AccessoriesAppleTablets

Cregle iPen review

ipen review1 - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

The Galaxy Note, Motorola Xyboard 10.1, Galaxy Note 10.1, and HTC Flyer all have an advantage many tablets lack: digitizer pen support, meaning you have the option to use a pen that is much, much more accurate than a stylus. The iPad has another advantage: people make accessories for it. That’s why it now has the Cregle iPen as an $89 upgrade that gives you a better pen for note taking and drawing. Read on for the review.

Disclaimer

The iPen, which is a Kickstarter project, is something of a sensitive topic here on NBT. I’ve told the tale before, but I’ll repeat it now. When the project first popped up I saw it and noticed that it claimed to be the world’s first such pen accessory, which it wasn’t. I sent them a message about this, but they never replied. I in turn didn’t post about it, because such behavior is not a good sign. Over a month later, another website caught onto this, and posted about it. This caused some uproar among the many people who had pledged the project, but this mostly died down when the project creators went out and apologized. They still didn’t admit to being told about it more than a month earlier by me, which is why I decided to write a post about it. After the iPen was released more uproar ensured as issues like broken pens, latency issues and accuracy problems became apparent. There are people screaming for refunds, YouTube videos warning people to stay away, and lots of complaints that Cregle isn’t ding anything about it. Unfortunately we don’t have the luxury of blacklisting potentially ground breaking products on this site just because the companies behind them are asses, or we’d have to ban everything from Samsung to Apple in the process. So just keep all of this is mind as you read a review that is solely based on the product I received in the mail, not the company behind it.

The concept

The iPen is basically an iPad accessory version of digital pens that have existed for ages. You have a dock connector receiver with a sensor that tracks the pen and translates that to data that the app interprets as pen input. This is sort of a work around to get more accurate pen tracking than what you get with a normal capacitive stylus, without having it built in like on the tablets mentioned at the beginning – which for the record works better. The iPen setup includes a battery powered pen with replaceable pen tips, the dock connector receiver, and software that has to be individually baked into existing apps to make it work. Right now not many apps have this built in, and it’s anyone’s guess how many will, but since one of the apps that supports it is my favorite note taking app of all time, GoodNotes, I personally don’t even need more apps to be supported.

To use the iPen you plug in the receiver and calibrate it in the app you’re going to use. The calibration procedure depends on the app, but on GoodNotes you find it in settings, and it actually allows you to continue calibrating forever until you’re happy with the response. It’s extremely important to understand that the receiver that the sensor tracks is actually in the pen, not the pen tip, so when you calibrate you have to hold the pen like you would when you write. Same angle from all sides. Otherwise it will get out of sync faster than you can say iPen and you will have a horrible experience. It’s also a good tip to learn to write with the pen as vertically as possible, as that will help keep the thing calibrated at all times. You should also put the iPad down flat when using this pen, so that your hand position doesn’t automatically change to compensate for the way you’re holding it. These are all minor annoyances that you don’t experience with paper or true digitizer pens, but at the same time, you can’t expect an add-on accessory for a product where the manufacturer (Apple) almost systematically makes it hard to make accessories for it to be perfect.

it should also be noted that the palm rejection feature that the iPen allows for almost requires you to turn off multitouch gestures. Apple doesn’t allow apps to turn off multitouch gestures themselves, which means that there is absolutely nothing any app developer can do to prevent a palm on the screen to be interpreted as a five finger gesture to do something, like switch apps. As I said, the way that Apple is acting towards app developers borders on systematic sabotage.

Does it work?

I know a lot of people are unhappy with the iPen. I’m sorry, but I’m not. As frequent readers of the site knows, I went completely iPad-only for the last part of my education. I scanned documents using an app and a standalone camera, stored documents on the iPad, read for exams on the iPad, took notes on the iPad. I used dozens of apps, and for note taking alone I tried a truckload. I’ve reviewed all sorts of styli on this site, most of them the top-of-the-line models that are more accurate and better built than your standard generic $15 stylus. I used apps both with and without magnification mode (where part of the screen is a larger version of a small field to allow for big writing that is shrunk down) and wrote page after page of notes that way. I only wish I had the iPen back then.

Yes, it can become inaccurate quickly. It can lose connection, the pen stroke can trail behind the actual pen if you move fast, and so on and so forth. All true. And yet it’s so much better than what I did for a year. It actually allows you to write normally without magnification mode and still be accurate. Getting used to all the quirks is just that, getting used to them. I don’t know exactly what people thought this would be, some magic accessory to turn the iPad screen into paper, but I think a lot of the frustration comes from inaccurate expectations. I’d be more than happy to assign the blame for that on Cregle not informing people better, heck it would fit their M.O. perfectly as far as I’m concerned, but as someone who’s gotten used to the trade offs of a stylus already this is an upgrade. I’m of course not saying that people shouldn’t be disappointed with the iPen if they expected something far more perfect, but I think that you should compare this to capacitive stylus input, not pen and paper.

Still, you can’t get away from the fact that a built-in pen digitizer is better. Unfortunately that doesn’t really help those who want to do note taking, as Android has no apps that work the way that GoodNotes and so many other apps work on the iPad. For artists though, just go buy a Xyboard 10.1 or Galaxy Note 10.1 – you have plenty of drawing apps on Android.

