iPad styli review

September 24, 2014 - 11 minutes read

 

Pogo vs Pencil by FiftyThree - the battle for the perfect illustrative stylus

Those of you that follow my work know that I do a lot of sketching on my iPad, often taking it to figure drawing classes or freelance meetings.I’ve tested many different iPad styluses in stores, or on friends and colleagues iPads, and have also owned some of the super simple styluses in the past. Currently I own two styluses, the Pogo Connect and Pencil by FiftyThree, and have used them both for the better part of a six months to a year. I don’t normally write reviews, but I figure there are a lot of things I use in my life that I would have rather of heard about from someone in a similar place to me before purchasing instead of just some guy on a tech blog. I’m actually an illustrator/designer/creative blockhead and use these things to do work. So, if you’re someone looking to do some sketching on the iPad, like me, here are some of my thoughts on the status of creative styluses.

Feeling and shape

One of the first things I take into account with any stylus I’ve owned or tried in the past is how it feels in my hand. If it feels too awkward, there’s no point in investing in it since I’ll probably want to be using it for hours at a time at figure drawing. Pencil feels 100% better in my hand than any other stylus I have handled, and I love the way the nib and screen interact. With the Pogo, it feels a bit small and piddly, and after a lot of use the magnetic nib starts to shift in its housing and click in and out. It doesn’t disrupt any strokes you’re making at the time (so far), but it is incredibly annoying. Pencil’s design avoids all that by making the tip feel more integrated with the housing, and just feels more natural (keeping in mind that I’m slightly biased towards the shape of Pencil due to enjoying drawing with carpenter’s pencils anyways).

Functionality

Pogo Connect has the extra function button, sure, which can be handy, but its placement on the pen, and being adjacent to the power/connect button make it a big fail. There’s nothing more frustrating than accidentally disconnecting your stylus midway through an intense (and possibly timed) drawing session. In fact, I had started writing this post and saved it before heading out for a bit. I packed my Pogo along with me with a pretty good battery level, but the button is so touchy that it accidentally gets bumped and tries to connect to the iPad– which is exactly what just happened to me, draining a large chunk of the battery. So frustrating!

Sometimes the Pogo Connect’s pressure sensitivity can be a bit wonky too, but when it works it does pretty well. I think the wonkiness may be due to the replaceable tips– with some cool choices like brushes, that still support pressure sensitivity– and how they get a bit loose sometimes and want to click out-of-place, like I mentioned above. Being an illustrator and designer by profession, pressure sensitivity is something I have learned through trial and error of products is a must. I simply cannot illustrate even the most basic of items without pressure sensitivity. The extra function buttons on a stylus are a nice addition but not a deal breaker. What I really need is a good design that feels right in my hand, and makes the marks I want it to (read: pressure sensitivity). So, this is actually one thing that the Pogo has up on the Pencil, since Pencil doesn’t have true pressure sensitivity (more on that below).

Pencil feels amazing, and its overall product design is gorgeous, but I cannot escape needing pressure sensitivity. They have announced that soon Pencil will have pressure control but not sensitivity. Basically, they’re making it so if you draw with the side of Pencil you will get a thicker line, as opposed to drawing with the tip and getting a thinner one. I appreciate their attempt to mimic traditional media a little more closely, but still a miss where I’m concerned, as it just doesn’t come close to pressure sensitivity. Pencil also tries to mimic traditional media further by having another tip on the other side of the stylus that’s supposed to act as an eraser in the Paper app. Cool in theory, though I wasn’t able to get that functionality to work very well, with it often thinking I wanted to keep drawing with that eraser end instead of erase.

What about other styluses?

Neither the Pogo Connect or Pencil by FiftyThree are perfect. This is why I am interested in both the Wacom Intuos Creative stylus and Adobe’s new Ink and Slide right now. I would love to buy the Wacom Intuos stylus, but so far it hasn’t been supported by my favourite sketching app, Paper (also by FiftyThree). And the only hold up getting an Ink and Slide is just that they don’t sell them in Canada yet (really? Come on!). It’s also not supported by Paper, but Adobe has put out some new apps themselves that interact specifically with Ink and Slide and look really promising.

I’ve given other styluses, like the Jot Touch some thought, but haven’t been interested because they’ve also missed the mark for me in areas like how they feel in the hand, how the tip interacts with the screen, not having pressure sensitivity, or just receiving poor reviews and lacking in-app support.

Compatibility

I do feel a bit taken hostage though. Even if I get another stylus, Paper is the superior sketching app on the market in my opinion, although I’m totally open to trying something new like Adobe’s new sketching and illustrating apps. I have bought and/or experimented with just about every artistry app out there with a decent review. ProCreate is amazing for high fidelity pieces, but for figure class work, quick drawings and ideas, on the go artistry, Paper wins over all other clones, including the Bamboo apps. It just feels right.

Conclusions

Pogo Connect
Pros: Pressure sensitivity, replaceable tips with good choice range, extra function button, fairly well supported in various apps
Cons: Touchy button drains battery power, bluetooth connection cuts out a lot, pressure sensitivity sometimes doesn’t work, placement of function button vs bluetooth connection button, feels awkward in the hand due to being too small and a weird shape

Pencil by FiftyThree
Pros: Feels great in the hand and handles well, it’s beautifully designed, works really well with my favourite drawing app Paper, charges instead of relying on batteries, bluetooth pairing in Paper is really well done compared to other styluses, eraser functionality didn’t seem to work well for me
Cons: Not supported by many other apps than FiftyThree’s Paper, not true pressure sensitivity (this is the main woe for me), no extra function buttons (although I don’t really care)

So, what I really want is the app that feels right (Paper so far), paired with the stylus that feels right (so far Pencil), but I also have to have pressure sensitivity and no bugs in the software/connectivity. FiftyThree have created something that is a work of beauty, it just needs one more feature and some bugs worked out and it will be close to perfect, in my opinion. Then I will have no need for the awkward feeling Pogo, or a new Wacom or Adobe stylus. So I suppose my recommendation for now is to have a combination of both the Pogo Connect and Pencil until there’s more support for the Wacom stylus, Adobe’s contender opens up to the rest of the world, another challenger approaches, or the companies that make the Pogo and Pencil improve them a bit more to the point where only one of them is needed.

Thanks for entertaining my long exposé! Has anyone tried the Wacom stylus? Or the Ink and Slide? What do you think? Hear about a better stylus coming to market that I should get my grimy hands on? Recommend something different? Let me know!

OCT 7, 2014 UPDATE: It seems Microsoft may be trying to up their stylus game with some cool new grip technology, via Gizmag.

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