Review – The Pencil

Anthony Caruana
14 January, 2016
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comfortable and easy to use


function limited to Paper app



When the iPad was first released, one of the criticisms levelled by some experts was that the lack of a dedicated stylus made input difficult and would limit the device’s appeal. Well, millions of units later, after defining a completely new product category, Apple proved those experts wrong – kind of. In response to those criticisms, the developer and accessory ecosystem that developed around the iPad created styli that could be used with the iPad.

The trouble is, they were little more than dumb sticks with a piece of rubber on the end.

The app development gurus at 53 created Paper. This app was recognised by Apple as the iPad App of the Year. Paper makes it easy to capture ideas, text, diagrams and all sorts of titbits of information – the sort of thing you’d use a paper and pencil to capture. Or perhaps to doodle with while you’re bored in a meeting.

53 has developed its own stylus to complement paper. Dubbed ‘Pencil’, this stylus looks and feels like a carpenter’s pencil in the hand. Rather than being a long cylinder like the 2B you always forget to take to art class, it’s a long rectangular prism that fits comfortably in your hand.

The Pencil is linked to your iPad via Bluetooth. Once Bluetooth is enabled on your iPad – we tested the pencil on an iPad Air 2 running beta 5 of iOS 9 – you simply hold the tip of the Pencil on an icon on the pen and colour palette in Paper. The process took just a few seconds.

The tip of the Pencil can be pulled out. This is how the device is charged. The end of the tip, which is usually hidden inside the Pencil’s housing, has a USB connector that you simply connect to a USB port. A full charge takes about 90 minutes and will keep the Pencil running for about a month according to 53. There’s no battery indicator, so we’d suggest making a habit of charging it every couple of weeks unless you fancy a game of battery Russian roulette.

Unlike the carpenter’s tool, the Pencil’s top end is an eraser. So, while we were drawing and scribbling in Paper, we could easily clean up our somewhat dodgy drawing. There’s a spare drawing and erasing tip in the package in case you wear one out.

For artists, the Pencil can be a great tool. When drawing in Paper – many of the Pencil’s functions are limited to Paper – you can use the pencil to draw in different colours. The software is smart enough to know when you’re using your finger as well. So, you can draw lines in different colours using the Pencil and then smear them into each other with your finger to create some great effects.

We liked using the fountain pen tool with the Pencil. As we used different edges of the pencil we were able to change the thickness of the line as we wrote like a calligrapher’s pen – nifty!

One of our concerns was losing the Pencil. Given our track record for leaving pens lying around the office or at home, we were impressed at the seemingly minor, but useful, fact that the casing on our Pencil was magnetic. So we were able to stick it to the edge of our iPad’s Smart Cover so the two devices stayed together.

The Pencil’s drawing and erasing functions are closely paired to the Paper app. So although you can use the Pencil to tap on icons, most of the drawing and erasing functions won’t work outside Paper.

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