by Jim Lynch

Apple Pencil reviews: Is it worth buying?

Nov 19, 2015

Read reviews of the Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro and find out if it's worth your hard earned money

The Apple Pencil is one of the coolest things about the iPad Pro. It’s a whole different way of interacting with and using your iPad. But is it really worth buying? Many people are unfamiliar with what the Apple Pencil has to offer and might not be sure if it’s right for them if they buy an iPad Pro.

I’ve compiled some helpful reviews of the Apple Pencil [ Find it on Amazon *What’s this?* ] that will shed some light on its features and its faults, and they will hopefully help you decide if the Apple Pencil is worth buying for the iPad Pro.

The MacStories review of the Apple Pencil

Federico Viticci at MacStories noted that the Apple Pencil felt great in his hand:

First, allow me to get this out of my system: the Apple Pencil is not the iPad Pro’s primary input system. It’s an accessory, and it’s not a replacement for multitouch. If you see someone tweeting sarcastically about the famous Steve Jobs video on the iPhone and the stylus, they blew it. The Pencil is an optional accessory that gives you additional precision when you need it for specific tasks, such as drawing, annotating, or manipulating fine lines and points on the screen.

The Apple Pencil feels great in the hand, it’s taller than I expected it to be (it’s really the size of a pencil), and its performance on screen is phenomenal. The Pencil connects to the iPad Pro via Bluetooth and it takes advantage of the Coalesced and Predictive Touches APIs introduced with iOS 91, but the iPad Pro’s screen has also been engineered to double the refresh rate and scan for input at 240Hz to further minimize latency (I covered this topic in depth in my iOS 9 review here).

On top of this, the Pencil has pressure sensitivity built-in and it can detect the angle you’re holding it, so apps can switch from pencil or brush rendering to, say, lighter strokes, subtle shading2, or thicker lines – like when you tilt a real pencil or press it firmly against paper. You can pair a Pencil with the iPad Pro simply by removing the cap, plugging its Lightning connector into the device, and accepting the pairing request. The cap itself snaps magnetically onto the Pencil, which is a nice detail, and you can also remove the tip and replace it with a new one if it’s worn down too much. Apple includes a replacement tip in the box, and I’m a fan of the small tip that allows for fine strokes and small handwriting.

I’m not an artist and I can barely draw a stick figure, but the Pencil had me smiling the first time I tried it and the feeling has stuck with me for the past week. As you draw in the Notes app, lines follow the tip of the Pencil closely, and if there’s any latency, it’s small enough not to be a problem. The Pencil’s rendering on screen is far superior to any other iPad stylus I’ve tried before, and, as others have said, palm rejection is nearly perfect. In testing Pencil with my girlfriend (who can make some pretty sweet drawings), I noticed that iOS would have the occasional line accidentally drawn by the back of her hand; I’d say that Apple has managed to achieve a solid 90% palm rejection with the Pencil, which is impressive.3

Drawing and writing with the Pencil on the iPad Pro’s screen feels delightfully natural and smooth. Unlike other iPad styli, the Pencil is not chunky or cheap – it feels just right, like a real pencil does. Applying pressure to get thicker lines and stronger shading works as advertised, and while I won’t be using it much because my work doesn’t require handwriting or drawings, I can imagine how this will be a big deal for lots of users who have been struggling to find a good iPad stylus and apps with great palm rejection in the past.

If you’re a creative person or someone who needs to annotate documents on a regular basis on the iPad, the Pencil is a must-have.

More at MacStories

The iMore review of the Apple Pencil

Serenity Caldwell at iMore found that the Apple Pencil engages people that don’t consider themselves artists:

I’ve made people who have never before in their lives attempted to work digitally pick up the Pencil and start writing and drawing. My boyfriend, who has little to no interest in physical drawing let alone digital tools, was captivated for 20 minutes drawing a little monster. I let my massage therapist write with it and five minutes later she was texting her mother with a Christmas wish list.

For artists, the Pencil isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the best pens that’s come along in fifteen years—and it’s new. It’s not trying to replicate Wacom’s aging technology. It’s going a new direction, and can only get better from here. Every artist I’ve talked to is thrilled.

When you draw digitally, there’s always some amount of learning curve. “Okay, I can’t draw circles that way,” “I have to remember to balance my hand off the screen,” “I just flat out can’t write fast.” This doesn’t exist with the Pencil.

