Introduction - Why a $60 Stylus?
Apple's iOS devices are designed to work without a stylus. There's a reason for that: Steve Jobs didn't believe in them. "God gave us 10 styluses, let’s not invent another,” he told Walter Isaacson, his biographer.
There are times when a stylus is useful. Indeed splendid.
It all has to do with your environment. Mr. Jobs was right that a stylus is just another thing to lose. Or forget to pack. If the iPad had been designed to require a stylus, like the failed tablets before it, the iPad probably wouldn't be what it is today.
On the other hand, when you're sitting in a recliner at home or comfortably settled in your office, a stylus is a nifty thing. It affords a certain precision and technical feel. It makes you feel academic -- as opposed to being a finger painter. Plus, it keeps the display clean, and that's important for many. There is something to be said for these aesthetics in the proper setting. Then, when you get up, move about, and the stylus is left behind, the iPad, for example, remins eminently usable.
I never thought I would develop a fascination and affection for styluses. Frankly, I didn't see it coming. However, over the past few years I have enjoyed using and reviewing a myriad of styluses.
I've also watched as the stylus technology changed. We went from a little piece of spongy material on the original Pogo Sketch ... to the gold standard, the Wacom Bamboo Stylus Solo with a rubber nib ...to those from LYNKtec like the TruGlide Pro with a microfiber tip. All long the way, the nib got smaller and smaller in the industry: 8 mm, 6 mm, then 5 mm mm so that 1) we might have a better feel on the display's surface 2) the stylus may better approximate that which we are already accustomed to (ballpoints, etc.) and 3) we're able to better see what we're doing.
And now, the stylus technology is changing again. A new breed of electronic styluses has arrived with about a 2 mm nib. This small tip eliminates the mushy feel of a large nib as it drags across the display and lets us better see our drawings and handwritten notes.
2.3 mm nib, LED indicator, groves for grip.
But there's a problem. The iPad doesn't recognize a nib smaller than 4 mm. The solution? The next generation styluses generate a local electric field at the tip that mimics a larger 4 mm nib when in contact with the capactitive display. To do that, it must have circuitry. And correction logic. And a battery. All that technology costs money.
At this point, you're thinking: "Oh, man, I can buy a three-pack of conventional styluses from Amazon for two bucks. Why do I need a $60 stylus?" I'm not going to try to convince you that you must have an electronic stylus, but at the end of this review, you'll understand how they work, why they're better, and why you may need one. Or just want one.
The LYNKtec TruGlide Apex Fine Point Active Stylus
From now on, I'll just call it the TruGlide Apex. Designed primarily for the Apple iPad, funded by Kickstarter and now available for pre-order, this stylus has a 2.3 mm nib and has a pleasing total length of just under 5.2 inches. Here are the full specs.
- Length: 132 mm
- Barrel Diameter: 11.6 mm
- Nib diameter: 2.3 mm
- Weight: 32 grams (with battery)
- Pressure sensitive: No
- Battery: 1 x AAAA
- Typical battery life: 16-20 hours
- Available colors: Obsidian black, brushed silver
Given that this stylus uses a AAAA battery (that weighs 6.8 grams), the TruGlide Apex is not a particularly heavy stylus. For example, the Griffin Laser Stylus (with battery) weighs 46.5 grams and the GoSmart Stylus Duo, that doesn't use a battery, comes in at just under 26 grams. So 32 grams with battery is excellent.
Obsidian Black version next to my previous favorite, the TruGlide Pro.
Theory of Operation
I'll start with the LYNKtec TruGlide Apex white paper obtained by TMO.
The current market is flooded with styluses that are made with rubber tips and other innovative materials designed to mimic the finger on capacitive touchscreen devices such as the iPad. The problem is these same styli leave the consumer unsatisfied when using writing and drawing applications where both precision and screen visibility are needed. LYNKtec’s TruGlide Apex has bridged this technology gap by providing the user with a true pen-to-pad writing experience. This breakthrough is achieved with a unique active electronic circuit design that will activate (register a touch) on all iPads and most Android touch screen devices. The active circuitry along with a fine point, 2.3 mm hardened conductive nib results in a superb writing, drawing, gaming, and navigation experience for tablet users. The size of the nib itself represents > 90% reduction in tip area compared to current passive styluses on the market.
