Rest your finger by using a stylus

Rest your finger by using a stylus

A stylus is no more precise than a finger, but it has become one of the most popular accessories in the touch-screen age, says David Pogue

When Steve Jobs talked about the iPad’s rivals, he didn’t mince words. “If you see a stylus, they blew it,” he said in 2010.

Well, in that case, thousands of people are happily blowing it every day. The stylus is one of the most popular accessories in the touch-screen age.

Jobs’ point, of course, was that you don’t need a stylus. Everything on the iPhone and iPad – every button, slider, list item – is designed to be big enough for a fat fingertip. But a stylus can be handy when you’re wearing gloves, you have long nails, or you’re a germophobe.

Then there’s the precision thing. Now, technically, a stylus is no more precise than a finger. Most touch screens these days, including Apple’s, are capacitive screens: They ignore touches by pens, toothpicks and almost anything else not made of flesh. But they require a fairly big contact point (4 square millimeters) to register a touch, so a stylus needs a similarly broad tip.

Even so, a stylus feels more precise. Part of that is visibility: It blocks less of your view. And holding a penlike stick may be more comfortable than maintaining pointing position for hours, especially when drawing and writing. Don’t even think about playing Draw Something without a stylus.

I rounded up 40 styluses from Just Mobile, BoxWave, Griffin, Hand, SuckUK, Hard Candy, Hub, Kensington, Kuel, Logiix, MediaDevil, oStylus, Studio Neat, Targus and Wacom; even then, I’m sure I missed a few. I tested them in art apps like Paper and Sketchbook Pro, in note-taking apps like Penultimate, and in everyday navigation on tablets and phones.Next time, I’ll tackle something less labour-intensive, like solving the energy crisis. Here’s a guide to a panoply of styluses, organised by the problems that their designs address. 

Problem: Too much baggage

A number of companies offer combo stylus/ink pens. On some, the rubber tip is on the end of the cap. That includes premium, handsome twist-open models: the hexagonal-barreled aluminum AluPen Pro ($33 or Rs 1,836) and the Mont Blanc look-alike Kensington Virtuoso Signature ($23 or Rs 1,280). They’re beautiful, but when you’re using the rubber end, the ink end is pointing at your face – a weird, upside-down feeling.The perfectly weighted Wacom Bamboo Duo ($36 or Rs 1,280) and shiny, polished Targus Executive Stylus and Pen ($29 or Rs 1,614) don’t have that problem. Their caps click satisfyingly onto the end you’re not using.

Problem: Mushy rubber tips

Most stylus tips are black, bulbous, mushy rubber bulbs, meant to mimic your fingertip. The choices range from the beautifully weighted Wacom Bamboo ($25 or Rs 1,391), to the blasted-aluminum hexagonal heft of the AluPen ($15 or Rs 834), to the bare-bones Amazon.com models labeled “Generic” – three for $1.18 (Rs 65).

For a little more money, you can get a nicer stylus with a retractable tip, like the pen-like Kuel H12 ($20 or Rs 1,113). Its barrel is made of “Harmless Material Plated Brass.” (Whew!)

The black rubber tips glide nicely across the glass, but they wear or tear over time. And they’re so fat, you feel as if you’re drawing with a sausage.

There are alternatives. On BoxWave’s hollow-feeling EverTouch Capacitive Stylus ($14 or Rs 779), the tip is covered with a fine fabric mesh that’s firmer and more secure than rubber. The company says it doesn’t require replacement like rubber, and, as a bonus, actually cleans the screen while you use it.

Nomad’s Compose stylus ($26 or Rs 1,447), meanwhile, is – get this – a paintbrush.

Now, the iPad still detects only a single point of contact among the bristles; don’t think you’re going to get brushlike paint strokes (unless you have an app that simulates that effect). Still, artists love the familiar feeling of gently bending bristles. Nomad’s Compose Dual-Tip ($35 or Rs 1,948) adds a second bristle tip that’s more of a soft, dabby bud – better for tapping, and gloriously frictionless when drawing.

But even bristles aren’t the wackiest yet. The oStylus ($37.50 or Rs 2,087) is a long, thin metal tube. On the business end, two fine wires hold a tiny, vinyl-coated washer. It looks more like a dental instrument than a stylus.

Problem: Stowing the stylus

The Kuel H10 ($13 or Rs 723), BoxWave Universal Capacitive Stylus ($15 or Rs 834) and MediaDevil Magicwand ($12 or Rs 667) are short and compact.

Each has a lanyard with a tiny plastic plug that can snap into a headphone jack. At least you won’t lose it.

Kensington’s Virtuoso Mini ($16 or Rs 890) has a minisleeve that plugs into the iPhone/iPad charging connector. When you’re finished drawing, the stylus collapses, telescoping into a compact cylinder that snaps into that sleeve, where it will stay until you need it again – probably.

Problem: Boredom

You want offbeat? The Cosmonaut ($25 or Rs 1,391) resembles a huge, fat, black, stubby Crayola. 

The creators, who raised funds for their product on Kickstarter.com, believe that the iPad feels more like a whiteboard than a piece of paper. “We designed the Cosmonaut to feel like a dry-erase marker,” they say. Or maybe a Pringles can.

For comedy, but little else, SuckUK offers the Touchscreen Stylus ($11 or Rs 612): a 4-inch rubber pencil, complete with fake eraser. Unfortunately, the tip is rubber, too – not coated and slippery, like its rivals; plain rubber. It’s like dragging Silly Putty across the glass.

The bottom line: No stylus exhibits more thought than the Hand stylus ($30 or Rs 1,669). 

Nicely weighted, great-feeling barrel; retractable rubber nib – the smallest, sharpest one in the business; removable clip; magnet that clings to Apple’s iPad cover.

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