By putting the most common tools and functions at your fingertips, the PenPad hopes to make using the most popular drawing/painting app on the iPad much easier by taking the hassle out of navigating Procreate’s interface. Instead, almost like the way a number pad makes it easy to access numbers, the PenPad gives you access to 22 different functions you’ll likely use while drawing in Procreate, from increasing and decreasing the brush size, accessing the scroll wheel, colors, switching between brushes and eraser, or simply bringing up the color wheel or eyedropper tool. The fact that it’s a compact hardware accessory means you can paint with one hand while intuitively pressing buttons with the other to make your workflow that much faster.
Available in black and white variants, the PenPad connects via Bluetooth to your iPad and automatically starts working with the Procreate app right out of the box. The 22 concave buttons on the PenPad are arranged in a way that makes them easy to use, and pressing the buttons allows you to actively perform tasks like viewing your layers, toggle the selection tool, cut, copy, paste tools, etc. The buttons work seamlessly, almost like a wireless keyboard would, resulting in faster workflows because your mind is focused on creating rather than navigating the user interface.
What PenPad actually does is reduce the time it takes for your eyes to stray and your hand to follow you through the Procreate user interface. More than 90% of the Procreate screen is the drawing canvas, which means that the other elements (buttons, menus, etc.) are arranged in a way that gives the canvas the main importance. Drawing on the canvas is easy, but using other features involves changing the focus of the canvas to position the toolbar, dropdown, etc. appropriate. It takes just a second, sometimes up to 10 seconds, but this all adds up pretty quickly. when working with large files and multiple layers. To avoid this, the PenPad simply puts common functions at your fingertips. This way, your dominant hand can draw on the screen, while your non-dominant hand rests on the PenPad, away from the touch screen. Once your fingers get used to the layout of the PenPad, it becomes even more intuitive and fast!
The tiny wireless device comes in a format that looks rather like a calculator. It’s relatively flat, except for a ridge at the top that makes the PenPad rest on angled surfaces, a feature that actually helps make it more ergonomic. The accessory remains fairly flat and slides right into your backpack, tablet case, or laptop when you’re not using it.
The PenPad works perfectly with iPads running iPadOS 14.4 and above, although it does have some shortcomings. For starters, it doesn’t work with any other drawing app, so you’re really limited to Procreate. It also does not work with Android tablets, since Procreate is not available for the operating system. The buttons aren’t reprogrammable either, so you can’t assign them to work in other software for the iPad or even the laptop. It is strictly tied to one app for one category of device. Another user also pointed out that the PenPad lacks the three most popular actions performed during digital drawing: pan, rotate, and zoom. Before you can do them, you must remove your hand from the PenPad and pinch, tap, and swipe the iPad’s touchscreen.
That doesn’t take away from the fact that the PenPad still speeds up your workflow. It’s pretty much a must-have for most digital artists who use the software for work (or even for fun). The PenPad comes with a built-in 100mAh battery that gives it a 5-day battery life, but unfortunately, it charges via MicroUSB (unlike the USB-C that charges on the iPad Pro), so sadly you will need to carry an extra cable with you wherever you go.