capsule review

Macworld buying guide: iPad styluses

At a Glance
  • Ten One Design Pogo Sketch Pro

  • Wico-C Stylus

  • Generic Company Place Holder Crayola ColorStudio HD

  • Mike Mak Big Big Cursor

  • Belkin Chef Stand + Stylus

  • Logiix Stylus Platinum

  • SGP Kuel H12

  • Kensington Virtuoso Metro Stylus and Pen

  • Griffin Technology Stylus + Pen + Laser Pointer

  • BoxWave Meritus Capacitive iPad Styra

  • Bracketron Style-iT 2-in-1

  • Aponyo Click Stylus

  • Elago StylusPick

  • Adonit Jot Pro

  • NomadBrush Nomad Play

  • NomadBrush Nomad Mini

  • Griffin Technology iMarker

Whether you’re looking to put that newly-received iPad to good artistic use, or it’s cold outside and you just want an external pointer, there are many options to choose from. There are styluses for writing, styluses for painting, styluses for navigating, and even styluses for playing a virtual guitar. The market has exploded, bringing new types, new variations, new nib sizes, and—more than anything—new complications. Whatever your use case may be, here’s a guide to help you find what you need—so you can get to the fun part.

Drawn with the HyperShield 3-in-1.

I've divided styluses into several categories: nib, multifunction, and unconventional, describing some of the more popular options in each. Below each section, there's an in-depth review chart, which rates styluses in the following seven categories from 1 (worst) to 5 (best): resistance, ergonomics, precision, navigation, writing, linework, and painting. In addition, there's an overall mouse rating. Certain products I haven't been able to test personally, but have included in this roundup due to overall popularity and general recommendation. (In the charts, they’re listed as "N/R"—not rated.)

Wonder why your favorite stylus missed the cut? Some pen styles are very similar, so rather than include seven versions of the same basic stylus, I’ve picked what I think is the best manufacturer of that style and included it here. In addition, styluses must be currently shipping (no longer on Kickstarter) and available for general ordering.

Nib styluses

Size comparison: 8mm nib on the left, 6mm on the right.

Tried-and-true, nib styluses were the first kind to market for touchscreen devices—and they show no signs of going away. Manufacturers began with big foam-tipped capacitative styluses and iterated to large silicon rubber nibs, which were then reduced and experimented upon.

There are two kinds of nib pens: large (the nib is 7mm or larger in diameter), and small (6mm or smaller). Each has their own distinctive use case, so I’ve broken up this category accordingly.

Large nibs (7mm - 8mm): Built to emulate the diameter of a pointer finger, these pens are usually marketed for sketching; they’re often too large or improperly weighted for any sort of proper handwriting. In their favor, they offer a lot of surface area and work quite well as secondary pointers when your finger is unable to come to task.

Large nibs: The AluPen

Those in the large nib category include the Belkin Chef Stand + Stylus ($40), AluPen ($25), Architect Stylus ($25), and the Griffin Stylus ($20). Of these, the AluPen remains my favorite big-nib stylus for all-purpose sketching and navigation. It’s well-balanced, fits nicely in your hand, and offers just enough resistance without being a stick in the mud.

Small nibs (5mm - 6mm): The extra millimeters make all the difference for these pens, helping them execute detailed sketches and write with ease. In addition, smaller nibs usually have more side surface area, so you can tilt your pen at a steeper angle while you draw or write. They have less cushioning than the larger nibs, however, so they may not have the same comfort level when using for a task like navigation.

Small nibs: The Wacom Bamboo Stylus

Small-nibbed pens include the Aponyo Click Stylus ($30, fabric), Wacom Bamboo Stylus ($30), Pogo Sketch Pro ($25, rubber and foam), Kuel H12 ($20), Pogo Sketch ($15, foam), and Kuel H10 ($13). The Wacom Bamboo Stylus continues to be my favorite small-nib pen for writing, sketching, and detail work. It gets the balance, resistance, and comfort level just right, though the Kuel H12 is a nice alternative for those who wish to save a little money.

Nib styluses

StylusPriceNibExtrasRESERGPRENAVWRILINPAIOverall
AluPen $25 rubber, 8mm available in colors 4 3.5 3.5 3 3.5 4 3.5 4 mice
Griffin Stylus $20 rubber, 8mm Clip 3 2 3 4 2.5 3 3 3.5 mice
Aponyo Click Stylus $30 fabric, 6mm Click nib, clip 2 3 2.5 3 3 3 3 3 mice
Wacom Bamboo Stylus $30 rubber, 6mm Clip, available in colors 4.5 4.5 3.5 3 4 4.5 3.5 4.5 mice
Pogo Sketch Pro (foam nib tested) $25 rubber/foam, 6mm Choice of rubber or foam nib 4 4 3.5 3.5 3.5 4 3 4 mice
Pogo Sketch $15 foam, 6mm Clip 3 3.5 3 4 2.5 3.5 3 4 mice
Pogo Stylus $15 foam, 6mm N/A 3 2 3 4.5 2 3 3 3.5 mice
Kuel H12 $20 rubber, 6mm Twist nib, clip 4 4 3 3 3.5 4 3 4 mice
Kuel H10 $13 rubber, 6mm Telescoping handle, cap with dongle 3.5 3.5 2.5 4 3.5 4 4 4.5 mice
Belkin Chef Stand + Stylus $40 rubber, 8mm Stand for stylus, iPad N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R
Architect Stylus $25 rubber, 7mm Capped stylus N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R

