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Should You Buy An Apple Pencil With Your iPad?

Apple Pencil and iPad on a desk
Poravute Siriphiroon/Shutterstockcom

The Apple Pencil is Apple’s official iPad stylus. There are two versions: the first generation Apple Pencil and the second generation Apple Pencil. If you’re reading your article then you’re probably wondering should you buy a Pencil and, if so, which one should you buy. Let’s dig in.

Update, 9/15/22: Checked content for accuracy, product availability, and dead links.

Who is the Apple Pencil For?

Two Apple Pencils on a Macbook Pro
mokjc/Shutterstock.com

There are three groups of people that will really love the Apple Pencil: handwritten note takers, designers and photographers, and people who like using styluses to interact with everything.

If you like to take handwritten notes, markup PDFs by hand, write down equations, or otherwise produce text without using a keyboard then the Apple Pencil will suit you perfectly. The texture of the screen feels totally different to paper (although you can get screen overlays that make it feel closer to the real thing) which takes some getting used to but, overall, the experience is pretty great.

Similarly, if you produce digital art or plan to do a lot of photo editing with your iPad then the Apple Pencil will really improve your experience—especially compared to just using your finger. Since full Photoshop isn’t yet on the iPad your workflow will probably have to change a little so we’d recommend you do a bit of research to make sure that features you need will be available in the apps you’re going to use. That’s actually a much bigger issue than whether or not the Apple Pencil will work for you.

The final group of people who’ll appreciate the Apple Pencil are those who just love using styluses. It might sound like an odd group but you’d be surprised by the amount of people with hand or wrist pain who just find it easier to navigate apps and the web with a stylus rather than by using their finger. If you know you want a stylus for your day-to-day iPad use then ignore all others: get the Apple Pencil.

What iPads Does the Apple Pencil Work With?

Man with Apple Pencil holding in the hand iPad Pro.
DenPhotos/Shutterstock.com

There are two generations of the Apple Pencil and, annoyingly, each generation only works with certain iPad models. No iPad Mini model is currently supported.

The first generation Apple Pencil works with:

  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st & 2nd generation)
  • iPad Pro 10.5-inch
  • iPad Pro 9.7-inch
  • iPad Air (3rd generation)
  • iPad (6th-9th generations)
  • iPad mini (5th generation)

The second generation Apple Pencil works with:

  • iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd-5th generation)
  • iPad Pro 11-inch (1st-3rd generations)
  • iPad Air (4th & 5th generations)
  • iPad mini (6th generation)

Presumably, going forward new iPads will support the second generation Apple Pencil.

What’s With the Different Apple Pencil Models?

There are a couple of key differences between the two Apple Pencil models. The first generation Apple Pencil is completely round and charges using a male lightning connector that you plug directly into your iPad. This is also how you pair it with your iPad.

Apple Pencil (1st Generation)

The the first generation Apple Pencil!

The second generation Apple Pencil has one flat side. It charges using induction when you magnetically attach it to the side of your iPad Pro; it’s also a convenient way to store it. It connects automatically to your iPad Pro. The bottom of the Apple Pencil shaft is also a touch sensitive area; different apps can use this to do things like swap tools or undo actions.

Apple Pencil (2nd Generation)

Apple Pencil (2nd Generation), White

The second-generation Apple Pencil uses a new snap-on design for easier storage and charging, with greater sensitivity and an improved design to stop the stylus rolling away on a flat surface.

Why Not Buy a Cheaper Stylus?

The Apple Pencil isn’t the only iPad stylus out there but it’s the only one we recommend buying. The others, to quote our founder, Lowell Heddings, are “laughably bad”. If they’re pressure sensitive, they pair using Bluetooth and are often only fully supported in certain apps. If they aren’t pressure sensitive, then they’re just a dumb finger replacement that doesn’t hold a candle to the Apple Pencil. If you’re already spending (at least) a few hundred dollars on an iPad, if you want a stylus, it’s worth getting the best one.

The Bottom Line

The Apple Pencil is a great addition to any iPad that supports it… if you’re going to use it. You certainly don’t need one for browsing the web or watching Netflix. Instead, it makes it much easier to take notes, create digital artwork, and edit photos. If that sounds like something you want to do—or you really just like using a stylus—then it’s the one to get. Just make sure to buy the right generation for your device.

Harry Guinness Harry Guinness
Harry Guinness is a photography expert and writer with nearly a decade of experience. His work has been published in newspapers like the New York Times and on a variety of other websites, including Lifehacker. Read Full Bio »