil. I'll post picture on your tweet. (Also Procreate is my fav app for drawing. Layers!)
    Love your work.
  • Try Notes + without a Pencil and with. That way, we can know if the Pencil makes a difference in handwriting recognition. You should know that those of us without an Apple Pencil or Smart Keyboard are having a very different experience with the iPad than those of you who have these peripherals. Try going a day without your keyboard of choice and the Pencil. That is how most iPad Pro users are living right now, dare I say, like an animal.
  • Not having the keyboard or pencil is not a bad experience for me. I have the Logitech CREATE keyboard and haven't used it since the day I got it. I have not used my macbook pro retina for over a week and I don't miss it. The other day I sat on my couch and did a full colour brochure on the iPad Pro with just my fingers. No Pencil. No keyboard It was so relaxing. It was awesome! I used Adobe Comp for this and did 100% of it on the iPad Pro. Love it!
  • "I'm going to be testing some writing apps with the Pencil while I'm on vacation and don't have the first idea of where to start." If you are going to be "writing apps", I think you are going to want to wait for the Xcode-lite version that is rumored to be coming to iPad Pro -- but I am not sure Apple Pencil is going to help you here. :) Seriously.... I have been using Notes+ with iPad Air 2 and a stylus, but Notes+ can be a bit wonky (just yesterday I somehow managed to delete an entire block of text and the "Undo" button was disabled as if there was nothing to undo). There is another app called GoodNotes (I think) that I was going to give a try. But the COOL thing about both these apps is that they OCR your handwriting in the background and index your notes so you can search them. AppleInsider just ran a poll you might want to check out:
  • I'm totally considering buying the iPad Pro to load work off my iPad 4 and my MacBook Pro 2010. iOS 9 has added features that allow me to finally not hesitate when having only my iPad to write, even on the glass keyboard (I love it!). I'm still a bit skeptical on how creating a whole video on the iOS version of iMovie works, but other than that, I'm sold. In writing apps, you might want to try Microsoft's Onenote.
  • Sent from the iMore App
  • BTWs,
    1. My local Apple Store guy told me if I opened an Apple business account (just name and #) I might get a pencil faster. Two days later the store called with my pencil.
    2. For writing I mostly just use Microsoft Word. The pencil has come in VERY handy as a stylus for editing manuscripts w/o a keyboard. Also use Evernote.
    3. Procreate for art.
  • Hey Serenity, maybe I'm the odd duck here, but I interpreted your question about writing apps more as the actual pro style writing apps, not the note taking apps being recommended by other commenters. Any clarification as to what you're looking for? I've really enjoyed this series and look forward to your continued experimentations and reports back to us readers. Especially since I've used my iPad Air 1 as my computing device for over 2 years now. No laptop of any sort, no desktop of any sort. Haven't owned a functioning PC in almost 2 years. Keep up the good work! :-)
  • About that cap. Seems to be a common complaint. Amazing how a cap can be so important once its missing. I remember the cap on my PowerBook charger, was always trying to find a safe place for it when charging it. Was wondering, what if the Lighting end popped in and out like on a pen? Or is the lighting plug too thin?
    Oh, love the Jessica Jones drawing.....
  • No need to drill. It has breathing holes. Will give it a proto/go with floss.
  • It seems to me that the cap issue is a fairly easy fix. Drill a really small hole in the top of the cap. Thread a piece of strong (nylon, possibly dental floss, fishing line) string through with a knot on the end to prevent it from pulling through the hole. Then, tie it around the end of the Pencil leaving enough slack to allow for the cap to be removed. Missing Pencil Cap problem solved.
  • I've tried many different note taking apps to find one that worked for me. Most of them worked OK, but each of them seemed to be missing a feature or two. The one that's consistently met my needs the best is Good Notes. I have plans to get a Pro and Pencil one of these days, so I would be curious to see how Good Notes works with the Pencil for you. Thanks!
  • Like that Shure Mic. The fact that it comes with both USB, and Lightning cables is nice. May have to get one. Sent from the iMore App
  • Thanks for this series of really interesting articles. I love the real-use-case type. But please stop the animated hero image :-) Sent from the iMore App
  • Notability and Procreate are the two apps I use most with Pencil (Notability for document writing and Procreate for painting)
  • I'm not an artist of the visual nature though I do love to draw and paint. I've had procreate for a while but never really used it as I'm not skilled enough to fumble with traditional styli. I had the day off yesterday and 'painted" for 6+ hours in procreate (with the Apple pencil). It was one of the most enjoyable times I've had with visual medium in a very long time. I'm completely satisfied.
  • I'd like to know how things go with Notability as well. I have alternated between an Adonit Jot and a Maglus stylus (the microfiber tip makes a big difference). I'd love to know how the Pencil compares.
  • The jot script comes nowhere near the apple pencil. Using it is a magical experience. It's like using an actual writing utensil, not like drawing with oven mitts. It keeps up with my insane, frenzied journaling even. As legible as paper I might add. Using procreate the ''technical pencil" can select an individual pixel! That's mind boggling to me.
  • Hey Serenity, what are your thoughts on this magnetic sleeve for the Apple Pencil I just came across?
    Seems like a good solution.
  • Found a video of the magnet sleeve in action. I will probably get one of these!
  • Whoa! That's THE solution! Thanks! I only have 3 issues with the pencil and this solves 2 of them, the color (I HATE white gadgets) and the where to put it problem. Now we need a "where to put the cap while charging cuz I don't trust the counter or my pockets" problem...
