Apple Pencil lag test: New iPad vs. iPad Pro

The new iPad might not be a "Pro," but you'd never know it from how well the Apple Pencil performs.

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We’re still a few days away from our complete review of the new 9.7-inch iPad, but in the meantime we made a quick lag test video for anyone who wants to see how well it holds up compared to a 2015 12.9-inch iPad Pro. (A newer model currently isn’t in the office.) Our full review will discuss the Pencil’s performance on the 9.7-inch iPad in greater detail, especially since it’s one of the key selling points, but this should help you out if you’re seeking a quick visual comparison.

Put simply, I barely notice any difference between the two while using most Pencil-compatible apps. If anything, the Apple Pencil feels as though it delivers slightly smoother performance in the Notes Plus app on the new 9.7-inch iPad compared to the older Pro. (I also put a brand-new nib on my older Apple Pencil for a more even comparison.)

In apps such as Notability, Apple’s Notes, and Procreate, though, the writing experience feels remarkably similar. I’d even go so far as to say that there’s no difference at all, but I’ll wait until I’ve conducted more “scientific” tests for the full review before making that kind of judgment.

A chip off the old block

The difference in performance in Notes Plus is likely related to my first-generation iPad Pro’s A9X chip, as Apple packed the new iPad with the A10 Fusion chip we know from the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. It’s significantly more powerful. While it’s not as powerful as the A10X Fusion chip found in the new iPad Pro models, it seems more than capable of handling the seemingly lightweight performance demands of the Pencil.

Also, importantly, the 2015 12.9-inch iPad Pro doesn’t feature Apple’s ProMotion refresh technology that we find on the later Pro models. For that matter, neither does the new 9.7-inch iPad. That means that the displays for both of these devices are refreshing at 60Hz per second rather than the stunning 120Hz you can get with the newer iPad Pros.

It’s the kind of thing that isn’t too obvious when you’re casually writing on either device (as the video shows), but the slower latency of the older iPad Pro sticks out like a sore thumb in slow-motion videos. It’s likely that we’ll see similar results with this new iPad, and I’ll be sure to conduct a slow-motion test before we post our full review.

In practice, that likely means that scribbled writing could come out a tad more clearly on a 2017 iPad Pro as the Pencil can better interpret the most minute variations in your movements. For artists, the Pro is likely the better choice for that reason alone. But for casual writing? I don’t think the difference is great enough to worry about.

Much like last year’s 9.7-inch iPad, the new model doesn’t have a laminated screen (nor an anti-reflecting coating). That basically means there’s a bit more of a gap between the display and the glass, but fortunately that appears to have minimal impact on the performance of the Pencil as a writing device. With both devices, the tip hits the point on the “page” I intended to hit. It does so smoothly and beautifully. It’s impressive, really. Apple balks at calling the Apple Pencil a “stylus,” and once you’ve been using one for a while, it’s easy to understand why.

Suddenly there came a tapping

My one (very minor) complaint is that the Apple Pencil sounds comparatively loud when writing on the 9.7-inch iPad. It’s not a massive difference, but it’s hard not to notice it during lulls in the office conversations. You’ll also hear the tap-tap-tapping sound of the pencil hitting the display on the bigger iPad Pro, of course, but somehow it doesn’t seem quite as obnoxious, possibly thanks to the laminated screen.

Today and throughout the next few days, I’ll be looking at the iPad more closely, and I’ll conduct some slow motion and other tests to get a better understanding of what we’re looking at here.

But as a person who frequently writes on his iPad Pro as though it were a legal pad, I see little difference in casual practice. And for those of you who’ve always wanted to buy an iPad Pro just for the Apple Pencil but were scared away by the price, that should be very, very good news indeed.

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