I’m About To Save You a Bunch of Time and Money if You’re in the Market for an Apple Pencil
Personally tested by me, we‘ve got some winners that work as good, if not better than the OG
As soon as I received my first brand new Apple product, my life changed. It actually wasn’t all that long ago. I was an Android tablet and phone user up until about a year and a half ago — all of them budget-conscious devices where I could get the most bang for my buck.
I had used a hand-me-down, cracked screen, dinosaur iPad mini that slowly immersed me into the whole Apple world, but it was my first ever iPhone (SE2) that made me much more familiar with the iOS format and I found the interface super intuitive and user-friendly. It was love at first use.
It’s been a little over a year and in addition to the phone, I now own two iPad 7s and an iPad 8. I decided almost immediately after getting to know all of my new devices that I was forevermore going to be an Apple snob.
Unfortunately, my budget doesn’t coincide.
To go with the iPad I was going to be using exclusively for digital art, I needed a precision stylus for all of my drawing, sketching, and painting needs. Of course, I wanted an Apple pencil, but because I’m the type of person who likes to save what little money I do have, I always first try to find items that work just as well (or better) than the name-brand counterparts.
So before I went ahead and bought a genuine Apple pencil, I tried and totally succeeded in finding some less costly alternatives that give their much more expensive leader a run for its money.
These are five of the top contenders priced from highest to lowest:
ANKACE Stylus Pencil
This first digital pencil on the list I bought because it was slightly more expensive than some of the others I was looking into, and, well… more expensive equals better, right?
Nah, not really.
While this pen looks just like the others (they all basically look identical; Penyeah stylus excluded), it doesn’t perform quite as well as its buddies. Some of the more significant areas where the other pencils outshine this one is in the most important part for any digital artist: the way it draws and writes.
This one has some major squiggle issues. It’s a common problem with many of these pencils (even the Apple pencil has its own slight squiggle probs). When you’re trying to draw a straight line, it simply cannot do it: the line has small waves, or “squiggles,” along the way no matter what you do. At first, I thought it was my hand doing the shaking, but it wasn’t. I tried all of these pens out with various screen protectors, cases with built-in screen protectors, as well as straight onto the naked iPad screen. Unfortunately, this one had the shakes all throughout the testing. It’s just the way these things work with the logistics of the pen to screen. The digital styli work on a grid, and the slower you write, the more pronounced the line strokes “attaching” to the grid will show. Other factors for shakiness include the drawing app you’re using, as well as the thickness of your screen protector. Usually the thinner the protector, the better it writes; best if none at all.
I’m not crazy about the placement of the on/off switch, which is on the side of the stylus and can be sensitive, so keep that in mind if you’re a lefty and hold your pencil in weird positions to draw; you may find your pencil has turned off accidentally mid-sketch. While it does have angle detection and tilt shading just like the Apple Pencil, it does not support pressure sensitivity (pressure-sensitive means the pencil stroke gets thicker and darker the harder you press down, similar to a lead pencil).
One major thing I love about these more affordable pens: they don’t need to be paired via Bluetooth. You just turn them on and go. There’s no set-up, no hassle, and no need to sit and squint your eyes real hard to try and read an instruction manual with super tiny lettering for an hour after receiving your pen. You can just open the box and start writing with this one. It also comes in an array of colors and has two extra tips included in the box. It’s a good dupe for the Apple pencil, but not my fave of the bunch.
ZOXKOY Stylus Pencil
Price: $29.99 ($24.99 w/included $5 off coupon on Amazon)
Charging: USB Lightning
This digital stylus is very similar to the aforementioned, but this one IS my absolute fave. I liked it so much that I bought a second one as a backup to keep in my car tote bag. Even after I received my Apple pencil I still find myself grabbing for this one almost every time.
Like the previous one mentioned in the list, this pen uses the same smooth type of POM plastic tip as the Apple pencil. This one’s not pressure-sensitive, which I actually prefer: I think it’s because I began using the more affordable stylus pencils before I ever tried an Apple pencil, so I was already used to drawing without the pressure sensitivity. When using my genuine Apple Pencil, I always feel like I’m gonna scratch my iPad screen if I press down too hard in order to make the desired strong strokes or shade depth.
Really, the main difference (and it’s a biggie) between this pen and the previous one is that this pen writes beautifully; I’ve had no issues with squiggly lines or skipping no matter what app I’m using, though Procreate and Autodesk Sketchbook seem to be the best options. It also includes angle detection for tilt shading, an absolute must for artists. Like the 2nd generation Apple pencil, this pen has a flat side to keep it from rolling, and it magnetically attaches to the iPad for safekeeping.
This stylus has palm rejection (meaning it doesn’t let your palm make marks on the screen while you’re trying to write or draw), so no palm glove needed. It does have a very sensitive on/off button on the back end, but there’s an easy fix for this by putting the tip cap on the back end while the pen is in use, that way if my finger accidentally taps the back end, the cap blocks the button.
The Zoxkoy digital pen charges in under an hour, but even with that quick charge time I still like the fact that I own two, so that way I can keep drawing while the other one is charging (which can be especially important if you’re on a creative roll). The stylus will power down into sleep mode after 5 minutes of non-use so the battery doesn’t drain itself, which I find comes in very handy when you suffer from scatterbrain and don’t always remember to turn things off.
