Apple Pencil: Too much information

I own a first generation refurbished Apple Pencil. I bought it when I picked up the new 5th gen iPad mini. It’s a delight. I use it for freehand note-taking when I don’t want to tip-tap into the onscreen keyboard or lug around my folding bluetooth keyboard. I use it doodle and draw. I use it to annotate PDFs. I especially love  how it knows what is the pencil and what is my hand so I can rest against the screen and still get work done.

My pencil keeps its charge for days with light use. When I need to top it up, I can stick it into my iPad’s lightning port. In under 10 minutes it goes from flatline to 100% charge. Yes, it looks a bit odd sticking out like that, but it isn’t for long and it’s easy enough to rest the iPad on a desk until the charge is complete.

Keep track of your current pencil charge in your iPad widget gallery. The Batteries  section shows how much juice is currently available:

When talking about charging, you should think about that tiny cap at the end of the first generation pencil. Fortunately, there are many extremely useful and inexpensive helpers for keeping track of the cap and the charging adapter, the short flat item at the bottom of this picture. It’s used for charging off a USB lightning cable by providing a female-to-female connector between the cable and the pencil:

Many third party gizmos service these tiny pieces. You can purchase replacement magnetic caps that better stick to your pencil and replacement charging adapters for when you lose them. If you’d rather not lose them in the first place, consider a simple holder set like this one. Mine is clear silicon and did not include the tip that covers the nib. The holders make sure the two tiny pieces aren’t easily lost, and that they’re kept along-side the equipment that uses them:

In addition, I purchased a magnetic sleeve to attach my pencil to my iPad and/or its smart cover when not in use. Again, this helps ensure I don’t lose the things I need. I roll the flat part away from my hand and find that it doesn’t interfere with holding the pencil or writing with it.

I use the Selvy PenScript keyboard plug-in to convert handwriting to text. It’s available from my normal keyboard. I tap-and-hold the globe to select it. Make sure when installing that you enable it in Settings > General > Keyboards.

As you see from this screenshot, I also installed the Kaomoji.HW keyboard that allows me to draw emoticons. It’s not very good at its job but it’s pretty hilarious to play with.

The SelvyPen keyboard is surprisingly useful across apps. It’s as easy to enter a URL as it is to type free text.

If you’re looking to enter large tracts of text by hand, Nebo does a great job with handwriting-to-text conversion, allowing you to enter information into notebooks using your pencil. Notice how the app keeps track of the ongoing interpretation in light gray just above the handwriting:

Use the ellipsis (3-dot) menu on the right to convert paragraphs to text and remove the handwriting entry. The accuracy is surprisingly good.

For annotating PDFs, I use Notability. I admit that it’s mostly because I already own it and it’s a great app. There are many other excellent options on the market. I’d love to hear what else you recommend. I apologize for all the blurring but I was reviewing someone else’s work and I wanted to respect their privacy:

For presentation, I have a half dozen apps of varying quality and I can’t really recommend one or the other as being particularly outstanding:

What other apps, tweaks, and gadgets have you found to enhance your pencil-using experience? I love my pencil and am always looking for more ways to get the most from it!

Reader recs:

  • Many readers agree with my use of Notability
  • Mike recs Concepts. “I use it as a vectorized infinite whiteboard for sketching and note taking.”
  • Teddy likes GoodNotes, “which will hide the UI when projecting to an external screen. Also has a nice laser pointer with a trail so you can make temporary markings as you go” and PDF Viewer for annotation.
  • Paper by WeTransfer gets a thumbs up from Paul.


  • I use a sleeve that has an elastic band to hold it to my iPad + Smart Cover. I’m clumsy enough not to trust magnets. I usually carry the Pencil point-first.

    When I want to charge, I insert the Pencil cap-first, squeeze at the cap, and withdraw the uncapped Pencil (autocompletion amended).

    When it’s charged, I insert the connector end and fish for the cap.

  • Hi Erica, long time reader, first time writer. I hadn’t heard of PenScript and will check it out.

    For presentation I use GoodNotes which will hide the UI when projecting to an external screen. Also has a nice laser pointer with a trail so you can make temporary markings as you go.

    For PDF annotation, I think PDF Viewer is tops, but I’m also all in on the Files app, iCloud, etc.

    If you use the iOS Notes app, I find the ability to tap the lock screen with the Pencil to open up a new note to be great in meetings.

    • Thank you for jumping in! I can’t tell you how much I love when I get to hear back from real people on the other end of the ether.

      I’ll check out GoodNotes and PDF Viewer — I am too becoming one with Files.

  • Check out Paper by WeTransfer ( formerly Paper by 53 ).

    Simple and with a beautiful notebook interface.

  • “Good Notes” is my go-to. I put blue gaffer tape to avoid rolling and to avoid confusion with other pencils. I like “Linea Sketch” and “Procreate” for drawing.

    My iPad mini’s cover has a loop in one end to carry the pencil, sometimes I like it sometimes I don’t.
    I wish the tap on lock screen could open GoodNotes instead of Notes, which by the way is a very good taking notes app with the pencil.
    I haven’t run into problems of loosing the cap or point yet.

    Thanks for sharing and I will try those handwriting input apps you mention.

  • The iPad Pro solved all these issues with the pencil by wireless (uhm inductive) charging and a magnet!
    At a cost but was definitely a nice upgrade from the 1st gen pencil.

    I don’t use the pencil much but when I do – I’m alternating between Paper, Whink, Sketches Pro and Notability.

    I find notability best for annotating PDFs which ends up being my go to for notes as well.
    For UI sketches, workflows and to captures my thoughts before working on new projects I use the other ones.

  • What does surprise me is that the original Apple Pencil didn’t pick up a lot of criticism for a major U/X failing that goes way beyond inconvenience. Anyone have any idea what that might be? In many ways I’m surprised it went into production as-is.