It is remarkably precise. I have written in what would amount to 4-point font in the Notes app, without zooming, and been able to perfectly trace over those letters. I can draw free-form without worrying about wavering lines. I’m not scared of touching the screen with my palm—a habit five years in the making. And the pressure sensitivity is just so good.

More at iMore

The Macworld UK review of the Apple Pencil

Ashleigh Allsopp at Macworld UK found the Apple Pencil to be a very fast and accurate stylus that should be great for artists:

The Pencil is almost entirely white, with just a metallic band at the non-writing end by the charging cap. It has a glossy, hard ceramic feel (pleasingly, the white material looks and feels a lot like an actual pencil) with the exception of the tip, which is matt, softer and slightly off-white. You get a spare tip in the box, but unlike Microsoft’s new Surface Pro stylus, with its variety of tip sizes, this is a straight replacement for the starting tip.

The Pencil feels pretty good in the hand, with a nice weight to it – a weight that’s tilted more towards the back than we expected, however (presumably because of the battery). If you like to hold a stylus very close to the tip, you may find the Pencil a touch unbalanced; the weighting lends itself to a grip that’s closer to the midpoint.

Other than the weighting issue, which we quickly got used to, the Apple Pencil feels fantastic to hold and use. Its sleek white design is shaped just like the pencils we’re familiar with so there’s no extra thickness or weight to contend with.

When you pick it up, it becomes completely natural to start drawing with the Apple Pencil right away, because it so closely resembles the familiar traditional pencil that we’ve grown up using on paper, and it’s super-fast to ensure that there’s no lag to ruin the illusion.

More at Macworld UK

A medical student’s review of the Apple Pencil

Over on Reddit, a medical student posted his own review of the Apple Pencil and compared it to a couple of other alternatives:

Hey everyone. I just got my Apple Pencil the other day, so I tried out my iPad pro in class for the first time.

The Apple Pencil is actually the closest thing to a fountain pen in digital form that I’ve used. Pressure sensitivity is excellent, and it’s so fast it feels like a real pen. Palm rejection is also flawless. After 6 hours of note taking today, I’m sitting at 50% battery on the iPad, and 59% on the Pencil, so it’s more than enough for one day of notes, and knowing that I can plug it in for less than a minute and get a few more hours of use is peace of mind 🙂

It’s a bit faster than the Cintiq, but what makes it great is that the pencil just FEELS better. The Cintiq pens feel like they are made from cheap plastic, and while the apple pencil is also unapologetically plastic, it’s sturdy, and clean, instead of feeling chintzy and studded with buttons. It’s also a more ‘normal’ diameter for a writing utensil, contributing to far less hand fatigue. The other elephant in the room is the weight and size of the Cintiq vs it’s capability to be hooked up to a desktop. However, it’s really the old golden standard for stylus quality.

I will say this again and again, but Microsoft is the only company that has demonstrated that it can compete with apple on vertically integrated hardware and software. The writing experience on the SP3 is much better with the new update, but still not quite as smooth as the apple pencil. While the activation pressure and sensitivity curves are great, the fact is the Bluetooth tech is far less accurate and has a lower refresh rate. The apple pencil sends out a signal at 240Hz whereas I’d guess the surface is around 75Hz or maybe 120Hz. That doesn’t sound like a big difference but I notice about 2-3x the latency – not a big deal for slow writing or drawing, but a big deal if you’re scribbling to take notes and writing small.

I really appreciate that the surface pen is easily stored away though. Windows on the surface can be buggy at times, but is getting better and better, so if you need a full desktop OS then this is your device. For just note taking alone, I still think the iPad pro is better. It’s just a matter of time now that the hardware is out, before developers start taking advantage of the iPad pro.

More at Reddit

The Verge’s review of the Apple Pencil

Carrie Ruby at The Verge did a review of the iPad Pro from a designer’s perspective and noted that the Apple Pencil was incredibly precise:

On the other hand, Apple Pencil worked really, really well. I’ve tried a few different brands of styluses in the past, and never have I been wowed like I am with this one. It’s comfortable in the hand, it’s incredibly precise, and it felt natural. Using it with Apple Notes has virtually no lag. It’s fast and keeps up with my messy writing, almost making it better.

I did notice that there was a little bit more latency when writing in other third-party apps, like Paper by FiftyThree and Adobe Sketch. But overall, using the Pencil to make a quick sketch saved me time. Usually, I’ll make a sketch for one of my designers on paper, take picture of it, email it, and then explain what some tiny squiggle is. Now, I just sketch with the Pencil and instantly email it from the iPad Pro.

