Two years ago, I wrote this post about my search for the best handwriting tools for the iPad. I reviewed both software (notebook apps in which to write), and styli (pens with which to write).
Twenty-four months later, have I changed my mind?
Yes and no.
First, the Apps.
Most of the apps I reviewed have been updated and improved since I wrote that post. I still think Noteshelf is the best of them. It is still much the same as it was but has made significant improvements. The most notable improvement is that there is now an option to create notebooks that automatically sync with Evernote (as Penultimate did two years ago). Unlike Penultimate, though, you can turn this feature on or off on a per-notebook basis. I have one notebook that automatically syncs to Evernote. I use that one for quick notes, detailing phone conversations, etc. It works great. All other notebooks I prefer to sync manually when I am ready to sync, rather than continuously in the background.
The other feature I previously wrote about preferring in Penultimate, was the way it handles cut and paste using a lasso-drag-tap feature. It’s incredibly cool and useful. Noteshelf now has that feature too.
I still think Noteshelf is the most responsive and accurate notebook app, with the best set of features. Not the cheapest (Penultimate and some others are free) but the best – even more clearly so than it was two years ago.
Second, the Styli
I still love the Adonit Jot Flip – and it’s still the stylus I turn to when I want to scribble notes on my iPad. It’s just fantastic. It does have two significant shortcomings though.
- It really is not an appropriate choice for kids – because that little clear plastic disk is just too easy to break/lose. So is the screw-on cap.
- It’s no good if you are using a stylus to record a screencast in an app like Explain Everything, Educreations or Collaaj, because the app records the ‘tap-tap’ sounds of the hard plastic disk striking the glass and it’s quite distracting.
I’ve tried a number of new styli since writing that original post. Most significantly, I bought the Evernote edition Adonit Jot Script stylus (for more than AU$119), which features a fine nib – the idea of which really excited me. More recently I’ve tried the Edugrip App Pencil.
I hate it. If you are thinking of buying one of these, my advice is to borrow one and try it out first. Maybe it’s just my handwriting style or something, but I find it laggy, unresponsive and inaccurate. It requires AA batteries, needs to be switched on each time I want to use it, and needs to be synced via Bluetooth LE to the iPad. I find the experience annoying, and my handwriting is not even nearly as neat as it is in any other stylus I’ve used! That’s just too much compromise to make for a fine point. Plus there is no pocket clip, no ball-point pen in the back, and compared to the Adonit Jot Flip, it feels cheap and plasticy, and it’s more than twice as expensive! Like the Adonit Jot Flip, it makes an audible “tap” when it touches the glass, so it’s no more appropriate for use in screencasting. I never use it for anything. I only keep it so I can show people who are thinking of buying one why they shouldn’t.
This stylus is a new offering, with an unashamedly educational focus. The App Pencil is actually quite great for its intended market. It’s basic, robust and inexpensive ($15).
It features a triangular transverse section (like those big grey-lead pencils kids use when they are learning to write) and the material is a sort of dense rubber – so it’s super-comfortable to hold. It is all in one piece; there is no cap to lose, no plastic disk to break off. “Unbreakable” and “Child” are two words that can’t be used together. Nothing can withstand a determined kid, but i think this is about as resilient as a stylus could be expected to be!
What I really like about the App Pencil though, is that writing with it feels surprisingly good. Most styli I’ve tried that have a rubber tip like this, are hard to write with because the rubber drags over the glass and feels blunt and numb. I liken it to writing with an eraser. But the App Pencil feels better than most; it slides relatively smoothly over the glass.
Like all styli with blunt, rounded tips, it’s hard to form small characters (because you can’t see the point on the screen where the line is being formed) but for typical note-taking, diagram labelling, etc., it’s a pretty good experience.
The App Pencil has a rubber loop at the back end, that could be use to tie it with a string to the iPad (assuming the iPad has a case that provides something to tie it to).
I wish App Pencil were triangular along it’s entire length, so that it wouldn’t roll, but the ends are circular in transverse section, which means that it easily rolls across the desk. (not that it will break, though, it just bounces when it hits the floor).
Edugrip claims that the App Pencil works with all Apple and Android tablets except the iPad Air. That said, I have an iPad Air and it seems to work just fine for me.
It will be the stylus I use when screencasting with Explain Everything. I’d also recommend it to any teacher planning to booklist a stylus for students to use at school.