LYNKtec doesn't go into much detail in this proprietary design, but I can say that the hardened rubber, conductive tip generates a local electric field that is sensed by the capacitive surface, and the effect simulates a touch of the minimum necessary contact diameter of 4 mm on an iPad. It's easy to verify; turn the Apex off and nothing at all will happen on the iPad display.
Again, from LYNKtec, "The trick in the functionality is that the stylus is simulating a 4 mm circle on the touchscreen controller, but the point of contact on the actual product is still much smaller. The direct line of sight between the user and the tablet is much better due to the smaller tip. This enables a more precise experience based on that feedback between the small tip and the user, unlike the larger tips where the user can't see what they're doing because the tip is interfering with their line of sight."
Handling and Usage
Ouf of the box, the battery is insulated from contact by a small plastic disk. A warning sticker points the user to this disk. You unscrew the top, remove the disk, then twist the top back on until the blue LED lights up, indicating proper contact and device activation.
Removable plastic disk (left) keeps the battery fresh until first use.
Included with the stylus is an extra nib and an extra AAAA battery. To replace the nib, gently squeeze and twist off slowly. To put the new one on, gently squeeze and twist on slowly.
When replacing a battery, there is usually an unambiguous icon that shows the battery direction. I didn't find one on this stylus, but, in fact, the positive side goes in first.
While powered, this is not a pressure sensitive stylus. It doesn't need any support software or configuration. Just turn it on and start using it.
I also noticed that because the battery life is fairly limited, it's important to twist the top and turn the device off when done. If you don't do that, you'll go through batteries quickly. (I went through three batteries in my week of testing -- twice having left it on accidentally, and the battery was depleted.) That's a disadvantage of this kind of device.
The silvered barrel will pick up fingerprints, but they're not hard to remove.
There is, at the top, what LYNKtec calls a fin. From a distance, it may look like a pocket clip, but this stylus doesn't have one. According to the company, "The raised "fin" at the top of the stylus was added not only to give it a futuristic styling, but also so that the stylus would not roll off surfaces when it is set down." I found that fin to be essential. I also think a pocket clip, unless it were even better quality than the Bamboo Stylus Solo, might detract from the beauty of this stylus.
Raised "fin" keeps it from rolling. There is no pocket clip. Note fingerprints.
Once the TruGlide Apex is ready to go, it's a joy to handle. It has a nice heft. There are cylindrical grooves where your fingers may hold it to provide a better grip. The small nib does indeed do what it's intended to do: it felt great sliding along the surface of my iPad Air, and it provides a technical sensation of accuracy when typing, scrolling or navigating. The blue LED, while just an indicator, reminds you that there is electric field magic going on.
I asked LYNKtec about the design philosophy.
Our goal with this first release of the Apex was to deliver a realistic pen-like writing experience on the iPad, and similar to a real pen, the lines do not get thicker and thinner based on pressure when writing. However, line thickness is an in-app feature that can easily be changed to whatever the user prefers.
I did indeed find, when drawing, that there is a psychological effect. As mentioned above, while the iPad app determines the width of the line with a non-pressure sensitive stylus, the effect is more pleasing with a smaller diameter nib.
Scribbled notes: Noteshelf iPad app, finest lines.
iOS Correction Effect
I asked LYNKtec about the iOS offset effect. In iOS there is a slight offset, up and to the left, that allows the user to get better visual feedback. "Does this affect the Apex?"
LYNKtec replied, "We have seen that lag time and offset happening in some of our competitors' products. Our engineers have accounted for that in the design of the circuit in the TruGlide Apex which is probably why you haven't noticed anything when using our stylus."
Actually, I did see a bit of an offset using my favorite drawing app for the iPad, Noteshelf, previously reviewed. But it wasn't objectionable.
