GeekDad: Hands on With a Pair of Lower-Cost Apple Pencil Alternatives

GeekMom
Apple Pencil alternatives

I haven’t really had a thing for iPad styluses for a while. Looking back, I reviewed some capacitive stylus options from Adonit and Nomad back in 2013. But I’m no digital artist, and I lost interest once the cool factor was over. Now that I’ve broken down and upgraded to a 6th generation iPad mini (you can read my thoughts on that here), I’m looking at styluses again. The iPad’s size makes it perfect as a mobile notepad. Handwriting recognition has improved considerably over the past nine years, and now we’re into active styluses that are more accurate and offer a more natural pen-like experience. The Apple Pencil costs $99 for the first generation, and the gen 2 version is $129. Do you need to spend that much? I just tried out a pair of more affordable active stylus options, including the Zagg Pro Stylus.

Apple Pencil alternatives
The JamJake active stylus for iPad. (Photo by Brad Moon)

Honestly, unless you need the extra capabilities of the Apple Pencil—pressure sensitivity as well as the magnetic charging feature added in the second generation model—there are clearly some decent alternatives.

The Zagg Pro Stylus is a relatively known entity. Zagg is a well-known brand, and they’ve been selling Apple accessories for years. So I was expecting the Zagg Pro Stylus to offer a solid experience, despite its $69.99 price tag.

It didn’t disappoint. The Pro Stylus feels solid in hand. It’s made of metal (I’m guessing aluminum), giving it a premium look and feel. It snaps onto the side of the iPad mini 6 magnetically, just like the Apple Pencil. It includes palm rejection technology. It pairs instantly, without the need for Bluetooth. There’s an integrated light ring that shows battery level, charging is via USB-C, and battery life is rated at about eight hours. It doesn’t offer pressure sensitivity, but the stylus does register tilt, allowing you to make wider strokes with software adjustments. It does everything I need for taking notes and scribbling the occasional diagram.

Apple Pencil alternatives
The Zagg Pro Stylus is a high-quality Apple Pencil alternative. (Photo by Brad Moon)

The Zagg Pro Stylus also includes an old-school, soft capacitive stylus on its end. Why would you care about this? It’s actually pretty handy if you happen to use an iPhone. Apple doesn’t support active styluses on the iPhone, but capacitive works just fine. In fact, a capacitive stylus can be used with any touchscreen device.

The second option I tried out was a “JamJake” active stylus my son bought on Amazon Canada. I can’t find this particular brand on the U.S. site, but there are dozens of active stylus options aimed at the iPad that looks identical to it, and they’re all in the same $15 to $30 price range. They’re all white—to more closely resemble the Apple Pencil—and they all seem to offer the same basic features. They’re all from the usual assortment of no-name Chinese vendors. Based on my experience with wireless earbuds, USB docks, and other small consumer electronics, I would not be surprised if many of these weren’t made by the same manufacturer and sold under different brand names…

The JamJake active stylus delivered the exact same functionality as the Zagg Pro Stylus, minus the capacitive stylus on the end. That includes USB-C charging, magnetic attachment, instant pairing, palm rejection, and tilt recognition. The tip didn’t scratch or otherwise mark up the iPad’s display (I’ve always been worried about that) and it’s not only replaceable, the company included three replacement tips in the box. In a blind test, there’s nothing that would distinguish it from the Stylus Pro. However, the Zagg Stylus Pro was a far more premium-looking and feeling stylus. The JamJake was light and made of cheap-feeling plastic. Almost like a disposable ballpoint pen.

Apple Pencil alternatives
There are much less expensive alternatives to the Apple Pencil. (Photo by Brad Moon)

As someone who likes the idea of an iPad stylus but has no need for the Apple Pencil’s pressure sensitivity, I would pick the Zagg option any day. It does the job while looking and feeling like a high-quality product. At the time of writing, this stylus was also priced at $48.99 on Amazon, bringing it down to less than half the price of the original Apple Pencil. That being said, if you have kids who tend to lose things or you just want to play around with scribbling on your iPad, cheap knockoffs like the JamJake appear to cover off the basics at an impulse-buy price.

Disclosure: Zagg provided a Pro Stylus for evaluation but had no input into this review. As an Amazon Associate, I earn affiliate fees from qualifying purchases.

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