You are probably an artist or a journalist or a student, or at least a casual note-taker.
And you find yourself asking, Apple pencil or a third-party stylus for your work on your iPad?
I feel your pain, fellow netizen, and that's why I've made this article, just for the mere purpose of sorting out all the doubts and confusion with this selection.
In this article, we will take a look at the differences between these products, we will discuss the merits and demerits, and to top it off, declare a clear winner.
The Apple pencil, in many ways, is superior to any other stylus available on the market. The unrivaled connectivity paired with class-leading features sets the Apple pencil leagues apart from all other pens. Availability of tips and better battery life may be a distinguishing feature of other third-party pens.
So, without any further ado, let's get right into it.
But first, let's look at our contenders.
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Apple Pencil: Apple's Answer for a Precision Instrument
In a step towards furthering the scope of an Apple Ecosystem, the company launched its first stylus way back in 2015.
And since then, only once have Apple updated the Pencil, making it a fairly new entrant on the company's catalog.
Even though some may say it's a glorified piece of white plastic, the "silver" body with the subtle Apple logo and the San Francisco font lettering follow suit with the company's clean AF aesthetics.
The heft and the relatively long body make it an ideal device for long drawing/writing sessions.
The first-gen Pencil has a male lighting port on its rear end. You could pair the device and charge it by connecting the Pencil with an iPad through this port.
In the Second gen Pencil, however, the connectivity side of things had an overhaul. Now, the charging and pairing process takes place through a magnetic connection.
When it comes to compatibility, the Apple pencil may have a limited footprint, spanning across only Apple products, and that too for only iPads. Support for other devices is simply restricted.
While the first-gen Pencil is compatible with almost all iPads, the second-gen Pencil is restricted to the Pro variants and the fourth-gen iPad Air. The reason being the lack of a wireless dock in the older ones.
And as with all niche products from Apple, the price is a bit high, about two to four times higher than competitors.
Third-Party Stylus Pens: The Affordable Alternatives
If you have surfed the internet looking for a stylus, you must have felt overwhelmed by the options available.
It's true, the stylus market is overloaded with options, and choosing the right one can be a bit demanding. A quick tip on how to choose a good stylus- look for brands, established brands.
Brands like Adonit, Wacom, and Logitech have already made a name for themselves. Products from these manufacturers are a sure-shot success. Popular products include Adonit Note+, Wacom Bamboo ink+, Adonit Jot M, etc.
And then you have the Logitech Crayon. This product is an Apple-approved stylus, and it is exclusive to Apple products. Announced alongside Apple products on one of their Keynotes, the Crayon was initially offered for academic purposes only.
Priced significantly lower than an Apple Pencil, the Crayon is a great alternative, save some features.
Stylus pens can be classified broadly into 2 categories: Active or Passive.
Passive pens do not require any power to work. But they lack features like palm rejection and pressure sensitivity.
Active pens require power to operate and may support advanced features, like Pressure sensitivity. They can also be more expensive than passive pens.
Here is a quick comparison table of the two types of styluses.
|Specifications||Active Pens||Passive Pens|
|Precision||Highly precise||Hit or Miss|
|Tip||Pointed or stub||Disk-type or broad stub|
|Compatibility||Limited, requires pairing||Universal, no pairing required|
|Battery||Present in some|
Even though Active pens do feature a lot of features than passive pens, it is not necessarily true that all active pens do have these features. One fine example of this proposition is in the case of Logitech Crayon.
Although it is an active pen, it doesn't have pressure sensitivity or tilt sensitivity features built into it.
Compatibility may depend on the manufacturer, but most of them have multi-platform support.
Active and passive pens do have a lot more differences than the ones I have mentioned here. More on Active vs. Passive pens.
And as the heading suggests, it's all about price when looking for a stylus not made by Apple.
Now that you know the basics, let's get on with the comparison side of things, shall we?
Apple Pencil vs. Others: What Sets Them Apart?
For this comparison, we will be considering certain aspects of a stylus, like the battery life, tip constitution, ergonomics, etc.
Bear in mind that no third-party styluses have come close to replicating the Apple pencil. Hence no single product will be the subject of comparison in this article.
Let's start with the features.
Features on Offer
It's pretty clear who will emerge as the clear winner in this category. Of course the Apple pencil!
