The best way to get pen input on a 2017 MacBook Pro?

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by Poki, Jun 16, 2017.

  1. Poki, Jun 16, 2017
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2017

    Poki macrumors 65816


    Mar 21, 2012
    Hey guys,

    I'm currently deciding on how to go forward. My situation is the following: I have an iPad Air 2, a 2009 MacBook Pro 15" which I'm only using for office stuff nowadays, and a quad-core Mac Mini I'm using for work (at my office, I'm using a 5k iMac anyway, but there's tons of freelance work to do which I can't do at the office).

    My applications are mainly photography and graphic design, with a few video edits thrown in now and then. While the Mac Mini is still surprisingly powerful, I want to have the option to work on the go again. Working with brushes in Capture One, Photoshop, Affinity Photo and co. with the trackpad is possible, but less than ideal. Designing logos and especially handwritten text is even less ideal. Even PDF markups aren't perfect with a trackpad and a finger. So I thought, why not simply use a stylus?

    Now, here's the problem: Apple still doesn't support the Apple Pencil on the huge trackpad on the MacBook Pro, and I don't get it. Using a capacitive stylus gives a sub par result, with very low precision and very few pressure levels. Using an external drawing tablet would work, but that means bringing an additional device, which is not ideal either.

    Buying an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil would be another option. But there are three problems with that option: 1. It's another device I'd have to bring with me at all times too. 2. Having to constantly send files back and forth between the Mac and the iPad is a hassle, even if it's super fast via AirDrop. 3. I already have an iPad Air 2, which does everything I want it to, except pen input, so I don't really want to spend €840 just to get one additional feature.

    Using an iPad Pro for all the work instead of the MacBook Pro also doesn't work -- without Final Cut Pro X, Capture One Pro 10, Adobe InDesign, Affinity Designer and some other pieces of software, I can't work at all.

    Buying a Surface Pro might be an option as well. But apart from having to use Windows 10 in that case (and I really want to avoid that), there are no quad core CPU options, and the dual core i7 chips are borderline for editing large photos or videos.

    So, do you have any idea what could be a solution? I really would love to have the 15" MacBook Pro with that huge trackpad and Apple Pencil support, but since that won't happen, I'd greatly appreciate if you knew any alternative to that setup.

    Edit: Just took a closer look at the Surface Book, since the concept seems like the solution. But damn, just 2 GB VRAM and Dual Core CPUs at a price point north of €3000? Also, it's thicker and just as big and heavy as the 15" MacBook Pro, while offering a smaller screen and less performance - doesn't look as great as I thought on a second look.
  2. eyeseeyou macrumors 68030

    Feb 4, 2011
    If you want an all in one solution that supports pen input it sounds like you you'd be better off with a surface pro although there'd probably be a hug overlap in functionality with your macbook.

    9.7 ipad pro's are getting cheaper. Maybe getting a 9.7 ipad pro + apple pencil and astro dog to turn your ipad into a wacom? Or use one of those rmeote desktop apps like jump desktop.
  3. Poki thread starter macrumors 65816


    Mar 21, 2012
    Unfortunately, the Surface Pro doesn't offer the performance I need (or at least want) -- no quad core CPUs, no powerful GPUs (if we call the Radeon Pros "powerful"), and no Thunderbolt of any type for connecting my current Thunderbolt devices. But yeah, that device looked too good to be true ...

    Selling my iPad Air 2 and getting an iPad Pro (either a used 9.7" or a new 10.5" one) might actually be the only solution, it seems. Argh, why can't they simply support the Apple Pencil on the trackpad? Can't be that hard to implement.
  4. aevan, Jun 16, 2017
    Last edited: Jun 16, 2017

    aevan macrumors 68030


    Feb 5, 2015
    This is a topic I have great interest in, so here are my thoughts.

    For Apple Pencil to work on the trackpad (with the required hover feature), they would have to significantly change its technology from capacitive to electromagnetic. It is not possible with this design.

    With that said, the options I recommend for serious work on a Mac or PC (also taking mobility into account):

    1. 12.9" iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and Astropad or Astropad Studio. A very good solution, works quite well for photo touch up, drawing, illustration, even sculpting. Also - Apple said they are trying out new ways to create sinergy between iPad and Apple Pencil and Mac, most likely a Cintiq-like mode. It may come with iOS 12. Not too hard to carry it alongside your notebook + you get an ultraportable tablet with some nice tablet software like Procreate or Affinity Photo.

    2. 2017. Intuos Pro M. The latest Intuos Pro is a lot smaller in size than the previous gen (active area is the same) and more portable with a great Pro Pen 2 and improved metal construction. It also supports bluetooth which works great and it has a good battery life. It's very light and portable and won't add too much weight and will fit most notebook bags togeather with the notebook itself.

    3. Wacom MobileStudio 13" or 16" - an expensive, pro-level powerful notebook/tablet with the same Pro Pen 2. Great in every way (except battery life) and can be used as an external monitor/tablet for your Mac or PC as well (as a Cintiq)

    4. Wacom Cintiq Pro 13" or 16" - great but expensive screens to draw on that attach to your Mac or PC. Just like MobileStudio but without the computer inside. The 16" model is almost like carrying another notebook with you and 13" is not much better but will fit most notebook backpacks togeather with your notebook.

