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The Apple Pencil

November 10, 2017

I write a lot. I take notes in meetings. I write down plans for my team for the next few days and the next few weeks. And I sketch out a lot of research ideas. Yes, I could just type all of those things on a keyboard, but I personally find that I’m both more creative and more thoughtful when writing.

I’ve always been intrigued by the potential of digital notetaking. I tried out the initial versions of the tablet PC when Microsoft first introduced it, but it was always just a little too clunky to replace handwritten notes. I’ve been using a Note 5 for a couple of years, and while it’s really useful for jotting quick notes and reminders (the ability to pull out the stylus and immediately start writing is killer), it’s too small to substitute for writing in a notebook (my current notebook of choice is the Baron Fig Confidant in Flagship size). When Apple released the Apple Pencil I was intrigued, but I doubted I’d get enough value from it to warrant the $100 price tag.

But then I got a pair of emails from United, one notifying me that my miles were going to expire soon and a second notifying me that I could use my miles to purchase Apple products. Since the miles would vanish anyway, I used the opportunity to order a Pencil.

My first experiment with using the Pencil was on Caltrain heading up to San Francisco for the Samsung Developer Conference, jotting some ideas for a project I was planning. The experience was good, but not great; my iPad seemed to occasionally have difficulty with palm rejection, so that it would start scrolling my note in the middle of writing. But the input was responsive and did a good job capturing my handwriting. And the Pencil definitely felt good in my hand.

Taking notes at the conference revealed that the issue I’d experience was not a general one, but was instead related to taking notes while in a moving vehicle. I’d been sitting on the lower level of the train, and while it was stable enough for writing the motion was apparently just enough to screw with Apple’s algorithm. When writing while stationary the palm rejection has been rock solid. Trying to write on the upper level of a train (on the return trip) was a total loss; the algorithm couldn’t figure out if I was trying to write or scroll. Of course, I should note that I have difficulty writing in a regular notebook on the upper level…

Latency on the pencil has generally been very good, although occasionally tracking will briefly hiccup. And once in awhile my iPad will just refuse to recognize the Pencil, but that’s fixable by briefly plugging the Pencil into the iPad (and yes, plugging the Pencil in to charge it is awkward, but it’s not a showstopper). I’m inclined to blame those issues on Bluetooth, but it’s worth noting that Wacom-based styluses don’t suffer from those problems.

In general I enjoy writing with the stylus; it’s probably the best digital note-taking experience I’ve had to date. And once I have the Pencil in my hand, I’ll use it to tap around on my iPad in lieu of touching; it feels good enough in your hand you don’t really want to put it down. But if I had to purchase it with cash I wouldn’t bother; I still prefer jotting notes in a notebook, and I’m not enough of an artist to spend much time drawing. So my search for a great digital note-taking experience continues.

From → Hardware, Musings

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