Conclusion

I’ve been thinking about exactly how to sum up the iPen and I think the best way to describe it is “not mainstream”. I like it very much, but I’ve been digital-only for so long that pen and paper almost isn’t in my vocabulary anymore. The beauty of being an early adopter and living with that choice is that each step up is indeed a step up, while others have different perspectives. The iPen is $89, which I think it’s well worth. However I also think that anyone who even considers buying this should read every comment, watch every video there is about it and decide for themselves. It’s simply too much of a love/hate item to be given a recommendation that isn’t completely subjective. In fact, I’m not even going to link to the product’s home page because anyone who wants to buy this seriously needs to do his or her own research on the matter beforehand.

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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.

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13 thoughts on “Cregle iPen review

  • Avatar of Kristian Kristiansen

    How does this compare to Adonit jot? (If you have ever used one)

    And how huge does the sensor impact the battery life?

    Reply
    • The Jot is an attempt at making an accurate capacitive stylus. A good attempt. For some uses, a better solution, as you don’t have to deal with calibration, using the adapter, being limited to upside-down portrait mode, and so on. However, under the right circumstances, the iPen is more accurate. Less flexible to the situation you’re using it in, but more accurate.

      As for power use, the iPad can provide 3.3V out of pin 18 of its dock connector, at I think about 100mA. If the sensor uses all of that then over a 10 hour period (battery life of the iPad itself) it would use only 3Wh, which is not much more than 10% on the iPad 2 and 1/14 of the iPad’s maximum battery capacity. I don’t know the exact drain the adapter does, but worst case scenario, you lose an hour. That’s the absolute worst case scenario, I’d be surprised if you actually notice it at all

      Reply
    • I have the jot pro and honestly I prefer a standard capacitive rubber tipped stylus over the jot pro. For some reason, it seems to be less effective when I write notes. It will sometimes lose its “capacitive grip” with the screen, where a rubber tipped one won’t. Granted, the rubber tipped ones dont have a good “pen” feel as they are thicker at the tip.

      Reply
      • I agree with that, I’ve never been a huge fan of the disc type stylus myself. I use the Wacom Bamboo stylus as my main actual stylus, and I like that one a lot – it’s rubber tipped too. I’ve written a lot of notes using it and magnification mode. I have to say though, the iPen is extremely accurate when it isn’t acting up. Of course that’s a qualifier many would back away from.

        Reply
  • I know on the kickstarter they said it was compatible with an app called Notesplus. This app is my app of choice for writing class notes. Can you confirm it is compatible and how well it works with this app?

    Reply
    • Hi Dusty,
      The apps listed on the Kickstarter page is mostly apps that are going to be supported, maybe, at some point. Definitely not clear from the way the page is done, but that’s a perfect fit to Cregle’s M.O. The current version of Notes Plus is 3.0.2, updated January 30th. It doesn’t react at all to the iPen’s presence. Notes Plus’ page says version 3.0.3 was submitted to Apple on March 17th, so you’d think it wasn’t far from being approved. I’ll keep notes plus on my iPad so that I get notified of the update, and if that includes Notes Plus support, I’ll post a video showing how well it works.

      Reply
  • I too was one of the people that was all excited by the idea of being able to use a “pen” to do my writing and drawing on my ipad. Well after waiting over 5 weeks for delivery I send them an email to cancel my order. Without responding to my mail i received a delivery schedule and notice from Cregle. Once I received the shipment i spend all weekend trying to get it to calibrate in all my compatible apps. What a total waste of time. As nice as their video presentation was I would have been satisfied if the actual product worked at 50% of what was displayed. Took me a week to get return authorization and my money refunded(minus shipping fees). As much as I like the idea of Kickstart for projects i know i will definitely be more reserved with my next decision to invest.

    Reply
  • Full disclosure, I am the inventor of The Fylus, a finger stylus that addresses the need of a stylus without, well, the stylus. Some people still prefer a stylus they can hold in their hand, which is why I came up with the PenSock. It lets you use your favorite pen, while in a matter of seconds you can turn that pen into a capacitive stylus? Check it out here: http://www.thefylus.com/pensock.

    Reply
  • I have a question, does the clear/smokey black ir sensing strip on your receiver get scratched up easily? Like just wiping a microfiber cloth over mine after accidentally leaving a fingerprint on it left a bunch of micro scratches. :S

    Also do you think that those micro scratches will affect the long term accuracy of the receiver?

    Overall I have to agree, I am fairly happy with my iPen and after learning how it “works” its actually a very very good stylus. I still have not fully mastered writing with it, but drawing is wonderful. XD

    Btw did you notice the really nice build quality of the receiver? The silver band is anodized aluminum and I think the painted white parts are metal as well. I’m not 100% sure of what the clear back part is, but its fairly resistant to scratching. :D

    Reply
    • I honestly haven’t given that a thought, but I think it would have to become extremely scratched to affect it noticeably. As in frosted glass type of scratched :)

      Reply
  • Avatar of Bruised Apple

    Actually, Android does have LectureNotes, which is not the same, but does have some of the functionality.

    Or quite frankly…. after 15 years with Apple and spending lots on their devices, I ended up moving to a Samsung slate with Windows 8 on it and a built in digitizer pen. It has handwriting recognition that blows everything out of the water; OneNote, which replaces a multitude of apps on the iPad; true multitasking; a file system, and I can print! And I can use it as a desktop or tablet as I wish.

    While I don’t think the iPad is going away, and it’s true that Windows 8 needs to develop an app ecosystem, I suspect in the long run Apple is going to wish it had looked at a stylus much earlier in the game.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Carlos

    I have an iPen since I also went paperless for school. Once I got used to it, I’m happy with it.

    Another student had a stylus/pad arrangement on his PC. I think the iPen/iPad combination worked at least as well of not better.

    Reply

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