When Apple launched the first iPhone back in 2007, it changed touchscreen input forever. By replacing the predominantly stylus-based input of previous mobile devices with a user experience that relied completely on the human touch, it relegated the humble stylus to the dusty corners of mobile computing history.
In recent years, however, there has been a move back towards stylus input. As tablets have become more adept as content creation devices, styluses have made a big comeback, offering far more precision for writing and drawing than the human finger.
While touch has been and always will be the most intuitive way to navigate a mobile device and perform actions like web browsing and photo scrolling, styluses designed specifically for the capacitive touchscreens found on modern tablets offer a more accurate experience for fine detail work like handwriting and sketching.
Not every tablet stylus is created equal though. Some are more geared toward drawing rather than writing, some include a built-in ball pen for convenience, while others swap the standard rubber nib at the end for silicone or plastic.
There are even tablets that now offer stylus functionality baked into the touchscreen, such as the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 and the Microsoft Surface Pro. Unlike regular tablets, these devices have Wacom ‘Feel IT’ technology built-in that recognises input from specially designed styluses. The main benefit of these types of tablets is that they support pressure sensitivity, which means the lighter you press on the screen, the finer the lines appear (and vice versa).
We’ve rounded up six of the best tablet styluses on the market, so you can get straight to the point with your tablet control.
Adonit’s unique design ditches the standard rubber nib for a metal tip connected to a clear disc. It’s an odd pairing that takes a little getting used to, as you’re essentially tapping against your tablet screen with another flat surface. Moreover, it makes a dull clack whenever it hits the screen.
If you’re after a high degree of accuracy, however, the Jot Flip is second to none. The tip itself is more precise, as the touchscreen only registers input from the fine metal tip. You can also see through the Jot Flip’s plastic disc to see what you’re writing.
It’s pricey compared to other styluses, but the precise input paired with the high-quality aluminium construction, built-in ball pen and magnetic attachment (compatible with certain tablets like the iPad and Surface Pro) makes it well worth the investment.
The Belkin Mixit Stylus is about as simple as capacitive styluses get. Save for the eight colours that it’s available in (including pink, purple and light blue) it’s almost completely frill-free – a fact that’s reflected in its bargain pricetag.
Compared to the other styluses on test, it’s a lot shorter and lighter. It’s even smaller than the stylus that comes with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, although it’s heavier as well. One value-add it does offer is the chrome clip, enabling you to attach it to a shirt pocket or tablet case.
As far as the stylus input goes, the Mixit is fairly average. The rubber nib glides smoothly over the screen with just the right amount of friction, however it has a larger circumference than normal, making it a little harder to write or draw precisely on the screen.
If the standard-looking styluses aren’t inspiring your creativity, the Just Mobile AluPen may be just the ticket for getting you into that artistic mood. Fashioned to look like a stylish artist’s pencil, the AluPen is a lot chunkier than its contemporaries, constructed from high-quality aluminium with a soft rubber nib at the end. It also comes with a fake leather carrying case.
As funky as it looks, however, we’re not convinced that it’s all that practical for everyday use. The wider girth makes it uncomfortable to use for extended periods, while the oversized nib makes it difficult to draw fine lines accurately and see what you’re doing on the screen. For handwriting especially, the AluPen makes for a poor choice compared to the identically-priced Kensington.
The Virtuoso Touch Stylus & Pen offers a good balance between price and functionality. Its touchscreen input doesn’t stand out per se, however the high quality construction and the fact that it doubles as a premium ball point pen (complete with the ability to use Parker pen refills) makes it a cut above other styluses in its class.
Thanks to the dark grey colouring and chrome accents, the Virtuoso would look right out home in an executive boardroom. It also feels nice and weighty in the hand, with the same size and length of a traditional metal-bodied pen. Whether you’re using the silicone nib at one end or the ball point pen at the other, you’ll get a good writing or drawing experience from Kensington’s two-in-one Virtuoso.
The Bamboo Stylus Feel is compatible with tablets that use Wacom’s ‘Feel IT’ technology, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Note range of devices and the Microsoft Surface Pro. This uses EMR (electro-magnetic resonance) signals to communicate with a special sensor built into the tablet. As a result, it offers much greater precision than a capacitive stylus and supports features like pressure sensitivity and palm rejection.
Compared to the stubby stylus included with the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, the Bamboo Stylus Feel is a marked improvement. It’s about the same length as a standard pen, and with the pen cap clipped onto the other end, it has a comfortable and well-balanced feel to it. The only real downside is that it’s only compatible with a small subset of tablets, and this doesn’t include Apple’s iPad range.
iPads may not have the ‘Feel IT’ technology that a handful of Android and Windows 8 tablets offer, but if you’re happy to part with a hundred bucks, you can get the same pressure sensitivity and palm rejection features through the Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus.
This hybrid stylus pairs a standard rubber nib (usable with any capacitive touchscreen) with Bluetooth Smart technology, the latter of which communicates with supported iPads (iPad 3, iPad 4, iPad mini and later) to enable the Feel IT-like functionality.
There are however, a couple of catches. The extra features only work with a dozen or so iPad apps that have been specifically coded to support the Intuos Creative Stylus, and while the rubber nib makes it compatible with all tablets, it’s nowhere near as precise as the plastic tip on the Bamboo Stylus Feel.