Apple Pencils compared: Which stylus is right for your iPad?

Macworld

In October 2023, Apple unveiled the latest generation of its Pencil stylus for iPad. Coming in a little cheaper than previous models, the newest Apple Pencil brings the addition of USB-C at the expense of some other features. As all three models remain available on the Apple Store, we compare the Apple Pencil generations to see how they are different and why that will matter to you.

Which Apple Pencil: Specs

Before we look at the differences between the three Apple Pencil models, here’s a brief breakdown of their technical specifications:

Apple Pencil (1st Gen)Apple Pencil (2nd Gen)Apple Pencil (USB-C)Price$99/£109/€119$129/£139/€149$79/£79/€95Low LatencyYesYesYesTilt SensitivityYesYesYesPressure SensitivityYesYesNoAttaches Magnetically to iPadNoYesYesCharging and PairingLightningWirelessUSB-CHover on iPad ProNoYesYesDouble-tap featureNoYesYesDimensions (Length x Diameter)176mm x 8.9mm166mm x 8.9mm155mm x 7.4mm

Which Apple Pencil: Price

The prices for each Apple Pencil vary by features and compatibility. The most expensive option is the second-gen Apple Pencil and the cheapest is the newest Apple Pencil with USB-C.

For some excellent alternatives, you can also check out our roundup of the best Pencil or stylus for iPad.  

Apple Pencil (1st generation)




The first Apple Pencil was launched in September 2015. Apple sells it for $99/£109/€119. It works with the current 9th and 10th generation iPads as well as a number of older iPad models. To charge you plug it into your iPad’s Lightning port, so you can’t use it when charging. It is pressure-sensitive, which is good if you are an artist. We suspect that Apple will soon remove this Pencil from the lineup now the USB-C model is here.

Apple Pencil (2nd generation)




This is the best Apple Pencil, as long as you have a compatible iPad. It launched in 2018 and Apple sells it for $129/£139/€149. It works with recent iPad Air, mini and Pro, but not the standard iPad, check below for specific compatibility information. This Apple Pencil charges wirelessly.

Apple Pencil (USB-C)




The USB-C equipped Apple Pencil is the newest model, launched in October 2023 and costing $79/£79/€95. It lacks many of the features of the 2nd generation model, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking newer means better. This is essentially a Pencil with a USB-C port. It lacks pressure sensitivity, which even the 1st gen model has. It doesn’t work with the 9th or 10th gen iPad. More on compatibility below.

Which Apple Pencil: Design

There’s not exactly a lot of room for flamboyant designs or new aesthetics when it comes to something as form-dependent as a stylus. But, the engineers at Apple have been busy, incorporating a few elements that make the Pencils recognizable from each other. 

In all cases, you’re looking at a white plastic, cylindrical casing with no buttons or markings except for the Apple Pencil name. The 1st-Gen Pencil is the only one that is completely round (and has a glossy finish), as both the 2nd-Gen and USB-C versions have a flattened side so that they can be attached magnetically to the edge of a compatible iPad.

Foundry

Apple has constantly been refining the balance and handling of its Pencil range, as you can see from the fact that with each generation the length of the stylus has slowly been shortened. Here’s how they measure up:

Apple Pencil (1st Gen): 6.92in/176mm (Length); 0.35in/8.9mm (Diameter)

Apple Pencil (2nd Gen): 6.53in/166mm (Length); 0.35in/8.9mm (Diameter)

Apple Pencil (USB-C): 6.10in/155mm (Length); 0.29in/7.4mm (Diameter)

Both the 1st-Gen and USB-C Pencils have a lid at the top end that can be taken off to charge the device. On the 1st-Gen, removing the cap reveals a Lightning connector, while the USB-C slides up to reveal a USB-C port. The 2nd-Gen model is the only one to charge wirelessly and doesn’t have a port or connector.

At the business end of the Pencil, you’ll find the replaceable rubber tips that make the Apple Pencil such a comfortable experience. Some of the models have more functionality built into their slender frames, which we’ll cover in the next section. 

Which Apple Pencil: Features

While all of the Pencil models will allow you to write notes and sketch on your iPad, they do offer different capabilities depending on the model you choose. The 1st-Gen Pencil delivers a precise writing experience, with low latency and pressure sensitivity to allow thinner and wider pen/brush strokes, plus the ability to sense when you are tilting the stylus for shading and similar techniques. 

Pairing and charging are done via the Lightning port, as there is no wireless charging in this model, plus you can’t magnetically attach it to an iPad. You also don’t get the hover feature on iPad Pro models, which enables you to preview where your mark will be made without having to touch the screen. You will also have to make do without the double-tap action to switch between the various pens, brushes, and other tools. 

