Helpware: Don’t Pencil me in

The 9.7-inch iPad and Apple Pencil. (Apple)

The 9.7-inch iPad and Apple Pencil. (Apple)

I like Apple products. I have a MacBook Pro, a stunning 27-inch iMac, an Applet 4K, an iPhone X, of course, and the new — sixth generation — iPad. I didn’t need to get rid of my fifth-generation iPad; it was more than adequate for streaming, doing some word processing and handling email. Best of all, it was paid for.

But in my search for the latest gotta-have-it gadget, I withdrew $329 from my special gadget account for the sixth-generation iPad, because for the first time Apple offered its own stylus as an option. The Apple Pencil allowed me to draw on the iPad (never mind that I can barely draw a stick figure); markup documents I share with co-workers (a moot point, since I’m retired) or doodle during long, boring meetings (which, mercifully, I no longer have to attend).

The Pencil, which costs $99, is, like all Apple products, minimalist and overpriced. It’s white, has a tip for writing and drawing, and can be charged using the iPad’s lightning-to-power cable. It also can be charged by sticking it into the iPad. It pairs easily with Bluetooth, but it has to be paired every time the iPad is turned on, a major annoyance. The only way you can tell if the Pencil is fully charged is to go to the battery section on the iPad. Would it have been so difficult to put a small green light on the Pencil to indicate that it’s charged? The light could turn red when it needs charging. The Pencil can hold a charge for about 10 hours of use after a 10-minute charge.

The Pencil is sensitive, but only to about the same degree as the Wacom digital tablet, which costs less than the Pencil. The thickness of the input is easily changed on the Notes or other apps menus, rather than with tips of varying thickness. The Pencil works with Pages and Notes, but not with Calendar. Of course, the Pencil can be used to tap out text on the virtual keyboard and launch apps. There are many third-party apps for the iPad that use the Pencil’s drawing and text features.

A cap that covers the lightning part is easily lost. I accidentally dropped mine and had a hard time finding it on the floor. Extra caps are sold on Amazon for about $10 for a three-pack. They’re not from Apple, so there could be an issue with fit.

I use cases to protect my iPads, but the one I had on the old iPad didn’t have a Pencil holder. There are dozens of iPad-compatible cases on Amazon, including many that offer a Pencil holder, which I think is essential.

For previous iPads I used the excellent Ridge model from Devicewear, but the company doesn’t offer a case that has a slot for the Pencil. Cases that do have a Pencil holder start at less than $10. My experience, with a $12 case, was a disaster. The sleep-wake switch didn’t work all the time. I was awakened during several nights by the news program I stream, even when the iPad should have been sleeping. The power button hole was off-center, which made it difficult to turn the iPad on or off. And the rubber casing on the speaker side of the iPad wouldn’t stay in place.

A company called Antbox got good reviews on Amazon, which listed it for $26. Everything fits and the wake/sleep feature is moored by a flap. It’s substantial, just the right weight and rather elegant. Where the cheapo case came in a plastic bag, the Antbox packaging is quite nice. There are more expensive cases, but I like this one.

If I had it to do over again?

I’d keep the iPad 5th generation. I realized quickly that I don’t need to draw or annotate drawings or scribble notes, but it was too late to return it. I had sold my 5th generation iPad, so there was no turning back.

Assuredly, when I replenish my gotta-have-it account, I’ll be ready for another gadget I don’t need.



Harold Glicken is a retired newspaper editor. He can be reached at and a collection of his columns can be found at