I like to take photos. If you weren’t aware of that, take a look at any other article in this blog. Or the domain name. I also like to sketch. It’s something that I’ve been doing ever since i used to sit in the furthest back corner of algebra class drawing rather sick and perverse, yet comical pictures of Mr. Ward. I’m not actually good at sketching, but if we only expressed our inner artist in the ways we knew we would do well, there would be no need for karaoke bars. In fact, it can be said that I am as good at drawing as every single person who I’ve ever heard doing karaoke is at singing.
Contrary to Steve Jobs infamous quote, if you want to use your iPad to handwrite or draw it is preferable to use a stylus. In the past two years I’ve gone through a number of styli (styluses?), from the cheap to the expensive. Generally-speaking, this is what I’ve learned:
- You get what you pay for. Every single time I’ve bought an off-brand stylus off of eBay I’ve been disappointed. Even if I am initially satisfied, over time it starts to fall apart. This is especially true for the ‘stylus-that-doubles-as-a-pen’ designs.
- Weight, length, & drag matters. You’re not getting a stylus to mash icons or swipe pages. That’s what your fingers are for. For writing and sketching, you want a stylus that is on the heavy side, that is at least the length of a ballpoint click pen, and glides smoothly over the iPad surface.
- Durability is important. You should expect this of any tool you use, whether it be a stylus, a camera, or a hammer. You need to be reasonably confident that it work when you need it to.
With those key points in mind, here is a quick review of three of the more popular models out there. I have used each of these to both draw (usually in Paper or Procreate) and handwrite notes with (I use Penultimate). I picked these three because each one is fundamentally different than the other two as can be seen from the above image.
Pogo Sketch (~US$15)
This is actually the first stylus I purchased for an iPad, originally bought over a year ago to use on a first generation iPad and is one that I have the most experience with. It differs from the other two in that it’s tip is made from capacitive foam. Most of the early styli used capacitive foam for the nub. Lifehacker even had an article on how to MacGyver your own capacative foam stylus with wire and a Bic pen. These days, there aren’t many capacative foam-tipped styli left on the market. The main reason for this is that capacative foam wears out over time. In fact, that was the primary reason I moved on from my Pogo Sketch to something different. Mine had worn out. When applied to drawing and writing, foam has far too much drag. It also deforms too easily, making it the most inaccurate of the trio. Finally, the weight isn’t there. It’s basically a hollow aluminum tube, making too light in-the-hand.
Pros: Inexpensive. Has a clip, making it convenient to carry around.
Cons: Too light for careful lines or steady handwriting. Capacitive foam nub is poor for line accuracy and wears down over time.
Adonit Jot Classic (~US$20)
Straight off-the-bat I need to say that the Jot is feels the closest to what it would feel like to use a ball point pen or hard-tipped pencil. What makes the Adonit Jot unique amongst all other styli on the market is it’s clear plastic disk tip with conductive metal center. While at first blush this may seem odd, it is very practical. First, it keeps the conductive tip flush against the screen, no matter what angle you hold the pen. Secondly, because it’s clear you can see where the contact is being made specifically, this is the most accurate of the three styli reviewed here. The elephant in the room is that a tip like that looks easy to snap off and, honestly, it is. I haven’t experienced this yet personally, but a quick Google search brings up a number of complaints about this. This is reinforced by the fact that Adonit sells 3-disc replacement packs. But then again, they sell 3-disk replacement packs so if one snaps off you don’t have to plunk down the coin and buy a whole new pen. Each stylus also includes a screw on cap to protect the nib when not in use, and the cap screws on the back when you are using the pen. Compared to the Pogo Sketch, it’s thicker, longer, and has much better weight & balance. On a side note, there is a ‘pro’ version available for ten bucks more which has a grip and magnets to attach it to the iPad 2/3 bezel, but the grip is thin and the magnet doesn’t really work well so save your cash there.
Pros: Very accurate. Very good length, width, weight, and balance. Smooth and fluid movement at all angles. Nib is protected by screw-on cap, which can be screwed on the back when using the stylus.
Cons: Circular disk nib design is fragile, although it has measurable benefits and replacement nib packs are available. There is no clip so it must be carried in a pouch or pocket.
Wacom Bamboo (~US$30)
Yes, that Wacom. For those that don’t know, Wacom sells the most popular and best quality tablets and pens for computers. Ask a graphic designer. With that kind of pedigree, one would expect nothing but perfection from them in an iPad stylus. The fact that this is the highest-priced of the three also indicates this. Indeed, the Wacom Bamboo is by far the best weighted and balanced stylus I’ve ever held. Having a smooth rubber nib, movement over the iPad surface is also very fluid. Like the Pogo Sketch it has a clip, making carrying it around convenient. Unlike the Adonis Jot, there are no small or fragile bits to get broken or lost. It’s not all good news, though. The rubber nib isn’t as accurate as the Adonit Jot. In addition, the nib is a little too shallow and so if the pen is held at too extreme an angle the metal ring holding the tip in place will scratch the surface.
Pros: Best weight and balance of the bunch. No small or quirky bits to break or lose. Clip makes it convenient to carry around.
Cons: Average accuracy. On the higher end of the price spectrum. Stylus must be used relatively straight.
My conclusion? Well, the Pogo Sketch is definitely out. The Adonit Jot Classic has the best accuracy and movement over the surface, but suffers some durability issues and isn’t the most convenient to carry and use quickly. The Wacom Bamboo is a bit more pricey and less accurate, but has that ‘perfect’ weight and balance, is “grab and use” convenient, and it’s simplicity makes at the most durable. Personally, I pick the Jot for drawing & design and the Bamboo for everything else.
Hope you found this useful. Please post any comments, observations, personal experiences, and questions below. If you actually like my sketches, I have a Tumblr where I post them.