Apple

The Gen 2 Pencil offers all of the features included in its predecessor, except for the Lightning port charging and pairing, which is instead achieved wirelessly. It introduces the double-tap feature through a touch-sensitive area near the tip, plus there’s the option to have it engraved with a personal message. 

The newest entry reverts to non-wireless charging and pairing, this time via an on-board USB-C port, so you can attach a USB-C-to-USB-C cable from your iPad’s charging port to the Pencil. You can magnetically attach it to an iPad for safe-keeping, but it doesn’t charge. It has nearly all the same features as the 1st-Gen Pencil, albeit strangely without pressure sensitivity, which does seem like a step backward. As a minor compensation, you do get the 2nd-Gen’s hover feature if you own an iPad Pro. 

Which Apple Pencil: Compatibility

Every Pencil supports different iPads, so you’ll need to check which model you have before you buy one of the three stylus models Apple offers:

Apple Pencil (Gen 1)

iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st and 2nd Gen)

iPad Pro 10.5-inch

iPad Pro 9.7-inch

iPad Air (3rd Gen)

iPad mini (5th Gen)

iPad (6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Gen)

Apple Pencil (Gen 2)

iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Gen)

iPad Pro 11-inch (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Gen)

iPad Air (4th and 5th Gen)

iPad mini (6th Gen)

Apple Pencil (USB-C)

iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Gen)

iPad Pro 11-inch (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Gen)

iPad Air (4th and 5th Gen)

iPad mini (6th Gen)

iPad (10th Gen)

Which Apple Pencil: Verdict

Some of the main considerations when considering an Apple Pencil are how you want to use it and which iPad you have. If you’re interested in creating art or more decorative writing, then you’ll no doubt find the pressure sensitivity of the Gen 1 and Gen 2 models an essential feature. Then you’ll just need to select the one that is compatible with your device. The Gen 2 Pencil does have the additional benefits of wireless charging, plus the double-tap and hover capabilities, although the latter only works on iPad Pro.

If you have a newer iPad with a USB-C connector and just want to take down notes, then the USB-C model could serve those purposes admirably, with the added advantage of being the most affordable model available from Apple.  

Accessories

​Macworld Macworld

In October 2023, Apple unveiled the latest generation of its Pencil stylus for iPad. Coming in a little cheaper than previous models, the newest Apple Pencil brings the addition of USB-C at the expense of some other features. As all three models remain available on the Apple Store, we compare the Apple Pencil generations to see how they are different and why that will matter to you.

Which Apple Pencil: Specs

Before we look at the differences between the three Apple Pencil models, here’s a brief breakdown of their technical specifications:

Apple Pencil (1st Gen)Apple Pencil (2nd Gen)Apple Pencil (USB-C)Price$99/£109/€119$129/£139/€149$79/£79/€95Low LatencyYesYesYesTilt SensitivityYesYesYesPressure SensitivityYesYesNoAttaches Magnetically to iPadNoYesYesCharging and PairingLightningWirelessUSB-CHover on iPad ProNoYesYesDouble-tap featureNoYesYesDimensions (Length x Diameter)176mm x 8.9mm166mm x 8.9mm155mm x 7.4mm

Which Apple Pencil: Price

The prices for each Apple Pencil vary by features and compatibility. The most expensive option is the second-gen Apple Pencil and the cheapest is the newest Apple Pencil with USB-C.

For some excellent alternatives, you can also check out our roundup of the best Pencil or stylus for iPad.  

Apple Pencil (1st generation)

Read our review

The first Apple Pencil was launched in September 2015. Apple sells it for $99/£109/€119. It works with the current 9th and 10th generation iPads as well as a number of older iPad models. To charge you plug it into your iPad’s Lightning port, so you can’t use it when charging. It is pressure-sensitive, which is good if you are an artist. We suspect that Apple will soon remove this Pencil from the lineup now the USB-C model is here.

Apple Pencil (2nd generation)

Read our review

This is the best Apple Pencil, as long as you have a compatible iPad. It launched in 2018 and Apple sells it for $129/£139/€149. It works with recent iPad Air, mini and Pro, but not the standard iPad, check below for specific compatibility information. This Apple Pencil charges wirelessly.

Apple Pencil (USB-C)

The USB-C equipped Apple Pencil is the newest model, launched in October 2023 and costing $79/£79/€95. It lacks many of the features of the 2nd generation model, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking newer means better. This is essentially a Pencil with a USB-C port. It lacks pressure sensitivity, which even the 1st gen model has. It doesn’t work with the 9th or 10th gen iPad. More on compatibility below.

