capsule review

Drawing on the iPad: 12 touchscreen styluses reviewed

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The third stylus in the “black body, silver clip, silicon-rubber nib” group, Targus' 2-in-1 Stylus for iPad ( ; $25) falls between the Griffin and Kensington models in both weight and length at 4.5 inches in length, and falls roughly in the middle in weight, as well. Like the Kensington Virtuoso, the Targus also provides a ballpoint pen tip—hence the “2-in-1” in the title—which is easily replaceable.

The Targus is decent at sketching and writing, but not comfortable enough to do so for long periods of time.

I found the stylus end of the 2-in-1 adequate for both writing and sketching. It’s just heavy enough to provide the right balance for writing without needing to put your palm on the screen; however, its weight may prove taxing if you’re trying to write for long periods of time. Likewise, it's easy enough to do line art using the Targus, but I had to grip the stylus close to the nib to achieve any sort of precision.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a device that can navigate, write, sketch, and jot down paper notes, the Targus 2-in-1 is a decent offering. However, unless you’re specifically looking for a stylus with a ballpoint pen, you should consider a more specialized model.

Hard Candy StylusPen

Bringing to mind the Fisher Space Pen, Hard Candy’s StylusPen ( ; $35) is encased in a 4.2-ounce, weighted chrome shell. You remove the metal cap on one end to access a capacitive rubber nib; you remove the other to access a pen for paper note-taking and sketching.

In theory, this dual-end option makes sense for travelers or businessfolk looking to keep their bags free of multiple writing utensils. Unfortunately, there are a couple of snags to the pen’s design. For one, while the silver-bullet look is beautiful to behold, the only way to figure out which end of the StylusPen is which is to memorize the positions relative to the Hard Candy logo. I was lucky enough to avoid accidentally uncapping and using the ballpoint pen on my iPad's screen, but I can imagine this happening quite easily if you're not paying attention.

The second issue is that when either end is uncapped, the cap itself doesn’t fit on the other end of the pen. You must set it upright—so it doesn’t roll—or put in a pocket, which can be frustrating if you’re trying to use the stylus in transit.

Those flaws aside, the stylus’s weight makes it one of the best utensils available for virtual writing on the iPad, keeping your lines solid at almost any angle without needing to apply too much pressure, and the pen fits comfortably in your hand. It might be a bit too heavy for extended drawing or note-taking, but for less-intensive use, it's quite competent.

Bottom line: Stylish and sleek, Hard Candy’s StylusPen suffers from a few design flaws, but its capacitive nib and ballpoint pen both work admirably, and the pen’s weight provides a commendable virtual writing experience.

NomadBrush NomadBrush

One of the most unique approaches to artistic touchscreen styluses I’ve seen, the NomadBrush ( ; $24) looks—by all outward appearances—like an ordinary watercolor paintbrush. The 7.5-inch stylus has a wood-and-plastic handle with a rubber grip for your index and middle fingers; the bristles themselves are a mix of natural and synthetic fibers.

Unbelievably, these bristles are conductive. Together, they fool the iPad into thinking a single finger is making contact with the screen (although if you splay them every which way, you can accidentally effect a multitouch gesture). Since the screen doesn’t detect each bristle individually, you won’t actually benefit digitally from the brush’s construction, but it does skeuomorphic wonders for your brain.

Scenery painting with the NomadBrush is an absolute delight. For detail-work, however, I went back to the Kuel H10, as the NomadBrush's brush area was too large, even when zoomed.

The experience of "painting" on a super-smooth screen takes some getting used to, but the NomadBrush feels very natural, and when using the right digital brush in your art program, the results are stunning.

When it comes to detail work, however, the NomadBrush lacks, as its large surface area makes it difficult to draw or polish fine lines, even when your drawing app is zoomed in. Different brush sizes—which are coming soon, according to NomadBrush creator Don Lee—might help with this problem, but on the whole, you’re probably better off with a rubber-nib stylus for fine details.

Bottom line: The NomadBrush is a beautifully constructed stylus, resembling a fine watercolor brush, and it makes painting on the iPad a delight. It does leave something to be desired when attempting detailed linework, however.

LogiiX Stylus Pro Jr

Coming in at barely an inch and a half, the Logiix Stylus Pro Jr ( ; $20) resembles part of of a pinky finger more than a full-fledged stylus, though its rubber nib has the same diameter as those of the larger-nib styluses covered here. The Canadian company bills the stylus primarily as a navigation and game tool—which I’d agree with—and even includes a clip for attaching the stylus to your headphone cable.

