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Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2: which is the best?

Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2 side by side comparison
(Image credit: Future)

Picking between the Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2 is not as obvious a choice as you might think. The fact is that either stylus can be a superb choice for a digital artist looking to use their iPad for drawing, as both offer sophisticated artistry features like pressure sensitivity, tilt sensitivity and more.

The Apple digital drawing experience has evolved considerably from the early days of iPads, and now it's one of the most compelling offerings around for digital artists. The Apple Pencil 2, upon release in 2018, felt very much like a distillation of an already successful formula rather than a radical reworking of what had come before. 

The top-of-the-line combo is an Apple Pencil 2 with an iPad Pro. If you can afford it (and that's a considerable 'if') then this combination delivers one of the best digital drawing experiences it's possible to get. In fact, it makes the top spot in our guide to the best tablets with a stylus, beating out dedicated drawing tablets from the likes of Wacom. It's that good.

But not everyone will be dropping that kind of money, and that's where this article comes in. The original Apple Pencil came out in 2015, and is still in use today. The Apple Pencil 2, as mentioned, came out in 2018. Which one is right for you is going to depend on many things, not least of which is which iPad you have. Different iPads are compatible with different versions of the Apple Pencil, and if you're using an older iPad, or just a cheaper one, you may find that the original Pencil is your only option.

For more info on both styluses, read our Apple Pencil review and our Apple Pencil 2 review. The bottom line, in both cases, is that the Pencil is really darn good, providing a sublime drawing experience that repurposes the iPad as a compelling tool for digital art.

Our Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2 article is all about helping you determine which of these tremendous styluses is right for you. Don't forget to check out our best cheap Apple Pencil deals post where we keep up to date with all the latest prices, and if you want to check out other options, we have a useful guide to the best Apple Pencil alternatives. Also, if you're still picking your iPad, our guide to the iPad generations provides a useful breakdown of all the different iPads available now – spoiler, there are a lot!

But for now, let's jump in. First, we're going to look at how the two styluses are priced, as well as one of the most common questions regarding the Apple Pencil and Pencil 2 – which one is compatible with which iPad?

Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2: price and compatibility

Apple Pencil and iPad with an image of a man on it

The Apple Pencil 2 with Adobe Fresco (Image credit: Apple)

Compare the Apple Pencil with the Apple Pencil 2 and you'll immediately notice the difference in price. An Apple Pencil 1st gen costs £89/$99, while the Apple Pencil 2 costs £119/$129. There are hardware reasons for this, which we'll get to later in the article. 

However, if you have an iPad already then your choice of Pencil has effectively been made for you, as each iPad is only compatible with one of the two Pencil options. The original Apple Pencil is supported by the latest 9th Gen iPad 10.2-inch (2021, plus 2020 and 2019 version too), iPad mini (2021, 2019) and iPad Air (2019) from the current line-up.

It was also supported by previous iPads, including the iPad 9.7-inch (2018), iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2017), iPad Pro 10.5-inch (2017), iPad Pro 9.7-inch (2016), and iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2015).

The Apple Pencil 2 is currently supported by the newest 4th generation iPad Air (2020), the first generation 11-inch iPad Pro (2018) and later, the iPad Pro 12.9-inch third generation (2018) and later – including the iPad Pro M1 2021 models – and the sixth-generation iPad mini (2021).

If you're feeling a little lost with all the different names and numbers, check out our iPad generations article where we explain it in detail. Suffice to say, for now, the original Apple Pencil is the most broadly compatible stylus, and definitely the budget option. The lowest price you can pay for a new iPad together with an Apple Pencil is £438/$428 – that’s the 10.2-inch iPad plus Apple Pencil 1st gen.

To get an Apple Pencil 2, you’re looking at a minimum of £868/$928 – that’s for the 11-inch iPad Pro (2021) plus Apple Pencil 2nd gen. Of course, you get a much more powerful device for that extra cost, with vastly improved screen quality, and a USB Type-C port for attaching external storage or a 4K display easily. But our point here is still that the cost consideration goes beyond the price of the stylus.

Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2: design & ergonomics

Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2

(Image credit: Apple)

The two Apple Pencils are extremely similar in design, while being different enough that you can easily tell them apart. While they're both 8.9mm in diameter, the original Apple Pencil is completely circular, while the Apple Pencil 2 has a flat edge. 

There's a very specific reason for this flat edge, which we'll come onto when we talk about how the two styluses perform in use. But it does have one additional use in terms of pure physical functionality, and that's stopping the blasted thing from rolling off surfaces. The perfectly smooth and circular barrel of the original Pencil may have been aesthetically lovely, but anyone who used one probably had to pick it up off the floor more than a few times, even with the weighting system built-in to try and prevent this. Our post on how to avoid losing your Apple Pencil has proved surprisingly popular over the years.

Anyway, that's a fairly small point in the grand scheme of things. The original Apple Pencil has a glossy plastic finish in the style of AirPods. The Pencil 2, meanwhile, has a matte finish that's much more resistant to grease and fingerprints. It feels, more than anything, like a real wooden pencil, which makes it that much more pleasant to use. 

Elsewhere, the Pencils are similar across the board. The 8.9mm thickness of both is ergonomically optimal for most people's hands, as is the light weight of 20.7g apiece. Some tablet styluses can be small and fiddly, but these are pretty much perfectly pitched. Though some users, particularly those who are accustomed to Wacom tablets, may prefer a thicker stylus – there are sleeves you can buy to make the Apple Pencil feel thicker, such as this affordable silicone grip holder.

Design-wise, that pretty much sums up the differences between the two styluses, though there is one more point worth mentioning in the Apple Pencil 2's favour – you can get it engraved for free if you buy it online from Apple directly.

Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2: performance

Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2

(Image credit: Apple)

The good news about both Apple Pencil models when it comes to drawing performance is that they’re identical, so you don’t miss out on drawing capability whichever one you go for.

Apple hasn’t confirmed the level of pressure sensitivity in either Pencil model, which is a little frustrating, but neither has ever felt lacking for finessed and nuanced artwork, so we can live with a bit of ambiguity.

They both support tilt and rotation detection while drawing, and when combined with the good pressure detection, they’re very versatile for different brush strokes and applications.

When it comes to drawing performance, both Apple Pencil models are identical

They also sample at the same rate, meaning they both have the same low-latency performance… except you do actually get guaranteed lower latency from the time you move your hand to the time you see the results on-screen when using Apple Pencil 2 with a compatible iPad Pro. But that’s because of the iPad Pro’s 120Hz screen (meaning that it refreshes the display 120 times per second), not because of anything the Apple Pencil does. Every other iPad currently sold by Apple has a 60Hz screen.

The 2017 iPad Pro models also had 120Hz screens, and worked with the original Apple Pencil, so they also offer this lower latency, but they’re not on sale anymore. If you’re buying an iPad today, every iPad that supports the original Apple Pencil will have marginally higher latency due to their screens, while the iPad Pros offer the best possible drawing experience due to this advantage alone.

The Apple Pencil 2 does actually have one technical advantage, but it’s not directly to do with drawing: it has a button. It’s not a physical button, but rather you can double-tap the flat edge with your finger. You can choose what this does by default: switch between current tool and eraser; switch between current tool and the last-used tool; show the colour palette; or nothing, if you prefer.

That’s the default, as we said, though individual apps can give you different options within the app: art studio ProCreate and audio editor Ferrite both offer other handy functions you can apply there instead, that apply only within the app (see our round-up of the best iPad Pro apps for more). The original Apple Pencil has no equivalent option.

Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2: storage and charging

Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2

(Image credit: Future)

The Apple Pencil 2 has a huge edge when it comes to storage. It attaches magnetically to the side of the iPad Pro, and connecting it this way also charges it wirelessly. It’s hard to overstate how much more usable this makes the Apple Pencil 2 than its predecessor purely from a usability point of view.

