iPhone Life magazine

At Work: A Guide to Finding the Best Stylus for Your iDevice

The current issue of iPhone Life (May-June 2013) includes an @Work article I wrote called “The Right Touch,” in which I cover the best stylus products on the market. While researching, I reviewed many innovative styluses, which I rated based upon usability, design, unique features, durability, and price. See the table at the end of this post for details.

Here is a list of the winners from the print edition, and a compresensive guide to the run-over stylus products I enjoyed but couldn't find room for in the magazine.

Read the entire review in the May-June Print Edition of iPhone Life magazine.

1. Maglus Stylus (€24.99, $32.62 at current exchange rate) by Applydea.com

As the name hints, the Maglus Stylus attaches to the iPad with its own magnets, aligned well with those on the Apple Smart Cover. It however doesn’t adhere well, or at all, depending on the case, and with a naked iPad, the pen easily jostles off the device. The broad tip and heavy aluminum construction demonstrate quality and thoughtfulness, as do the little extras like a key ring holder for an extra tip and a cleaning cloth. I find holding the Maglus a bit awkward though, and combined with its not-so-grippy magnets, I would suggest you test-before-you-buy to see if the Maglus fits your lifestyle and usage patterns.

2. The Architect Stylus ($22.95 – not available in U.S at this time) by Arctic

I appreciate the design of The Architecture Stylus. It is a beautiful instrument, but beauty and functionality sometimes don’t go together. To get to the writing tip, the top of the pen must be unscrewed and then screwed back to its top. Not the most convenient of designs. That was a negative mark for the Adonit Jot Pro as well, but its unique tip design required some protective approach, whereas I don’t believe this stylus requires that same level of protection. A protective sleeve also is available. Artic might want to consider switching the ends of the stylus and just providing the case for tip protection, which would put them in same camp as the Just Mobile AluPen Pro.

3. GoSmart 200 Series ($23.95), 300 Series ($23.95)

I loved the look of the GoSmart stylus from the first time I saw it, and the real thing didn’t disappoint. This is a great looking and well-designed product. The 300 reminds me of an old-style rocket model. It looks like a 1950s predition of what people would be using in 2013, so I’m glad I have the opportunity to fulfill that fantasy. It was a tough choice between the GoSmart products and the Adonit Jot Pro when it came to the best precision stylus, but the choice came down to perceived durability issues at multiple levels. Because I was careful, I didn’t bend the rather delicate tip of the 200/300 series GoSmart stylus. I’m sure I could have if I wanted to, and that’s the issue. With the Adonit ball and socket configuration, the user can select the drawing or writing angle. With GoSmart that angle is fixed, and even if optimal, being fixed and made of rather slim wire means it can be bent. It doesn’t help that the replacement tip actually lies slightly higher on the GoSmart Stylus webpage than does the stylus itself. Adonit also offered better tip protection with a screw-off top, rather than a plastic cover. If you’re careful, you may find this most visually transparent of stylus products (it actually lets you see where you are writing) a good iOS companion. If you loan your stylus to the kids, though, I suggest you offer them a seemingly indestructible Studio Neat Cosmonaut rather than this more delicate writing instrument.

4. Griffin Stylus + Pen + Laser Pointer ($29.99)

This omnibus pen almost made the cut for Best Stylus with Pen, but all of its features, and its internal batteries, made it a bit heavy. Given its price, though, in comparison to other products with fewer features, Swiss Army kind of users might find this stylus to fit their every need.

5. Hand Stylus ($29.95) by Hand

The Hand stylus is a throwback to mechanical pencils. Having grown up in a home where manufacturing was a daily discussion, I often saw mechanical pencils as my father worked on blueprints and RNC programs. Eventually I received one of my own and I still have it 30-years later, which speaks to the durability of the design. The Hand Stylus appears every bit as durable as the pencils it emulates. As a stylus, however, and the designers know this, their approach requires a bit more pressure for screen recognition, and as much as I like the feel of the product in my hand, I didn’t like the feel of using it. I did, however really appreciate the retractable tip, which solves a lot of issues that the other pens exhibit with tip protection. If pressure and precision go hand-in-hand for you, the Hand Stylus may be a good choice.

6. AluPen ($24.95) AluPen Pro ($39.95) by JustMobile

JustMobile makes a very nice stylus that also reminds one of old-school writing instruments in engineering labs and on shop floors. Like other products from JustMobile the AluPen, both regular and pro, offer well engineered, highly sculpted designs that feel good in your hand and perform well.  The leather sleeves deliver an overall elegant package, but I would also like to see them do a version that is more instantly accessible. Given the iPad’s affinity for broad strokes over precision, the AluPen, with its wider construction offers a better experience than the slimmer pro version, though both produce good tactile response and solid input. The pro version is overpriced compared to other pen/stylus combos.

7. Nomad FLeX ($29.99), Nomad Play ($18.00) by Nomadbrush                                                                

I like the idea of a brush for the iPad, there is, however, one unfortunate reality: the iPad doesn’t know what to do with a brush. Being that as it is, an iPad brush is more about the psychology for the user than any special input method for the iPad. Unlike Ten One Design’s Pogo Connect and other stylus products that include sensors that can be “read” by the iPad or iPhone, brushes end up with the densest area of bristles becoming a proxy for the tip of a finger. If you want to feel like you are painting, though, a brush may well fit your needs. Both of these Nomadbrush products are fun, high quality and they do work. As long as you know the limitations and set your expectations accordingly, you may find these useful input alternatives especially if you trying to get into a more creative mood.

