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Here’s Pencil, a review of the acclaimed FiftyThree stylus and its iPad app

It was last November when FiftyThree announced the launch of its own stylus designed for the iPad. An accessory that could have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the fact that it’s the same company responsible for Paper, the magnificent drawing app for iPad. The stylus is conveniently named Pencil and after months of waiting it can now be purchased in Europe. Thanks to the fact that it was given to me as a gift, I’ve been able to try out this digital pen during the last few weeks.

I was curious to test the combination of the excellent software awarded by Apple as one of the best apps of 2012 together with the hardware designed by the same company. I must say that the result is amazing . I’d better tell you why in detail.

What’s Pencil from FiftyThree like? Let’s look at their hardware

Here’s Pencil, a review of the acclaimed FiftyThree stylus and its iPad app
Here’s Pencil, a review of the acclaimed FiftyThree stylus and its iPad app

After opening a standard Amazon envelope, a white cardboard cylinder welcomes you. Inside this original packaging you will find all the necessary parts. The body is made of graphite or walnut wood depending on the model you have chosen, the tip with its electronics and a spare part for the tip and the “rubber”, as well as a user’s manual and instructions.

The passive stylus has a rubber tip that tricks the capacitive screens into thinking it’s a finger, so they accept the signal. Pencil from FiftyThree is one of the first to use bluetooth LE, which makes it an active stylus . The tip and rubber are also made of the same material as the passive ones but they hide a switch inside made of gold. All this technology is designed to give greater precision and sensitivity to the stroke.

The technology contained in Pencil brings utility to the draughtsman in an intelligent way. The sensors inside know when you are using the tip to draw and when the eraser is used. In addition, when we use Pencil we can still use our fingers. Only in this case they will not be used to draw but to blur what we have drawn.

There are two details that cartoonists will appreciate when using this stylus. The first is that Pencil has a flat design just like a carpenter’s . With this shape it will not fall off the table or surface you are leaning over. The second is that it sticks to your iPad case thanks to the magnets in the Smart Cover or Smart Case. The digital pen attaches quite tightly to either side of your iPad, so you don’t lose it when you’re moving around.

First steps and surprises

Because Pencil and Paper have been developed by the same company, we have a very solid product. Both have been designed under the same vision of everything a stylus should do in a drawing app. And of everything the app should do with a stylus. To learn more about Paper’s app, you can check out this analysis by Fernando Doutel.

It’s clear that you’ll get better results on a big screen than on a small one and that it’s much more enjoyable to do so on a retina than on one that isn’t. I’ve tried Pencil on an iPad Mini without a retina and on an iPad 3 and the experience is much better on the latter than on the former .

To start using Pencil we will have to connect the bluetooth of our iPad. Once we have done this, we will put the tip of the pencil on top of a button and we will keep it like that until the pairing is complete. It only takes a handful of seconds. Making this gesture automatically unlocks all of Paper’s payment tools. If you were thinking about getting a stylus for your iPad, now you have even more reason to go for it. This gift is designed to help you get the most out of your new pen . It’s a world of possibilities if you haven’t already.

The activation of the tools is not permanent but lasts one month since the last time you pair Pencil. After this time they disappear if you haven’t paired him up again. This way FiftyThree wants to avoid the activation of the kit among users who have not bought the stylus.

FiftyThree claims that Pencil’s battery could last a full month, depending on your use. When we have to recharge it we will have nothing more than to detach the tip to reveal a USB connector . From here we can recharge the battery in one or two hours at most.

The whole is more than the sum of its parts

The philosophy behind Pencil and Paper has always been to suppress menus in favor of a more natural experience when drawing . As in reality, Pencil has no buttons that activate any function. There is no on/off button. There is no need to tell the app that we have turned the pencil over to erase with its eraser. Everything works just like a real pencil and paper would.

Well, the truth is that the hardware and software combination goes a little bit further. For example, while using Pencil for iPad we can quietly rest our palm on the screen (FiftyThree recommends disabling gestures with 4 or 5 fingers on your iPad to avoid switching apps, which is a nuisance). No fear of smudging or drawing on top of what we’ve already drawn.

The possibility of zooming in and out of certain areas of the screen already existed without the stylus, but now it takes on greater prominence and provides more precision to the stroke. The speed of the line is not instantaneous but it is quite close. There’s no excessive lag, nor have I felt uncomfortable with this problem.

Another advantage of Pencil comes from the software. FiftyThree has already confirmed that they are working on new features that they will incorporate with iOS 8 in an update of their app. This update will bring the possibility to recognize different thicknesses according to the inclination of Pencil. It would be great if we could also cut out our drawings and sketches to embed them in other documents, a use that is sure to appeal to students who take notes on their iPads.

In conclusion, I can say that Pencil in combination with Paper is a real delight. Using both products at the same time greatly enhances the experience. Pencil is meant to be used in conjunction with Paper and it shows. Although thanks to an API published by its developer we will be able to use this pencil and all its functionalities in other apps outside the company.

Pencil por FiftyThree.

En Apple
Pencil is a very good product that time and software updates will make even better . The price is 74.90 euros for the walnut version and 59.10 euros for the graphite version at Amazon Spain.

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