Astropad vs Duet Pro: Two Cintiq challengers

If you’ve wanted to use a mobile tablet as a Wacom Cintiq-like graphics input device for your computer, for a long time Astropad was the app that many turned to (a company called Avatron also offers Air Display for iOS and Air Stylus for Android). Now Duet, Inc. has introduced Duet Pro. These solutions display desktop applications such as Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator on an iPad, letting you use a stylus on the iPad display to draw or paint directly on the desktop document.

Both Astropad and Duet Pro are much less expensive than a Wacom Cintiq…if you already own an iPad. If you’re deciding which one to use, you’ll need to know the important differences between them.

Duet Pro started out as Duet Display, which lets a Mac or PC use an iPad or iPhone as an additional Mac display. Duet Pro adds support for advanced stylus features such as pressure and angle, bringing it into direct competition with Astropad. (Update: In December 2016, Duet Display and Duet Pro added the ability to let an iPad display the Touch Bar when connected to a Mac running macOS 10.12 Sierra.)

Duet Pro and Astropad both use an iOS app that communicates with a companion application that you run on your computer. But beyond that, they have more differences than you might think. Most of all, you’ll want to pay attention to the hardware they support and their pricing models.

(Update: In January 2017, Astropad announced Astropad Studio, a premium level that includes better performance and additional features. Like Duet Pro, Astropad Studio is available by subscription, but you can still pay just once for the Astropad app and use its base feature set without an Astropad Studio subscription.)

Astropad Duet Pro
Desktop system support Mac Mac and Windows
Mobile hardware support Any supported iOS device (including iPhones, using Astropad Mini) iPad Pro only
Stylus support Various, works best with Apple Pencil (Update: Support for non-Apple styluses will be dropped by 2019.) Apple Pencil only
Connection between computer and tablet USB or wi-fi USB
Hover/rollover support No Yes
Display the Touch Bar for Macs running Sierra Yes, in Astropad Studio Yes
Price $29 for iPad, free for iPhone (Astropad Mini). Optional: Additional “pro” features through Astropad Studio, a $64.99 annual subscription. $20 plus $20 annual subscription that includes future upgrades. The subscription is for Duet Pro and its Apple Pencil support; Duet Display alone is a one-time app purchase.

You can draw some conclusions from that table:

  • If you want to use Duet Pro, you have to own an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil.
  • If you use a Windows PC, you have to use Duet Pro because Astropad only works with Macs.
  • If you don’t like subscription pricing, you have to use Astropad (but not Astropad Studio, which does require a subscription).
  • If you want to connect wirelessly you have to use Astropad, but for best performance you’ll want to connect with a cable anyway.

I can’t compare the performance and usage of Astropad and Duet Pro, because I’ve only used Astropad. But given the major differences in what hardware they support and how they’re priced, you might be swayed one way or the other more by what hardware you own or how you prefer to pay.

About that “Hover/rollover support” line in the table: A frustrating aspect of using a mobile tablet as a graphics tablet is that they generally don’t support pointer hovering, so you can’t hover the pointer without clicking as you can with a mouse or Wacom tablet. Not being able to hover is a side effect of how most mobile devices work, where your finger or stylus can interact with the display only at the moment you actually touch it. But hovering is important when you want to select a small target, precisely grab object handles, or use mouse rollover effects such as tool tips. Duet Pro and Astropad Studio claim to support hovering, but those are premium levels of those apps which require a subscription.

After I originally wrote this post, Astropad came out with their own table comparing the two premium versions, Duet Display Pro vs Astropad Studio.

One other feature which I thought might be too obscure to list in the table is support for using multiple devices as displays simultaneously. I had no problem creating a ridiculous multiple desktop display by using Air Display to connect multiple iPads and iPhones to my Mac, but Duet Display can use only one device as a display. I believe Astropad is also intended to connect a Mac to only one iOS device at a time.

(The photo for this article is from the Duet website.)

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