Apple Pencil

The best plastic pencil I own.

When Apple announced the Pencil alongside the iPad Pro, a lot of people saw it as the killer feature of the device. People wanted it more than anything else Apple announced that day. I wasn’t one of those people. That’s not because I didn’t think it was cool, but strictly because I thought the new iPad Pro, and its accompanying Smart Keyboard, was a far more interesting set of tools.

Still, I got the Pencil when they started shipping and have been using it a lot more than I had planned. Initially, when people would ask me how I liked the Pencil, I would tell them the same thing: “It’s really nice, but I am not sure I have much use for it.”

I still feel that way at times, but honestly it is a much better device than I thought it would be and I think it will become increasingly more useful.

When I got the Apple Pencil I was underwhelmed at first. Not because it is a bad tool, but I just didn’t find myself pulled to use it. And then I opened Procreate, grabbed the HB Pencil and proceeded to lose about an hour of time sketching with a stupid grin on my face. Erin didn’t have the same reaction as me, but she also thinks this iPad Pro is dumb.

That’s still how I feel, it’s quite an amazing device — I just need to find a way to use it. As with my experience in Procreate, I think those ways are coming, it will just take time for people to see what the Pencil really has to offer and sadly many of those people have yet to get a Pencil.

Isn’t it a Stylus?

That’s the question I get asked a lot from people — my wife especially. Apple will tell you it is not a stylus because it is so much better than any other stylus, it clearly is something else. So, instead, I’ll tell you that it is very much a stylus — it just so happens to be the best stylus I have ever encountered on any device.

I don’t care what anyone else says, it’s a stylus. It’s just that it is a functional stylus and it is no longer just a way to tap things on the screen, but now a legitimate way to manipulate and create things on the screen. That’s the difference.

I pick up my Pencil from FiftyThree and it feels like a blunt instrument — a hammer when I need a feather duster. You pick up the Apple’s Pencil and it feels like a precision instrument — a surgeons tool. And to anyone who has used a stylus before, that likely sounds hyperbolic at best.

Best Apps

Of the apps I have tried with the Pencil, so far the best ones I have found are (in the order of bestness):

I’ve tried a bunch of other apps, but the above are the ones I would recommend. If you are strictly looking to take handwritten notes, I think Notability is your best bet as Apple implements writing in Notes in a secondary way.

If you are just looking to enhance your notes with the occasional doodle or diagram, then Notes was designed with you in mind. Both Adobe Sketch and Procreate and made for people who want to make art in one way or another.

As I said before, Procreate blows my mind and because of that it has found a place on my home screen. So too has Notability, but I suspect is Notability which in the long run will prove most useful to me with the Pencil. I hope to embark on trying my hand at writing notes on my iPad instead of in my notebook for the coming week, but I’ve yet to try this.

The state, and speed of these early app offerings is very encouraging for what we will see given more time to develop. Not just amongst drawing apps, but adoption in tools like LiquidText and soon PDFExpert — we will see adoption of the Pencil which resides far outside of the normal artist it may have been created for initially.

Don’t Do These Things

Please, whatever you do, don’t go around scrolling through web pages with the Pencil. That’s rather silly.


Since there is no off, or on switch, battery life becomes critical. Apple claims that just charging it for 15 seconds will give you more than enough charge to work off of, and amazingly that is a true statement. I sat down to start work just the other day and my iPad Pro told me the battery was at 5% in the Pencil. I plugged it in, and by the time I got off my morning calls it was fully charged. It was even 68% charged after a very sort period of time.

With my use of the Pencil I have seen the battery life hold up very well. And even if your usage is dramatically more, the Pencil recharges so fast there really is very little to complain about. You could literally plug it in, run to the restroom, and come back with enough of a charge to last you until your next break.

I only wish the iPad Pro charged this fast.

Can you Hold It Behind Your Ear?

Yes, you can.

Will I Use It?

I think so, but I think a large part of that is going to be dependent on how the app market develops around the device. I will say, never before in my life have I been able to use a pencil of any kind without smearing the graphite all around the page and along my hand — it’s the curse of being left handed. But with the Pencil, I can actually write without smudging things, and even though it’s only on a screen, there’s something very happy about this which I can’t quite explain well enough.

I’ll keep it for sure, and I certainly am happy with it — usage long term is almost impossible for me to gauge at this point though.

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