When I posted my iPad Pro review a couple of days ago, I had mentioned that I will post the Writing with Apple Pencil review soon and here it is. However odd this may sound, I think I bought the $600 plus iPad Pro mainly for writing with Apple pencil that only costs $99. If you've been following this blog for a few years now, you would've known my liking for digital writing, both the digital paper (the iPad) and the digital pen (the stylus). I even posted an early review of the iPad note taking App Notability on this blog.
I used my iPad Mini with some cheap third party stylii for almost a year exclusively for note taking until a below par stylii experience and a bizzare iPad upgrade experience put an end to that process. So when Apple introduced the Apple Pencil along with the iPad Pro 12.9", I started following the product closely. I did not want to buy a humungous 12.9" iPad Pro and hence was waiting for a smaller iPad that would work with the Apple Pencil. Though I would've preferred an iPad Mini Pro, I settled for the iPad Pro 9.7" and bought it along with an Apple Pencil. So how do I like it? Do my initial impressions still hold true? Read along to find out....
Like: Responsiveness while writing with Apple Pencil
The biggest impediment to writing with any stylii on the iPad in my experience is responsiveness or lack there of. What I call responsiveness here comprises of two things; one, low lag between writing and the iPad detecting the writing and two, accuracy, in terms of how few a times, you actually make a stroke with the stylii and the iPad fails to recognize it. The Apple Pencil (of course in unison with the iPad Pro) shines in both these attributes of responsiveness. In the first attribute, lag, the Apple Pencil is not totally lagless, but that lag is so small and so little compared to the other stylii, I've used that it doesn't affect the writing experience at all. Coming to the second attribute of responsiveness, accuracy, the Apple Pencil is 99.99% accurate. Even those few occasions I notice missing strokes or letters. I find it is the App that I am using that's responsible for it, as restarting the App or quitting other memory hogging Apps in the background solves the problem. The most impressive part about Apple Pencil's responsiveness is that, all the above mentioned lines are true irrespective of what angle the Pencil's tip touches the iPad Pro's screen!
Dislike: The physical finish of the Pencil
The Apple Pencil looks like a piece of art, it is an Apple product that glistens in a typical Johny Ive manner. I can't explain why, but its design reminds me of the older plastic (white) MacBooks and the newer Aluminum unibody ones. But I think Apple could've weighed usability a little more over design in this case. The perfectly smooth ridgeless Pencil body is a nightmare to me, both while writing with it and while placing it on any surface, when not in use. While writing with it, it feels so slippery and it feels like you've to put extra effort using your fingers just to get a good grip on the pencil. At least in my case, writing with the bare Apple Pencil caused a lot of hand fatigue. While placing it on any surface, as it is so smooth, it rolls off so easily and this is a big issue for people using any sort of desk to write on. In both these cases it feels like Apple erroneously prioritized form over function.
But I found a solution to this problem, a simple body sleeve from Minisuit. The sleeve gives you the perfect grip and also provides you with an anti-rolling feature on the Pencil's body and also solves yet another usability design error of the Pencil. The cap that covers the lightning end of the pencil attaches to the Pencil magnetically. But that attachment feels no weak and feels like you can dislodge the cap with the slightest of the nudges. The body sleeve takes care of this problem by enveloping the cap with it. Even while charging the Pencil I find that leaving the cap inside the hanging part of the sleeve safely secures the cap and prevents accidental misplacing of the dislodged cap.
Like: The tip of the Pencil
The physical paper (you know the one made from trees) is soft in nature. The physical Pen's tip on the other-hand is a hard surface. The iPad's screen is made of glass and is extremely hard and rigid. So, to emulate the real pen on paper feel, Apple had to engineer the Pencil's tip to provide some kind of cushion. The other stylii, I've used were either too soft and mushy or were two hard that I was scared that the iPad's screen would be damaged. But Apple Pencil feels like it is the ideal in-between, neither too soft to feel like a painting brush (hence losing precision) nor too rigid and pointy like a nail on metal. It feels softly rigid on the glass and even then possesses more precision that the any other stylii, I've tried.
And a side note; I don't know exactly how much life you can get out of the pencil's tip or for that matter whether or not the tip degrades with use. But Apple does provide a spare tip that you can just screw on to the Pencil's tip in case the original one gets damaged or lost.
No, this is not a typo and its exactly the same header as I had for the iPad Pro review. But this time I'm talking about the Apple Pencil's heft. There is no denying the fact that Apple Pencil feels solid to hold and that is a good thing. But its also more hefty than a typical physical pen/pencil. There are three attributes causing this hefty feel, in my opinion.
- The Pencil is heavier than a typical pen/pencil in grams.
- The Pencil's diameter is also a little more than a typical pen/Pencil's diameter. And the fact that I had to put a sleeve on the Pencil to give it a better grip also increased both its weight and thickness a little more!
- The Pencil is ako a little longer than other pens/pencils I'm used to. The weight and thickness along with this longer length results in the Pencil feeling more heftier than it is.
Like: Battery life and charging
The battery life on the Pencil is more than good. I used the Pencil on a conference for a couple of days, for around 8 hours a day of constant note taking and the Pencil survived with a few percentage of charge left. In addition to this impressive battery life, it is extremely easy and fast to charge the Pencil by connecting it to the iPad's lightning port. You can charge the Pencil from close to empty on charge to 100% in minutes. Apple's claim of the Pencil getting thirty minutes ot charge in fifteen seconds in very true and comes in handy during times of heavy use. You can also charge the Pencil with a lightning cable (like the one you charge your iPhone with) using a small adapter that comes in the package with the Pencil. This could also help people who are terrified of breaking the Pencil while charging it by connecting to the iPad.
Finally just a quick note on the App support for the Pencil. Even for a relatively niche use case like note taking, like I mentioned in my iPad Pro review, I was able to find at least half a dozen Apps that were pretty good when it came to supporting the Apple Pencil. I think given on how successful the Apple Pencil has been so far, its App support is only going to get better!
Considering the fact that the Apple Pencil as of today is a first generation Apple product, I'm really impressed by it, so far. I wrote this entire review on the iPad Pro using the Apple Pencil (using an App called Nebo). Yes my writing hand (or rather the wrist) is a little sore but for such a long review, the fatigue I feel is nothing. I'm sure that writing with Apple Pencil 2.0 will be a much better experience as I expect the second generation Apple Pencil to be thinner and lighter. But I hope it will also be a little more practical when it comes to design. Overall at least in my case, the Apple Pencil is a winner!