    5. Latest Surface Pro - with an improved pen, parallax, latency and activation pressure - it finally cought up with Wacom and is most likely very good. The pen is not as good as Apple Pencil, but nothing is, really.

    These are all pro-level options. For casual work: 10.5" iPad Pro, Pencil and Astropad Studio or regular Wacom Intuos M.

    Edit: just read your usage needs again and since you're not doing full illustration (at least that's how I read it, sorry if I'm mistaken) - a regular Intuos, Small or Medium will do the job well, and it's also really light and portable, you won't have any issues taking it with you alongside your notebook.

    Hope this helps.
  5. IllIllIll macrumors 65816

    Oct 2, 2011
  6. Poki thread starter macrumors 65816


    Mar 21, 2012
    Thanks for the input! So the options are basically a Wacom Intuos Pro 2017 or an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil (not gonna pay more for a Wacom tablet than the iPad costs).

    I have to say, the new Intuos Pro looks pretty good! I had some very poor experience with Wacom's driver support when new macOS versions were released, and the customer service always has been pretty poor, but this might be a good time to give them another chance.

    I'll try that and the iPad side by side tomorrow at the biggest electronics store near me and then decide.
  7. keysofanxiety macrumors G3


    Nov 23, 2011
    Heh my housemate even bought a cheap UGEE graphics tablet for use with his Mac. It's not great but he did some damn fine drawings with it in Photoshop (basically it duplicated the screen and he could do drawings on it, directly into Photoshop). It even had native brush support, though I wouldn't recommend a UGEE one due to its poor latency and generally bad build quality.

    It works well for him, though. Basically I'm trying to say that there's always an option for pen input on macOS and even the poorer solutions are still helpful. There are a lot of knee-jerk reactions where people just say "get a Surface Pro!". You won't have to do that. Macs without touchscreens are still ubiquitous in the graphics industry.
  8. minton macrumors member

    Jul 30, 2004
    Use Astropad to turn an iPad Pro into a Wacom-like tablet. My use case is more second monitor (Duet) than graphic design (Astropad), and the following video explains the difference between the two use cases:

  9. Poki thread starter macrumors 65816


    Mar 21, 2012
    I tried a few combinations today at a store, and I'm going the iPad route. After selling my iPad Air 2, I'll have to pay less than €600 for an iPad Pro 10.5" 256 GB with an Apple Pencil and Astropad. That's more than the Wacom solution at roughly €350, but it also means I won't have to worry about charging and carrying yet another device. Getting a more powerful iPad with a better screen and more storage is a bonus, I'd say.

    And while the 12.9" model would be amazing for some of my work, I still want to bring my iPad with me regularly, and the smaller one is just so much more portable, I'll take the hit in screen size. I'm not a full time illustrator anyway, and 10.5 inches should be just fine for using brushes on photos and for some illustration and handwritten type work, I hope.

    Not the cheapest solution, but when paying €3.300 for a new notebook, I can live with that too.
  10. New_Mac_Smell macrumors 68000


    Oct 17, 2016
    Many years ago I used to stream my MacBook to my iPad and use the iPad 2 as a 'cheap' tablet. It was a little cumbersome and obviously didn't support any pencil, but worked quite well for drawing in proper Photoshop and stuff.

    I don't own an iPad anymore but I imagine the tech is a lot more simpler and stable these days, so might be worth looking into.

    Just read @minton, so yeah same thing. They work really well if you prefer macOS Apps, and you can easily use it on the couch or the porch, which you can't do with a drawing tablet. So if you wanted something a bit more flexible and versatile check out what @minton mentioned.
  11. aevan macrumors 68030


    Feb 5, 2015
    Just to add my thoughts as someone who used both Duet Pro (or whatever they call the subscription) and Astropad: stay far away from Duet if you are an illustrator (or want to do anything with a Pencil, really). It is good as a second monitor, something Astropad can't do. But not good for pen input (the latency is horrible).
  12. Nilhum macrumors regular


    Dec 20, 2016
    The SurfaceBook with performance base is far more powerful than the surface pro. MacBook prices though. I has the 512 GB model and it was great. Thing was as fast as you could want and didn't have any software or hardware problems. Great screen as well.

    Sold it to get a MacBook Pro 15 inch but only did that because I didn't use the pen and touch screen that much. The new pen is as good as the Apple Pencil too.
  13. Poki thread starter macrumors 65816


    Mar 21, 2012
    Thank you so much for the tip! I actually just ordered a 12.9" iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil -- after seeing the possibility of using Capture One Pro entirely on the iPad, I changed my mind about the screen size - anything smaller renders CO unusable imho. I'll try that with Astropad with my Mac Mini, and if it works as intended and without too much lag or quality loss, I'll be a very happy user.

    Depending on just how well Astropad works, I might even push my MBP purchase back another year - being able to work around my house is already an advantage, and with Affinity Photo for iPad and a few other apps, I might be able to schedule my work in a way that an iPad is sufficient for continuing to work on some projects on the go.

    The Surface Book with Performance base in the higher end configuration which is closest to the higher end 15" MBP costs €3100, so only €200 cheaper than the MBP. For that money, you loose 2 GB of VRAM, 2 CPU cores, the Touch Bar, the larger screen and the (imho) superior keyboard and trackpad of the MBP. You get the touch functionality obviously, but when looking for a laptop, the MBP looks like much better value to me.

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