The New AutoDesk Sketchbook Pro for Android

Patch says you made a mistake...

The second drawing I did today. This one was while I chilled at a Starbucks and did some people watching.

So I recently downloaded the new Sketchbook Pro for Android. As the previous edition of Sketchbook was pretty much the only app I use for illustration on my Galaxy Note 8, I jumped at the chance to pick up a new version with the assumption that it was significantly improved. The marketing materials certainly seemed to make it seem so. I wanted to spend a little time with it before I posted/commented on how I feel about it. This is that review. (Don’t let Patch’s commentary fool you…)

First, let’s look at the

Cons

They removed some of the functionality that already existed in previous versions and added it back into a ‘Advanced Pro Tools’ pack which you have to purchase. This means you have to spend more on a product you already purchased. Since the cost is low ($3.99) and the value is high (the selection tools alone would make it worthwhile) I went ahead and bought it. I figured it’s the same in the desktop world – you have to pay for new editions – so why not. Still, it did feel a bit like re-buying something I already own.

  • There appears to be a glitch with the eraser that causes the ‘hover effect’ to stay even once I’ve switched to another tool (say, the pencil) until I actually use the new tool. This is obviously not a big deal, but it can be annoying if I’m working in a small area. This could actually be related to the fact that I use Samsung’s special SPen with an Eraser – I haven’t tested the ‘standard’ SPen to see if it has the same issue.
  • Documentation: This is a personal pet peeve of mine. When your company is on the scale of AutoDesk, I expect to be able to find the information I need on your product somewhere online. Yes, I recognize this product is new. Does’t matter. If I’m able to find an issue with your app? There should be information about it. Specifically, I’d like to see more information on the Transform Tool and the export/share functionality. Why? Well…
    • Transform Tool: They’ve actually given us a far better version of this tool imho, but they don’t explain how it works. Scale and Rotate in the old version was a “grab the handle with your stylus and do what you need to” process. The new version allows you to use a two finger rotate and scale pretty effectively and in a way that feels a bit more like traditional media. I’m a huge fan. But here’s the thing: because I didn’t know about how to use the tool, I thought that it didn’t exist. I almost posted a much worse review because I thought we’d lost some really valuable tools in a ‘newer better version’. Moral? Documentation matters folks.
    • Eport / Share functionality: Here again, it seems that the new version does the things that I want it to do, but frankly I’m still figuring it out. Specifically, I wanted to ‘save to device as a PNG’. While you do almost all other ‘save/share’ functions from within the Gallery View of the app, there seems to be an option for ‘save to device’ in the ‘edit image’ view. Cloodgey. Again – not terrible, but far from intuitive. Annnd since there’s no documentation that I could find on the subject…
  • And lastly (but probably most importantly) is this: It really seems to crash a lot on my Note 8. That said, I will say this: I have had almost zero incidents where I lost much more than a few minutes of work as the app seems to ‘recover’ pretty damn well. It does, however send me into a panic each time because I still think in terms of desktop applications where – if you haven’t saved it, you’re pretty much sunk. (UPDATE 12/6/2014: This seems to have improved a lot. I’m unsure if I changed something or if there was an update that improved things.)
  • Edited to Add: Sadly, I need to add one more item to the ‘con’ list. There are no longer numbers to associate with certain elements of brushes – say, for example, for brush size. (UPDATE 12/6/2014: Yes, there are. I didn’t find them originally – see my thoughts on Documentation above – but you can’t actually type the number. I’m happy to at least SEE them, but I do feel like we lost a bit of control when we lost the ability to select the number and then enter it via keyboard.) The sliders still remain, but you can’t see a number to determine the actual size or to enter for a precise size. This seems like a significant item for the minus column.
TMNT - Turtle Power!

TMNT – Turtle Power! The first drawing I did today – kinda a warm up while I had breakfast.

Now that’s out of the way, let’s take a look at the

Pros

  • Selection Tools: this is HUGE. You have to pay for it (as mentioned – $3.99 – get over it. Buy that instead of a regular old coffee at Starbucks ONE TIME) but it’s completely worth it. I had figured out a way around the lack of a selection tool in the previous version, but that basically consisted of duplicating a layer and then erasing everything that I did not want to ‘select’. Far from efficient. Seriously? I know that it looks like I posted a lot of cons above, but this makes up for most of them by itself.
  • More Traditional Feel: AutoDesk really seems to be working hard at the idea of making their GUI more like working with traditional media, but with the added functionality of digital art. They’ve worked out a process by which you can zoom/rotate using two fingers. Or, if you’re in ‘Transform Mode’, the same gestures Scales / Rotates the currently selected area or layer. This feels very natural not only because that’s what you would be doing with regular paper, but because it’s how you already work in pretty much every app that is Android or iOS based. While this might seem like a no brainer, it’s a huge welcome to the newest version.

TL;DR

I give the new version a 3.75 out of 5. It has some (minor) bugs/issues, but 1. they’re manageable and 2. I suspect they will go away over time as AutoDesk gets a chance to revise/tweak. It’s going to remain the only app I consistently use for illustration purposes.

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