“Which stylus should I use?” Part 3: The odd-couple
Welcome to part 3 of this 4 part series on stylus pens for the iPad. In part 1 you met each of the contenders and learned about the features, specs, and pricing of each stylus. Part 2 featured the top 5 stylus pens featuring rubber nibs, or tips. This installation gives you a glimpse at the odd-ball styli who choose to use metal, foam, and even brush bristles for their tips. As with part 2, this review is based on how each stylus performed drawing and painting actual comic book artwork for real projects at Hi-Fi colour design. Each stylus in this review offers a unique take on iPad input and are ranked in the order I found them useful. This review will give you my impression of each stylus, you be the judge if any particular stylus will make a good addition to your artist’s toolbox.
4th Place: Pogo Sketch
Pogo is busy making headlines with their Pogo Connect pressure sensitive stylus, however that was not available at the time of testing. Instead Pogo provided the Pogo Sketch which feels two generations old because it is. The stylus is very small in height and diameter and originally designed for use with Apple’s iPhone. When paired with the iPad the experience is less than ideal.
In use the Pogo Sketch’s short height makes it more difficult than most to use without resting your hand on the screen. You can always use software with palm rejection or use an artist’s glove but other stylus pens work better without needing to resort to these extra procedures. The small diameter tip should be a boon for artists but two factors work against the Pogo Sketch. The pressure needed to create brush strokes and tap interface elements is more than most other styli. Also, the Pogo Sketch needs to be used at 90º relative to the iPad’s screen for best results. There is a small margin of tilt where the Pogo will work, beyond this it is nearly impossible to create new brush strokes or tap.
At the end of the day I must recommend using your finger over this stylus. It simply is not worth the frustration to use. Lets only hope the Pogo Connect, which is finally shipping after several delays, fares much better.
+ Small tip allows you to see more of the screen and less of the tip
+ Small design makes it easy to carry
+ Integrated pocket clip (also stops pen from rolling away on smooth or angled surfaces)
- Too small to be useful
- Tip requires more pressure than most to create brush strokes
- Nearly impossible to use at an angle
3th Place: LynkTec TruGlide Duo Stylus Pen
The TruGlide duo looks more like something you would find on an executive’s desk than in an artist studio. LynkTec is certainly appealing to the business market with the high quality look and feel of the matte finished stylus surface and deeply reflective polished stainless steel details. The TruGlide Du features two tips, one is the stylus and the other is a built in ink pen allowing users to use one tool for the iPad and paper. The stylus end features a unique metal mesh tip which promises to provides the smoothest gliding action on the iPad’s surface available.
When used for painting and sketching I can honestly say this is one stylus better left in the boardroom. I found the pressure needed to register brush strokes or tap interface items inconsistent. This may be down to the sponge-like material that seems to be cushioning the metal mesh tip. This creates a frustrating situation where one success flu brush stroke is met with 1 or 2 that do not register until the tip shape has reformed, or you press harder. It was very difficult to lay down repetitive strokes or build up values from light to dark or dark to light. Shading at all was nearly impossible. The smoothness of the stylus is quite amazing and for that CEO jotting notes it is probably quite delightful. As a sketching and painting tool I found the slick smoothness lacking the tactile feedback the best of the rubber tip stylus pens provide. The TruGlide also has the larger tip of any stylus tested, obscuring a larger portion of the iPad’s screen than most.
This would make a great stylus for a businessperson but it has no place as an art tool in this current form.
+ High quality construction
+ Includes built in ink-pen and cap with pocket clip
+ Nice looking carry case included
- Diameter of stylus tip very large obstructing view of artwork
- Pressure required for tapping and brush strokes inconsistent
- Smooth gliding action offers very little in the way of feedback
2rd Place: Go Smart 300 Series
The unique design of this stylus and cap make it look like a rocket-ship and the original designs don’t stop there. The machined aluminum body of the Go Smart features two integrated magnets allowing for easy attachment to your iPad, any metal surface, or Apple’s own Smart Cover. The disc shaped tip design is made from metal and allows you to see more of your screen than any other stylus.