  • I recently backed this Kickstarter campaign for an Apple Pencil Dock and Cap:
    They created a nice solution for holding onto the cap while charging. (But hopefully losing the dock doesn't create another problem ;) I might just leave mine attached.) I should also mention that they do offer ones in red or black. Hope this helps!
  • Very awesome- thank you Serenity! I was hoping someone would review the Pro and airplane travel. I travel A LOT and hate pulling out my MBPro in flight (too big/bulky for cramped airplane use) I use a iPad Mini2 with a keyboard now but am thinking of replacing it with the Pro for work travel/airplane duty.
  • Just FYI I was legitimately shocked when I pulled mine out of the box. It's one thing to know the size specs but entirely different to actually see it. That being said, I haven't used my mbpro for anything, including music production and engineering (light but functional. I could comfortably use it on a plane to mix down). I would not go back to my air 2 for anything.
    I guess I'm just trying to save you that shock I received. It's kinda like getting a new tattoo. When you actually get it you understand how different the world looks and that it's a big change. Haha. Take care.
  • In regards to handwriting apps, I use Evernote (and on my iPad I also use penultimate to quick capture handwriting to throw into Evernote). As a musician with a day job (as a social worker) I've been carrying around up to 3 Moleskines around everywhere I go for years. I don't actually like to type as there is something most intimate about handwriting, plus I suck at it. I actually have recently made the change from Samsung partially due to the Apple pencil.
    Thanks tons for the articles. I find myself agreeing audibly to opinions and descriptions. -Pyne.
  • Hello Serenity
    I have just comment on the pencil. Is it possible to have name engraved so you can prove it Is yours like your phone etc.
    Love the articles and makes me salivate more now to get my own iPad pro...
    Thought of a way to locate the pencil on the back of the iPad. Perhaps a very small piece of white Velcro on each and in your bag etc. and why not put the white cap on another pen while the Apple one is charging?
  • Serenity, Love the articles. I've read where pencil will work with Notes. I'd like to see some information on using these two items since the Notes app is free. Happy Thanksgiving!
  • Evernote please!
  • I have to admit I can't justify upgrading to the Pro from the Air 2. But I have always wanted to use my iPad for note taking at work. I've tried the styluses for the iPad and didn't like them one bit. I'm really looking forward to your next segment. Keep up the good work.
  • I also would like to see how handwriting works with Evernote and Notability. I like to store my notes in Evernote but with the handwriting support for the iPad Pro it would be interesting to see if the handwriting is good enough to make it my only notes app. Of course, since you can't split screen two instances of the same app I wouldn't be able to refer to old notes and write at the same time with Evernote. To solve that problem I used Notability, so I am curious how well it works with the pencil. I love this series, keep up the great work.
  • Fast charging for the pencil? Apple needs to add fast charging to the Ipad pro! When mine is in the red it takes it no less than 3.5 to 4 hours to finish charging. C'mon Apple! Posted via the iMore App for Android And, if I leave it on the charger overnight I have to do a hard reset in order to get it turned back on. That's the issue apple has recently " acknowledged ..."
  • Counting my blessings that our iPad pros are not victim of that hard reset when charged to 100%
  • That pencil is fantastic (in store demo), but the cap, lack of a place to contain it, and male charging connector are bewilderingly poorly designed. Why they didn't go with a female connector to plug into the Chargers we all carry around is an enigma.
  • Love these 'iPad Pro experiments' Serenity. Keep them coming. Glad to see that you are able to draw easily with the apple pencil. Definitely something I will look forward to. One question is, why are you using the Logitech keyboard instead of the one from Apple?
  • For handwriting apps - may I suggest, Adobe Sketch. I have some examples posted on my blog here: Love penmanship.
  • Serenity, please, post more articles on this series ... it's really much more useful and interesting a long term review such as yours, rather than the usual run of the mill review that other sites have. I'd love to know how has your iPad Pro kept going as time goes by. Best regards.
  • i use the Microsoft pen holder, the one that comes with their keyboard. Works great.
  • I've had the iPad Pro for about 3 weeks, and I've been doing all of my business on it. But one of the biggest reasons I love it, is that I created a clickable PDF Monthly Calendar that I've imported into Good Notes. No I can handwrite on my calendar, and have it in my iPad. I don't have to deal with menus and scrolling to input appointments anymore. If you'd like to get it for yourself, I'm offering it here:
  • My friend and I found the same problem with the pencil so we invented this. One for the Logitech Create Backlit Keyboard, one for the Apple Smart Keyboard/Smart Cover. Hope you like it! Logitech- Apple-
  • I charge my Apple pencil by plugging it into my iPhone. Yes, it works.
  • Apple Pencil issues with charging, losing end cap, lack of magnetic interface slippery pencil etc, Problems solved and more PenSe
  • Well, I love to have an iPad Pro and get my work done with the Apple Pencil, but I keep waiting for the Keynote on 21th of March to find out if there will be a Pro with 9.7", which would be much more comfortable to my hands.
    I use to read many eBooks when I am lying in my bed and the 12" Pro is a kind of heavy. But what I do know for sure is, that my Air 2 will be replaced soon. But still sad feelings coming over me, ' cause it seems Apple won't bring iBook Author for iOS.
  • Just wondering whether there ended up being another post for the iPad Pro Experiment? I tried using search function, but can't find anything.