Which Apple Pencil: Design

There’s not exactly a lot of room for flamboyant designs or new aesthetics when it comes to something as form-dependent as a stylus. But, the engineers at Apple have been busy, incorporating a few elements that make the Pencils recognizable from each other. 

In all cases, you’re looking at a white plastic, cylindrical casing with no buttons or markings except for the Apple Pencil name. The 1st-Gen Pencil is the only one that is completely round (and has a glossy finish), as both the 2nd-Gen and USB-C versions have a flattened side so that they can be attached magnetically to the edge of a compatible iPad.

Foundry

Apple has constantly been refining the balance and handling of its Pencil range, as you can see from the fact that with each generation the length of the stylus has slowly been shortened. Here’s how they measure up:

Apple Pencil (1st Gen): 6.92in/176mm (Length); 0.35in/8.9mm (Diameter)

Apple Pencil (2nd Gen): 6.53in/166mm (Length); 0.35in/8.9mm (Diameter)

Apple Pencil (USB-C): 6.10in/155mm (Length); 0.29in/7.4mm (Diameter)

Both the 1st-Gen and USB-C Pencils have a lid at the top end that can be taken off to charge the device. On the 1st-Gen, removing the cap reveals a Lightning connector, while the USB-C slides up to reveal a USB-C port. The 2nd-Gen model is the only one to charge wirelessly and doesn’t have a port or connector.

At the business end of the Pencil, you’ll find the replaceable rubber tips that make the Apple Pencil such a comfortable experience. Some of the models have more functionality built into their slender frames, which we’ll cover in the next section. 

Which Apple Pencil: Features

While all of the Pencil models will allow you to write notes and sketch on your iPad, they do offer different capabilities depending on the model you choose. The 1st-Gen Pencil delivers a precise writing experience, with low latency and pressure sensitivity to allow thinner and wider pen/brush strokes, plus the ability to sense when you are tilting the stylus for shading and similar techniques. 

Pairing and charging are done via the Lightning port, as there is no wireless charging in this model, plus you can’t magnetically attach it to an iPad. You also don’t get the hover feature on iPad Pro models, which enables you to preview where your mark will be made without having to touch the screen. You will also have to make do without the double-tap action to switch between the various pens, brushes, and other tools. 

Apple

The Gen 2 Pencil offers all of the features included in its predecessor, except for the Lightning port charging and pairing, which is instead achieved wirelessly. It introduces the double-tap feature through a touch-sensitive area near the tip, plus there’s the option to have it engraved with a personal message. 

The newest entry reverts to non-wireless charging and pairing, this time via an on-board USB-C port, so you can attach a USB-C-to-USB-C cable from your iPad’s charging port to the Pencil. You can magnetically attach it to an iPad for safe-keeping, but it doesn’t charge. It has nearly all the same features as the 1st-Gen Pencil, albeit strangely without pressure sensitivity, which does seem like a step backward. As a minor compensation, you do get the 2nd-Gen’s hover feature if you own an iPad Pro. 

Which Apple Pencil: Compatibility

Every Pencil supports different iPads, so you’ll need to check which model you have before you buy one of the three stylus models Apple offers:

Apple Pencil (Gen 1)

iPad Pro 12.9-inch (1st and 2nd Gen)

iPad Pro 10.5-inch

iPad Pro 9.7-inch

iPad Air (3rd Gen)

iPad mini (5th Gen)

iPad (6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Gen)

Apple Pencil (Gen 2)

iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Gen)

iPad Pro 11-inch (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Gen)

iPad Air (4th and 5th Gen)

iPad mini (6th Gen)

Apple Pencil (USB-C)

iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Gen)

iPad Pro 11-inch (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Gen)

iPad Air (4th and 5th Gen)

iPad mini (6th Gen)

iPad (10th Gen)

Which Apple Pencil: Verdict

Some of the main considerations when considering an Apple Pencil are how you want to use it and which iPad you have. If you’re interested in creating art or more decorative writing, then you’ll no doubt find the pressure sensitivity of the Gen 1 and Gen 2 models an essential feature. Then you’ll just need to select the one that is compatible with your device. The Gen 2 Pencil does have the additional benefits of wireless charging, plus the double-tap and hover capabilities, although the latter only works on iPad Pro.

If you have a newer iPad with a USB-C connector and just want to take down notes, then the USB-C model could serve those purposes admirably, with the added advantage of being the most affordable model available from Apple.  

Accessories 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *