When it comes to using any sort of tool, you want to know that it’s precise enough for your needs. Unfortunately, I’ve often criticized iOS styluses in this area, as most of them employ big, fat, rubber nibs that make it difficult to see what you’re working on.
So when the $30 Hand Stylus, which features a retractable 4mm tip, appeared on Kickstarter in June, people were naturally a bit excited. A 4mm rubber nib may not have the precision of a 1mm pen, but it’s a good deal better to work with than a 6mm or 8mm nib.
I’m happy to report that the Hand Stylus is indeed the most precise stylus I’ve yet used, going toe to toe with Adonit’s Jot line. I was able to legibly and cleanly write text at around 12 pixels high, and it’s very easy to pinpoint a line to trace.
Pinpoint, sadly, is the operative word there. Because once I tried to draw over that line, the trouble started. Despite its precision, the Hand Stylus suffers from a major flaw—Apple’s iPad has a lot of trouble recognizing touch radiuses this small.
Stylus designer Steve King acknowledged the problem on the pen’s Kickstarter page: “I can go on and on about stylus tips,” he said, a phrase all too familiar for those who have read other Macworld stylus reviews. From what I can tell, the Hand stylus attempts to get around this limitation by making the rubber nib longer and squishier than its competitors; to get a line to register, you have to apply a little bit more pressure from pen to surface or hold it at a very acute angle to the screen.
For the majority of users, this won’t be too big of a problem; just push into the screen a little more, and you’ll be fine. But for artists, or anyone who prefers starting with light strokes and sketches, the Hand Stylus may drive you crazy in which lines it won’t register.
As a test, I recorded the typical pressure at which I sketch or quickly write with several styluses. The Hand stylus caught just three letters in comparison to the Jot Pro and Architect stylus, each of which were able to transmit every stroke.
I want to emphasize that your mileage will almost certainly vary on this, as it comes down to how you hold and use a pen or stylus. If you’ve ground lead and ink into paper your entire life, you should have no problem with the Hand Stylus. But if you prefer lighter pen strokes, you should look elsewhere.
Resistance-wise, the Hand’s nib bears a closer resemblance to the Jot’s plastic disc than it does its rubber brethren. It’s very smooth against the screen, though it doesn’t have the balance you get from using a Jot.
Writing—as long as you write firmly—is one of the Hand’s strengths. I was able to keep solid control of the pen while writing very small; only the Jot Pro can compete in this arena.
In contrast, I found sketching with the Hand Stylus miserable, mostly due to the level of pressure I use when laying down initial lines. Using Paper’s pencil tool, I couldn’t get a single line to register. Inking (over pencil lines I made with a Jot Pro) and painting was much better; I tend to use a stronger stroke in that situation, and the Hand’s small form helped me color details I might have overshot with a larger pen.
As far as bonuses go, the Hand’s retractable nib is fantastic—I’m surprised manufacturers haven’t tried it sooner. The nib stayed much cleaner than my Bamboo Stylus when traveling in my bag, and you can’t say too much about the satisfaction of clicking a pen. In addition, the clip on the stylus is magnetic, so it can travel stuck to your second- or third-generation iPad with little difficulty.
In short: If you like a firm grip, you often push against the screen, and you want a precise tool, the Hand Stylus is right up your alley. Artists and those who prefer to have their styluses glide against their screen may be less thrilled with its composition.
[Serenity Caldwell is an associate editor for Macworld.]