Review: Astropad Retouching (Apple iPad Air 2)

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Astropad was developed by former Apple engineers, and the app that they developed is targeted at photographers who retouch and want to do so with a graphics tablet of some sort. However, in this case they’re turning an iPad into something like a product from Wacom. Now, something like this could technically be done with Airplay, but to the creators of Astropad, that isn’t fast enough. To accomplish their goal of a near seamless and lag-free experience, they utilize a technology called LIQUID that claims to be twice as fast as Airplay and that relies on WiFi transferring of information back and forth.

For the most part, they’re doing a fantastic job.

Pros and Cons

Pros

– Almost completely seamless and lag-free, though sometimes there are choke ups depending on your connection.

– Effective way of making fine tuned edits in both Lightroom and Photoshop.

– Can mirror your choice of displays if you have more than one.

– Selectively mirror a section of a screen instead of the whole thing.

Cons

– Kills your iPad battery if you’re in for one of those marathon editing sessions.

– Some tasks are still just better done with your computer, a mouse or your finger.

Gear Used

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We tested Astropad with the Apple iPad Air 2, Adobe Ink, a MacBook Pro 13″ from 2012 and an Asus 27 inch monitor.

Features

Astropad is designed for a photographer to be able to retouch or edit images by using their iPad in the same way that they would use a Wacom tablet. It has compatibility for many different styli that can all be paired to the app/iPad via Bluetooth. It requires both your iPad and Apple computer to be running on WiFi in the same way that AirPlay works.

Ease of Use

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Setup and installation of the product is fairly straight forward. Once you download the app to your iPad, you’ll open it up. Astropad will prompt you to go to the Astropad website on your desktop/laptop. Then you download and install right there. After this, you run Astropad on your computer, choose which display you want to use in the case that you have more than one and then choose the exact surface area that you want to mirror to your iPad.

It’s probably not a bad idea to have a program open on your computer while doing this–like Lightroom or Photoshop for example.

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On the iPad, you’ll see this little circle thing, and by tapping that you’ll have options like zooming in and out of the mirrored area. Plus you’ll be able to choose to tell the app whether you’re using a stylus or your finger.

When you’re not touching the little circle, you can move it out of the way and interact with the program you’re running in the same way that you’d interact with it on the desktop. That means that clicking on an image in Lightroom will bring you into a 100% zoom crop on that area. For the most part though, this act and something like selecting specific sliders is much easier to do on the desktop than it is with your finger. To be fair, Adobe’s Ink isn’t the absolute best stylus out there, but it’s still very good and quite comfortable!

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We edited in Adobe Lightroom using the Brush tool and the Lightroom Retouching Tool kit. Making precise adjustments like changing the size of the brush was much simpler to do with the computer, but actual editing and brushing is a pleasant and excellent experience vs using a mouse and way better than a trackpad.

Multi-touch capabilities are also disabled at this time on the iPad–so don’t worry about resting your hand to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

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During our tests, the app only started to slow down twice, but it never froze or crashed–just went down to a big halt. When this happened, we switched our internet connection to another one on the modem. In my apartment, I pay for a business class Time Warner internet plan and my modem allows us to have two different connections–one is standard and the other is 5G broadband. The latter worked significantly better and eliminated any sort of lag.

We decided to play around a bit more and found that even internet navigation wasn’t too bad with AstroPad. Indeed, LIQUID does a much better job than AirPlay–we tested it. If AstroPad can license the technology to other apps and somehow allow monitors to connect to a computer wirelessly, they’ll be rich.

Quite literally, the technology behind LIQUID is a potential goldmine and does a better job than AirPlay.

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Astropad also promises color correction when it comes to editing, What that means is color matching of your screen. It’s close, but not perfect. In my room where my desk is located, the color matching is spot on. But when moving my computer and iPad to the kitchen or living room, it’s not so spot on.

That just means that any color work may need to be done on the computer instead. As it is, matching the calibration of a laptop screen and an iPad is a difficult task even with calibration software and tools.

Conclusions

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AstroPad is sitting on some very powerful technology that could potentially shake up the market. While it’s not a full replacement for a graphic tablet, it’s more than adequate enough and lets you use technology that you probably own already if you’re a photographer. It wins lots of brownie points from us for attempting to shake up the industry, and as its technology becomes better with sensing and detecting what you’re touching, it’s bound to make the industry change over given the freedom that the iPad and wireless connectivity delivers.

We rate AstroPad at four out of five stars. It’s available for $19.99 in the iTunes store.