If you want Apple’s Pencil, which is designed to work with its new iPad Pro, you have three options:
One: Wait four or five weeks. That’s when the stylus will be available to ship if you ordered it now.
Two: Pay a king’s ransom for the Apple Pencil on eBay now. Some sellers have received $450 for the $99 device.
Three: get a different Pencil, for example, this one from FiftyThree ($50 to $60).
Pencil looks like an actual pencil, the kind a carpenter or serious graphic artist might use. It’s by far the best-looking stylus I’ve held in my hand to date, with a body made of “premium sustainably harvested walnut” with a “unique grain” whose character changes as you use it. Alternatively, you can get a brushed aluminum model that adds a gold or graphite look.
Pencil is designed to work closely with FiftyThree’s free Paper app, which was just updated to take advantage of the iPad Pro’s mega display (12.9 inches). Using Paper, you can make sketches, create checklists, and annotate photos or images.
The Paper app has also been updated to support 3D Touch on iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, which means the more pressure you apply, the thicker the line you’re drawing will be. The iPad Pro doesn’t have 3D Touch, though Apple’s Pencil is designed to respond to pressure when drawing as well. Paper also supports Apple’s Pencil, which I’ve not been able to test yet (mine’s due in about three weeks).
FiftyThree’s Pencil feels substantial to hold, and I enjoyed drawing with it. The childish results of my efforts are below.
The Palm Rejection feature worked well, and I liked the capability to flip the Pencil around and use its top as an eraser. It’s easy to connect the Pencil to an iOS device via Bluetooth, once you know how to do it. For example, in the Paper app, touch and hold the Pencil’s tip to the far left of the toolbox’s drawing tools to connect.
My only complaint about FiftyThree’s Pencil is that its connection to my iPad Pro sometimes disappeared while I was drawing. Pulling out its removable battery and putting it back in solved the problem.
If you can’t wait until nearly Christmas to get an Apple Pencil, FiftyThree’s stylus is a worthy option to consider, especially since it works with an iPhone too. (Apple’s Pencil is iPad Pro-only, at least for now.) And at $50 to $60, FiftyThree’s stylus is a lot cheaper than paying hundreds of dollars for an Apple Pencil on eBay.
James A. Martin is a seasoned tech journalist and blogger based in San Francisco and winner of the 2014 ASBPE National Gold award for his CIO.com blog. He writes CIO.com's Living the Tech Life blog and is also a content marketing consultant.