ZSPEED Stylus Pencil
Charging: Micro USB
Okay, so it gets a little bit different here. While the first two digital styluses mentioned are for iPad only, this Zspeed pen is iOS/Android/Microsoft compatible and works with most phones and other touchscreen devices. It has a continuous working time of around 8 hours and fully charges in under 90 minutes.
The tip of this pen is a 1.45 mm copper nib, which has a lot to do with why I returned it. I don’t like using a metal tip stylus because I don’t think metal and screens should interact with one another, but that’s just my preference, so take it with a grain of salt. The tip isn’t pointed, but more of a rounded flat-ended cylinder with edges. I’ll insert a little photo to explain what I mean.
This pen has a back-end charge with a magnetic end cap covering the charging port that can easily be switched out with one of the two extra tips it comes with, including one soft fiber mesh and one rubber tip.
Again, there’s no Bluetooth pairing required, which makes life easier by being able to open the box and start using your new digital pen right away. It comes with a leather-like protective sleeve to keep your pen unscathed. It writes well, but this pen I really felt worked much better with certain apps over others. For instance, it played well with Autodesk Sketchbook, but not Procreate, which was a no-go for me because that’s my sketch app of choice.
I felt this pen was really not great for drawing or sketching, but more for the person who needs something with some precision to write out words or to use for tap-and-scroll. It can be much better than using a fat-tipped rubber stylus, for sure. It works well and does what it claims, but the metal tip still freaks me out a bit. If that doesn’t bother you, this might be a great option.
KECOW Stylus Pen
Charging: Micro USB
Kecow’s 2-in-1 stylus pen is another possibility if you don’t mind a copper tip. This digital pen has a 10-hour continuous use playtime with 30 days of standby power. It works with iOS and Android as well as most touchscreen phones and devices. It’s dual-ended and comes with an extra fiber mesh tip that works on the magnetic back end, as well as a back-end cap to protect the charging port from dust or debris. The fiber mesh tip is a good addition to have because you can continue to use the stylus even after the battery dies. The pen will automatically shut off after 30 minutes of non-use. No Bluetooth pairing is required.
The Kecow stylus pen does not support pressure or angle sensitivity (tilt shading), nor does it have palm rejection, so you will need a side palm glove if you want to use it to draw or write without making unplanned side-hand marks. I think this is another good option for those who need something with total precision for writing, but not necessarily great for digital artwork.
This pen is a great choice if you want to be able to use one single stylus across all devices, but hate using ones with the rubber tips or the little plastic clear disc on the end. Those little discs can be quite annoying when they block your view to whatever it is you’re writing or drawing.
PENYEAH 4-in-1 Stylus Pen
Charging: none required
Speaking of rubber tips and clear plastic discs, this PenYeah stylus was one of the first two I bought. Even though I wanted one similar to the Apple Pencil, I wasn’t sure what style of pen I was going to be most comfortable with in my drawing, so I got this one as a tester. I was pretty sure I would be happier on an everyday basis with one of the digital pens, but after receiving this, I ended up keeping it anyway even with the knowledge that I wouldn’t be using it all that often. The reasoning behind my decision to keep it is simple:
This pen is awesome.
It’s totally different than all of the others on this list because it’s not a digital pen. It’s actually kind of old school as far as styluses go. But…I love it. They call this the Penyeah 4-in1 stylus, but actually it’s a 5-in-1.
This pen is not just a run-of-the-mill stylus (which will work on practically every touch screen device known to man; I haven’t found one that it hasn’t worked on yet), but it’s also an actual ink pen too, and a good one at that. I’m very picky with my ink pens. Very picky. They have to write just right, especially being a lefty. I often hold the pens in my hand at weird angles, which makes the ink come out not as smoothly as it should or would for a righty. Sounds weird, I know, but it’s true. Even though this one has a very thin ballpoint tip, it writes smooth and without tug.
This stylus is universal and is available in various colors. It comes with a variety of tips, including a 0.27mm mesh fiber tip, a 0.27mm clear disc, and two rubber tips, 0.2mm and 0.27mm, plus an extra set of backups for all of the above as well as a refill for the ballpoint pen portion.
The Penyeah stylus feels solid and sturdy in my hand, and I love the fact that the compartments and tips can be swapped out and moved around depending on what you prefer to have up-front-and-center, which is most handy. It comes with a dark navy blue protective sleeve as well.
Honestly, this one is a must, even if only to keep around as a backup. I keep it in my purse because I always like to have an ink pen handy, and why not have one that’s an easy pen or stylus grab in one quick fell swoop. Plus, it’s only eleven bucks.
Any of these would be a great option, whether you need an affordable starter stylus and aren’t ready to shell out the big bucks quite yet until you know if you even enjoy using a digital pencil, or even if you’re a hardcore Apple devotee and just need a really great quality back-up pencil for a fraction of the cost.
Me, I’m somewhere in the middle. I always want quality no matter what, and though there are some areas where you get what you pay for and it’s definitely worth it to cough up the extra dough, this isn’t one of them. You can absolutely get a great digital pencil that works as well if not better than the original — and you can do it for under thirty bucks.
Here’s a comparison chart for a quick look to see which pencil suits you:
*Stay tuned for my upcoming post on some great and affordable smartwatches, which — just like these styluses — I personally put to the test!