iPad stylus/pen reviews

First off, there are TONS of styli(?) out there, most of which are either useless or close to it. I’ve tried 4-5 different ones, plus a couple of home-made ones. Here’s what I found: those that boast tiny contact surface and still claim 100% perfect contact = LIES. Any touch interface requires certain surface contact area, unless they managed to take advantage of quantum tunnelling…

First I’ll review (in my opinion) the best (but most expensive) stylus: Bamboo by Wacom:

Bamboo stylus

I got this stylus around October to take notes in class. I take about 3-5 hours of notes per week depending on how much stuff needs to be hand-written. I also got a cheap ($7) screen protector, so that messes with the touch capabilities a bit. Kudos to Wacom though, Bamboo works exceptionally well even through the screen protector. It feels very nice in your hand and weighs more than all the cheaper brands. It doesn’t get stuck on the surface, and works at most natural angles (just as you would expect a regular pen to work). However after 5-6 months of moderate usage I noticed a crack in the tip. The performance effect isn’t very noticeable, but it’s there. So it seems like I’ll need a new tip in the next 3-4 weeks, which is unfortunate. Considering the hefty price tag, I was expecting this stylus to last a year or so. If you plan to use a stylus to take hand-written notes every day, then you’ll need to either find another more durable stylus or order a pack of tips for this one. However if you’re only an occasional user, this stylus is perfect for you.

The pros:

  • It’s incredibly responsive
  • Works at a variety of angles
  • Smooth – doesn’t grip the surface like a rubber  tip would
  • Nice weight and feel
  • Works really well with screen protectors (even cheap ones!)
  • Has removable clip (not sure if this is useful for anyone, but it’s nice to have)
  • Replaceable tips (no need to buy a new stylus when the tip wears out)

The cons:

  • Expensive ($30)
  • Tips are also expensive (~$10)
  • Not very durable – even with moderate usage wears out in 5-6 months

Next is a capacitive touch stylus by DAGI.
Although it looks like a perfect solution with a dot right in the middle of a transparent tip to see exactly where you’re writing, the writing rarely lines up with the dot. Don’t be fooled. The tip is very rigid, you can only use it at the angle it’s positioned, no adjustments of any sort. It also seems a tad flimsy, although I didn’t try to break it off, I can’t imagine it’d be too difficult, especially if you have kids playing with it. It’s very light (which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on your preference). BUT, it scratches the screen protector surface very easily and after the new ios5 update, only the largest of them works – others you might as well be using an HB pencil to write – no sign of contact what so ever. Major disappointment.

The pros:

  • relatively cheap ($10-15 for a pair large+small)
  • works pretty good with no screen protector
  • transparent tip

The cons:

  • very flimsy
  • medium and small version don’t work after ios5
  • large version is finicky with screen protector
  • scratches screen protectors
  • the “aim” dot on the tip doesn’t line up with the writing
  • not worth the $15 price tag, shouldn’t cost more than $5 tops!

I also bought several $1-2 ebay styli. Most of them either don’t work well out of the box (need modifications) or only work at very odd angles (extremely uncomfortable); most of them also get stuck to the surface like rubber. Finally, most of these are very small, sometimes to the point that it’s just awkward to hold and very easy to lose. These can be used to make your own (relatively decent) stylus. I modified one of these with some conductive fabric (ordered a free sample off a supplier website) and it worked really well for about 4 months (then i ordered the DAGI).

The pros:

  • dirt cheap ($1)
  • excellent as a base for modifications

The cons:

  • most do not work out of the box
  • very small
  • feels cheap (obviously)

Lastly, you can make your own (as I have at first). Here you are only limited by your imagination. I’ve tried everything from using a metallic paint brush and stuffing it with tinfoil candy wrappers, to a metal pen wrapped with a conductive polymer. Some of them work relatively well and can be made either for free or almost free.

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