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A cheaper version of a critical iPad accessory

I am a long-time iPad user and purchased my first iPad Pro in 2017. A little more than a year later, I upgraded to the 12.9” iPad Pro with a refreshed form factor and have used it nearly every day since. It is my media consumption companion, it supports me for light work in my 9-to-5 job, and helps with content creation for this website. It is easily my all-time favorite and most used piece of technology.

When I upgraded to the 12.9” iPad Pro, the price tag was a lot to swallow, even though I knew that I would get plenty of use out of the device. I wasn’t concerned about ‘wasting’ the money, but after making the purchase I wasn’t particularly quick at buying accessories—as they too were pricey. That said, some sort of keyboard case is absolutely a requirement for this device if you want to use it for anything more than entertainment, and Apple’s first folio keyboard was my first accessories purchase.

The item that I struggled to invest in, though, was the Apple Pencil. I felt it was important for artists and other creative types, and given my lack of ability to draw anything more complex than stick figures and basic three-dimensional shapes, I went without for a while. Probably a year after buying the iPad, I was with a teacher friend and saw him using his iPad for note taking, which looked effortless and cool; shortly thereafter, I purchased the second generation Apple Pencil and immediately fell in love.

The biggest problem with the Apple Pencil is the price. When you’re spending $1,000 on a tablet and need to add some accessories, it’s really difficult to justify $129 for the pencil along with the $199 you already are spending on the keyboard case. And, don’t even get me started on the $349 Magic Keyboard. This problem leaves one searching for reasonably priced alternatives to the Apple Pencil, but perform just as well. I never pulled the trigger on the Logitech Crayon, mostly because of its cartoonish design. Cheap styluses of years passed were also not an option, as they don’t provide much by way of accuracy.

Enter Zagg, who have released an Apple Pencil competitor that really seems to be worth its salt. Despite my dislike for those legacy styluses with the weird rubber tips, Zagg incorporates one in their Pro Stylus which also works for the latest-generation iPads.

What’s in the box!?

The packaging is light and extremely simple–perhaps too simple. Very little was included in the box, and most notably, adequate directions were missing. I don’t typically pay much attention to the included documentation of new gadgets (unless absolutely necessary), but given this device does not pair with the iPad the same way the Apple Pencil does, I was a bit confused when first trying to connect it. At the time of receiving the Pro Stylus, Zagg’s support website for the product was not yet live, and it took some tinkering to get things to work. Note that if you already have an Apple Pencil (probably a small number of consumers will fall into this category), you must first completely unpair it with your iPad, after which the Pro Stylus connects without issue.

How many designs are there for a pencil, really?

The Zagg Pro Stylus shares its overall shape with the Apple Pencil, otherwise, the design language between the two devices are starkly different. The Pro Stylus is two-tone gray and black instead of white. It has a power button and a sliding back piece instead of being almost entirely unibody. It has a ‘traditional’ stylus on the eraser-end instead of being completely non-functional. The tip of the Pro Stylus has a tip that honestly doesn’t seem to match the rest of the body, while the Apple Pencil tip flows seamlessly from the rest of the Pencil.

Holding the Zagg Pro Stylus in your hand is a different experience from holding the Apple Pencil, but it is by no means a bad one. It feels lighter, less dense, and a little less durable; ironically, though, the construction feels far more metallic than that of the Apple Pencil. When shaking the pencil in your hand, the back sliding piece definitely moves slightly.

No magnetic charging?

Magnetic charging (like is used for the Apple Pencil) is not a feature of the Zagg Pro Stylus. That sliding back piece serves as a means of hiding the USB-C charging port (a cable is provided in the box). It will, however, work with the following iPad models:

  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2018 or later)
  • 11-inch iPad Pro
  • iPad Air (10.9-inch)
  • 10.2-inch iPad
  • 9.7-inch iPad
  • iPad mini 5

As I said before, the experience connecting the Pro Stylus to the iPad is far from intuitive, but the overall use is on par with the Apple Pencil with a couple of modifications to workflow.

First, any time you want to use the ‘business’ end of the Zagg Pro Stylus, you need to first press the power button near the eraser end—this is not an automatically powered accessory. And, while it is annoying to have to plug it in to charge, the battery life was reasonable and I found the chamber hiding the charge port serves as a decent fidget toy while working. Also missing from the Pro Stylus is Apple Pencil’s double-tap-to-switch functionality that I found myself using periodically, although it’s worth noting that it is far from flawless on Apple’s premium hardware. In fact, knowing that it isn’t a feature keeps me from trying to get it to work, and from becoming frustrated when it doesn’t.

Out of left field

Arguably the most exciting features of the Zagg Pro Stylus, however, is not the business-end at all—it is the cheap legacy stylus that is included at the eraser end. One of my biggest gripes about the Apple Pencil is that it cannot be used to navigate every aspect of the iPad. For instance, I can use it to swipe through a list of Youtube results, but I can’t use it to swipe up from the bottom of the screen to exit my current app. I’m a longtime fan of Samsung’s Note family of products, and they make one of the finest styluses in the industry. That stylus can be used on all aspects of the Note; so playing games that would normally require my fat fingers become easier to navigate with a more precise instrument.

The Zagg Pro Stylus solves this problem by providing that ancient rubber-tipped stylus which serves to navigate the iPad in the areas that the business-end of the stylus cannot. I am honestly shocked at how frequently I found myself using the end of the Pro Stylus that is arguably not special in any way whatsoever.

Within the first few days of using the Pro Stylus, there was very little to dislike, and had the testing ended there, I wouldn’t have much negative to share. That said, I did find that after about a week of use that one end of the stylus, near the tip, began to show signs of wear on the outer coating. This is by no means a deal breaker, but points to the fact that it may not be as high of quality as the Apple Pencil—although in some ways, this is what makes it attractive.

If you don’t already have an Apple Pencil

The Zagg Pro Stylus is very much not an Apple Pencil, and I’ll admit, my experience with Apple Pencil competitors is limited. That said, its price tag of $69 is very attractive, and with some added functionality with the included old-school stylus is a huge upsell. Powering on the Pro Stylus before use and making sure it is charged is an integral part of my workflow now, but it charges quickly enough that it isn’t a huge bother.

If Zagg were to release a product that matched the Apple Pencil feature-for-feature but at a reduced price, I’d be excited. The fact that there are some distinct differences here for the Pro Stylus is in many ways what makes it so great. One of those huge differences is $60, which will make the upfront investment in an iPad and some accessories less stressful. And to add to that, it is a good-looking device. Based on that, and provided you are not already an Apple Pencil owner, or even if you have the first-generation Pencil and are looking for an upgrade, the Zagg Pro Stylus is certainly worth a look.

This product was provided by Best Buy and Zagg in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. The opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author and have not been reviewed or approved by any sponsors prior to posting.

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