A review of 3 iPad styluses

by deanmeistr on August 29, 2010

Ipad Sketchbook Pro art created with a stylus

iPad note created with Penultimate app and a stylus

Note created with Penultimate iPad ap and a stylus

Perhaps I have fat fingertips. I haven’t measured them, but as deftly as I can wield an xacto knife  or carve a turkey, I have better control when using an opposable thumb. After loading Sketchbook on my iPhone and a handful of other sketching programs, I found that none of them were both fun and truly functional for my work, with its small screen and my fleshy fingertips. I gave up on the idea of writing and drawing with my bare finger on a touchscreen device. In comparison, I have a Wacom tablet for my MacBook Pro and I’ve put in the time to learn how to work with it. The Wacom features a pressure-sensitive surface and a pen-like tipped stylus. On the iPhone and, I feared, on the iPad, it would be back to coarse finger painting, at best.

I gave in and purchased an iPad after seeing a few new styluses appearing on the market, along with some videos showing them in action.

After a few weeks of testing three different capacitive styluses, I have settled into using one of the most frequently, a second as backup, and a third that went into the trash.

From weakest to strongest, here are my results after 2 weeks of testing and play:

THIRD PLACE— Into the Trash Bin

Sorry, Ten One Design, I think you were the first, and it was a valiant effort, but the pogo stylus can’t keep up with my pushy hands and desire for fast, precise movement.

I bought the pogo stylus originally for the iPhone. I also must admit that I have arthritis in both of my thumbs, which makes gripping thin implements and tools (or brushes) rather painful after a while. Therefore, the pogo’s thin dimensions makes it handy for the pocket but hard to use over long periods of time (for me).

The greater problem is the actual capacitive surface the pogo provides. It looks somewhat like a bulbous Q-tip end, and I discovered rather quickly that the tip would float around the screen from pressure. My strokes could slip and slide, and I really was afraid to overuse the stylus. Sure enough, over time, it became less and less accurate as the tip end wobbled around.

Summary: OK for first out of the gate; not really a useful tool over time, particularly for fine work on the screen, such as writing or drawing.

SECOND PLACE: “Curiously Refreshing”

Dagi Stylus pen test on the iPad

Dagi Stylus tested in the Notes+ app on the iPad

The Dagi appeared shortly after the iPad came out, and promised terrific accuracy based on the hard, clear capacitive surface with a red dot to indicated where the precision point would be. Sounded good, and I liked the video on their website. I bought it via ebay, and waited about 10 days for delivery from China.

The Dagi isn’t kidding around: its thicker, pen-like body feels more like a pen. The odd, circular flat clear end of the pen has a small red dot to allow you to see the surface of the screen. Good idea. Handling of the stylus, however, does seem to need a little bit of managing to keep the flat surface of the stylus end in constant contact with the screen surface. Not so good. Add to that the difficulty of not being able to rest your palm on the surface of the iPad (it cannot distinguish between the flat end of your hand and a finger), and it’s even more difficult to keep it evenly touching. Circular strokes are quite hard to keep smooth. Finally, that red dot isn’t nearly as accurate as one might hope, especially with the lag between contact and what appears on the screen.

Summary: Almost there. I’ll keep using it and see if I become more proficient with it. You might like the Dagi, but I think the balancing act between writing without being able to rest your hand as you write/draw/doodle and keeping the pen flat will slow you down—annoyingly so. With the screen tilted, it’s not much better.

I also was afraid of breaking off the end of the stylus, even though it seems to be pretty well secured. I can’t be trusted when I clip a pen inside my shirt pocket. Yes, I still do that.

Boxwave stylus test on the iPad

Testing the Boxwave stylus in the AirSketch app on the iPad

FIRST CHOICE: (for the moment) is the Box Wave stylus. Like the Dagi, it has a pen-weight, pen-sized body. The tip, however, is firm. Do not expect it to look like a wacom stylus: it has a thick tip end, fatter than a big Sharpee but smaller than my pinkie finger. The large drawing on the top of this post was done with it in Sketchbook Pro in about 2 minutes, with just a few undo’s to clean up the few times I inadvertently let the edge of my palm hit touch the screen. The sketch seen to the left was done in the AirSketch app, with my iPad set up to stand at an angle.

Summary: My vote for now goes to the BoxWave Capacitive iPad Stylus (the link takes you to purchase the stylus from Amazon). Although this still doesn’t work as well as the Wacom tablet/Art Rage Studio Pro arrangement I’ve become accustomed to when I’m not using analog pen/pencil/marker and paper, I’m willing to keep working on getting used to it for graphic recording when I want to carry less equipment and avoid scanning and retouching images later.

I would offer a link to the Dagi Stylus, but I could only find it and purchase it directly from them via ebay.

To be completely fair, here is a link to purchase the Ten One Design Pogo Sketch Stylus, also via Amazon. I hope they keep working on it.

I’ll probably have an update on this post in a few weeks, as well as more to say about sketching and notetaking apps for the iPad as I take it out more regularly into the field.

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