Not only is it always to hand – if you’ve got your iPad within reach, you’ve got your Pencil within reach – but it’s been topping up its charge while it’s there, ready to go at a moment’s notice. It’s so seamless, and reduces friction, helping you get straight into being creative and productive before you lose your thread.

For the Apple Pencil 1st gen, there’s no official storage solution directly on devices. It will attach magnetically to some covers, but not with a very strong grip. Apple made some iPad sleeves that include a storage section for the Pencil, which work well enough, but were very large and unwieldy overall. There are third party cases and folios too, of course, but you’ll have to see if there are any that suit you.

The original Apple Pencil is also more annoying to keep charged. It has a male Lightning connector on the end (covered with a cap that can get lost, though it stays on fairly well), which can be plugged into your iPad’s Lightning port to charge (this is also how you pair it with the iPad). The strange, long shape this forms is the very definition of inelegance, and also leaves the Pencil prone to getting knocked and snapping its connector. However, it can charge quite quickly: about 15 seconds of charge time can get your around 30 minutes of use.

The Pencil 1st gen does come with a charging adapter in the box, though: a converter, so that you can use a normal Lightning cable to charge the Pencil. As long you’re diligent about plugging it in regularly, this would be a much better way to go about it.

Apple doesn’t give battery quotes for the Pencil models, but talked of the 1st-gen version offering around 12 hours. That model has also proven to hold its charge well when not in use, which is important, since it doesn’t get charged as easily.

The 2nd-gen Apple Pencil hasn’t had any problems lasting for long drawing sessions for us, but its battery life is also less important, because it can be more easily topped up during the day simply by popping it back on the edge when you respond to emails or stop for a break.

Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2: tips

Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2

(Image credit: Apple)

Both Apple Pencil models use the same kind of tip, which is fairly hard, and taps firmly against the glass of the iPad. Depending on what kind of stylus you’re used to, you may find this a bit of an adjustment: it’s distinctly harder and louder.

It’s not a problem in any way, but the difference from softer plastic tips or drawing surfaces is quite noticeable. You’d have to try one in an Apple Store to see if you majorly dislike it, but we doubt it would be a dealbreaker.

This hardness does make the tips highly durable. Don’t expect to see much, if any, sign of wear within a year or so, unless you’re trying to use it to make fire.

The 1st-gen Apple Pencil comes with a replacement tip in the box, further guaranteeing longevity from a single purchase.

The Apple Pencil 2 does not come with a replacement tip, which seems a bit cheap of Apple, but then you won’t be needing one for a long time, as we mentioned.

You can buy a replacement pack of tips from Apple: four for £19/$19.

Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2: which should you buy?

Apple Pencil vs Apple Pencil 2

(Image credit: Apple)

When it comes down to it, the answer as to which stylus is better is simple: it's the Apple Pencil 2. The matte finish is better suited to being handled by sweaty hands than the original, the extra 'button' is useful, and the magnetic attachment with wireless charging is massively superior to the plugged charging of the 1st-gen version.

However, because the actual drawing performance is on a par between them, and because of the major budget considerations around having to buy the most expensive iPad models to be able to use Apple Pencil 2, it's not such a clear-cut choice in practice.

As is the case with any professional tool, the real answer is to buy the best one that you can afford. If you can justify the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil 2 combination, you absolutely should go for it.

But any of the other iPad models is an excellent drawing instrument too, and though the original Apple Pencil is more unwieldy to charge, it'll still help you produce your best work, and that's what it's there for.

Made your decision? Here are the best Apple Pencil and Apple Pencil 2 prices in your area:

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Matt has been testing technology for over a decade, working in specialist Apple publications as well general technology and creative journalism. By day, you can find him covering TV, audio, smart home gear and more at T3.com, as Home Tech Editor. By night, he's probably updating or pairing or installing some new piece of technology in the quest for the perfect setup.