Art,  Technology

Apple Pencil Review – From an Apple Hater

I hate doing this review. I don’t have any love for Apple or their products despite once owning several iPhones and iPads. Their ‘walled garden’ approach has never sat right with me and their lack of innovation in recent years has – in my opinion – put them somewhat on the back foot.

That said, Ms Muxx – my other half – expressed an interest in creating digital art. She often watches me with a stylus in hand, scribbling away on either a screen or on my latest tablet. She is a big Apple fan and has both an iPhone X and an iPad Pro 12.9″. She had a little go on my Surface Pro 3 last week and lamented about the lack of a pen for her iPad. Muxxy to the rescue, I ordered her an Apple Pencil Saturday evening. It was due to arrive tomorrow but turned up this morning.

Incidentally, Steve Jobs once famously said:

Who wants a stylus? You have to get ’em, put ’em away, you lose ’em. Yuck! Nobody wants a stylus. So let’s not use a stylus.”

My, how times change.

The Apple Pencil is, like all Apple products, rather expensive at £89.99 direct from Apple. It arrived in a sleek white box with a photo of the device on top. Sliding the cover off revealed a little pocket full of instructions, warranties, a spare nib for the pencil and a power adaptor. More on that later.

Lifting the sleeve out revealed the pencil in all its Apple white glory.

The pencil was protected by a thin film of plastic. Once removed it was time to pair the pencil with the iPad. This is done by removing the magnetic cap on the end of the pencil and inserting it into the iPad charging port. Yes, really.

No Apple, this doesn’t look stupid AT ALL

This was also the way to charge your pencil before enough people complained about Apple’s silliness and they decided to include the charging cable adaptor in the box. Thankfully you can now charge it like this.

Specifications for the Pencil are typically Apple vague. Despite spending some time investigating, I could not find how many pressure levels the device detects. Unlike other styluses, the Apple device does not have any buttons on it. It does, however, recognize pen tilt.

It is very comfortable in the hand, is very balanced, and weighs little more than a regular pen. In size, it is about the length of a regular pencil but a bit thicker.

Once the nib wears down it is quite easy to replace. You simply unscrew it from the pencil.

Eager to give it a try, I downloaded Autodesk’s Sketchbook from the app store. It looks and operates much the same as the desktop version I reviewed last week, albeit with increased touch optimizations. The first thing I noticed was how accurate the tracking is with the Pencil: each and every time you put Pencil to iPad, you draw exactly where the nib is. This might sound silly to those that don’t use a tablet monitor, but with my Ugee hk1560 I am forever having to calibrate it. Not so with the iPad and Pencil.

The next thing that struck me was how smoothly it tracked pressure, more so than any other stylus I have used so far. If I wanted a thin line I drew softly, a thick line I pushed down more. The pressure curve just worked as expected without much trial and error. I started to get a bad feeling: I was going to have to give Apple a favorable review…

Remembering that the Pencil recognizes tilt, I held it on the side as one would a normal pencil to shade in with the side of the lead. Oh my god, it was perfect!

As my other half was eager to have a go herself with her new toy, I tried out a few brushes and made some quick doodles.

This part was done with the Pencil on its side and then the same tool with the pencil held normally.

This was a pressure test.

And another.

Finally, a quick sketch.

The iPad had no trouble recognizing my palm on the screen while drawing – no stray brushstrokes appeared on the canvas. Despite my drawing hand resting on the screen, it tracked the Pencil perfectly and allowed me to use my spare hand to adjust on-screen controls at the same time. This isn’t an easy feat and my Surface Pro 3 has trouble with it sometimes, putting down a brushstroke where my hand rests and not letting me use my spare hand until I pull the pen away from the screen. Apple has nailed it.

As much as it pains me to say, Apple has a great product on their hands with the Apple Pencil. Like everything Apple, it just works, and brilliantly so. However, as the only iPad Pro with Apple Pencil in the house, I foresee many a disagreement over who is using it at any given time.

Well done Apple.

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