How to Choose a Stylus
In its most basic form a stylus is really nothing more than an extension of your finger, or rather a replacement for it, albeit it a lot more accurate and definitely more hygienic! The basics of stylus technology is creating a conductive signal between the stylus and the screen of your tablet, smartphone or touch-screen notebook or laptop (or a desktop with a touch-screen for that matter).
The first thing you need to know is that if you have a touch-screen device (phone, tablet, ipad, or computer) basically any “passive” stylus will work. And if you are in doubt, check if your finger works, then a stylus will work! The next thing to look at is what you’ll use the stylus for. If your main requirement is navigating around the screen, menu selections, playing games and just a bit of note taking, all you need is a Passive Stylus.
If you are looking to do more than just taking the odd note, but want to use the stylus to replace pen and paper for writing, drawing or graphics applications, then you may want to consider an Active Stylus.
A passive stylus comes in many different forms, starting as we said in the beginning with your finger. As the name implies, a passive stylus has no active electronics, just conductive material housed in a pen-like housing. (OK, so your finger is not exactly passive, but you get the idea.) A passive stylus will work with any touch-screen but as with all things in life, there are good ones and then the not so good ones. We sell three different type of passive stylus pens, and then, of course there are variations on those (would be no fun if it was too simple, right!).
The Rubber tipped stylus has (you guessed it!) a rubber tip. Rubber tips comes in different qualities and it is a case of you get what you pay for. A cheap stylus will have cheap rubber and cheap conductive material, the rubber will wear out and lose its conductive properties, cheap rubber tips are typically also soft and squidgy which makes them less accurate (too much like your finger). If you are only looking for a stylus for occasional use then a cheap rubber stylus may still be quite OK, for around $10 or less they’ll last you a while and then you chuck it out (although we’d argue that may not be the environmentally friendly approach!).
The next option is a rubber tip stylus with replaceable tips, these will typically also have a bit better quality rubber but importantly once the tip wears out, you pop in a new one without having to throw out the stylus. Next is theMicrofiber tipped stylus which is a major improvement on the rubber tip. Not only are they much more durable, they also tend to be a bit more accurate as their conductive properties are better and the tip more sturdy and not squidgy. The Microfiber tips will last a lot longer and with some you can still get replacement tips.
The limitation of a passive stylus on most touch-screens is that the tip needs to be at least 6 mm or so in diameter to effectively create the touch-ability, again smaller than your finger but still bigger than, say, a ballpoint pen. Which brings us to the Transparent Disc stylus, as pioneered by Adonit and others.
The disc sits at the end of a pen-sized ballpoint and as it is transparent all you really see is the much smaller tip of the ballpoint. So although it uses exactly the same conduction as a rubber or microfiber tip it create the illusion of you holding and using a pen on your screen. And a pen is, of course, much more accurate than your finger-tip! Quite clever, eh? The mechanics of the disc-tipped stylus requires some pretty fine engineering to work properly which is why they cost more and work better. There are cheapies out there, but as often is the case, you get what you pay for. The discs will wear out, but they are easy to replace and a good quality disc stylus should last you several years.
The active stylus is often also referred to as a fine-point stylus (or both) and uses smart electronics to refine the touch and provide a more pen-like experience. There are different ways of doing this and the early generation of advanced styluses used Bluetooth to achieve this, but what we are now seeing is the use of smart electronics that “interprets” movement and makes it possible to use a stylus tip around 2 mm or less.
The benefit of using Bluetooth is that app developers can build support for specific styluses into their drawing apps, this in turn enables features such as pressure sensitivity (press harder and get a thicker line) and palm rejection, knowing the difference between the touch of your palm on the screen vs the tip of the stylus. For these reasons the Bluetooth stylus remains the best choice if you use a stylus for drawing and sketching. The disadvantage is that to get the most out of those styluses you can only use it with apps that specifically support them.
The Electronic fine-point stylus on the other hand is not dependent on the app and doesn’t require Bluetooth pairing, just turn it on and it works great for note-taking and writing in any app on any touch-screen. Most of them now also work fine with the iPad Air 2. In summary, if you want to draw or paint on your iPad, select the apps you want to use first, then check what styluses those apps support. If you mainly want a stylus to replace your pen for writing, chose an electronic stylus.