In case you haven’t existed in the last decade, let me fill you in on the current technological landscape: Touch screens. Touch screens are everywhere.
Realistically though, not only do 80% of people between ages 18 and 50 have touch screen phones in their pockets, but over 50% of American households own at least one larger touch screen, like a tablet. While some people might think that this over-saturation of smart devices is a bad thing, I think it’s wonderful! Not only are touch screens fun to use, but they add a level of natural interactivity that even toddlers can understand. That being said, there is one glaring issue I have with touch screens: I have to touch them.
You see, using your finger to interact with a screen has many advantages, but, as DNA analysts have been proving for years, your fingers are very good at leaving evidence behind. On your touch screen, this means that after almost any period of use you will undoubtedly notice fingerprints, smudges and other unsightly and oily leftovers from your skin. It’s unavoidable. Our fingers just aren’t that clean. But don’t fret. There is a solution out there for every smudge-fearing American.
It’s called a stylus, and early applications of the technology can be seen as far back as the 50s. Only with the recent influx of touch devices, however, have styluses really come into their own as a product for the masses. Outside of just reducing smudges on your screen, styluses also allow for greater accuracy on your touch device (fingers are far too sloppy).
But of course, as it always is, not all styluses are created equal. This post is a stylus breakdown, if you will, of some general options to consider, as well as a some thoughts on a few brand name styluses that I frequently encounter. (Note: See the end of the article for a chart detailing my rundown).
If your only concern is that you don’t want to dirty your screen with your fingers, then this might be the right stylus for you. While you won’t get much accuracy with this sort of stylus, it may wear out comparatively quickly and sometimes you might have to push harder for your device to register the rubber tip, this stylus will handle most tasks with ease.
There aren’t many prominent brands that offer a basic rubber stylus, but you can often find an off-brand stylus for sale for less than $5. Many of them even come on the back of poorly-made ballpoint pens. The biggest (and/or only?) advantage of this stylus type is its price. I own and have tried six different styluses that fit into this category and, for the most part, I wouldn’t recommend them. While the price tag is enticing, simply put, you get what you pay for. There is, however, one exception for the budget-minded stylus aficionado: AmazonBasics.
AmazonBasics is a brand name of products produced by Amazon (obviously). The products typically have no frills or thrills, but are well made, perform adequately and come at a reduced cost. If you’re going to get a basic rubber stylus, go with the AmazonBasics Executive line.
Similar to the basic rubber stylus, the basic microfiber stylus comes in all shapes and sizes from hundreds of brands you’ve never heard of. The microfiber stylus not only lasts longer than its rubber counterpart, it is also a much more consistent experience. You won’t often find yourself pushing hard to get the stylus to register on your touch device, though you will still experience accuracy issues similar to the rubber stylus.
While not all microfiber styluses come with replaceable tips, this is another advantage you’ll find when looking into microfiber options. And don’t worry, they also come with all of the bells and whistles you might find with the rubber stylus (including poorly made pens, keychains and even laser pointers). In my opinion, the microfiber stylus, while not perfect, is superior in every way to any basic rubber stylus.
I’ve used many different microfiber styluses, and found that for general touchscreen use, they are more than adequate. Typically they are slightly more expensive, ranging in cost from $5 to $10, but the extra dollar is well worth the higher quality. Don’t get me wrong, you still won’t be able to do any sketching or serious drawing with this kind of stylus, but it will satisfy most consumers. Furthermore, while most pens that double as a stylus are simply terrible, one pen/stylus combo in particular has become a long time favorite of mine. The ButterFox Micro-Knit Fabric Tip Capacitive Touch Screen Stylus Pen (woah, that name, am I right?) comes in a small casing, but offers an excellent pen and stylus experience.
If you’re not interested in that recommendation, I’d try checking out Lynktec. They sell various precision microfiber styluses that, in my experience, work very well.
