[Update 13th January 2020 – see the end of the article for further screen protectors I’ve tested]
The iPad is great for consuming content. Browsing the web, watching YouTube videos, reading magazines and books. But if you have a more recent iPad that supports the Apple Pencil, it can do a lot more and it’s transformed how I use it. I’ll cover how I use the Apple Pencil with my iPad in an upcoming article, so please subscribe to my YouTube channel if you haven’t already.
But one thing I quickly found out, was that writing on glass doesn’t feel very natural – and I know it’s not just me!
The general recommendation is to use a matte screen protector, to give the iPad a more paper like feel with your Apple Pencil. There are a few options for matte screen protectors on Amazon, starting from around £7 or $8. The cheaper ones don’t mention the paper-like experience but there is a well marketed product called PaperLike that does. It was the product of a Kickstarter campaign, designed specifically to provide the feel of paper with your Apple Pencil.
PaperLike is over 3 times the price of the cheapest options on Amazon, and many of the online reviews on YouTube are sponsored by PaperLike themselves, so it’s very hard to reliably establish exactly what the difference is, if there is any, between their product and the cheaper alternatives.
I’m using the screen protectors on the 2018 iPad, which is the cheapest current iPad. Many of the other reviews I’ve seen, install these protectors on the more expensive iPads including the iPad Pros which have laminated screens. This is important to mention since the basic iPad doesn’t have a laminated screen and therefore has a small air gap between the glass and display, which will become relevant shortly.
I ordered PaperLike directly from Germany and it arrived a couple of days later to the UK. It comes in a hard envelope with some basic installation instructions, and a suggestion to watch a video on the installation process at paper.me. The video is worth watching, whether you’re familiar with installing screen protectors or not.
For £25 or just under $33, you get 2 protectors and 2 wet wipes, dry wipes, guide stickers and dust stickers. I start by giving the iPad an initial clean with a microfibre cloth. Then you use the guide stickers to carefully align the protector with side one facing the screen. The screen protector then opens like a book. Clean the screen thoroughly with the wet wipe, paying close attention to the button and camera area. Then remove any moisture with the dry wipe.
You can now use the dust sticker to mop up any remaining dust particles. Peel back side one facing the iPad and let it stick to the iPad screen.
There will be air bubbles – use a plastic card which isn’t included, to push the bubbles to the closest side. It’s quite a satisfying process if a bit tedious. So long as the bubbles aren’t from a dust particle, you should be able to remove all of them in under 10 minutes. If you do have a dust particle and it’s close to the edge, I’ve successfully used 2 pieces of Scotch tape: 1 to carefully lift the screen protector and the other bit to get the offending dust particle.
The final step is to remove side two and then remove any small bubbles remaining. The Apple Pencil makes quite a good tool to remove any small, stubborn bubbles.
Kwmobile costs just under £7 or $8. With it, you also get 2 protectors, but only 1 small wet wipe, dry wipe and an almost useless dust sticker that reminds me of the fortune telling fish you get in Christmas crackers. Just use some Scotch tape. There’s also no guide stickers, but I again used some Scotch tape and used the same procedure as with the PaperLike.
The one physical difference difference between the 2 protectors is the kwmobile only has a small hole for the camera, which is hard to align. The PaperLike has a larger hole for the camera and the ambient light sensor. The sensor still appeared to work ok covered up by the kwmobile.
There isn’t a huge difference between the installation of both protectors, although the PaperLike comes with two sets of accessories and does provide more helpful guidance – especially via the video. But that advice can be followed with any protector.
I would really like to see an alignment frame for completely foolproof installation, especially for the cost of the PaperLike. But the guide stickers work ok.
If you’ve only installed glass protectors, the installation process will seem a faff and does require some patience. I still had one stubborn bubble around the camera that I couldn’t remove and there was no dust there.
Both protectors are the same thickness: 0.12mm which is very thin – just a fraction thicker than printer paper, and they are barely visible once installed, with an almost perfect fit right up to the edge of the iPad.
This does mean that installing into a case which has any lip to it, can lift the protector. I’m not sure there’s really a solution to this, unless they make slightly smaller protectors for use with cases. If you’re going to use with a case, you need to be even more careful with alignment, making sure the minute gap around the edge of the protector is exactly even all the way around, to give you the best chance of the case not causing too much trouble. But you’ll most likely still get some lifting, which you will have to poke back under the lip. After a couple of days I found any bubbles caused by this issue mostly went away, so as long as you’re not taking the iPad in and out of the case too much and you’re not super fussy you’ll probably be ok.
