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I like it, but…

I am a longtime user and avid fan of iPads. After the first iPad was released, I purchased it immediately, and I’m gearing up for Apple’s announcement of their upgraded iPads after which I will likely replace my current 2018 12.9” iPad Pro. The iPad is in many ways a quintessential device for almost every area of my life, and for that reason, is my number one most used device. Paired with an Apple Pencil (or the Zagg Pro Stylus) and some kind of keyboard, it checks a LOT of boxes for most users. Of course, this assumes that you’re ok with the operating system limitations (when compared to a standard laptop) and you don’t hate the ecosystem.

I also have become a pretty big fan of the Apple Pencil, which I didn’t initially think I’d like all that much. Apple Notes is my primary note taking application, and I use it extensively both professionally and personally. I use it to take meeting notes, help my kids with their math homework, journal during or after a therapy session, or make silly story drawings with my daughter. The Apple Pencil has become an integral part of my iPad and how I use it.

But it’s not all fun and games—as writing with a slick plastic stylus on a slippery glass screen sometimes feels uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong—it is most certainly something you can get used to, and for a long time, I did get used to it.

I first heard about Paperlike from Chris at DailyTekk; I found it interesting, but not compelling enough to buy. Through a review program with Best Buy I received one to review, and liked it so much I bought it again…but there’s far more to the story.

”Unboxing”

The Paperlike comes in an envelope, not a box, so the typical review format doesn’t make a lot of sense here. The packaging is simple, and in the package are two Paperlike screen protectors and application supplies to help with installation (wipes, stickers, etc). It’s a really basic package that, if you’ve ever purchased a screen protector for your phone, you already have a good idea of what you’ll be getting.

Paperlike also includes some neat-o artwork created by someone in the Paperlike community, which I suppose is a nice touch, but I would much prefer a digital file to use as a Lock Screen wallpaper. The postcard artwork just ended up in the garbage.

The application process

Shortly after the iPhone 4 release, I remember going to Best Buy with a friend. While there, we ran into another friend who was purchasing a new iPhone and having Best Buy apply a screen protector to the phone for them. I remember being amazed at how easy the associate made it look, and how quickly he got it done without any bubbles or dust particles. Years later, these are far easier to apply and don’t take the same amount of finesse, but I still remember that experience with clarity.

Whether it’s a dbrand skin, or a screen protector for a phone, I really enjoy applying aftermarket products to electronics. Almost all of my devices end up with some sort of related product attached to them, and over the years I think I’ve gotten pretty good at applying them. With my experience and a bit of pride I attempted to apply the Paperlike without watching the instructions, which was a big mistake.

At this point it’s worth noting, I was working with a review product, so I wasn’t out any cash. And, Paperlike provides two of the products with each purchase, so I had a backup. Still, I can’t recommend enough that you spend some time watching, and rewatching their instructional video. The Paperlike is a giant, floppy, sticky screen protector that is far more difficult to apply than the screen protector for your phone. You’ve been warned.

Even after the second application attempt, with instruction, I didn’t do a good job. This is one of my chief complaints about the Paperlike—it is a very difficult product to apply, especially if you are a perfectionist. My second attempt was better than the first for sure, with no air bubbles to mention. A couple of significant dust particles did end up under the Paperlike and were in just the right place that I couldn’t deal with it.

My issue is this: Paperlike suggests you apply this in a ‘dust-free environment,’ which I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist in most homes. It’s almost as if Paperlike provides a second product because they figure you’re going to screw the pooch on the first one, which is nice in one sense but annoying at the same time.

The writing experience

After my second application attempt, I used the Paperlike for a couple of days with the annoying speck of dust trapped beneath. And I friggin’ loved it (the Paperlike, not the speck of dust).

If I’m being totally honest, I was not expecting to like the experience at all. I didn’t think that a clear sticker was enough to make me tolerate a screen protector on my iPad (more on that later), but I was wrong.

To set a couple of things straight, and to give you an idea of my experience with the Apple Pencil, consider the following:

  • Handwriting, drawing and markup on my iPad is something that happens daily
  • I am NOT an artist, but I do like to doodle from time to time on my iPad
  • Apple Notes is my exclusive application for taking notes, both handwritten and typed
  • With Adobe Draw, my iPad, and the Apple Pencil I designed the Nibblesandcrumbs.com logo.

What I found most immediately noticeable about the Paperlike writing experience had nothing at all to do with the Apple Pencil’s contact with the screen. Instead, my first ‘experience’ was that, while writing, as my palm slid across the screen, it kind of felt like paper. I often have warm and clammy hands, and as a result, the moist-skin-against-glass feeling can be distracting. With Paperlike, it feels like I’m sliding my hand across paper, and it sounds like it too.

