Styluses feel kinda stupid on a phone1 but with a big ass screen they can be pretty awesome. Unfortunately the iPad uses a capacitive screen which doesn’t work with sharp pointy objects, leading to the proliferation of blunt stubby objects and various oddly shaped ones. The problem is that most of these suck.2

But I found one that doesn’t!

Works on the Magic Trackpad too!

Actually it’s more than one. It’s sold by Acase, Boxwave, Griffin, Targus, and god knows who else. All I can assume is that it’s made by the finest Chinese child laborers in the world. Or some large automated manufacturing line with little human intervention, but I’m sure China and/or children are involved somewhere.

It has a smooth sliding rubber dome that compresses down and generally feels pretty good to use. It’s relatively natural to use, other than the fact that the tip is fairly large versus a standard pen. This is in contrast to the Pogo where you’re dragging a piece of foam on the screen, or the stubby rubber one that is too hard to trigger the screen without a lot of force and isn’t smooth on the glass. Impressions from others around the internets are pretty universal in praise.

…mostly. There are two cons I’ve seen. one is that it can be still hard to be precise with the fat tip. This is true but it’s pretty easy to get used to, particularly with zooming in. Barring a funky flat/ring design (to increase the surface area) I think this might be the best possible design of the “normal” styluses. The other complaint is that it’s too short. It’s around four inches long, an inch or two shorter than most normal pens, right around the length of the iPhone. Depending on your style this may be an issue.

Well there’s one more con, but with stylus drawing on a capacitive screen in general — your hand can still trigger the screen. If you’re all artsy and used to drawing or painting on an easel with your hand off the page you’re good to go. If you rest your hand on the page you might be screwed if you can’t adjust to keep your hand off the screen. Get some gloves.

Now for some exciting samples! (with some quick notes on the apps used).

This is how exciting it is to draw directly on a screen

SketchBook Pro for iPad — Pretty good…but limited. Particularly being stuck at the screen resolution, 1024×768. The performance could stand to be better (it lags slightly behind), but it’s consistent while drawing. It’s the gesture commands that can be flaky. I like them since it allows the interface to disappear but when the wrong gesture happens it is really obnoxious.

You didn't draw Will Smith in the margins back in the day?

Note Taker HD — If you thought “Capacitive touch screen for handwriting…WELL I NEVER!” and walked away I would’ve agreed with you before using Note Taker. DAN BRICKLIN IS A MIRACLE WORKER.3 The input resolution of the iPad kinda sucks for handwriting but he gets around that by that optional adjustable zoom box and a magical auto advance functionality that lets you keep writing along a line somewhat naturally. I can’t go quite full speed on it but I’m close enough that I’ve used it instead of paper for a bunch of stuff recently.

Another awesome part is that the strokes are all saved as vector lines rather than rasters, so you can output a PDF that looks great even when printed out. Not too useful for ugly handwritten pages of notes, but it could be used as a freehand vector drawing app as well (it has colors too!). You can include the faux paper backgrounds or leave it completely blank, like when you scribble out stuff for your site.

FINAL JUDGEMENT(S) (until further notice)
Acase/Boxwave/Griffin/Targus/etc Stylus, $10-20:

SketchBook Pro for iPad, $7.99:

Note Taker HD, $4.99:

Rating system guide

  1. I’d slam styluses on handhelds in general, but I can’t do that cause the Nintendo DS is too awesome.
  2. Well the oStylus is supposedly good, just pretty expensive and might be kinda awkward.
  3. Dude made the first “killer app” ever back in the day, now he does it for iPad. LIGHTING STRIKES TWICE!…although going by his website and older versions of Note Taker, design doesn’t seem to be his thing.