The Wavy Line Effect
One thing I noticed when testing with Noteshelf was that while horizontal and vertical lines looked just fine, when drawing diagonal lines slowly, a slight wave was introduced. See the screen shot below. (1) is the TruGlide Pro and (2) is the TruGlide Apex.
Noteshelf for iPad. All the current electronic styluses have this problem, according to LYNKtec.
At first, I was alarmed, but LYNKtec provided an explanation.
Actually, this is not a malfunction of the stylus. This happens to be a case where the hardware (stylus) has evolved further than the software (application).
The jagged line that occurs when slowly drawing diagonal lines on touchscreens is common in all active styluses currently on the market. This is because touchscreens are laid out in a grid, and since our fine point is smaller than the grid squares, the software needs to calculate the position of the stylus correctly.
When writing straight lines up, down, and across, the software correctly displays the position of the stylus. When making diagonal lines at normal drawing speeds, the software calculates the position and “smooths” the movement of the stylus along the jagged diagonal of the grid into a smooth line. However, if you draw very slow diagonal lines across the grid, the software traces along the boxy grid lines and delivers a jagged line as the output.
Some note-taking applications have already started integration of smoothing algorithms that are designed to straighten the diagonal lines when drawing slowly. As the hardware and software continue to mature, this will not be an issue at all anymore.
By the way, we have found that this effect is more evident on the iPad Air because in order to make the Air thinner, Apple migrated to a different touch technology (which actually gives a lower quality response) which is forcing many app developers to improve their software.
I should add that while the LYNKtec Apex will work with an iPhone 5s, it isn't really optimized for use on that device because of technical changes that Apple introduced to make the iPhone's display thinner.
Packaging and Documentation
One of the things that adds an additional touch of class to the TruGlide Apex is the included PU/Bicast/synthetic leather case. It's cleverly designed so that when you slide the fin into the cutout, a hole in the case near the tip will reveal the LED and alert you if you accidentally forgot to turn the stylus off. Here is where, possibly, LYNKtec might have considered a pocket clip on the back. But then, minimalism has its merits as well.
I am not critical here of packaging or documentation. The package I received was a pre-CES package, and it was fine, if perhaps rather difficult to put back together. That's not an end-user problem. Neither am I finicky about documentation for a stylus, even one with a battery. Just twist the top and start using it.
Leather carry case included. See text above about design.
Wrapping it up
This has been a long review, but I wanted to make sure all the technical details were covered with this leap forward in technology. LYNKtec, as you can see, was very helpful in providing technical details that can help you better understand this stylus and make a purchase decision.
Call me a geek, but I've adopted this stylus as my go-to stylus when working in the home office. My previous favorite was the TruGlide Pro because of its 5 mm microfiber nib, and I still keep a few of those around, especially when the job is short and sweet, and I don't want to fuss with turning a stylus on and off. However, for extended use, especially when I'm in my recliner, doing my Tech Web reading on my iPad Air, I prefer this stylus thanks to its feel, both in my hand and on the iPad's display.
Finally, there is a very personal, psychological effect. I feel a certain sense of technical satisfaction using this more advanced stylus. Battery power driving an electric field in order to achieve a smaller nib is very cool. It's more like a ballpoint on a drawing pad rather than something artificial and thereby removed from legacy human experience, and that in itself is pleasing. There's a satisfying sense that the technology is moving forward and advancing the stylus state-of-the-art. I like that, but I recognize that I'm a stylus nutcase, so not everyone will feel that way.
Real work in the hands of a good artist.
A final caveat is that if you are just doing casual work with an iPad, browsing, email, shopping, etc., an advanced stylus may not really be necessary. Where the TruGlide Apex will shine is with artists (see above image) or those who take extensive written notes in a business setting where the price of a technical stylus can be justified.
Shipments are now going out to Kickstarter backers. Shipments to the general public are expected in the third week of February, 2014. Here's the pre-order page.
As with all its previous products, LYNKtec has made another great stylus.