SyncPad: Like Air Sketch, but different…and flawed

One of the biggest issue with the iOS app store is that there are so many apps and such a limited browsing system in place that unless you know what you want, you won’t find it. Sometimes that means you’ll find an app that does what you want, without knowing there’s a practically identical app a search away. That was the case with me and SyncPad, which I didn’t learn about until I read this article. SyncPad is basically the same thing as Air Sketch, but done a bit differently. Unfortunately, “different” doesn’t always mean “good”.

Just to make it very clear: Air Sketch was first. Very much so, in fact, as I can trace Air Sketch back to July of last year with SyncPad being released in December. The reason I’m including this bit of info is that I’m pretty sure that the developer of SyncPad “borrowed” the idea from Air Sketch. If not for anything else, the description of the app makes it clear that SyncPad is aware of the existence ofAir Sketch: “forget those whiteboard and sketchpad applications that require you to be a few feet from each other in order to collaborate”.

This refers to the fact that Air Sketch only works on local Wifi networks while SyncPad works over the Internet. That means you don’t need to be connected to the same network, you can use it on networks which are otherwise protected by annoying firewalls etc. Other neat features including collaboration (multiple people working on the same whiteboard), Dropbox integration in the app and PDF import (which Air Sketch also has).

The problem however is that they added all these features that Air Sketch doesn’t have without first adding the features that it does have. On AirSketch, you have the ability to secure access to the viewer with a password. This is despite the fact that for anyone to actually get into the viewer in the first place the would need to be connected to the same Wifi network as well as guess the right IP, and all they would be able to do is watch. On SyncPad however, they use so-called “rooms” which means that you type in the name of a room (either to create it or join it) and then mysyncpad.com/nameyoutypedin becomes the URL of that room. Anyone in the whole world that guesses your room name can then join from either an iOS device or just any HTML5 browser and you have absolutely no way of stopping them. Also, even though I don’t have two iPads to test this, I see no way of limiting access to collaborating on the whiteboard. If that is indeed the case, anyone who has the full version of the software can enter the room you’re using and start drawing on your whiteboard. Imagine being in a meeting in England and have some 14 year old kid in the US start drawing penises all over your important presentation. Again, there might be a way to prevent this that I can’t find without a second iPad running the full version of the software (rather than the free view-only app) but I don’t think so.

It also didn’t impress me when the app decided to crash the first (and only) time I tried importing a PDF file. That’s not as big a bug as the update issue when connecting with a browser though- for some reason it only shows changes made after the browser connected, not the stuff that’s on there already. This means that if you accidentally close the window, lose the Internet connection, crash the browser etc and have to reconnect to the viewer, you will only see what is drawn on the “whiteboard” from the point you rejoin. One way to fix this is to switch back and fourth between pages, but that’s not exactly an ideal situation if you’re dealing with a lot of people or want everything to be smooth.

There’s also the issue of some gestures not working. The app description states that “if you want to clear your whiteboard, just tap on the screen 3 times to clear imported images and 4 to clear the entire board”. I tried tapping both 3, 4 and 29823 times both slowly and rapidly as well as tapping with 3 and 4 fingers simultaneously, but all any of it did was to draw a bunch of dots all over the “whiteboard”.

My biggest gripe though is the lack of a zoom feature. I spent months zooming and panning around smartNote in order to write tiny enough to annotate existing documents properly before I switched to Notify and started using their magnified writing mode. SyncPad doesn’t have eitjer of these features, which means that even if you’re using a stylus you have no hope of writing tiny enough text that you’ll fit any decent amount of text in there. While Air Sketch also lacks magnification mode, it does at least have a zoom feature that allows you more flexibility. There’s also no undo function, which is just weird.

Both apps have their strength and weaknesses but frankly the only reason I see for using SyncPad would be to collaborate or connect outside a local network. In most other respects it’s pretty immature compared to Air Sketch, especially with the security issues. It might be a good idea for the SyncPad developer to remove that line about forgetting other software until they have an app that can compete completely.

As for price, SyncPad is the same $9.99 as Air Sketch. The viewing app is free, and there’s also an iPhone app for $4.99. Universal app anyone? Apparently not.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.