With features like active palm rejection and pressure sensitivity, coupled with hassle-free pairing, the Apple Pencil is sure to exceed your expectations.
The double-tap on the tip function available on the second-gen Pencil even further accentuates the feature list. Paired with wireless connectivity, you have a killer of a device in your hand.
With an arsenal of specialized pressure orientation sensors and an infallible tilt detection technology, you can't go wrong with the Apple Pencil.
Even though Apple has not disclosed the available levels of Pressure sensitivity, you won't notice any discrepancies or dearth while using the device.
The third-party market does fall short on this department. Even though Active styluses do offer most of these features, they fall short in their execution.
An exception to this case is the Wacom Stylus and tablets. Preferred by industry professionals and amateurs alike, Wacom does offer similar features to that of the Apple Pencil.
In fact, they might even overshoot the competition by providing up to 8K points of Pressure Sensitivity and a very advanced Palm rejection feature.
But there is a caveat, these styluses work only with Wacom Tablets, and they may need an active connection with the computer, making them immobile. The prices may also be in the upper stratosphere range.
Wacom does offer standalone styluses at a cheaper price, but nowhere near as good as the Apple Pencil.
With the increased availability of features comes more and more tasks that the pen can take on. One such task is sketching and drawing. Learn more about this on Best Styluses for drawing.
Precision and Latency
The Apple Pencil blows off the completion in yet another field. The level of optimization that Apple has done on the Pencil makes it one of the most precise and accurate devices available right now.
Near-zero latency and crisp lines are a guarantee with the Pencil.
On the flip side, Third-party styluses have yet again failed to catch up with Apple. While the lines and strokes can be definitive and substantial, the latency definitely leaves room for improvement.
Passive stylus pens may be the most affected of them all since it relies upon native touch. Hence leaving jagged strokes and frequent parallax errors with the screen.
Its broad tips and lack of connectivity with the host device exasperated the issue even more.
Active styluses do fare well in this regard, compared to passive pens. Active pens do require an active connection with the host device, ensuring much more precise strokes and input registration.
Since they are powered devices, and don't necessarily depend on traditional touch-based input registration, they can house narrow/pointier tips, further accentuating accuracy.
But this doesn't mean that they are in any way superior to the Apple Pencil. Third-party Active styluses have a long way to cover before they can compete with the Apple Pencil lineup.
Passive styluses don't require any pairing mechanism or any batteries to work. It simply relies on the same old capacitive touch, much like how we interact with our touch screens.
All you have to do is turn ON your device(tablet/smartphone/PC) and start drawing or writing or even casual surfing using the passive pan.
This ease of connectivity may be a no-go for the Apple pencil. But with this absence of powered connectivity, passive pens do have their downsides, like the lack of features and unstable accuracies.
Active Styluses do depend on some form of connection, like Bluetooth or a wired connection. The connection process may be a bit frustrating since you will have to re-pair the device each time you turn it OFF.
And even while paired up and using the device, frequent connectivity issues trouble these devices. Regular cut-offs and pairing stutters affect these devices.
Poor optimization and lack of updates can take the brunt of such issues.
The Apple Pencil, unlike the active pens, need not be paired repeatedly. The Pencil has an instant connect feature that solves the connectivity problem.
With the First Gen Apple Pencil, one would pair the device by plugging the male lighting port on the rear end of the Pencil onto your iPad to pair and charge the device.
The Second Gen Apple Pencil is a relief to this weird charging solution. Apple Pencil 2 comes with support for wireless charging and pairing through the wireless contacts on the higher-end Apple iPad.
All you have to do is connect the Apple Pencil to the iPad by aligning the flat side of the Pencil with the Wireless Charging/pairing patch of the iPad.
Also, every time you charge the device, it automatically checks and updates any firmware updates available.
After using the Pencil, you can leave it docked to the iPad, hence also acting as a dock for resting the Pencil.
Battery and Power
Like I said earlier, the passive pens do not require any electricity or connectivity to operate, so that's that.
But that's the main selling point of these devices. No power, no pairing, just plain old pick up and start writing. But you do have several disadvantages as mentioned above.
But in the case of active pens, it's a whole 'nother story.
Active pens and Apple Pencils have inbuilt batteries and additional circuit elements that need powering to operate.
