Apple Sidecar Review

To run sidecar you’re going to need a newer mac and a newer iPad. I’ll link to the specific requirements down below in the description. Unfortunately this meant that my trusty 2015 Macbook Pro wasn’t going to cut it. I had to steal my wife’s newer laptop.

You’re going to need to be running Catalina on your Mac and also have the latest iPad OS 13 running on your iPad. If you do then you can turn on sidecar by clicking on the airplay icon in the menu bar up top. It works over wi-fi or plugged into your laptop. One thing you might need to do first is tell your iPad to trust the computer before this works over wifi, so the first time you use it you might need to use a cable.

What’s Sidecar does well

As a second screen Sidecar is impressive. I’ve used Duet Display, I’ve used Astropad and so I expect some lag, some artifacting, even if it’s tiny I expected some kind of “tell” that would say hey I’m not a real monitor I’m just pretending to be a monitor but The clarity and performance is insane. This isn’t emulating a second monitor, this IS a second monitor. Watching video moving things around it’s all super crisp.

I also thought that being connected via the thunderbolt wire would give me better performance, but honestly Wi-fi is just as good. When people talk about the benefit of Apple controlling the software and the hardware, their talking about stuff like this.

The Tools

Like any secondary monitor attached to your Mac you can move any application to it just by dragging it over. You can also dive into the settings and place your ipad on whatever side of your laptop you wish or even make the iPad screen your primary screen.

Catalina also bakes in some extra tools. By hovering the green expand circle of any app you can send it over to your other displays.

By default the Screen has back bars along the top and side. Inside those black bars are a bunch of useful shortcuts. This moves your dock over to your iPad screen Command, option, control and shift software keys so you can use the interface a little easier with the apple pencil sans keyboard. Undo This pulls up a little software keyboard And This Disconnects sidecar Along the bottom is the same context sensitive Touch bar that is built into some of the newer Macbook Pros, but not my wife’s *have you seen my laptop?* No I found this to be pretty handy.

What I DIDN’T LIKE

Touch is not as intuitive as I thought it would be. Coming from the iPad or even Windows I assumed I could use my finger to scroll, navigate, tap on links or control the interface in some way and you can’t. I can tap to open the dock but then I can’t tap on any of the apps in it. It’s weird. There are some hand gestures. Three finger swipe to undo, pinch and zoom sometimes works, there’s a two finger to scroll but these feel wrong.. They aren’t smooth, if you’re used to the apple trackpad the elastic scrolling is great, it has weight and momentum. Scrolling With 2 fingers... it’s very mechanical, the second your fingers lift from the screen it just stops. It feels very un-Apple.

Same with using the Apple pencil as an input. I thought maybe I could use the pencil as a mouse and you kinda can. But as soon as the tip of the pencil hits the screen it acts like a mouse button being held down. The Apple pencil doesn’t have a hover state like a Wacom stylus, there is only a clicked state so you can click links with the pencil, but you can’t drag and drop files or scroll or do any particularly useful.

Drawing

Here is what I look for in a great drawing tool: and I’ll use the Apple pencil as my example because it’s one of the best.

First I want to see if it can hold pressure well. I press lightly and very little paint comes out, I press harder and more paint comes out. Is that pressure curve smooth? Does it feel like it comes on to strong or blow out at a certain point? You want smooth consistent pressure. Drawing circles with different pressure applied helps me look at this, often your hand will add a little more or less pressure as it turns.

I also like to take a look at fast hatching lines, can I keep them consistent? How do they taper? Some of this depends on the brush you’re using and the pressure you apply but I’m looking for uniformity. No weird bloops along the bottom or weird mechanical looking tapers up top.

Lastly, and for me most importantly is can it draw a straight line? I draw slow angles lines to see if there is any uniform wave occurring. Your hand will naturally have some shake to it so often I’ll use a ruler if I can’t tell.

So with that as our baseline of how the Apple Pencil usually performs lets take a look at it in SideCar.

The performance and drawing quality varies dramatically from app to app. For brevity I’m going to look at 3 apps here in different price ranges: Photoshop - Expensive Affinity Designer - Mid range And Krita - Free like cheerios found on the floor of the bus.

Should I get it?

Well it’s free so yeah.

I’ve recorded this ending several times, because Sidecar isn’t horrible and I’ve seen on social media that other artists are enjoying it, the consensus so far has been positive. If you already have an iPad, use it and see if it works for your needs.

I wanted to nit pick it because I think it can be better and should be better. And if you don’t point out the shortcomings of software like this it will never get fixed. And most tech reviewers arn’t drawing all day so they arn’t going to spot these things.

The good news here is that this is all fixable. This is iteration ONE and they nailed what is probably the hardest part wich is screen latency, especially over wifi. I’m still genuinely amazed at how lag free the screen really is.

Making this a tool for artist like us was secondary to the team I just hope it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. I busted open Astropad which is a paid app, been around for a while and tried it out after using Sidecar just to see, is it the same and it’s not they were focused on the drawing experience and it’s much better. So it can be done.

I thought this might be the first step that Apple took to modifying its MacOS to accommodate touch screens. I think it takes a lot more work and UI rethinking to make an OS work well with touch. I was an early user of Windows 8 and I remember that was not smooth sailing for Microsoft. It took several iterations to get it to where it is today.

I thought this might be the spearpoint to that initiative, it’s not as easy as just slapping touch screens on laptops and calling it a day. But it really seems like they went out of their way to deter the user from using the OS as a touch screen. It will be interesting to see where things go from here. What are your thoughts?

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