Apple Pencil (2015) full review

Apple's 12.9-inch iPad Pro was unveiled in September 2015 with a brand-new accessory called the Apple Pencil, and Apple has since unveiled two smaller versions of the iPad Pro that can also use this accessory. In its broadest sense the Apple Pencil is a stylus... but it's also much more than that.

The Apple Pencil isn't limited to being a device for just pointing and tapping like you would with your finger. Instead, it's pressure-sensitive to help you draw and paint in a manner that can help you achieve natural-looking notes and illustrations in anything from Apple's simple Notes app to the more professional art and design apps like Procreate, AutoCAD and Adobe applications. It's also an effective tool for handwriting applications, and we have a separate roundup of the best iPad apps for Apple Pencil.

Apple Pencil review: Design & build quality

The Pencil is almost entirely white, with just a metallic band at the non-writing end by the charging cap. It has a glossy, hard ceramic feel (pleasingly, the white material looks and feels a lot like an actual pencil) with the exception of the tip, which is matt, softer and slightly off-white. You get a spare tip in the box, but unlike Microsoft's new Surface Pro stylus with its variety of tip sizes, this is a straight replacement for the starting tip.

The Pencil feels pretty good in the hand, with a nice weight to it - a weight that's tilted more towards the back than we expected, however (presumably because of the battery). If you like to hold a stylus very close to the tip, you may find the Pencil a touch unbalanced; the weighting lends itself to a grip that's closer to the midpoint.

Apple Pencil review: What's it like to use?

Other than the weighting issue, which we quickly got used to, the Pencil feels fantastic to hold and use. Its sleek white design is shaped just like the pencils we're familiar with so there's no extra thickness to contend with.

To begin with, we were worried that the Pencil was too smooth against the iPad Pro's screen, thus removing the friction we're used to with real pencil lead and most pens, but after a few days of use we found that the tip of the Pencil felt grippier, but we can't say whether that's because it physically changed through use or because we simply became accustomed to it.

When you pick it up, it becomes completely natural to start drawing with the Apple Pencil right away, because it so closely resembles the familiar traditional pencil that we've grown up using on paper, and it's super-fast to ensure that there's no lag to ruin the illusion.

Both the Apple Pencil and iPad Pro have sensors that can detect the pressure you're using and the angle you're holding the stylus at, making it effortless to create lines of different thicknesses without really needing to think about it. In the Pencil's tip there are two tilt sensors which the iPad Pro's display will keep track of to work out the exact orientation and angle of your hands as you draw.

You'll find that you can use the side of the Pencil's tip for realistic shading like you would with a real pencil lead, and if you're using the Notes app you'll be able to draw perfectly straight thanks to iOS's ruler feature. That's made possible by the touch subsystem of the iPad Pro, which has been engineered to work with both the touch of your fingers and the Apple Pencil, meaning you can use both at the same time to move the virtual ruler whilst drawing lines with the pencil, for example. The Apple Pencil knows to ignore the wrist and palm, though.

There are new features coming to the Apple Pencil via a software update in September. iOS 11 will bring new features including Instant Markup, Inline Drawing, a Document Scanner and more. You can find out all of the details about the new Apple Pencil features in iOS 11 here.

Apple Pencil review: Charging and battery life

The Apple Pencil requires a Bluetooth connection and therefore requires a battery, but it's easy to charge thanks to the Lightning connector hidden in the end of the Pencil itself under a cap. (A strong magnet snaps the cap back into place, which is a nice touch.)

You can plug it into the iPad Pro to charge it, and thanks to its quick-charging feature you should be able to collect enough power for about an hour of use within a few minutes of being plugged in. If you charge it fully, the battery should last for 12 hours. (Here's how to check the Apple Pencil's battery percentage.)

There are two downsides to charging the Apple Pencil, though. The first is that plugging it into the Lightning Port on the iPad Pro is a bit unwieldy. It looks ridiculous, it isn't ideal if you want to charge it while you're using the iPad Pro, particularly if you're using the Smart Keyboard as a stand as it sticks right out of the side and is easy to knock or bend.

There is an adapter to allow you to plug it into an AC charger. It's a tiny Lightning Adapter that you can use to connect your Apple Pencil to the Lightning Cable you use to charge your iPad or iPhone.

Apple Pencil review: Price & availability

The Apple Pencil doesn't come cheap, though, and it's not included with any iPad Pro model (which already cost a minimum of £619 for the 10.5in model - or £769 for the 12.9-inch model). You're looking at a price tag of £99 for the Apple Pencil, and if you want the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard and the iPad Pro Silicone Case you'll add £169 and £69 respectively for the 12.9-inch model.

And if you haven't got an iPad Pro, you won't be able to use the Apple Pencil at all. It's designed specifically to work with Apple's iPad Pro tablets, so if you're hoping to use the Apple Pencil with a different iPad, you're out of luck.

Of course, the Apple Pencil isn't the only stylus out there, and it's one of the more expensive options. If you'd prefer something cheaper, try our Apple Pencil alternatives round-up.

If you're an artist, read the Digital Arts iPad Pro review by illustrator Pete Fowler.

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