When it comes to the stylus against the screen, I found the slightly increased friction of the Paperlike provided a more natural-feeling writing experience. Keep in mind, this doesn’t give you the experience of writing on paper—instead, it gives you a somewhat “paper-like” experience. What I’m saying is, they are analogous, but certainly not the same.

Why I don’t like screen protectors on iPads

Despite a relatively decent writing experience, and definitely one that is better than the “stock” Apple-Pencil-on-glass experience, I tend dislike screen protectors on tablets. I find them to be annoying to apply, often times they trap bubbles or dust no matter how careful you are, and they sometimes impact the clarity of the screen. And in that sense, my experience with the Paperlike was exactly like every other iPad screen protector I’ve had. And if Paperlike was only a screen protector, I’d pass on it immediately.

…but…

After two failed application attempts, I decided to buy it again. Keep in mind that the Best Buy review program provides products in exchange for honest reviews, and the products themselves are provided at no charge. If you’ve been on the site before, you undoubtedly have seen a disclaimer about products provided by Best Buy—and this is something we have to post because of that relationship.

You might also notice that not all reviews have the disclaimer. This is because we purchase some products directly and feel strongly enough about them that we like to share them with others.

So as you can imagine, I’m not a “screen protector on my iPad” kind of guy, but the Paperlike is just a bit different.

It’s all about the friction…

The physics of the Paperlike is relatively straightforward—and that physics was another thing that gave me pause. I know that the increased resistance felt when writing with the Apple Pencil on the Paperlike, and the noise created from my hand dragging across it, was a result of increased friction. That increased friction, in turn, is likely the result of increased surface area. When you’re talking about increasing the surface area of a flat surface, the only way to achieve that is through tiny bumps positioned closely to one another. Those bumps create more surface area, and therefore more surfaces for dust and oils to collect.

Physics says, surfaces with more friction should be harder to keep clean, and so it makes sense that this is the case for the Paperlike. But it’s not that much harder, and if you’re on the ball with keeping your screens wiped down somewhat frequently, the Paperlike will be no problem for you. And admittedly, the Paperlike does a far better job concealing fingerprints than plain glass does.

One of my least favorite things about the Apple Pencil is that sometimes, when making pixel-precise selections or adjustments, your iPad doesn’t quite get what you’re trying to do. Take for instance the idea of the ‘long press’ on iOS. When you do this with your finger, it’s pretty easy because you can touch the screen and not move your finger enough to make your iPad “think” you are swiping. This is easy because (you guessed it) there is a decent amount of friction between your finger and the screen, so keeping still is simple.

This is not the case with the Apple Pencil on glass. The decreased friction makes it far more challenging to place the tip of the pencil on the screen and keep it still, making the ‘long press’ a difficult task when handling the Apple Pencil. This is something that should be able to be fixed with software, but Apple just hasn’t gotten there yet. Paperlike helps this problem with that added friction.

When it comes to touch input, I find myself liking the feel of Paperlike, again, more than I thought I would.

But most enjoyable, and totally unexpected, is the matte finish that the Paperlike gives to the iPad’s screen. I have always loved matte screens, far more than glossy ones, and the Paperlike provides just enough of a matte finish to not mess with the display’s clarity and brightness too much.

It’s quite remarkable

You may have heard about a product called Remarkable; if you haven’t, you can check it out here. Remarkable caught my attention a couple of years ago, and in 2020 I bought one for my wife who uses it almost every day. It is no iPad, but the battery life is incredible and the writing experience is the closest to paper that I’ve found.

The Remarkable has deal-breaking shortcomings. It is a uni-tasker, meaning it’s really only good for one thing, unlike an iPad. It also doesn’t support enough third-party applications storage services and file formats. For someone heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, the Remarkable is hard to justify…and, Paperlike gives me all the “remarkable” that I need.

Remember that I bought it after getting it for free

The Paperlike is a product I didn’t expect to like and ended up loving. I liked it so much, even in a flawed application, that I decided to buy it myself. You must read/watch the application instructions, but if you’re careful, and you take your time, you should have a reasonably good result that will give you a whole new experience when using your iPad.

The biggest addition to the experience is simple: friction. But that friction goes a long way—in providing better resistance between Apple Pencil and iPad, between palm and iPad, in reducing fingerprint transfer, and in making the screen ever-so-slightly matte (but in a really nice way).

All of this for $40 retail, and for $40 you have two chances to get it right. Paperlike says on their website that you can contact them if you have multiple failed attempts at application, and they will support you—whether that be in providing guidance or additional product I’m not certain. But it is worth noting that the company recognizes it may be a challenge for many people to go through the application process and have a satisfactory result. Still, even for $40 to try it out, if you’re an avid Apple Pencil user, I really think this one might be worth your time and money.

And hopefully, it surprises you as much as it did me.

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