Even though Apple has provided quite a minuscule battery in this device, it has quite a lot of juice for a device with so many features packed into it. All thanks to the brilliant optimizations from Apple.
Apple Pencils have a quick charge feature, allowing 30 minutes of use on 15 seconds of charging. The whole device takes about 15 minutes to charge fully and provides up to 12 hours of use on a single charge.
In this regard, other active styles may be a bit ahead. Several Styluses like the Adonit Pixel stylus provide about 15 hours of use time.
Similarly, other styluses like the Wacom ink+ also offer significant use times. Some even have support for USB C charging onboard.
But again, most of them have a longer charging time than the Apple Pencil. Although, some stylus pens rely on AAA or AAAA batteries for power, hence providing an even better battery life and a quick replacement option.
The tip on the Apple pencil is made from hard plastic, hence making it more durable. But the tip size lies a tad bit on the wider side. So sketching fine lines and smooth curves may be a bit demanding.
The longevity of a tip may last anywhere from 3-7 months, depending on the usage.
If you are a heavy drawer or an ardent note-taker, expect it to last about 4 months. If you are not grinding away at the screen all the time, you may get about a year of usage out of a tip.
Sadly though, Apple does not provide any replacement tips with the current generation Apple Pencil. But a lot of replacement tips are available for dirt cheap on the market.
In the case of third-party styluses, the tip may vary from device to device, material to material, and even different sizes.
Higher-end active styluses do come with pointed tips, while the lower-priced passive pens may have a disk-type tip or a very broad tip.
A disk-type tip provides better contact with the capacitive screens. This is especially useful when there is no active element present in the stylus to power the tips. The same may be applicable with broader tips.
The materials with which the tips are made vary drastically from manufacturer to manufacturer. Rubber is the material of choice for lower-priced pens, while plastic and fiber tips dominate the upper echelon.
Rubber dominates the lower range markets and has taken over the world by storm. In this segment, you can find some great alternatives to their plastic counterparts.
When we consider the build quality, the Apple pencil may not be the first device that comes to mind.
The device is entirely made up of plastic. But this doesn't mean that it is as fragile as glass. An Apple Pencil can take a fall or two without acquiring any dents or scratches.
In its wake, the third-party market can claim a triumphant victory in this regard. Most of the devices comparable to an Apple Pencil do have a metallic body. Other materials include wood, graphite, and fibers.
Compatibility and Ease of Use
As you may already know, the Apple Pencil is only compatible with iPads, and that to not all of them. Another L for Apple.
The first Gen Apple Pencil is compatible with almost all iPads. But the second Gen model has only support for the higher-end Pro variants and the Air model.
This discrepancy of compatibility between the two models is due to the presence of the wireless charging mechanism. Only the higher-end models support wireless charging, hence the lack of support.
Most third-party styluses do have multi-platform support hence emerging a clear winner in this category.
But extensive support for Android may be a long shot. A general lack of supported apps on the platform can be the root cause of this lack of support.
Pens like the Surface Pen are in one way or the other similar to the Apple Pencil, at least when talking about compatibility.
Another great example is the Samsung S-Pen. Both these pens share a lot of similarities, save the form factor. Check out this article on the S-Pen vs. Apple Pencil for more information about these devices.
Another area where the Apple Pencil fails to gain ground is the availability of buttons.
The double-tap on the tip function to change between tip types on supported apps can be a relief to this shortcoming. But it is limited only to the second-gen model.
Other styluses like the Adonit Pixel do offer multiple programmable buttons with which you can map shortcuts.
The Wacom Pro pen 2, which comes bundled with Wacom tablets, is one such device that supports multiple programmable buttons.
The Pro Pen has 2 buttons that are pre-configured to perform either copy, paste, or erase functions. Using the Wacom Tablet utility, you can reconfigure these buttons to perform f\any functions of your liking.
Such advanced functions are simply not available on the Apple Pencil.
Best Alternatives to the Apple Pencil
From the above comparison, it's pretty clear which device reigns supreme, right?. Well, here are some of the best alternatives that you can find on the market for the Apple Pencil.
Even if they cannot compete with the superior optimizations and features of the Apple pencil, these devices do stand out among all others in their category.