Adonit produces many different styluses, but they are most well known for their Jot Pro. The unique stylus design utilizes a clear, rubber disc to mimic your finger, but a narrow point to mimic writing with a pen. The result is rather surprising. With the Adonit Jot Pro, I’ve found that not only do I get far better accuracy, I don’t actually have to push as hard with the stylus as I would with either the basic rubber or microfiber tips. The disadvantage to the Adonit brand, however, is durability. While the rubber discs last just fine, the connector between the pen tip and the rubber disc is flimsy at best. In other words: It will break and you will lose the rubber disc.
This isn’t a problem, as replacement discs aren’t hard to come by, but it can be something to consider. This is the first stylus that you might be able to get away with for sketching or drawing (emphasis on ‘might’).
If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to the Adonit Jot Pro, I would recommend the brand “Meko.” While you probably haven’t heard of them, they will show up a fair bit if you start searching around for styluses. For the same price as the Adonit Jot Pro, you can get two combo-Meko styluses that come with both the clear rubber disc style and microfiber style tips. The package also comes with four replacement discs and two replacements for the microfiber tip. In terms of quality, the stylus is top-notch (one of my personal favorites), and you can’t beat the value for the price.
If you’re looking for a stylus option that works with Android, the Adonit Jot Pro (or Meko stylus I recommended) is probably as good as you’re going to find. Unfortunately there just aren’t a lot of Android options available currently (and the few that exist are sub-par at best). If you really want to couple a great stylus experience with an Android tablet, I’d recommend looking into Android tablets that come with their own manufactured stylus (maybe try the Samsung Note Pro tablet or the Nvidia Shield). (Okay, there’s also this $70 option, but when I tried it I thought it was just “meh”).
Edit 1: Adonit sells other stylus lines that, while I haven’t tested myself, are probably worth checking out.
Edit 2: As Bill Kraksi pointed out in the comments below, when the Adonit first released the Jot Pro there were complaints that the rigid disc attachment was scratching screens. DAGI sold a competing stylus that utilized a flexible spring to avoid causing scratches. I personally have never used a DAGI stylus and never had an Adonit stylus scratch my screen, but if you are worried about something like that happening, be sure to check out some DAGI styluses.
The Pencil by FiftyThree is the first stylus that works in conjunction with bluetooth (often called an “Active Stylus”). The stylus is designed to work on Apple touch devices (though it will technically work on any capacitive screen) with FiftyThree’s popular “Paper” app. Within that specific scenario, the Pencil works pretty darn well. In fact, it was specifically designed to be a sketch/drawing stylus, and it performs better than most other styluses at doing that (again, within the paper app).
Within the paper app (have I said that enough times yet?) you can even turn the Pencil around and use the back end as an eraser. Furthermore, because the stylus can connect to your device via Bluetooth, when you are using the stylus, any accidental inputs from your hand are ignored. In other words, you can write with your hand on the screen without causing any issue. This is often referred to as a “palm rejection,” and comes standard on most Bluetooth-enabled (“Active”) styluses.
The main disadvantage to the pencil however, is its durability. The rubber tip seems to wear thin very quickly. While you are given a replacement tip when you purchase the stylus, I found that I wore both out while some of my other, cheaper styluses were still kicking. Couple this with the fact that the Pencil by FiftyThree really works best with only Apple devices, and you can see why it isn’t the best choice for everyone. Oh, and did I mention that this stylus costs around $50? Yeah, we’re moving into expensive territory.
I’m including this in my list, though realistically I probably shouldn’t. While all reports have shown that the Apple Pencil is, absolutely, an incredible stylus (haven’t tested it much myself), it only operates on a single device, the iPad Pro. As such, I can’t really recommend this to anyone unless they are specifically in the market for the iPad Pro.
I feel like I need to mention that this battery powered active stylus can only be charged via the lightning port of an iPad Pro. Apple claims a 15 second charge will give you 30-minutes of juice though, so maybe this isn’t a big deal. Either way, the Apple Pencil’s biggest con is that it costs $100. Yep, that’s a hefty price to pay for just a stylus (but again, all reports show that the Apple Pencil really is top notch).
