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Hands-on: Apple Pencil unboxing with iPad Pro [Gallery]

Apple Pencil hands-on 4

Tonight I won the Apple Pencil lottery at my local Apple Store. I made the two-hour drive over to New Orleans to pick up an iPad Pro that I’d ordered online for Personal Pickup in store, half because I wanted avoid shipping delays and half because I want to take a chance on iPad Pro accessories being in stock. That paid off thanks to some dumb luck, and now I’ve officially had some hands-on time with the iPad Pro’s digital stylus.

But first, the story of how I caught one of these rare unicorns in the wild…

Apple Pencil currently shows 4-5 week wait times for delivery when ordering on, and the Specialist that greeted me and called up my iPad Pro pickup reaffirmed that there were no Apple Pencils or Smart Keyboards in stock. While it turns out he was only half right, he added that the iPads arrived early and that the accessories were still catching up (this seems to be the standard explainer for the moment).

I usually skip the Personal Setup process, but I was shopping alone this evening in no rush and said okay to take advantage of the Wi-Fi. After getting to the Home screen on my iPad Pro (wow is it big!), I decided to browse the accessories walls and noticed the iPad Pro Smart Cover and Protective Case was available, but only in white and not the darker charcoal gray option.

A second Specialist approached me once again as I was heading out and asked if I needed any help. I said sure and mentioned that I noticed the iPad Pro cases were available in white, but wondered if the darker colors were in stock. He checked his inventory on his device and said they should be available, but reaffirmed that the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard would not be.

When he went to call out the charcoal gray iPad accessories, he noticed that his inventory indeed said not one but two Apple Pencils were stocked. I mentioned that I’d definitely buy one if they were actually there, so he requested from the back and sure enough it had just arrived around 7:30 on a Friday night. There were only two that arrived, and I’m pretty sure the other one will end up as his before the night is over.

I don’t think there’s much positive about launching the iPad Pro two months after unveiling it and not having two key accessories available, but boy is it a nice surprise when you win the Apple Pencil lottery…

Okay, now for a few observations on unboxing and using the Apple Pencil with an iPad Pro.

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The packaging is rather unremarkable. Apple Pencil is serialized with the number listed on the back label, the contents slide out from the side, and there’s a pull tab underneath the plastic to help you unbox it.

Next to the pull tab is an illustration showing you how to quickly charge Apple Pencil. In retrospect, this is also likely showing you how to pair Apple Pencil to iPad Pro as well. Holding a warranty pamphlet and some care instructions is a sleeve marked with Designed by Apple in California.

Apple Pencil hands-on 10

The warranty pamphlet explains the standard Apple One Year Limited Warranty – Accessory – For Apple and Beats Branded Product Only. The instruction say to draw with Apple Pencil and iPad Pro as you would with pencil and paper. Interestingly, the pamphlet says that the tip will eventually wear away and need replacing to avoid damaging the iPad Pro display. A spare tip and a Lighting port adapter for recharging with a cable is included, but no spare Lightning connector cover.

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The Apple Pencil itself is laid out in a tray similar to the security-free units on display at Apple Stores. It’s also wrapped in plastic like every other Apple device you’ll unbox this year.

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The setup process isn’t obvious as there are no written instructions within the box that I could find. Taking a cue from Apple’s latest Magic peripherals for the Mac, I guessed correctly that removing the cap on the would-be eraser end and connecting it to the iPad Pro’s Lighting port would initiate pairing.

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Once paired, I was surprised to receive a warning that Apple Pencil had 0% battery and needed charging. Not immediately aware of how to check the battery life and charging status, I remembered that iOS 9 added a new battery widget in Notification Center. By default, the battery widget is enabled but only visible in Notification Center positioned landscape when the “Widgets” section is enabled. By the time I found the battery widget, Apple Pencil had reached 4%; 15 minutes later it was nearly 25% charged.

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Apple’s new Notes app on iOS 9 is a great place to start testing Apple Pencil once it’s set up, but the App Store has a collection of Apple Pencil-ready apps like Procreate and Paper by 53 featured prominently at the moment. I downloaded a few, then jumped into Apple Notes to try out the built-in experience.

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Sketching features in Apple Notes are pretty basic compared to dedicated drawing apps on the iPad, but it’s a good start when test driving Apple Pencil. The usually odd paper-like background feels okay here, and I quickly decided that Apple Pencil’s palm rejection matched with the iPad Pro’s gigantic display make drawing on the iPad actually frustration-free and pretty simple for the first time ever.