I’ve found I prefer to use my Apple smart cover now, so this is no longer an issue for me.
The first time you turn your iPad on with the new PaperLike screen protector, it’s quite a shock to see your bright, sharp screen look almost milky in appearance. It’s far worse viewing at an angle, I imagine due to the air gap I mentioned earlier between the glass and display. You don’t get the rainbow effect users describe with the iPad Pro – but I’d say this is worse.
Text just isn’t anywhere near as sharp – it almost looks blurry. And brightness is also reduced. So you will get some reduction in battery life with the protector on, unless you’re happy with a dimmer screen.
But writing in Notability and drawing in Procreate on the screen does feel really pleasant. It feels far more natural and you have more control. It doesn’t really feel like paper, but the rougher texture of the PaperLike does feel and sound quite different to glass.
The sound of tapping, exaggerated on the non laminated display, is also dampened slightly.
The kwmobile screen protector still reduces the display quality, but to a lesser extent than the PaperLike. Text still looks fairly sharp, even at an angle. And it doesn’t reduce the brightness as much.
However, it doesn’t feel as rough as the PaperLike and writing and drawing on it isn’t as consistent, resulting in the Apple Pencil sometimes slipping like it does on glass. At first I really didn’t like it at all. I did get used to it to a degree, but still preferred the feel of PaperLike. There is some loss of sensitivity with the kwmobile, resulting in some faster, lighter strokes not picked up. This isn’t apparent with PaperLike, except sometimes when pinch zooming with your fingers.
The screen protectors also do a good job of reducing reflections. And fingerprints are less apparent. I was also getting some very faint scratches on the iPad’s glass – only visible when the screen was off and in certain light. These screen covers will offer some protection, although this is my third iPad and I have never felt the need for any screen protection before.
I had the PaperLike on for around a week before trying the kwmobile, but there are a large number of scratches already on it. These are also only visible in certain light, but it does make me wonder how long before it’d need replacing. PaperLike suggest cleaning with soap and a moist cloth to restore the paper-like feel, but this of course won’t get rid of any scratches. I haven’t had he kwmobile on as long, but it seems to be less susceptible to scratches.
Using one of these screen covers is a tradeoff. If you’re happy with the feel of the Apple Pencil on glass, and you’re not concerned about the small chance of picking up micro-scratches, I’d keep the screen bare.
But if you write or draw a lot with your iPad, I would try one of these matte screen protectors out – it is rather subjective. Personally I’m going to stick with the PaperLike. I wasn’t expecting as much difference against the cheaper kwmobile, both positively and negatively. But overall I do prefer its feel and more importantly its consistency. After a week of use, I did get mostly used to the reduction in screen quality, which is particularly noticeable web browsing and reading magazines. Not so much watching videos, writing notes or drawing.
If you want to save some money and only use the Apple Pencil occasionally, I imagine you’d be more than happy with the kwmobile or any of the cheaper options on Amazon. And the kwmobile at least, doesn’t affect the iPad’s display as much, which is a big plus.
But it is a compromise. If the novelty of using the Apple Pencil to finally replace pen and paper diminishes, it’s coming straight off!
Other matte protectors I’ve tried since this article:
https://youtu.be/BTN5IR91EnI (my more recent video on the new version of PaperLike)
Nillkin Write Like Paper Screen Protector:
+Roughest protector I’ve tried. Probably feels most like you’re writing on paper
+Easiest matte protector I’ve applied – perfect installation with no bubbles
+Feels quite thick so may offer slightly more protection
+Still has good clarity
-Perhaps too rough for many. I couldn’t get on with it but will be very subjective
-You only get one sheet – so be careful applying it!
BENKS Screen Protector for iPad:
+A little rougher than PaperLike 1 and 2 which some will like
+Installation easier than PaperLike 1 and 2
+Decent clarity. Better than PaperLike 1, but not quite as sharp as PaperLike 2
-1mm gap around edges quite visible (this was on an iPad Air 3 10.2″)
-No alignment stickers. I just used sellotape and book method as I show in both my videos. Does come with a nice squeegee though
-Quite expensive considering you again only get one sheet
Tech Armor – Anti-Glare Matte Film Screen Protector for iPad
+Quite similar feel to PaperLike
+Easier to install than PaperLike – no bubbles left for my installation
+Very good value – 2 sheets for £7
-No wet wipe
-Does noticeably soften the screen – this installation was on a iPad 6th Generation with the air gap. Similar to PaperLike 1, worse than PaperLike 2