In use the metal tip of the Go Smart behaves more like a pen than a pencil or paintbrush. The smoothness with which the tip glides against the glass certainly feels pen-like, as does the hard nature of the tip. Being able to see through the center of the tip is ideal for detail work. I found this very useful for inking projects where ink lines need to meet-up exactly. None of the other stylus pens provide the pixel perfect accuracy of the Go Smart. That said, for me this stylus worked best as a writing and inking tool. While it technically does a fantastic job sketching and painting the feedback from the tip did not feel as natural as some others.
For those seeking a less dramatic design the 200 series offers the same basic feature set in a form that looks more like a traditional pen with cap. Both the 200 and 300 series include a carry case.
+ Unique tip design allows you to see your work unlike the bulky tips of other stylus pens
+ Unique cap acts as stand (vertical ) and keeps the stylus from rolling away (horizontal)
+ Integrated magnets allow attachment to Apple Smart Cover
- Dropping could bend or break the tip
- Feels more like a writing and inking instrument than a pencil or paintbrush
- Default tip angle works well for some, may frustrate others
1st Place: Nomad Compose dual-tip long
The Nomad Compose dual-tip stylus promises to be all things to all users, a short beveled brush tip for sketching and a longer brush tip for painting. In practice this arrangement does work but the performance is not as balanced as I would have hoped.
The short brush end can be used for sketching but does not work as well as many rubber, plastic, & metal tips I have tested. The main issue seems to be the pressure needed to register a stroke with this short beveled tip. It requires more force than feels comfortable also making it difficult to create smooth, fluid strokes. That said, you can see a lot of thought went into the design of the shorter beveled tip including a soft rubber bumper that protects the iPad screen if you press hard enough to make contact. With some refinement the bevel tip could be as good as the best in this series of comparisons. For now, it falls short.
How did the Nomad come up 1st if the bevel tip was a bit of a let down? In practice the longer brush tip is a pure revelation. Unlike the bevel end the brush end requires only the lightest contact with the iPad surface to initiate a brush stroke and feels very intuitive. I was able to create smooth, flowing, natural looking brush strokes easily using the Nomad. I found the Nomad brush worked great for blocking in areas of color and for shading. The natural feel and feedback allowed me to work quickly and I felt my paintings progressed faster and looked better than before. Once my paintings were about three-quarters complete I switched to a rubber tip stylus for final finishing details.
Even if you never use the shorter bevel tip end, you need a Nomad in your toolbox. The long tip brush is quite simply that good. The design allows for removal and replacement of the short tip… hopefully Nomad will roll out additional tips for the Nomad Compose. And if you only want the long brush? Nomad offers a single tip model, the Nomad Flex, with only the long brush tip, and you even save a few bucks over the dual-tip model.
The carry case is a must if you want to avoid damaging the delicate brush tip. The square shape of the case means no worry of roll-a-ways. The case is capable of holding 2 Nomad brushes or 1 brush and up to 3 additional tips. The only feature missing from the carry case is a magnet that would allow attaching it to Apple’s Smart Cover.
+ Brush tip looks, feel, and behaves just like a real paintbrush
+ Stylus design allows for easy replacement of short tips
+ Included carry case a must to protect delicate brush bristles
- Needs a wider variety of optional tips to improve usefulness
- Like a real paint brush some bristles will fall out or distort over time
- Sadly the perfect painting tool does not also make the perfect sketching tool
What’s the takeaway from this review? The conclusion I have arrived at is no one of these odd-ball styli is a direct replacement for any of the top rubber tip stylus pens. The Go Smart and Nomad each offer unique features that can add to your enjoyment of sketching and painting. Both make great additions to your artist’s toolbox but neither is an all-in-one solution by itself. If you do a lot of painting with your iPad I highly recommend adding a Nomad brush to your toolkit. The log brush end seems to unlock some hidden abilities within artist and iPad alike. If your artwork included technical drawing where precision is important the Go Smart may be for you. Certainly the ability to clearly see and connect drawn lines perfectly makes the Go Smart a worthy companion. I also find it incredibly useful for inking pencil drawings.
Thank you for reading part 3 of this series on stylus pens for iPad. Be sure to come back for the final installment installments where I will pit pressure sensitive stylus pens head to head to decide which is the ultimate champion. Please share your experiences with any of the stylus devices mentioned in the reviews in the feedback.
Brian Miller is the founder of comic book color studio Hi-Fi colour deisgn and the co-author of the book, How to Paint Comic Books with the iPad, available from iTunes.