When the iPhone was first released, Steve and the gang were pretty adamant about how direct interaction with the screen through your fingers provided a much better experience than other touchscreen devices that required a stylus.
However, despite Apple’s claims that you don’t need one, manufacturers quickly started churning out iPhone compatible styluses that are now of course compatible with Apple’s newest toy: the iPad. Today we’ll answer your questions about whether or not you need a stylus for your iPad or iPhone, how well they work, and which iOS device is really best suited for using a stylus in certain situations. We’ll start off by taking a look at a few of the stylus options available to see how they compare in design and price.
Pogo has two styluses (styli?) that function on the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad: The Pogo Stylus and the Pogo Sketch. These are definitely among the most popular iPad styluses and are even sold in most Apple stores.
Both Pogo products are fairly similar and feature a stylish aluminum body with a soft tip (the sketch has a built-in clip). Both options come in multiple color variations and sell for the same price.
Acase Apple iPad Capacitive Stylus
The Acase stylus is another popular option available from Amazon. Just as with the Pogo options, this one comes in multiple colors and has a metallic construction. The Acase stylus is a little thicker than the Pogo Sketch and feels more like a pen. It shares the squishy tip of the Pogo but seems much more rounded.
Overstock Stylus Two-Pack
If you really want to take the cheap way out, Overstock.com has a two-pack of iPad styluses for a mere five bucks! The construction is likely noticeably poorer than that of the Pogo or Acase models but the basic concept isn’t hard to master so it probably works a level reasonably close to that of the pricier versions.
I recently purchased the Pogo Sketch and gave it a go on my iPad. The first thing I noticed as soon as I tried it was that the “magic” of using a big beautiful multi-touch screen was instantly sucked away and in its place was a very non-Apple feel.
I completely understand the squishy tip, but didn’t expect it and was initially quite disappointed with the friction it caused. Further, your initial instinct is to use the stylus like a pen and hold it at an angle, but it only works properly if the stylus is held in a near-vertical position. Also keep in mind that the tip, though much smaller than your finger, is still fairly broad and not at all like that of a pen.
Despite all this, I’ve found that the more I force myself to use the stylus, the more I like it. After lots of testing, there are definitely some areas where the finger is a much better instrument and some where the stylus wins.
I saw this situation listed on many of the stylus websites: Imagine it’s winter and you’re wearing gloves, how are you going to use your iOS device? Since I live in Phoenix, this isn’t ever a problem. I also don’t imagine that too many people are sitting outside using their iPad when it’s freezing cold.
However, if your iPhone is your primary communication device, I can absolutely see how a touchscreen would be a pain in colder climates when there are gloves involved.
Verdict: If you live in a cold place, you should pick up a stylus and keep it in your coat pocket or get a little clip to attach it to your iPhone. And I guess iPad owners should pick one up as well if they find themselves constantly sketching snowy scenes while laden in winter gear.
Weather aside, when you first pick up your iPad and start swiping around and navigating the home screens, your finger wins hands down. It’s simply a much richer, smoother experience when you’re interacting with the screen directly.
This should come as no surprise, remember that iOS was designed for your fingers. I find this to be especially true on the iPad. On your iPhone, there are quite a few tiny controls and buttons that you have to hit and if you’ve got big fingers, it’s not going to be easy. However, on the iPad, everything is so large that I almost never find myself frustrated for lack of a precision instrument.
Verdict: Skip the iPad stylus for general home screen navigation, app launching, etc. If you’re on an iPhone and have giant man hands though, the stylus could definitely help ease your frustration.
This is another case where the fingers clearly win. If you’re the peck and hunt type, the stylus might be the way to go but I’ve been using iOS long enough that I can type quite quickly on the touchscreen and found that the stylus slowed me down considerably.
Remember that the iPad’s keyboard in the horizontal position is almost as large as that of a MacBoook. With such large buttons there’s simply no need for a precision instrument.
Verdict: For typing, skip the stylus completely. If you’re new to iOS, you might find that you make lots of errors and are easily frustrated, but just give it time. In a few months you’ll be much faster with your hands than you ever could be with a stylus.
Taking notes is one of the biggest sales pitches you hear for styluses and for good reason. Once I got over the awkwardness of holding the stylus vertically, it felt much more natural to write with the stylus than it did with my finger. I found that I could take notes quicker without being distracted by the touchscreen too much.
However, despite the fact that it felt more natural, I didn’t actually find it to be true that the stylus significantly increased my writing legibility, especially with an auto-smoothing app like Adobe Ideas. In the image below you can see my side-by-side comparison of writing with my finger vs. the stylus. It’s interesting to note that occasionally the finger version looks a little better!
Verdict: If you find yourself taking a lot of handwritten notes and want to use your iPad in place of a legal pad, the stylus is worth the investment. Not only does it feel more natural and allow for quicker writing, it makes you look like less of a finger painting kid in front of your colleagues.
Since I’m finished with school and work mostly at home from my MacBook, I don’t find a whole lot of need to take handwritten notes on my iPad. Before you rush out and buy one of these ask yourself how often you’d really use it.
Sketching is pretty much the same situation as writing, you can do it with your finger, but it feels a lot more natural with a stylus. Unlike with the handwriting, here I actually did notice the extra precision. It can be quite difficult to pick up your finger and put it back down in the exact spot you want without creating some accidental line overlapping. With the stylus though it was much easier to draw a line, lift up, then continue right where you want.
Verdict: If you like to sketch, you should definitely try out an iPad stylus. It really helps take your iOS device from something that’s fun to play with to something that you could legitimately consider creating professional quality art with.
Bonus Tip: Make Your Own iPad Stylus!
While I was researching styluses online I came across quite a few people claiming that it was super easy to just make your own. If you’ve ever tried to simply take the non-writing end of a plastic pen to one of Apple’s devices you’ll know that it doesn’t work. However, it turns out if you cover the pen in aluminum foil first, it will work.
The trick here is to place some scotch tape on the end so the pointy foil doesn’t scratch your screen. In the image below you can see my 30 second attempt at a homemade stylus shown next to my Pogo stylus.
My homemade contraption did in fact work. It was nice to have something without the squishy tip but I cringed every time I touched my screen for fear of scratching. Unfortunately, the more tape you put on to protect your screen, the less the stylus works.
The moral of this story is that while this method certainly does produce a functioning stylus, just be careful that you don’t ruin a $500 iPad so you could save less than $20 on a stylus. And if you do try this and end up scratching your screen, don’t blame me as I would definitely recommend forgoing this method in favor of an actual stylus.
What Do You Think?
Leave a comment below and let us know whether or not you plan on buying a stylus. Also let us know if you’ve tried any and what you thought.
As for me, I probably would’ve never purchased one if not for this article, but it’s definitely handy and fun to have around!