For those looking looking for a decent active stylus for iPads that won’t break the bank, Wacom offers several iPad specific styluses at its store. I haven’t tested any of these, unfortunately, so you’ll have to either trust reviews or rely on personal trial and error.
The Adobe Ink and Slide is a pretty incredible set of two devices. That’s right, this stylus actually comes with a second device that operates as a straight edge (among other things). This iOS exclusive (yet again) is an active stylus that works within Adobe’s own Line and Sketch mobile apps and across any recent iOS device. It’s pretty remarkable all the fun things the two companion devices can do together (you should watch this video it’s pretty cool). I would say that while the input recognition has a little bit of latency, the accuracy of the Ink, as well as the bonus functionality of the Slide, are unrivaled in the stylus world.
Another thing that’s unrivaled with this stylus? It’s price. Costing a steep $200, the Ink and Slide don’t jump out as the most appealing option right away, but its unique Slide mechanics may make it the perfect choice for industrial designers or artists who require a little extra precision (especially with shapes).
There are so many active styluses for touch-enabled Windows machines, that I don’t even know where to start. I’ve personally used several (the stylus that comes with the Microsoft Surface 3, an HP produced stylus and a few Wacom styluses throughout the years), but I haven’t even come close to testing but a fraction of them.
All I can say is, when it comes to Windows 10 active styluses, it’s important to realize that no two styluses are the same. In fact, no active stylus will work across all Windows 10 devices (though some work across a myriad of devices). For example, the stylus that comes standard when you purchase a Windows Surface will only work with Surface devices.
Furthermore these styluses are more expensive, ranging from $30 – $80. Again, like the Apple Pencil, I can’t really recommend it for everyone. But under certain circumstances, a Windows active stylus can be the perfect fit. From my experience, I love using my HP Stylus to take notes or sketch things out (I’m no artist, but it’s still fun). I have found most active styluses to be relatively lag free, extremely accurate and easy to use… At least within drawing/note-taking apps. Because here’s the thing about Windows ready active styluses, they’re really only meant for drawing or taking notes.
Here’s what I mean: A Windows 10 stylus registers on your computer completely differently from your finger. When you use your finger, your machine intuitively understands that a swipe up should scroll down a page. Most styluses mimic this interaction. With these active styluses however, this intuitive communication doesn’t exist. Instead, your computer interprets your stylus movement as mouse movement. For example, if you’re trying to browse the web with an active stylus, you have to actually grab the scroll bar on the right side of your browser and move it up or down. In my experience, this makes for a very unpleasant experience (and the same goes for a stylus that uses a digitizer).
With all of that being said, I do think it can be worth it to purchase an active stylus (they really are wonderful for drawing, sketching and taking notes). The only caveat is that you’ll have to do some research to find out what stylus will work with your computer. If you have a Windows machine, check out your manufacturer’s website to see if any active stylus options are available. Otherwise, Wacom and N-Trig are good places to start researching. Finally, other capacitive/active combination styluses might be worth a try as well (like this one). Even a digitizer (which I won’t really get into here) could be the option you are looking for.
In conclusion, I started this post hoping to help people understand what kinds of styluses are out there, what brands are popular and what styluses might work for their needs. While I didn’t cover even 1/10th of the styluses I wanted to talk about, this article has already stretched on for too long. So finally, I want to give a quick summary of everything I’ve said (a tl;dr):
For browsing the web and general use, try a Meko stylus like this one. It will provide flexibility and cover almost all of your needs.
If you want to actually draw and sketch on your touch enabled device, you’re going to have to do some research and find what stylus actually works for your device. On iOS I’d start looking at the Pencil by FiftyThree. On Windows, I’d start by looking at your device manufacturer’s website (or maybe Wacom).