Here's a brief table to help you compare and understand the different characteristics of these devices.
|Specifications||Apple Pencil 1/2||Adonit Pixel||Logitech Crayon||Meko Universal pen|
|Compatibility||Only certain iPads||Apple Devices||Apple Devices||Universal compatibility|
|Tip||little broad, plastic make||1.9 mm, metal tip with plastic coating||plastic tip||Disk-type or broad fiber tips|
|Battery life||12 hours||10-15 hours||7-8 hours||No battery|
|Pressure Sensitivity|| || || || |
|Palm Rejection|| || || || |
|Tilt Detection|| || || || |
|Programmable Buttons|| ||2 buttons|| || |
|Gimmicks||Wireless connectivity, easy pairing, touch-sensitive tip in Pencil 2||Grip sensors to turn ON and OFF the Pen|| || |
★ The best alternative to the Apple pencil is undoubtedly the Adonit Pixel. Its superior finish coupled with the auto turn OFF and ON feature will help you save battery life and improve efficiency. Don't forget the two programmable buttons on this device, a luxury that Apple fails to offer. The only downside is the price, as it can get a little pricey.
★If you're low on budget and still want a heady competitor, try the Logitech Crayon. Launched alongside Apple products in one of their Keynotes, the Crayon had been initially offered as an Apple Pencil alternative for students and academic purposes. But since then, the Crayon has become one of the most sort after accessories for the iPad.
★The most affordable and versatile option in this list is the Meko 2-in1 Universal Pen. And from the name, you must've guessed that this is a passive pen. Well, you are not mistaken, and indeed this is a passive pen and a cost-effective one at it. And the best part is, you get three pens and six additional tips for the price of one. Don't expect razor-sharp lines and next-level features on this pen, though.
Make sure to check out this article on the best stylus for the iPad Pro for more alternatives and their benefits.
So now it's high time we declare a winner. And from all of the surveying and comparisons, the selection was a pretty easy one. The Apple Pencil is our winner by a long shot.
The features, along with the razor-sharp optimizations by Apple, make it almost incomparable to any other device.
But it is a bit pricey when compared to the others. Is that a dealbreaker? I don't think so because no other product in this price range does offer any new features that Apple already doesn't.
The Logitech Crayon may be a suggestible alternative at a lower price, but it does have its limitations.
Apart from the ones mentioned above, in general, products from Adonit, Wacom, and Fifty Three are reliable and exhibit high levels of quality when compared to the others.
If price is a constraint, do check out some of the universal styluses that are a bargain for the price and houses great features on them.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the best apps for note writing?
Evernote, Microsoft's OneNote, SimpleNote are some of the best note-taking applications available right now. Each app has its unique features and layouts, so do try all of them before choosing one. If you are using an Apple device, the Notes app that comes preinstalled on the device is also a great option. Check out this article on the best note-taking apps on Android for more information.
Can I use a stylus instead of Apple Pencil on the iPad?
Yes, you can use a wide range of stylus pens on your iPad other than the Apple Pencil, just make sure that the said stylus is compatible with the iPad. Pens like the Adonit Pixel and the Logitech Crayon are designed to be used with Apple products, whereas pens like Wacom Bamboo and Surface Pens work only with their respective platforms. An exception to these restrictions is passive pens. Passive pens like the Meko universal pen works with almost all touch screens.
Does Apple Pencil support third-party tips?
Even though Apple makes one of the best stylus tips in the market, they can get a bit expensive. Luckily, the third-party market does have a few offerings that do a good enough job without breaking the bank. Only make sure to buy the tips from Apple-certified brands for better compatibility. If budget is not a problem, definitely go with the Apple ones over any other tips.
Does the Apple Pencil scratch the screen?
One of the most distinguishing features of the Apple pencil is its plastic tip. Apple has designed this tip in such a way that, when you draw a stroke, you get can easily slide across the screen with extreme smoothness. This tip also never scratches the screen unless the tip is extremely worn out and the metal tip beneath the plastic comes in contact with the display.
Can we pair and use other Bluetooth devices while using an Apple Pencil?
Yes, you can pair other Bluetooth devices, like a headphone or a speaker, while using an Apple Pencil. Although, you can not pair two Apple Pencils simultaneously. That's where a passive stylus shines best. Since it doesn't require any battery power or pairing to work, you can use a passive pen anytime, anywhere on any device without any reservations.