Review of Apple Pencil for Note Taking

Posted on March 5, 2023 by Richard Goulter

I recently purchased the Apple Pencil.

There is a more recent “2nd Generation” Apple Pencil, but the iPad I have is old enough that it doesn’t support that “2nd Generation”.

Overall, it’s been a useful thing to have, I like using it, but it’s also probably not worth the cost.

I have found it useful. Before having an Apple Pencil, my household’s use of the iPad was 99% my wife using it to watch Netflix. – With the Apple Pencil, its use is 90% for taking notes.

It’s pretty good for handwriting notes.
The feeling isn’t as tactile as an actual pen on actual paper. But, the feeling isn’t so bad or off so as to be uncomfortable. (Albeit, I strongly recommend getting some kind of pencil grip. The device itself is very thin!).

Of course, since it is digital, this comes with its own neat benefits:

Using an iPad for notes has some disadvantages; but, is not significantly worse than pen & paper note taking. (e.g. takes up desk space, and can’t easily copy & paste text from a workstation).

One limitation is that in some ways it’s more limited than pen & paper. In that, with pen & paper, you can take notes however you wish. – This leads to all sorts of note taking idiosyncracies.

So. Here’s how I like making notes while working:

Though mostly I only really use handwriting for the ‘diary’ and ‘work journal’ parts.

To elaborate on the ‘work journal’: So, I like writing down a work notes (a log?) so that it’s easier to offload/recall the mental context I had when tackling some problem.

A work flow might be:


A strong part of my note taking process is colour-coding.

This means a dense page of notes is often colourful, and is easier to scan. e.g. black for things I tried, red for problems, green for questions, blue for facts, purple for tasks to do.

For traditional pen & paper, it’s often very easy to find families of pens which have all of these colours. Or even a good multi-pen which has 4 (albeit, those are ball-point pens, which are unergonomic).

I’ve even quite liked using a set of Preppy fountain pens, each with cartridge converters. The Preppy pens are cheap (relative to fountain pens); and can be found with coloured caps/bodies in each of the colours above.

For the Apple Pencil, I have to rely on what software has been written for the iPad. – I like OneNote enough, so I thought I’d try it with the Apple Pencil. It’s fine. It does support easily using different styles of pencil (e.g. different thicknesses, colours, pen/highlighter). It can cover the above use case adequately. The most glaring limitation is support for easily switching colours for the auto-text-recognition. – Maybe some other app supports my use case better.

In terms of cost.. I was able to get the Preppy pens relatively cheaply. I got converters for them which were cheaper than the pens; although I see e.g. on jetpens, this isn’t the case there. – The Apple Pencil is quite expensive. It’s not worth buying an iPad specifically to use that. I like using the Apple Pencil. I don’t regret buying it. But, I’d describe it as a luxury purchase, for the use case of “taking notes on the iPad”. (Whereas, say, I do feel that “ortholinear keyboard” or “trackball mouse” are such significant ergonomic wins that they’re worth buying, especially for professionals, despite their high cost).

Other nit-picky problems with the Apple Pencil:

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