Do You Need an iPad Stylus?

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 Stylus

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.

Price: $14.95

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Pogo Sketch

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Pogo Stylus (note the squishy tip)

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.

Price: $16.00

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Acase Apple iPad Capacitive Stylus

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.

Price: $5.01

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Overstock Stylus 2-Pack

My Experience

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.

The Cold

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.

General Navigation

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.

Typing

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.

Writing

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!

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Finger vs. Stylus Comparison

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

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.

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My first attempt at drawing with the Pogo Sketch

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.

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My Pogo Sketch and homemade 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!


  • Jon

    My wife desperately wanted a stylus to scribble notes with during meetings. She likes the freedom of mixing doodles with words while taking notes and couldn’t find an app that would allow her to “sketch” with her finger, while typing with the keypad.

    Enter the Pogo. She was ecstatic when it arrived. Within 2 minutes of opening the package she was greatly let down. The sleek look of the Pogo stylus was overshadowed by it’s clunky functionality on her iPad.

    I used it and felt the same as you. Great idea. Poor realization. There is certainly room for improvement in this category.

    • Ryan

      If you are still needing a stylus i suggest either the Griffin stylus or Targus tylus because those are way betteer than the pogo sketch. Griffin and targus have rubber tips but the pogo has a lousy sponge tip.b

  • http://joshnichols.com Josh N.

    The best DIY stylus for drawing, in my opinion:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0PmCz3m_ZM

    • http://sebastianrumberg.de Sebastian Rumberg

      Wow, this looks really promising. I’ll give it a try.

  • Kalfany

    Why are all stylus so ugly? The only one which looks really good is the JustMobile AluPen http://www.xtand.net/alupen.html

    • tobias

      and it’s just great!

  • http://members.sibeliusmusic.com/johncannon John Cannon

    My 80 year old wife who is a great fan and user of my iPad, grew tired of hitting wrong keys and stories with her fingers, and finds the Pogo Sketch Stick a perfect and more accurate alternative. She likes the smudge-free screen, too.

  • Erik

    I bought one of the cheap ones and the squishy tip made it totally worthless. Then picked up one from Griffin – looks the same as the Acase. The tip is much firmer and doesn’t add much friction at all. I prefer writing notes with a stylus, and can use it on the iPhone this winter!

    • http://www.coroflot.com/joshuajohnson Joshua Johnson

      Nice, I didn’t realize that Griffin had a stylus! Here’s the link for anyone that wants to check it out:

      http://www.griffintechnology.com/products/stylus

      • Anand

        I’ve tried both the Pogo and something similar to the Griffin/Acase (in this case from Princeton in Japan, but since they look 100% identical, I’m guessing they’re the same ODM design). The Pogo was not enough friction and the Princeton was too much. The latter one worked well for quite a while, but turns out it works better when the iPad is greasy from finger use. Clean up the iPad screen to get your fingerprints off of it, and the friction goes up too much for the stylus. Annoying. I’m back to my finger for writing and sketching.

  • http://www.screenfoursoftware.com Eric Granata

    I, too, was let down by the Pogo stylus. The Acase, on the other hand, has been great for sketching.

  • http://shapedad.etsy.com IB

    Check out the conductive Stylus Socks at Etsy. Smooth painting and no pressure required for $5.

    http://bit.ly/shapeshop

  • http://tiny.cc/mialazar Mia Lazar

    Another gadget for the gadget, not bad.

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  • http://Appflow.co.uk Luke Barnes

    iPad + stylus + penultimate + A Levels = (hopefully) productivity!

    Thanks for the overview, mine’s in the post! :D

  • http://eatdrinknbmerry.com eatdrinknbmerry

    Thank you for this great article. I’m leaning towards the Acase.

  • Diamond99

    I just recently bought the GRIFFIN stylus – after reviewing a number of different styli, including the POGO and noting that the Griffin won hands-down in most reviews.
    The Griffin is more pricey ($20 for one), but well constructed and AMAZINGLY functional. I use my stylus on my iphone – so for me, it’s a necessity, not a luxury. I was amazed (and disgusted) to see the reviews noting that styli ‘suck the joy out of using the i-appliances’. Not at all, in my opinion. Anyone who has had issues with fingers being TOO big and unwieldy for the touch screen of the iphone/ipad will GREATLY appreciate having a stylus.

    The Griffin has a number of advantages over the others, namely:
    1 – It’s better constructed and feels more like a pen, quite heavy and nice looking.
    2 – It’s more functional than the others – a simple tap will register, much more efficiently than even your fingers!
    ( Very handy when surfing the net, and typing. Much more precise than fingers, too!)
    3 – The tip is not spongy (like the POGO and others) but rather a solid rubbery tip. It is therefore more likely to last – the POGO tip (and others) tend to flatten within a couple of weeks of moderate use.

    I highly recommend the stylus – Griffin – for anyone who has had issues with precision tasks on their ‘i-thingy’.

    But frankly, in future, I would sooner go for a Blackberry than an iphone. I’ve come to HATE Apple. (They should consider providing a stylus – FREE – to anyone who invests in an iphone, ipad, or anything else. We spend enough on these things – so for God’s sake, include a little bonus for those of us that spend $500 plus on these things.) They should also NOT hold us hostage to their ‘apps’…..we should be able to buy apps which are NOT from , sponsored by, or even sanctioned by Apple (without jailbreaking or unlocking our i-phones/pads, etc.) But that’s just my two cents’ worth…..
    Yes to styli (esp Griffin)
    And NO to any future Apple i-things……..

    • Diesel

      Ok but what tha hell do u need the stylus for?¿

  • bard

    i use a pogo and others. I’ve recently gone back to the foil on the end of a pen. It is more comfortable and aluminum has about the same hardness (2.5-3, MOHS) as a fingernail while glass is about 6-7, so no worries about scratching

  • Matthew

    I am considering buying a Stylus for notes. I am specifically wondering about the wacom bamboo stylus, working with bamboo paper. Is it as easy to write on the IPad as it is with a real pad of paper?

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  • Beth

    FYI: For people who do live in “cooler” climates. You can now buy Smartgloves that have soft “rubberish” spots on the index finger. Even Wal-Mart sells them.

  • Caroline

    I actually have a question. I’m looking to get an ipad for drawing, etc. and I was wondering what makes it impossible to use the end of a pen as a tool. If I’m already spending $400 on an ipad, I’d rather not superfluously spend additional money where money really isn’t needed. If you end up using a stylus, does the screen acknowledge the heel of your hand if it presses up against it? I only ask this because I can’t imagine writing vertically without touching the media. I saw a comment above mentioned using a fingernail, does that work?
    I know I asked a lot of questions, but I’m very eager to learn the details and ways of the ipad. Thanks.

  • Kelley

    I don’t know if you have found this yet, but here is a tin foil stylus tutorial that solves the possible scratch risk.

    http://cnettv.cnet.com/make-2-minute-stylus/9742-1_53-50121660.html

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  • Aman

    An other stylus called iPen from Cretle.Inc similar to aPen or ByZero is launched on kickstarter.It is compartible with a very few sketch and note taking software but again has similar limitations as that of By-zero on productivity.Its seems to be better than aPen for productivity and hope is there that in future all sketch iPad apps will be compatible with iPen or aPen.Although aPen’s tip is more precise than that of iPen.but iPen’s tip isn’t that bad!

  • Aman

    Sorry it’s cregle,not Cretle,my iPad is making mistakes!

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