Review: 'Apple Pencil 2' is a huge step forward but still not perfect
Apple has overhauled the Apple Pencil with a refreshed design, new features, and better quality. Apple has done a great job with this iteration, but it's still far from a perfect pointing device.
An Apple Pencil update was the subject of a continuously grinding rumor mill for a while prior to the actual launch alongside the iPad Pro. Fuel for the mill was likely provided by some issues that even its biggest champions were seeking fixes for.
We've been using the new Apple Pencil for weeks now, and while as a whole it is a huge leap forward, there are still some major downsides to Apple's Bluetooth stylus.
Of all the changes, how the Apple Pencil charges is likely the most profound. Instead of sticking out like a strange digital lollipop when charging directly off an iPad, it no longer is able to plug into the Lightning port where damage was all but certain to happen to one of the two devices.
Rather, it is placed along the long edge of the iPad to charge inductively and held in place via magnets — of which the new iPads have many.
This new placement is also how the Apple Pencil pairs with an iPad. Just snap the pencil into place and a pairing screen appears below it, in similar fashion to how AirPods status appears when opened near a device.
Apple focuses on the little touches, so it is good to see that not only do the magnets easily keep the Pencil aligned, but it works in either direction.
The exterior of the Apple Pencil has changed as well. Instead of the glossy finish that was prone to scratches and could feel a little slippery in the hand, the new model has a matte finish.
One side of the Apple Pencil is completely flat, which — if placed correctly — will stop it from rolling away. Unfortunately, this surface is still very shallow so if it starts rolling from being placed on another side, it won't likely stop it from escaping over the edge of your desk. This flat surface can be custom engraved at checkout, a nice perk when ordering directly from Apple.
Because of the redesigned charging method, no longer is there a cap on the end of the Pencil. This cap was amazingly easy to lose on the original Apple Pencil, and our own was chewed up by our dog.
Besides rectifying past issues, Apple baked in new functionality to the fresh version. By tapping on the side of the Apple Pencil, you can switch between multiple functions in different apps.
Looking at Apple's own Notes app, double tapping the side alternates between your active writing instrument and the eraser. This reduces the need to head to the toolbar every time you switch between instruments.
Third-party devs also get invited to play by including their own uses for this in their apps. Popular apps such as Affinity Photo have already added support for Apple Pencil 2 and more will continue to do so.
Right now, this still feels a bit limiting, similar to AirPods own tap gestures. It seems plausible Apple could have built in more functionality such as sliding up and down to change the diameter of the brush, or triple tapping to undo the last action.
Perhaps these could be upgraded over time, but we aren't holding our breath waiting for it.
Using the new Apple Pencil
Apple markets the Apple Pencil largely as a tool for creating. Beautiful pieces of artwork are shown plastered on billboards and within Apple Stores as "created with iPad and Apple Pencil."
That doesn't mean that non-artists should stay away. The inverse is actually quite true — we've found a cacophony of use cases for the Apple Pencil.
Having the new Apple Pencil ever-ready affixed to the side of the iPad makes it effortless to grab it, tap the screen, and start taking a note. Because of the new Pencil's convenience, we've used the overall technology in it more than ever.
A compelling use case for the new Apple Pencil is editing photos. During the editing process, the small and exact tip makes it an ideal instrument for working in Lightroom, Affinity Photo, or Pixelmator.
Working with the new Pencil has made a big difference to my workflow. I never have to worry about charging it so it is always ready to go. This has made it all the more convenient, and increased its value, given that the new model is $30 more than the last one.
Like any new product, all of the new pros come with new issues. Apple Pencil is night and day better than the original, likely what Apple should have shipped the first time around, but it is still far from perfect.
To start, Apple has bumped up the price of the Pencil, but decided not to include additional tips in the box. We can partially see the logic here as many didn't even know they were there in the first place and haphazardly tossed them out at the onset. Still, for die-hard users who need to replace the tip, it is a bit of a kick in the shin after having to pony up money for a new version to use with the new iPad Pro.
Because of the new charging methods, the new Apple Pencil won't work with older iPad Pros and the old Apple Pencil won't work with the new iPads Pros. If you go from the previous iPad Pro to the new model, you have to buy a new Pencil too.
Durability is also a bit questionable. Weeks in and our Apple Pencil and iPad are already showing signs of wear. The metal sides of the iPad that make contact with the Pencil — on either side of the plastic plate — show small wear marks that likely will increase with use.
The rounded end of the Pencil, which is actually a separate piece of plastic, also has the ability to stain. We put Apple Pencil in our jean pocket one time and the round portion actually turned blue, unlike the rest of the Pencil. Are our jeans the best place to keep the Pencil? Clearly no, but while in the middle of working you need somewhere to place it, your pants pocket does the trick. The white plastic just shouldn't absorb color so easily.
We've also dropped the Apple Pencil far more frequently than the original. Those magnets that keep it in place so handily, also give us the inflated expectation that it will stay there. We can't count the number of times we've picked up our iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil attached and walked around to have it accidentally knocked free.
This increased likelihood of drops makes us even more frustrated at the lack of replacement tips.
Write, draw, edit
Apple Pencil is a unique accessory. It is quite expensive, and is limited to the newest iPads. Yet, we've come to rely on it for so many tasks it would be hard to give up.
It won't be for everyone, but anyone who was interested or used it in the past will benefit from the laundry list of enhancements Apple has made.