More at The Verge

Wired’s review of the Apple Pencil

David Pierce at Wired also reviewed the iPad Pro and found the Apple Pencil to be unbelievably accurate:

The Pencil is the more important accessory. This long, white, paintbrush-looking stylus is central to the notion that the iPad Pro is for doing anything, any way you want. In apps that support it, the Pencil is an unbelievably accurate, fine instrument for creation or control. When you write or draw, it feels like ink is coming straight from its tip. You can shade with the side of the Pencil, write in beautiful calligraphy, or sketch with amazing accuracy.

The Pencil works so well because it gets special access to the Pro’s software. To set it up, just plug it into the Lightning port. After that, whenever your iPad detects the Pencil touching the display, it doubles the screen’s read rate so it checks for movement 240 times a second. That, plus pressure sensitivity and real-time measuring of the Pencil’s angle and position, means the Pencil puts out much more data than you’ll get from any other stylus. You can use others, but the Pencil is special.

More at Wired

Ars Technica’s review of the Apple Pencil

Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica noted that he wasn’t an artist but still found using the Apple Pencil to be eminently enjoyable:

The pencil is a shiny white plastic cylinder with a rubbery tip at the end and a small cap on top. The cap covers up a male Lightning connector, which connects to the port on the bottom of the iPad Pro for both charging and initial Bluetooth pairing (after pairing, the pencil’s battery status will show up in the Batteries widget in the Notification Center). A small adapter that ships with the pencil will let you charge it with a standard Lightning cable like the one you use for your iPhone or the one that comes with the iPad Pro. There’s one replacement tip included—Apple will sell replacement tips but we haven’t been able to get pricing information for them just yet.

You’ll want to be careful not to lose that little adapter or the cap of the pencil while it’s charging. Storage is a problem for the pencil, and it has no garage in the iPad itself and no extra loop or magnet on the Smart Keyboard or elsewhere to hang out while you’re not using it (I found myself sticking the cap to the magnetic strip where the iPad meets the Smart Keyboard, which isn’t the accessory’s intended purpose but seems to work well enough). Combined with the fact that the pencil is perfectly round and smooth and susceptible to rolling around, this means the new accessory can be hard to keep track of.

As for the operation of the pencil, I’ll start by saying that I am emphatically not an artist—Apple’s event had an illustrator doing some impressive-looking things with the pencil, but I’m in no position to evaluate its utility as a painting or drawing tool. The pencil features pressure sensitivity and will change the lines you’re drawing as you tilt if your app supports it (Notes does, but some apps like Evernote don’t seem to make a distinction). Beyond verifying that those features seem to work as advertised, I can’t really offer an evaluation of the iPad Pro as a drawing tool for people creating illustrations or webcomics.

That said, I really enjoyed the accessory when I did have a reason to use it. It’s got a nice heft to it, just a bit more than your typical pen or marker. Tapping individual cells in Google Sheets or Microsoft Excel is always easier with a more precise pointing tool, and sketching out rough ideas in Notes or Photoshop is quicker and more accurate than what you could manage with your finger. Some tools (Paper is one, Adobe Comp is another) even offer to transform your rough scrawlings into decent-looking lines and boxes for purposes of laying out pages, storyboarding, creating workflow and org charts, and other kinds of business-y, publisher-y things.

More at Ars Technica

iFixit’s teardown of the Apple Pencil

And last but certainly not least, be sure to check out iFixit’s teardown of the Apple Pencil to see just what’s inside of it:

Since the dawn of the iPad, Apple has remained resolute that the iPad is meant to be enjoyed sans-stylus. So when the iPad Pro debuted with a $99 must-have accessory in the form of a stylus, we were obviously intrigued. What makes the Apple Pencil so special? From what we’ve heard, it’s got some nifty features, but we’re more interested in what’s going on inside that shiny white cylinder. Join us as we find out!

Apple’s been tight-lipped on this pointer’s finer points, but here’s what we know for sure: Bluetooth 4.1 Scans at twice the rate of finger inputs Up to 12 hours of battery life 175 mm (L) x 8.9 mm (D) Lightning connector for charging

What is this—a logic board for ants? Not quite, but weighing in at a whopping 1.0 gram it’s definitely the smallest we’ve ever seen.

Peeling up one of the tiniest boards we’ve ever seen we find a set of three matching ticks. Three on the end of the pen assembly, and three on the tiny board.

More at iFixit

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