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I’ve always been disappointed with the drawing experience on past iPads; the display just feels cramped and more restricting than actual paper. Apple Pencil and iPad Pro fixes that. I foresee myself really enjoying casually sketching on this device without a doubt.

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While the claim of “virtually no lag” may not ring true exactly especially in some non-Apple apps that claim to be Apple Pencil-optimized, seeing any lag with casual drawing required intentionally racing the ink hitting the paper and the Apple Pencil moving across the display.

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After a short time using Apple Pencil, I have to admit I’m impressed with the quality of palm rejection and even just how it feels moving across the screen. There’s a level of resistance and friction that emulates using a sketching utensil on paper. $900 is expensive to spend on a fancy notepad, but iPad Pro does a whole lot more of course. More on that and if I think it’s worth it after I spend some time with the 12.9″ tablet. For now, I recommend trying your luck at finding an Apple Pencil at just the right if you’ve got an iPad Pro or plan to buy one. It’s a really impressive little piece of hardware so far…

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(By the way, I wrote this on my 12-inch MacBook as I’m not quite ready to use the iPad Pro for blog posting … more on that next week.)


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  1. HiroiSekai - 7 years ago

    My iPad Pro arrives on Tuesday and my Pencil is still about a week out from shipping, but today I went into an Apple Store to find something else I wanted: the White Silicone Case. After purchasing the only one they had and making my way out of the store, I noticed they had a couple iPad Pros with Apple Pencil units on display (surprisingly not tethered to anything to prevent theft). Super curious, I took to trying apps like Paper, Photoshop Fix and Autodesk Sketchbook.

    The Pencil is just as you described it. Moving it on the screen is like a dream, I couldn’t have even imagined it would feel this nice. Quick spot healing touchups in Photoshop Fix may even replace using my MacBook Pro in some smaller occasions for my job, but if not, you can bet I’ll be redownloading good ol’ Astropad and really utilizing these things. I’m not just saying this out of my love for Apple stuff, but my Wacom Intuos needs to go once my iPad Pro and Pencil arrive and they pass my basic Astropad to OS X tests. There’s no comparing how much nicer this feels.

  2. PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

    Wow. There is an artist in you, Zac!

  3. 89p13 - 7 years ago

    Great write up – and quite the luck to have stumbled into being at the right place, at the right time.

    Thank you – now I’ll be stopping in to my Apple Store every time I’m with a mile or two, just hoping to share in your luck.

  4. JT Lin (@JiantaiLin) - 7 years ago

    Do you need screen protector to protect ipad pro screen from pencil (may cause scratch )?

    • bedrock25 - 7 years ago

      I ordered me a tempered glass screen protector for mines. Just in case you know, my Apple pencil should be here next week.

    • - 7 years ago

      I wouldn’t use a screen protector. There is an interesting textured feel to the screen When you use the Pencil-it’s not present when using a finger, however. My concern would be that a screen protector would interfere with that “paper” feel when using the Pencil.

  5. Chuck Fisher - 7 years ago

    Actually there is a diagram with directions on charging the Apple Pencil with an external charger and also “pairing” it with the iPad Pro.

    I think the Notes app is fine for casual use. It’s fun to use because it is so simple.

    After reading all the comments about how limited the supplies were, I had doubts when I went to the Apple Store yesterday morning. I was surprised to get get the exact model of the iPad Pro that I wanted plus the Logitech Create keyboard and the Apple Pencil.

    I took the 25-minute commuter train to downtown and the street-level exit is at the front door of the Apple Store.

  6. virtualstorm - 7 years ago

    A very nice writeup

  7. Paul Andrew Dixon - 7 years ago

    hopefully next year they will bring the pencil to the ipad air and mini

  8. spider623 (@spider623) - 7 years ago

    i hate it that apple did what i wanted from a non wacom android tablet even better than samsung… i take notes all the time, come on, give as a better solution, it had to be apple that got it right? are you freaking kidding me? we complain that they never innovate and then the beat the shit out of us because they did a steal right and functional, is it too much to ask for all the 8″+ tablet to have compatibility with a fine tip pen, btw WTF ARE THEY CALLING THE DAMN STYLUS A PENCIL?

    • 89p13 - 7 years ago

      During the height of the space race in the 1960s, legend has it, NASA scientists realized that pens could not function in space. They needed to figure out another way for the astronauts to write things down. So they spent years and millions of taxpayer dollars to develop a pen that could put ink to paper without gravity. But their crafty Soviet counterparts, so the story goes, simply handed their cosmonauts pencils.

