iLounge has been rating styluses for years, but it’s always been a bit of a niche category — by design, no one has actually needed an iOS stylus before, and even the best of the styluses so far have required users to make some sort of concession, whether in features, accuracy, or price. Apple Pencil ($99) for iPad Pro is different, then, and not just because it’s an official Apple stylus. Pencil and iPad Pro have been built to work in tandem with each other, which allows the stylus to do more than your typical accessory. iPad Pro can sense when Apple Pencil is being used, and according to Apple, the subsystem scans Pencil’s signal 240 times per second, making it a fast, nearly latency-free stylus. Pencil is said to last for 12 hours of normal use on one charge, and it can be recharged using the built-in Lightning connector.
Apple Pencil is about 7” from end to end, about the size of a regular pencil. It weighs 20 grams, but it’s not too light or heavy. The weight is nicely distributed, and you won’t get tired of using it. On one end is the pressure sensitive tip, on the other is a magnetic cap which reveals a Lightning connector to charge Pencil, or connect it to iPad Pro. (You plug it in and pair via Bluetooth when the prompt pops up.) Despite being named Pencil, there’s no “eraser” on the back. Apple claims that 15 seconds of charging Pencil can give it 30 minutes of battery life. A full charge will take longer — you can check Pencil’s battery life in the battery life Notification Center widget. Pencil’s battery isn’t replaceable, so we’ll see how it holds up over time.
Also included in the package are an extra Pencil tip, and a female-to-female Lightning port adapter, allowing users to charge Pencil using a Lightning cable. (Apple claims the tip will wear down with use, so it’s nice that they included a replacement, and extra tips will be available “in the future.”) While these are welcome, there’s really no good place to keep any of these little bits — it’s easy to see Pencil’s cap or these other items getting lost. Third-party companies should see an opportunity in creating a nice Apple Pencil carrying case, whether or not Apple itself ends up creating such a product.
Apple Pencil excels as a drawing tool. Pressure sensitivity works very well — pressing harder easily makes darker, thicker lines — but shading is a showstopper. Just tilt Pencil on its side and shade as if you were using an actual pencil, and you’ll see the same effect onscreen. Like other Pencil functions, this feels natural, and even amateur artists will be able to use these techniques confidently from the get-go. In fact, that’s one of the main selling points of Pencil — it’ll make an artist out of you. It’s easy to get lost in your creations, and iPad Pro is a perfect canvas.
Palm rejection is another top feature on Apple Pencil. While it’s not 100 percent perfect — we’ve seen a few palm marks during our hours of using Pencil — it’s pretty close. It’s definitely close enough to draw and write with confidence.
Apple Pencil’s latency mostly lives up to the hype too, but it does differ by app. Some apps are quite fast — Apple’s own Notes is virtually instantaneous, and a joy to use. Other apps, such as Pixelmator, are a bit slower to show. But nothing felt close to unusable. We gravitated toward Savage Interactive’s Procreate app as our drawing app of choice — it’s a powerful, easy-to-use app with very little latency.
Not everyone wants a stylus for drawing, of course. Some will be looking at Pencil for writing and notetaking purposes, and again, this is another area where Apple Pencil does very well. The stylus’ accuracy allows for true replication of one’s handwriting — as poor as it may be. Unlike some styluses, you don’t have to hesitate here. You can take notes as you would normally, at your normal speed.
It’s also possible to navigate around your iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, if that’s what you choose to do. You can click on links, scroll, type on an onscreen keyboard, and open apps, just as if you’re using your finger. You won’t be able to use Apple Pencil for iOS 9’s multitasking capabilities, but really, that’s not an issue.
Even the minor issues with Apple Pencil — a cap that might go missing, no LED battery life indicator — might not bother most users. Some issues are already being solved: there’s no great place to hold an Apple Pencil when it’s not being used, but we’re seeing iPad Pro cases that offer a stylus holder. Using the thing, though, is a dream. Like the best Apple products, it makes advanced technology easy to use and understand — anyone can sketch and write confidently with Pencil within minutes. Apple Pencil is a great reason to get an iPad Pro. While it’s not necessarily a must-have accessory — you can still enjoy the iPad Pro in plenty of other ways, and some people still have no need or desire for a stylus — those who use Pencil won’t want to own a Pro without it. And for what you’re getting, the price is completely reasonable. We’d also guess the stylus will be compatible with other iPads in the future. Apple Pencil comes highly recommended.
Company and Price
Model: Apple Pencil
Compatible: iPad Pro