Categories:
RES (resistance: how easy the stylus is to move across the screen)
ERG (ergonomics: comfort, length, weight)
PRE (precision: tracing three triangles of varying size at 100% zoom with each stylus)
NAV (navigation: using the stylus in lieu of a finger for tapping, swiping, etc)
WRI (writing: both print and cursive)
LIN (linework: line drawings, sketches)
PAI (painting: coloring, big brushwork, illustrations)

Styluses were rated from 1 (worst) to 5 (best) with the best result in bold, along with an overall mouse rating. N/R = not rated. Pogo Sketch Pro was evaluated using foam nib.

Multipurpose styluses

It’s a stylus! It’s a pen! It’s a… laser pointer? These multi-function styluses have become increasingly popular as of late, combining ballpoint pens and 8mm rubber nibs to create a more functional option for buyers. While the added weight lends some nice balance for those who wish to digitally write on their iOS device, they’re definitely not the stylus you want to consider if you plan to do any sort of heavy-duty sketching or painting work.

Hard Candy StylusPen
Hard Candy StylusPen

I previously reviewed the Hard Candy StylusPen ($35) in my roundup last May. Most of my admirations and criticisms remain: It's a beautifully designed stylus with nice weighting, but its Space Pen-like form makes it hard to figure out which end of the pen you're uncapping (without looking for the logo), and there's no place to put the cap without worrying about it rolling about.

Logiix Stylus Platinum

Though the Logiix Stylus Platinum ($30) has a nifty silver tip, it fails to achieve high marks in ergonomics or precision. Drawing and writing is passable, but there are better multipurpose pens on the market.

Targus 2-in-1 Stylus

The Targus 2-in-1 Stylus for iPad ($27), which I previously reviewed in the May roundup, provides a nice weight-counterweight when writing or sketching, but it's not enjoyable to do so for long periods of time.

Virtuoso Metro Stylus and Pen

A cheaper version of the Kensington Virtuoso Touch Stylus & Pen I reviewed last May, the Virtuoso Metro Stylus and Pen ($18) eschews the former's rubberized metal structure for a cheaper plastic shell. It doesn’t particularly stand out in any category, but neither does it majorly suffer from weakness—it’s an average hybrid stylus at a reasonable price.

HyperShield 3-in-1 Smart Pen

My favorite hybrid stylus, the HyperShield 3-in-1 Smart Pen ($40, on sale for $10) has just the right amount of weight balance and resistance, along with a slim anodized aluminum form and multiple color options. Both the stylus and pen perform admirably, and—if you own an iPad 2—you can even use it to wake up your device (or send it to sleep) thanks to a built-in magnet.

Griffin Stylus + Pen + Laser Pointer

Though I wasn’t able to have personal hands-on time with the Bracketron Style-iT 2-in-1 ($25), Boxwave Meritus Capacitive iPad Styra ($23), or Griffin Stylus + Pen + Laser Pointer ($50), I’m including them as alternate popular options in this category. The Bracketron and Boxwave styluses are both slim hybrid pens: The first offers a capped pen-and-clip, while the latter has a twist-to-reveal option. The Griffin stylus is the most expensive of the bunch, by far, partially owing to its construction (which puts most Transformers to shame): You can rearrange and unscrew the device to create a rubber nib stylus, add a pen tip, swap to a laser pointer, or create a double-ended nib/pen, nib/pointer, or pointer/pen.

Multifunction styluses

StylusPriceNibExtrasRESERGPRENAVWRILINPAIOverall
Hard Candy StylusPen $35 rubber, 8mm Capped pen 3 3.5 2.5 2.5 4 3 2.5 3 mice
Logiix Stylus Platinum $30 rubber, 8mm Twist pen, clip, black or white 2.5 2.5 2 2.5 2.5 3 3 2.5 mice
Targus 2-in-1 Stylus $27 rubber, 8mm Capped pen, clip 3.5 2 1.5 3 3.5 3 3 3 mice
Kensington Virtuoso Metro Stylus and Pen $18 rubber, 8mm Capped pen, clip 3 3 2.5 2.5 3 3 3 3 mice
HyperShield 3-in-1 Smart Pen $40 rubber, 8mm Capped pen, magnet (for the iPad 2), multiple colors 3 4 3 2.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 4 mice
Bracketron Style-iT 2-in-1 $25 rubber, 8mm Capped pen, clip, multiple colors N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R
Boxwave Meritus Capacitive iPad Styra $23 rubber, 8mm Twist pen, clip N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R
Griffin Stylus + Pen + Laser Pointer $50 rubber, 8mm Transformer pen, laser pointer, clip N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R N/R

Categories:
RES (resistance: how easy the stylus is to move across the screen)
ERG (ergonomics: comfort, length, weight)
PRE (precision: tracing three triangles of varying size at 100% zoom with each stylus)
NAV (navigation: using the stylus in lieu of a finger for tapping, swiping, etc)
WRI (writing: both print and cursive)
LIN (linework: line drawings, sketches)
PAI (painting: coloring, big brushwork, illustrations)

Styluses were rated from 1 (worst) to 5 (best) with the best result in bold, along with an overall mouse rating. N/R = not rated.

Unconventional styluses

Rubber nibs may make up the majority of styluses on the market, but for those who need a more specialized tool, these unconventional options provide all sorts of opportunities for your iOS device. Capacitative brushes, rubber-lined picks, options for children, and telescoping handles—whatever your need, there may be a stylus ready and waiting for you.

Painted with a Nomad Brush.

Drawing, sketching, and precision: The Nomad Brush was the first capacitative paintbrush to market in 2010, and it continues to dominate as it iterates. Don Lee's latest creation, the Nomad Compose ($39), has two brushes on either end: One is the typical Nomad brush; the other, a slanted buzz-cut brush option that resembles the foam nibs of early stylus experimentation—except made up entirely of bristles. The result cures most of the gripes I had with the original Nomad Brush—while the longer bristles make navigation and writing next to impossible, the slanted buzz-cut brush is more than capable in both these areas.

The Nomad Mini ($20), another Don Lee creation, is a shorter single brush designed for the iPhone and iPod touch. Though, like the longer brush on the Nomad Compose, it runs into trouble with writing or repeated precision, it's a fine tool for iPhone sketching when you'd rather not use your finger.

oStylus

I reviewed the oStylus ($38) earlier in the year. The idea behind the stylus—being able to see your lines through the O shaped washer nib as you make them—is solid, but when compared to other options on the market, the oStylus still has a ways to go in terms of actual functionality.

Adonit Jot Pro

The Adonit Jot Pro Stylus ($30) makes good on the oStylus’s “see your lines while you draw” promise, though writing can sometimes be a pain. Instead of a metal disc, the Jot Pro uses a thin plastic capacitative circle, attached to a single metallic pen point. It’s nice to hold, easy to pivot, and does quite well on linework and precision.

Studio Neat Cosmonaut

From Studio Neat, the folks who brought the Glif to market, the Cosmonaut ($25) is the company’s answer to the burgeoning rubber stylus market. The pen is big and thick—resembling a large charcoal stick even moreso than the AluPen—and instead of an 8mm nib, the Cosmonaut’s entire front tip can interact with your device. It’s exceedingly comfortable to hold, and spins out doodles and linework with aplomb. Writing is a little more challenging, as you can’t quite get the angle needed for handwriting or print, and navigation can feel a little clunky with the pen’s large tip, but overall, it’s a stellar option for stylus seekers.

Elago StylusPick

Strum on: Want an extra bit of immersion when you’re picking that virtual guitar? Woodees makes an iPic ($15) stylus that sticks an 8mm rubber nib on the bottom of a traditional pick. The Elago StylusPick ($15), in contrast, has a capacitative rubber coating surrounding a pick-shaped tool.

You know, for kids: Though the stylus market doesn’t necessarily exclude children, there are a few manufacturers designing and creating child-centric styluses—some with their own apps—for easy doodling and artistic creation.

Griffin iMarker

Griffin and Crayola partnered to create the iMarker ($30), which sports an extra-large rubber nib on a crayonlike body for easy gripping and drawing. In addition, the stylus is designed to interact with the ColorStudio HD, a child-friendly art app that lets them draw and color with marker, crayon, pen, or paintbrush effects.

At a Glance
  • Ten One Design Pogo Sketch Pro

  • Wico-C Stylus

  • Generic Company Place Holder Crayola ColorStudio HD

  • Mike Mak Big Big Cursor

  • Belkin Chef Stand + Stylus

  • Logiix Stylus Platinum

  • SGP Kuel H12

  • Kensington Virtuoso Metro Stylus and Pen

  • Griffin Technology Stylus + Pen + Laser Pointer

  • BoxWave Meritus Capacitive iPad Styra

  • Bracketron Style-iT 2-in-1

  • Aponyo Click Stylus

  • Elago StylusPick

  • Adonit Jot Pro

  • NomadBrush Nomad Play

  • NomadBrush Nomad Mini

  • Griffin Technology iMarker

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