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Is the Apple Pencil worth it?

Everything you need to know about Apple's smart styluses.

Person using Apple Pencil on an iPad Credit: Getty / BongkarnThanyakij

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The Apple Pencil is a smart stylus you can use to take notes during class or in a meeting, draw pictures and sketches, mark up emails, color, and more—all on your iPad. You can think of it just like a regular pencil or pen you would normally use to write (just don't try to use it on actual paper, because that won’t work).

Mulling over the idea of purchasing an Apple Pencil to use with your iPad, but haven’t totally committed to the idea?

Let’s look at the differences between the Apple Pencil generations, what you can do with the digital writing tool, and whether or not it’s worth your money.

Original Apple Pencil vs. Apple Pencil 2

Apple Pencil 1 vs Apple Pencil 2
Credit: Amazon

Apple Pencil 1 (left) and Apple Pencil 2 (right) look similar, but there are a few key differences between the two smart styluses.

You may already know that there are two versions of the Apple Pencil. They look similar, but there are several differences that separate the two sleek styluses. For starters, the first generation retails for $99, while the second generation Pencil goes for $129. Here are a few other big variations to note.

1. Apple Pencil compatibility

If you’re trying to decide whether or not to buy an Apple Pencil for your iPad, an important first step is deciding which version of the Apple Pencil to purchase (and whether or not it’s compatible with your tablet). Released in 2018, the second-generation Apple Pencil was crafted to work with the 11-inch iPad Pro and 12.9-inch iPad Pro (third generation), according to Apple. Whereas the first-generation Apple Pencil, which debuted in 2015, works with most earlier iPad models including the following:

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

2. Apple Pencil look and feel

Apple Pencil on iPad at work
Credit: Getty / Bongkarn Thanyakij

Need a quick way to jot down notes? Certain iOS apps let you take notes during class or meetings, and you can even translate your handwriting to text.

In photos, the Apple Pencil first and second generations look very similar. But take another look and you’ll notice a few differences. First, the second-generation Pencil is slightly shorter than its older sibling (only by 0.39 inches), although both models weigh 0.73 ounces each.

Another big design change: The Apple Pencil 1 is round in shape, like most pencils and pens, which means it may roll off the table or away from your iPad when you set it down. The new model was designed with a flat side to help keep the pencil from rolling when placed on a flat surface.

Finally, although both versions are white, the textures aren’t the same. The first generation has a plastic-like feel, whereas the second generation has a matte finish that’s easier to grip.

3. How to pair Apple Pencil

Apple Pencil with iPad
Credit: Getty / Alexandr Bognat

The Apple Pencil was designed specifically with certain iPad models in mind and doesn't work with non-Apple tablets.

The Apple Pencil 1 can be paired with a compatible iPad by removing the cap and plugging the pencil into the lightning connector located at the bottom of your iPad. Then, tap the “Pair” button when it appears on the screen. Note: The pencil will remain paired with your device until you restart your iPad, pair it with another iPad, or place the iPad in Airplane Mode.

The pairing process for Apple Pencil 2 requires fewer steps. To connect the newest version of the Apple Pencil with your iPad, place the Pencil against the magnetic connector on the side of your iPad Pro to automatically pair with your device.

4. How to charge Apple Pencil

Although the two Pencils look similar, they can’t be charged the same way. The Apple Pencil 1 is charged via the lightning connector on your iPad (the same one you use to pair the device). The first-generation Pencil can also be charged via the USB Power Adapter that comes included with the product.

The charging process for the second-generation Pencil is a bit different, but much easier than that of the Apple Pencil 1.

Instead of having the Pencil jut out from the base of your iPad, turn on your iPad’s Bluetooth setting and then place the Pencil on the magnetic connector in the middle of the right side of your iPad to charge. This way is much less cumbersome, especially during travel.

5. New tap commands

The first-generation Apple Pencil works like most other smart styluses. However, the Apple Pencil 2 features a new way of switching between tools and cycling through color palettes. When illustrating in an app that’s compatible with the Apple Pencil 2, double tap on the lower section of the pencil to switch back and forth between your current and previous tool. This command also lets you switch between the current tool and the eraser, and it turns the Pencil off.

How to use Apple Pencil

Child using Apple Pencil in the dark
Credit: Getty / Bongkarn Thanyakij

Transform your iPad into a coloring book or sketch pad by using the Apple Pencil.

Just like a regular writing utensil, you can use the Apple Pencil to take notes using the Notes app that comes loaded on the iPad. Many other compatible apps work with the Apple Pencil, like Evernote and Goodnotes, so you can jot down notes during class, in meetings, or for your weekly grocery list.

The Apple Pencil is ideal for work and school-related dealings like marking up emails and photos, as well as editing documents on-the-go.

If you’re looking to ditch the traditional pen and paper notebook, then the Apple Pencil, paired with a compatible iPad, makes for an easy-to-use replacement.

The Pencil can also be used to draw and sketch illustrations directly in the Notes app or with another app made specifically for doodling around on the iPad like Adobe Photoshop Sketch.

Another fun way to use the Pencil is to color using the Pigment app. I especially love using this function of the Pencil with my 6-year-old daughter on long road trips—or by myself to destress after a long day.

Is the Apple Pencil worth it?

Apple Pencil on iPad at work
Credit: Getty / Bongkarn Thanyakij

Need a quick way to jot down notes? Certain iOS apps let you take notes during class or meetings, and you can even translate your handwriting to text.

The Apple Pencil is a handy tool that enhances the functionality of your iPad, but is it worth it? It depends on how often you use your iPad, what you use it for, and your budget. If you primarily use your iPad to catch up on your favorite shows, use social media, and read the news, then an Apple Pencil probably won’t add much to your current experience.

Another thing to consider? The price.

The Apple Pencil is an extra cost ranging from $99 to $129 (depending on which model you buy) on top of what your iPad costs.

So, if you’re on a tight budget and willing to give up some of the Apple Pencil’s special features, then you may want to consider a cheaper, off-brand smart stylus like the well-rated AmazonBasics Executive Stylus for Touchscreen Devices.

Remember, though, that the Apple Pencil was designed specifically to use with the iPad. The pencil responds to pressure and tilt, so you have control over things like line weight, shading, and other artistic effects. Other smart styluses were designed with a wide range of tablets in mind.

Electronic gadgets aren’t cheap, but if you use the iPad with any regularity for work or have kids who like to color, then the Apple Pencil is likely a good investment to help you and yours get the most out of the touchscreen tablet.