A Review of iPad Styluses

We get occasional questions in the Vitale Digital Media Lab about using a writing stylus with an iPad or other tablet.  Apple has always looked down on styluses (I refuse to say “styli”), and Steve Jobs famously said on more than one occasion that a touch screen device for which users need a stylus is a failure.

But I think that overlooks certain important uses of a tablet.  Notably, writing and painting.  People don’t write with their finger. And after the age of five, most people don’t paint with their fingers either.  We are used to pens and pencils and paintbrushes and markers. A stylus gives us that same functionality in the digital world.

So we went out and got a whole bunch of styluses and tested them out on our iPad 2 for writing and drawing.  I mostly tested them for ergonomics and how smoothly they allowed me to write. Build quality isn’t an issue, as none of them seem especially flimsy, and I didn’t really consider price at all (not because I’m fabulously wealthy, but because none of them are especially cheap or expensive for someone who has already shelled out for an iPad.

I’m not going to go over every single stylus, but here are the highlights:

1. Bamboo – the overall winner. I’ve heard a couple people say it’s too expensive and you’re just paying for the Bamboo name, but this really is the one we like the most.  Certainly the smoothest and most natural-feeling in your hand and as you write. And unlike the other 3 on our list, this one also has a pocket clip.
2. Adonit Jot – This very unusual stylus comes the closest to feeling like you’re writing with a real pen.  Best for handwriting or pencil sketching.  It’s the most precise, or at least gives the sense of being very precise. Not as good if you’re just using to navigate your touch screen device.  What appears to be a plastic cover for the point of the pen is actually necessary for the pen to work, so don’t take it off.  To protect that piece from breaking, theres a metal cap you can screw on or off the top of the pen.
3. The Alupen.  This guy’s a bit thicker than most styluses, and it’s got a little more more heft to it.  If you’ve got bigger hands or longer fingers, definitely give this a whirl. Some will love it, some will hate it. But worth trying out.
4. The Nomad Bush.  Unique among the styluses we tried out, it’s basically a paint brush with touch-sensive bristles, so you can use it just as you would use a real paint brush. We used it with our current favorite painting program, ArtRage.  Thanks to Robert Silverman (an accomplished painter himself) for turning us on to this cool stylus.
5. The Kuel H10.  This is the smallest stylus we sampled.  It extends slightly, though, and it comes with a convenient keychain loop so you can carry it around more easily.  It’s also quite nice to write with, but falls short (no pun intended) of the Bamboo in my opinion.

A quick note about the styluses in our set that double as real ballpoint pens.  I’ve decided I don’t like these–despite the obvious advantage of only needing to carry around a single implment instead of a pen plus a separate stylus.  The problem (and i’ve discovered this the hard way–twice) is that just like with any other pen, people will walk away with it, not realizing it’s also your stylus.  Also, some (like the Hard Candy, not pictured here) don’t have an obvious place to store the cap when you’re using it.

All of these styli (there! I said it. are you happy?) are available if you’d like to try them out in the Vitale Digital Media Lab (Van Pelt Library, 1st floor, west end).  Let us know your thoughts on which one you like best, or if there are others out there you think we should try as well.

5 thoughts on “A Review of iPad Styluses

  1. The fact that the iPad is still not made for styluses is a bummer… and the reason I ended up getting a Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet instead. It was definitely a good choice for me as the mixed mode screen means that you can write with the digitizer pen or your hand, but one shuts off input from the other. I no longer take lecture notes on paper because of how natural it feels.

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