There are many, many styluses for the iPad out there. I know, because I’ve looked at a lot of them, putting together reviews (and drawings) for nearly three dozen pens and writing implements for tablets and handling even more.
But even the most extensive chart doesn’t always get to the heart of the question that tablet owners want to know: Which stylus is well-suited for what I want to do? To answer that question, we’re going to dive into specific tasks and how they’re handled by specific capacitative styluses. My goal: Bring you the three best tools for writing, sketching, painting, navigation, multifunction capabilities, music-making, and kid-friendliness. And when the first pressure-sensitive styluses come on the scene later this summer, we’ll do an extra-special round-up just for them.
So, without further ado, let’s get started with our very first challenge—writing.
Words, words, words
With apps like Paper and Penultimate encouraging people to take notes digitally (but without the use of a virtual or physical keyboard), writing on the iPad is perhaps the biggest question I get from curious stylus-seekers—it even outranks sketching.
Writing digitally is a difficult task to conquer, for a few different reasons. For one, it’s the only real job your finger fails miserably at. It turns out your finger is not so great for taking detailed notes or lettering speech bubbles.
To top that off, the iPad loves touch—perhaps a little too much—making it very difficult for those of us accustomed to writing with our palms resting on whatever surface we’re working on. There are apps (like the aforementioned Penultimate) that build in palm rejection, but it’s not perfect—and you’ll have to turn off multitasking gestures to get that feature to work at all.
As such, a writing stylus with good balance is important. And to get that, you generally need to look for a 2-in-1 tool—half stylus, half ballpoint pen. Adding a pen mechanism instantly makes the stylus heavier, and usually provides a better balance for the writer, since there are implements on each side of the tool. There are a few well-balanced styluses that aren’t in this category—such as the Architect Stylus—but they’re eclipsed by the 2-in-1s.
Meet the contenders
Let’s meet the three 2-in-1 tools ready to duke it out.
When I first reviewed it, the rubber-nibbed HyperShield quickly vaulted over its competitors to become my favorite writing stylus. It’s inexpensive—just $10!—but well-built, has great balance, and has a built-in magnet for sleeping and waking your iPad.
The 2-in-1 version of Wacom’s vaunted Bamboo Stylus, the Duo is everything I loved about the company’s original offering, but with some added heft and a beautiful ballpoint pen.
Unlike the other two rubber-nib styluses, Adonit’s Jot Flip boasts the company’s signature transparent precision disc, a slipperier but often more-precise option. In addition, it has the nicest design of any 2-in-1 I’ve seen—its sleek steel body and hidden ballpoint compartment wouldn’t be out of place in James Bond’s toolkit.
These three may be at the top of their category, but they’ve still got a long way to go before any of them can claim victory—three challenges, in fact. So let’s get on with it.
Challenge 1: Balance, heft, and positioning
As I mentioned earlier, weight and balance is a much bigger factor when you’re looking for a writing stylus than a sketching or painting one. Humans aren’t generally used to angling their hand so that only their pen touches the surface; most excellent writing styluses compensate by allowing you to angle the pen (and your hand) very close to the iPad without actually touching skin to screen.
The HyperShield 3-in-1 is the lightest of the three styluses; that said, its anodized aluminum shell provides an alarmingly decent balance for such a feathery-feeling pen. It also has the advantage of being long—almost five and a half inches—which allows you leverage to to dip very close to the screen for writing. It fails only in writing quickly; angle + weight defeat it there.
In contrast, the Bamboo Stylus Duo may be the stockiest of the three, at just 4.5 inches with its cap removed, but its weight and manufacturing provide unparalleled angle and balance. You simply speed along when writing notes; you need only pause to turn the page. Its plated metal and rubber grip make it heavier than the HyperShield, but lighter than the polished steel body of the Jot Flip.
The Flip is nothing to sneer at: I actually rather like the extra heft of the steel, and handwriting with this tool is a breeze—you fly across the screen. It’s unfortunately not as good as the Duo for quick printing, but it comes awfully close.
Winner: Bamboo Stylus Duo, with all-purpose speed