Capacitive stylus roundup part 2

Quite a bit of time has passed since my initial capacitive stylus roundup. Well, eight months. Turns out that’s a long time in the stylus world. The selection has grown a lot bigger since then, and especially the selection of high quality choices. The more tablets people buy, the bigger the market is for styli to go with those tablets. Read on for a rundown on what’s currently available.

Generic/cheap styli

Listing every stylus that fits into this category would take the rest of the year. I’ve had one that fits into this group myself and the similarities between such styli are striking. Some might be shorter, longer, have a pen or a laser pointed attached, but in the end they’re pretty much the same. This is the “pick up cheap in a brick and mortar store” type of stylus for people who either don’t need something better or don’t realize they do. They work, sure, but the difference between a cheap stylus and a more expensive (good) stylus is very often a lot bigger than between ballpoint pens, which is what most people would compare a stylus with.

Premium rubber nib styli

There are several of these out there now, and they are definitely worth the extra cash if you plan on using your stylus a lot. They tend to have more accurate, more sensitive rubber nibs, more durable nibs, and better ergonomics. You shouldn’t have to hammer the nib into the screen to make it register, which is often necessary with cheaper styli. You also can’t ignore the fact that an aluminium stylus both looks and feels better than some poorly molded plastic contraption.

The first one I tried of this type of stylus was the JustMobile AluPen. It’s a great stylus that looks great and feels great because of the large size being very fitting for writing on capacitive screens, something that is a lot like using a permanent marker because of the need for a somewhat large tip for it to register on the screen. It’s still a great stylus and a great choice.

The second premium rubber nib stylus I tried was the Wacom Bamboo stylus. Wacom makes digitizer tablets for photo editing and such, so I had great expectations for this stylus. The rubber nib is smaller than most styli, which combined with a pen-like body makes it very different from the permanent marker-sized AluPen. If you’re going to be doing a lot of handwriting you want to get an app that has a magnified mode, i.e. a feature that lets you write big letters into a box and still have them appear much smaller on the actual page, so this extra precision and size isn’t really the most important thing in the world. If anything, the Wacom Bamboo’s advantage is that it looks and feel more like a pen, making its rivalry with the AluPen about ergonomics and feel rather than anything else. Again, a great choice.

There’s a lot to like about the third premium stylus I bought, the Maglus. First off, it’s made by some people who have fought their way through crowdfunding and investors to get their idea for a stylus made, rather than some corporation that spits out products left and right. The main feature of the Maglus is the magnetic mid part, which makes it an excellent accessory for the iPad 2, where it can snap to the Smart Cover and stay with you. Ergonomics are also great, and they added some weight to it to make it require less applied pressure to register. Compared to the two above, it’s half way in between in size, and equally matched for accuracy. The other two don’t have magnets though, so that might be a deciding factor.

The latest stylus to be reviewed on the site is the Architect Stylus. Another great premium stylus which has a cap as its most distinctive feature. Great accuracy, nice design and good value for the money as with the others.

There are of course styli I haven’t tried as well, and I won’t forget to mention them even though I haven’t tried them. Take for instance the Pogo Sketch Pro which has a paint brushed shape to it that looks very artistic, and it also features interchangeable tips. I could mention several others just off the top of my head, but there’s a lot of repetition and “design borrowing” going on when you really start looking around. These five are all distinctive in some way when it comes to design, and should be borderline identical when it comes to accuracy and sensitivity (though I obviously can’t say that for certain with the latter two).

Brush styli

A new “trend” that has popped up is to have styli that act like paint brushes. Not just look like paint brushes, like the Pogo Sketch Pro, but act like them as well. This is done by having a brush that’s made up of conductive bristles that eliminate the friction between a rubber nib and the screen and hence work better for mimicking paint strokes. The screen doesn’t see each individual brush though so you still require an app that mimics paint strokes, but it does make it easier on the hardware end.

The Nomad Brush was the first such stylus out there, and Allen did a review of it. This is the “base” model compared to later models, but still a very good brush-stylus.

The Nomad Compose is however the company’s current top model, and it comes with interchangeable tips to let you pick between an actual brush and a much shorter brush that is short enough to work like a normal stylus rather than a brush.

The two non-Nomad brush styli I know of both come off Kickstarter, a crowdfunding site where people can preorder products to help pay for their initial production. The first was successfully funded back in April and just now made it into the hands of those who preordered (as is normal with Kickstarter, since the products normally don’t exist until the funding is in place). It’s called the Flow, and is essentially a lot like the original Nomad Brush but with a slightly different design. The other Kickstarter brush is the Sensu, which was successfully funded with an overwhelming response back in October and is already starting to reach the shipping stage. It’s a very different solution, being somewhere in between the Nomad Compose and the Pogo Sketch Pro. It has a brush end that works like the others in this group, but it also has a rubber nib hidden in the other end of half the stylus. I say half, as the other half is detachable and works as a cap for the brush part when that’s not in use (exposing the rubber nib) and as a handle extension when the brush is in use (hiding the rubber nib). It looks quite awesome and certainly one to look out for when it hits the web for normal orders.

“Peculiar ways of increasing accuracy”-styli

The thing about capacitive styli is that they require a certain amount of surface contact to register. The screens are made for fingers after all, and most fingers aren’t a millimeter thick. The screen senses the entire surface area that is touching the screen and then calculates the middle, which it relays to the app as “this is where I was touched”. The Dagi series of styli was one of the first to try to improve accuracy by making the part that touches the screen see-through. They’ve now moved from the semi-static spring design that was used on the two styli I tried and to what can best be described as a plastic disc on the tip of a ballpoint pen. This is the same system that the Jot stylus uses, and seems to be the current “norm”. I haven’t tried either, unfortunately, but I hope they live up to what they’re promising. Since these use flat discs though, you always have to get the entire disc to lay flat on the screen (which is what the springs/whatever-mechanisms are for) and so they might be a bit inconvenient to use if you lift the stylus up and change angles a lot.

Which one do I pick??

That is entirely up to you and depends on your needs. I’m a fan of the second category – the premium rubber nib styli – as they are straight forward and give great results with apps that let you zoom in or use a magnification mode. If you depend on an app that doesn’t have either of those, the latter category might be your best bet. For artists, the brush styli are obvious options to take a closer look at. The generic, cheap styli are mostly good for people who are on budgets or simple don’t need a stylus very often. My personal favorite is the Wacom Stylus, without there being a very good reason for that choice. I added magnets to mine which made up for the disadvantage to the Maglus, though I still don’t have any good reason to pick it over any of the other styli I have, the Maglus in particular. Perhaps it’s the fact that I bought a new one after the nib of the first one fractured that makes my sub-conscience force me to actually use it, who knows. If I were to recommend a single stylus without being allowed to hide between my usual “depends on your needs”-excuse though, it would be the Maglus. I simply think it has the best value for money if you ignore all forms of personal design preference that anyone might have. But really, there are so many good products out there these days that picking a single one is very hard.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.