Review: Astropad Mini turns your iPhone or Apple Watch into a pro graphics tablet for your Mac

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We wrote about Astropad Graphics Tablet, an app that turns your iPad into a graphics tablet for your Mac, shortly following its February 2015 debut.

Designed and built by smart ex-Apple engineers Matt Ronge and Giovanni Donelli, the app has since been updated with support for FiftyThree’s Pencil stylus and gained other new features.

The team just released Astropad Mini, an iPhone edition of Astropad’s iPad app with Apple Watch support for remote drawing into Mac apps and more.

“We’ve completely rethought and redesigned Astropad for the iPhone and we’re ready for Force Touch,” co-founder Matt Ronge told me in an email.

In a nutshell, this sophisticated piece of software couples the iPhone’s touch display with your Mac and mirrors your Mac’s screen on your iPhone, allowing you to naturally draw and retouch directly into popular popular creative applications such as Photoshop, Lightroom and more.

A closer look at Astropad Mini

Upon installing a desktop helper app (no drivers required) and opening Astropad Mini on your iPhone, the two will establish a connection over Wi-Fi. You can also hook up your iPhone to a Mac via USB to maximize performance and image quality.

Astropad Mini runs on any iPhone with iOS 8 or later and supports all pressure sensitive iOS styli. It has customizable shortcuts, lets you pinch to zoom and pan in Mac apps, includes customizable shortcuts and more.

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“Built for the needs of creative professionals, Astropad Mini is true to your source material with color corrected output and retina resolution,” reads the blurb. “What you see on your iPhone is the same as on your Mac.

Literally any Mac app can be used in conjunction with Astropad Mini for iPhone and Apple Watch. This includes both established creative apps such as Pixelmator and Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom and apps like Capture One.

And here it is in action.

Because Astropad was designed as a software graphics tablet that offers the most powerful way to make photo edits with your Mac, the app is particularly useful for making quick edits as spot healing, smoothing skin textures, patching, dodging and burning, precision masking and so forth.

Who needs a stylus?

In addition to finger-based drawing, Astropad Mini supports all pressure sensitive styli available for iOS, ranging from FiftyThree’s Pencil to varied styli from Adonit (all models), Wacom (all models made for iOS), Pogo (Connect 2), Adobe (Ink) and Hex3 (JaJa)

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Powerful Liquid engine

How’s an app like this possible, you ask.

Well, Astropad owes its smoothness to a proprietary engine dubbed Liquid which provides nearly three times faster performance (12ms) versus Apple’s AirPlay (36ms) and image quality better than the highest quality JPEG.

On the Mac side, Liquid uses GPU acceleration to mirror what’s on your Mac to your iPhone. On the iPhone side, Astropad Mini takes full advantage of ARM assembly code to maximize both battery life and performance.

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“Astropad Mini features breakthrough network technology that keeps up with you even when wireless,” developers said. “It really works, allowing you to work from your desk or the sofa.”

In addition to lag-free performance over Wi-Fi or USB at sixty frames per second and no visible compression artifacts, Liquid performs color correction on-the-fly so what you see on your iPhone’s Retina screen exactly matches the images on your Mac, and vice versa.

Astropad Mini for Apple Watch

If you own an Apple Watch, Astropad Mini provides an app for your wrist for drawing into Mac apps directly on the Apple Watch’s tiny screen. It’s not that you’ll be creating works of art on your watch, but Astropad Mini should be a nice alternative to pulling an iPhone out of your pocket just to fix a red eye or a few blemishes in Lightroom.

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In addition to drawing support, the Apple Watch app sports customizable shortcuts for wrist control of your Mac apps. For instance, you could create an Undo item in the Apple Watch app to serve as a shortcut for the Undo function in Photoshop for Mac.


Astropad Mini is available for the iPhone and iPod touch devices running iOS 8.2 or later. The 13.8-megabyte download is optimized for the iPhone 5/5s/5c, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus screens and includes a handy Apple Watch app for your wrist.

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Astropad Mini is $4.99 in the App Store, a special 50 percent off introductory price.

Astropad Graphics Tablet for iPad is available for $19.99.

Both iPad and iPhone/Apple Watch editions of the app require a desktop helper available for download at no charge through the Astropad website (OS X 10.9 Mavericks or later is required).