      This tale with its message of simplicity and thrift–not to mention a failure of common sense in a bureaucracy–floats around the Internet, hopping from in-box to in-box, and even surfaced during a 2002 episode of the West Wing. But, alas, it is just a myth.

      It’s just a name – and it speaks to simplicity. YMMV

    • viciosodiego - 7 years ago

      Its not your typical stylus that you find on an android tablet.

    • wdm6502 - 7 years ago

      Actually, “pencil” to me sounds more accurate than Microsoft’s or Samsung’s “pen”. They are both neither pencils nor pens, but pencils are a more pressure sensitive writing implement.

    • wdm6502 - 7 years ago

      Not only that, but the Apple Pencil supports shading when you change the angle, like a graphite pencil. Real pens don’t do that either.

  9. Jirka Stejskal - 7 years ago

    I wonder how it works if you type. I mean handwritten scripting, for example to make your signature. Is Pencil able to cirrectly reproduce your entire signature correctly? This was alway deal breaker for me – when I tried previous pencils, pens ….. I couldn’t make my writing, most of the time because of the lag and precission.

    • tonywmd23 - 7 years ago

      Based on the very limited reviews as of now, you don’t need to worry about any lag or precision problems with the apple pencil. I bet it’s the device that enables you to produce the exactly same signature that you do on real paper.

  10. elme26bih - 7 years ago

    Yesterday I’ve tested the Pencil at the Apple Store in Munich (Germany). I’m really impressed.

    I’ve tested a lot of Styluses and I hate them all. It was a really weird feeling, writing and sketching on the iPad. I thought about Styluses: Wasted money!
    But the Apple Pencil is phenomenal.

    • It feels very natural. (This is very important.)
    • The pencil is super precise.
    • Hand-detection works brilliant.

    This is what I really like and I think I would probably will make a second attempt to change my whole “paper office” to “digital office”. Maybe not with the iPad Pro, but with an iPad Mini 5.

    You don’t have to think, how to hold or use the Pencil. It just works! You can focus on your work.

    Sorry for my english. :)

  11. taoprophet420 - 7 years ago

    Zac you should write a comparison of using your iPad Pro and MacBook. The Pro has a better screen and faster processor. I’m curious of what vendors the MacBook has besides OS X.

    I still don’t see why Aplle didn’t delay the iPad Pro until they had more supply of Pencils and and keyboards.

  12. joannbendzsas - 7 years ago

    Can the pencil be used to navigate iOS?

  13. Wim Depestel (@wmdpstl) - 7 years ago

    I don’t understand why the unboxing is so important? Just get it out, it’s just a box like everything you by is in one.
    It’s ridiculous and childish.

    • friedmud1 - 7 years ago

      Many people who enjoy using Apple products do so because of their attention to detail. We enjoy the fact that Apple thinks of every facet of a product before sending it out into the wild. The unboxing experience is important because it’s your very first interaction with a new product. If it’s messy, difficult or just not well thought out… then what does that say about the product that’s inside?

      I, for one, appreciated the coverage of the unboxing. Feel free to scroll past that part if it’s not interesting to you.

      • PhilBoogie - 7 years ago

        Put very eloquently! In kind. I wish there were more people responding in this manner.

    • motronic - 7 years ago

      Unboxing is fundamental with every product I purchase. It might just be you that doesn’t mind attention to detail on packaging. But I’m ok with that.

  14. Have anyone been able to try the pencil on an iPad Air 2/iPad mini 4? I mean it’s probably won’t be as resourceful as on the Pro, but it should still bring some functionality?

    • saschamt - 7 years ago

      I haven’t tried it with the Air 2 or mini 4, but it will not pair with an iPad mini 2 or a good ol’ iPad 2 :)

  15. mytawalbeh - 7 years ago

    iPad Pro with its accessory looks a very promising device that will make a lot of people think again of iPads.
    As per the reviews for now, Apple pencil is unlike any other stylus out there, simply smashes them all. This is what you expect from apple.

  16. Yenter (@yenter) - 7 years ago

    He set the toaster to threeeeee, medium brown.

  17. freshpressedguest - 7 years ago

    That female-to-female adapter for charging the Pencil should have been in the Pencil’s back-end cap.


Avatar for Zac Hall Zac Hall

Zac covers Apple news for 9to5Mac and hosts the 9to5Mac Happy Hour and 9to5Mac Watch Time podcasts.