8. X-Pointer Mobile Presenter ($39.99) by Satechi

This is the most diminutive and hardest to use stylus of the bunch. It’s just hard to hold onto the tiny rubberized casing over long periods of time. But the X-Pointer stylus is more an afterthought to a case than it is a serious stylus. The real gem in this setup is the internal laser pointer and free app that allows full control of Keynote and PowerPoint presentations on a PC or Mac through the Mobile Presenter. Let me back up a bit. The stylus is wrapped around a metal tube, that when extracted (making the stylus useless) and inserted into the audio port of an iPhone, turns the iPhone into both a presentation remote and a laser pointer. If you don’t use a stylus very often, but you do give a lot of presentations from your OSX or Windows machine, this tiny little add-on may be just enough stylus to meet your needs, with plenty of presentation power to impress your audience.

9. Pogo Sketch + ($14.95)Pogo Sketch Pro ($24.95) by Ten One Design

The Pogo Connect won the overall competition, but it isn’t the company’s only stylus product. The Pogo Sketch + is a good basic stylus and the Sketch Pro is a solid, elegantly designed stylus for artists at heart. If you are going to spend money on a basic stylus, make it a good one. Pogo Sketch + is one of the best for under $15. It is well constructed, includes a clip for pocket, backpack or other holder, and provides good overall performance. If you like input via stylus, I would suggest you spend $10 more, however, and buy a Sketch Pro. This stylus offers a nicely constructed, tapered shaft that feels more like a brush handle than a pen. Pogo has been in the stylus business for a long time, they offer a range of products, all of which are top notch.

10. Universal Stylus ($21.95), Duo Stylus Pen ($25.95)  by TruGlide

I really like the design of these two stylus offerings from TruGlide, unfortunately, I’m not a fan of the microfiber tip they use in place of the capacitance rubber material used in most other stylus products. The engineering overall, however, is excellent. If aren’t sure about a microfiber tip, try to find one to try before you buy. Use of standard refills for the Duo is a plus, as is the ease of flipping the cap from end-to-end.

11. Bamboo Stylus Solo ($29.95) by Wacom 

This stylus’s bigger brother won the competition for best stylus with a pen in iPhone Life’s print edition. This inkless version sports the same wide tip, good screen traction and good handling as is slightly more expensive cousin, but when it comes to price, the Solo is overpriced for a basic stylus.

12. Incipio Inscribe Executive Stylus & Pen ($24.99)

At the end of the day, I usually stick my Incipio Inscribe Executive Stylus & Pen in my shirt pocket. It writes with ink, retracts its pen cartridge, sports a serviceable stylus, looks good and clips without tearing the fabric of my shirt. All of these other designs have their unique advantages and their quirks, but a practical user needs a stylus that can be deployed quickly and doesn’t require a lot of maintenance or care. For every box and sleeve that portends a fine instrument, precious seconds are lost between idea and execution when using it.  It takes time to find, unscrew, or slip the stylus out of its sleeve. Variety is a wonderful byproduct of innovation. And stylus manufacturing has certainty created a number of innovative designs, interesting ways to carry or protect extra tips, and a short list of auxiliary functions that can complement something as narrow and short as a six-inch tube. When you find the stylus that really works for you, you will know it. As a friend of mine, a comic book aficionado said to me recently, “The Pogo Connect has changed my life.” That’s an endorsement. I haven’t yet found the stylus to change my life, but I’m going to keep looking — and I’m going to keep writing about the quest.

 

The Verdict...

I created the table below ranking each of the styluses in the following areas:

Usability: How did the stylus perform;

Design: Look, feel, materials, manufacturing precision, finish, ease of replacing tips or ink, number of parts, etc;

Unique Features: Did the stylus offer any unique features that set it apart from the others (laser pointer, unique tip, etc.);

Durability: Was the stylus designed to last;

Price: How far off the average was the price. Did the unique features justify a higher price.

ManufacturerProductPriceUsabilityDesignUnique FeaturesDurabilityPriceOverall Score
Applydea.comMaglus Stylus $33.003335216
ArcticThe Architect Stylus $22.953425418
GoSmart200/300 series $23.954452419
GriffinGriffin Stylus + Pen + Laser Pointer  $29.994453420
HandHand Stylus $29.953334417
JustMobileAluPen $24.953325417
JustMobileAluPen Pro $39.953334215
NomadbrushNomadbrush FLeX $29.993442316
SatechiX-Pointer Mobile Presenter $39.951353214
Ten One DesignPogo Sketch + $14.953334518
Ten One DesignPogo Sketch Pro $24.954444420
TruGlideDuo Stylus Pen         $25.953443418
WacomBamboo Stylus Solo $29.953333214
IncipioInscribe Executive Stylus & Pen $24.994433418
 Average price: $28.25      

 

 

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Daniel Rasmus's picture

Daniel W. Rasmus, the author of Listening to the Future and Management by Design, is a strategist, industry analyst, and business correspondent for iPhone Life magazine. Prior to starting his own consulting practice, Rasmus was the Director of Business Insights at Microsoft Corporation, where he helped the company envision how people will work in the future.

Before joining Microsoft, Rasmus was Research Vice President at the Giga Information Group and Forrester Research Inc. Rasmus also is an internationally recognized speaker. He blogs regularly for Fast Company and on his own blog, Your Future in Context. His education-related work can be found at Learning Reimagined.