Review: Ozaki iStroke M + L Styluses for iPad (Formerly iFinger Pad S + L)
As we mentioned in an earlier review of iCarry car mounts, which were oddly released in four different sizes with semi-confusing names, Ozaki could really benefit from pruning its accessory lineup to focus on better, fewer, and less confusing options. This continues to be a problem today. After the company sent us samples in April of its new "iFinger Pad S + L" styluses, it then proceeded to redesign and twice rename them before settling on what's here -- the just-rebadged iStroke M ($18) and iStroke L ($25), which were only weeks ago known and physically marked as iFinger M and iFinger L. We are not recommending these or any of Ozaki's other products until the company fixes the wasteful packaging issues we mentioned in an editorial last month, but we did want to discuss the relative merits of these styluses (and others) for iPad users.
Back in January 2007 when Apple introduced the iPhone, the company explicitly pooh-poohed the idea of stylus-based input for its multi-touch devices. Since then, Apple has also hinted that it’s not a fan of styluses for the iPad, despite the fact that pen-like accessories can dramatically increase the accuracy of handwriting and drawing input on notepad-sized device. But several companies have come up with iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad styluses anyway, satisfying users whose fingertips—due to fingernails or other factors—were not sufficient to interact with Apple’s screens.
Ozaki is the latest to join the club, and has taken a two-pronged approach with the iStroke / iFinger styluses. Offered in white or black, the mini-stylus iStroke M measures only 1.6” long—the same length as the modestly different and now apparently unavailable iFinger Pad S. Three elevated rubber circles enable the user to grip the stubby aluminum tube, which has a rubber dome tip at one end and a headphone port attachment cord at the other. It’s tiny, designed to dangle from the device when not in use, and feels like a half crayon in the hand when it’s grabbed—the smallest stylus we’ve seen for any of Apple’s devices. It made more sense when it was called “S” than “M,” as there’s nothing medium about it.
By comparison, the aluminum-bodied iStroke L is 4.7” long—shorter than the original 5” long iFinger Pad L, and an inch or so shy of the typical traditional pen. This choice appears to have been made to keep its length closer to the height of an iPhone. Used with the iPad, you write with its bottom—a rubber dome just like iStroke M’s—but rather than a headphone port attachment cord, there’s a metal pencap with a metal clip for attachment to a shirt. This replaces the transparent plastic cap found on the original iFinger Pad L, and the ink inside iStroke L’s pen is black rather than blue. It’s offered in white or black versions, as well, with silver accents on both sides.
While we wouldn’t recommend either of these styluses for the time being—besides the packaging issue, we’re really concerned about products that keep changing names and designs all the time—it’s worth noting that the latest versions we’ve tested aren’t bad options; iStroke L is actually a fine choice if judged strictly on the merits of the tube, pen, and rubber dome surface it includes. Both iStrokes make fairly dramatic improvements in the precision of input on an iPad relative to an unaided finger, and the differences are particularly stark between the finger and iStroke L, results that would be roughly the same with any similarly long stylus. Handwriting that is loose and bubbly with a finger becomes tighter and more legible—not great—with the pen, while using the mini-stylus iStroke M produces better-than-finger results that aren’t up to full stylus quality. In our testing, iStroke M also caused hand cramping that use of a pen-sized stylus largely avoided, eliminating most of the convenience value that its size and easily attached headphone plug cord offer. You can see the results of testing with a finger, iStroke L, and iStroke M below.
For reference, here are pictures of what the original versions of iFinger Pad looked like before the redesigns and renames. Note that the iFinger Pad L included a blue pen rather than the black one found in iStroke L, and that iFinger Pad S had chiseled metal grips rather than rubber ones.
Styluses are ultimately going to be of real value to iPad users seeking to write notes on the device without use of the keyboard, and though these options aren’t worthy of our recommendation, our hope is that developers will keep plugging away on solutions to get something that brings touchscreen precision closer to that of a traditional pen. While it seems unlikely that current iPad hardware or iOS 3.2 software is up to the task of fully replacing classic notepads, they’re a lot closer than the iPhone and iPod touch, and we look forward to seeing improvements in the near future.