As a navigation tool, the stylus is adequate enough—it does its job without getting in the way—and I could see this being extremely useful for cold-weather situations where you'd be wearing gloves. The Stylus Pro Jr particularly shines on the iPhone—I found myself able to see the screen and flick through information at the same time, tasks I couldn’t accomplish nearly as well using one of the larger styluses.

Drawing with this stylus, however, feels much like drawing with chalk—it’s certainly not comfortable for any sort of long-form illustration, but I actually found it to be a decent tool for detail work. Whether that’s just the stylus’s smaller form-factor fooling my brain into thinking I’m working more precisely, or the way you can angle it along the screen, I can’t say, but it wouldn’t be bad as a secondary illustration tool.

Bottom line:The Logiix Stylus Pro Jr is a nicely crafted micro-stylus for navigation and illustration-detail work, though it lacks the comfort and stability for long-term sketching or writing.

oStylus oStylus

Another of the non-traditional options, the oStylus ( ; $38) is made entirely of metal—aluminum, titanium, and steel, to be precise—and interacts with your device’s touchscreen using a small washer-like O-ring lined with vinyl film. Unlike its pudgy-rubber-nibbed cousins, this stylus theoretically lets you see, through the hole in the middle of its ring, exactly the point on the screen you’re interacting with.

When zoomed into the canvas, I was able to make nice, clean ink and shading lines.

So, does it work? Sometimes. Due to the way the iPad’s screen is built, the O is most accurate in the center of the screen: as you veer away, any line you draw tends to arc towards the upper lip of the O. Additionally, the lag time for quick strokes is almost painful, even on the faster iPad 2. If you’re drawing on a large scale, or zoomed in on your canvas, you can anticipate the lag and still make clean lines, but if you're trying to work on smaller pieces, or while zoomed out, the stylus quickly becomes unusable. Writing, too, suffers from lag, and I often found myself writing letters off-angle as a result.

In addition, this is clearly a stylus built for drawing or writing. Navigating buttons and tapping menus—even within painting apps—using the flat O was possible, but barely so.

Balance-wise, I found the oStylus to be quite comfortable to hold, though perhaps an inch too long (the handle alone is 5.5 inches). The O-ring pivots and rotates as you move your hand, thanks to the two titanium wires connecting it to the handle, allowing you to make circular motions without lifting the contact point from the screen.

The oStylus has some neat ideas, and the implementation works up to a point. For example, if you’re zoomed in within your drawing app, and you're slowly detailing line work, you can achieve a phenomenal level of precision. Unfortunately, the iPad’s lag and mapping limitations prevent the oStylus from pushing past “good” to “great.” The concept is lovely, but the companion hardware is not quite where it needs to be to make everything work.

Bottom line: The oStylus is an impeccably designed tool for close-range precision sketching—if you don’t mind putting up with some of the iPad’s own screen limitations.

Macworld's buying advice

Each of these styluses has its pluses and minuses, but for specific uses, some stand above the rest. I found the Wacom Bamboo Stylus to be my favorite writing/drawing hybrid, while for all-around usage (writing, drawing, and navigation), the Kuel H10 excels. The AluPen was my favorite for focused sketching, while the Virtuoso Touch Stylus & Pen was the best touchscreen-writing tool. Finally, the NomadBrush, while not at the top of my list for all-purpose sketching, still merits a mention for the most interesting implementation of a touch-sensitive stylus I've seen.

Of course, it’s one thing to read about styluses—it’s another to see them in action. I’ve prepared a video demonstration of the styluses reviewed here, so that you can see how each one works.

We'll undoubtably be reviewing more styluses as they hit the market. Until then, keep on sketching!

Serenity Caldwell is a Macworld staff editor; she has spent far too many work hours doodling on her iPad over the past six months for this review.

At a Glance
  • NomadBrush Nomad Brush

  • Targus 2-in-1 Stylus for iPad

  • SGP Kuel H10

  • Just Mobile AluPen

  • Hard Candy Cases StylusPen

  • oStylus

  • Logiix Stylus Pro Jr

  • Griffin Technology Stylus for iPad

  • Kensington Virtuoso Touch Stylus & Pen

  • Ten One Design Pogo Stylus

  • Ten One Design Pogo Sketch

  • Generic Company Place Holder iPad (1st generation) Family

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