The Pencil is Apple’s official iPad stylus. There are two versions: the first generation Apple Pencil ($99) and the second generation Apple Pencil ($129). 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.
Who is the Pencil For?
There are three groups of people that will really love the 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 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 Pencil will really improve your experince—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 Pencil will work for you.
The final group of people who’ll appreciate the 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 Pencil.
What iPads Does the Pencil Work With?
There are two generations of the Pencil and, annoyingly, each generation only works with certain iPad models. No iPad Mini model is currently supported.
The first generation Apple Pencil ($99) works with:
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st and 2nd generations).
- iPad Pro 10.5-inch.
- iPad Pro 9.7-inch.
- iPad (6th generation).
The second generation Apple Pencil ($129) works with:
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation).
- iPad Pro 11-inch.
Presumably, going forward new iPads will support the second generation Pencil.
What’s With the Different Pencil Models?
There are a couple of key differences between the two Pencil models.
The first generation 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.
The second generation 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 Pencil shaft is also a touch sensitive area; different apps can use this to do things like swap tools or undo actions.
Why Not Buy a Cheaper Stylus?
The 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 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 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.