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Hands on: Paper by FiftyThree comes to your pocket with iPhone support

Nick Mediati | Sept. 11, 2015
FiftyThree's popular sketching app comes to the iPhone at long last—and learns a few new tricks along the way.

In addition to more robust note-taking tools, Paper 3 also lets you annotate photos: Snap a photo or choose one from your photo library, then doodle on it all you want. The Spotlight tool lets you call attention to a particular part of a photo just by drawing a circle. It turns the photo to grayscale, except for the portion you want to call attention to.

The annotation tools are fairly basic—you’re basically just drawing on your photos—but they fit in nicely with the rest of the app.

coco kitty annotated photo
An example of an annotated photo. (Coco Kitty is ready for her closeup!)

You can add text notes to your sketches and annotated images, which can come in handy if you want to provide a detailed description of a sketch or diagram, for instance. Toggling between the image and text portions of a page isn’t immediately obvious, though—you have to tap on the portion of the page you want to edit from the home screen.

All these new features work together quite well, but it may take you a while to get a feel for how best to make use of all that Paper offers.


Adapting a tablet app interface for a phone is always a challenge, but FiftyThree pulls if off as well as anyone with Paper 3. And if you know how to use Paper on the iPad, you already know how to use Paper on the iPhone.

Paper’s iPhone interface is essentially a shrunken-down version of the iPad interface: All the features are right where you’d expect them to be, but you may need to tap once or twice more to get at some of them. For instance, the color swatches live on a separate screen, and you may need to swipe through an extra pane in order to find the brush you want to use. Those minor tradeoffs aside, however, Paper is a very capable iPhone app.

sketch tool iphone
Sketching on an iPhone 5c. iPhone 6 and 6 Plus users will have a little more space to work with.

Of course, trying to edit your work is a bit more challenging on a phone screen than it is on a tablet. And sure enough, trying to doodle on my iPhone 5c’s screen was a little cumbersome. However, Paper’s pinch-to-zoom-in feature made editing fine details much less tedious.

A stylus makes sketching easier, but the tips of the styluses I used—including FiftyThree’s Pencil stylus—still felt a little clunky on a four-inch screen. I felt as if I were using a thick-point marker on a pocket-sized memo pad. Your mileage may vary, but if you plan on sketching with Paper on your iPhone, you may want to shop around for a stylus that fits your needs.


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