Review: Adonit Jot Touch 4
Electronic stylus developers face three challenges when trying to recreate classic writing and drawing tools for Apple's tablet computers: iPad hardware limitations, practical accessory functionality considerations, and third-party software support. Adonit's introduction and release of the original Jot Touch last year overlapped with significant iPad technology and model transitions, and now that the dust has cleared, the company has released an improved sequel: Jot Touch 4 ($90). This second-generation Bluetooth stylus looks nearly identical to its predecessor, but has changed so considerably inside that it requires both Bluetooth 4-compatible iPad tablets and updated third-party software. It's also a little more affordable than before, and works better in several key ways.
Cosmetically, Jot Touch 4 looks so similar to the original Jot Touch that Adonit’s web site notes a single way to differentiate between models: the new version of the roughly 6.1”-long, 0.4”-diameter stylus has a triangular logo next to Adonit’s name, while the old one has a smaller plus logo. Both otherwise have the same colored metal body with a rubber finger grip, interrupted by two shortcut buttons and a dual-color power indicator light. Adonit bundles this model with the same screw-on cap, magnetic USB charging dock, and spare tip as its predecessor, and continues to offer it in rich red or dark gunmetal gray variations. Both of the colors are accented with bright silver metal at the top and bottom. Just as was the case before, Jot Touch 4 feels like a solid, traditional pen, apart from its clear plastic disc-based tip, which pivots on a ball joint as you write on your iPad’s screen.
From a design standpoint, the tip is the key part of Jot Touch 4 that some users might want to change in future iterations. Adonit uses the clear plastic disc on all of its styluses to achieve a level of writing precision that’s impossible with conventional rubber dome tips—a reason that long-time Jot users have chosen to accept and accommodate it. After a brief period of adjustment, you won’t be likely to accidentally pop the disc off during writing, and you’ll reflexively screw the included cap onto the tip to protect it against damage in a bag. However, it’s impossible to ignore the relative simplicity of rubber-tipped rival styluses such as Ten One Design’s Pogo Connect, which trade tip precision for cap-less convenience. You’ll have to decide which stylus tip design better meets your needs.
Though Adonit’s original Jot Touch was released well before Pogo Connect, two of Jot Touch 4’s key features are clear responses to Ten One’s product. As its name suggests, Jot Touch 4 now includes an energy-efficient Bluetooth 4 chip, which Adonit says enables one month of active use per battery charge, versus eight hours in the original version; the company’s FAQs now suggest that “the battery will last more than four months when not in use.” In our testing of Jot Touch 4, which began in January before apps were available, the one month claim proved accurate; after two months without use, the stylus was dead and required a recharge, most likely because the four-month battery estimate presumes that the stylus is never turned on at all. In any case, battery life will not be an issue for most users: a month of normal use between charges is great, and recharging takes a painless 45 minutes with the included USB dock.
Beyond the significant battery life improvement, Bluetooth 4 enables Jot Touch 4 to have a few extra features. First, once the stylus is on, it remains on until the battery runs out, so there’s rarely a need to press a button to activate it. Instead of traditional Bluetooth pairing, which would keep the stylus awake and draining power at all times, the iPad mini, third-generation iPad and fourth-generation iPad communicate with the stylus on a per-app basis, waking it from a power-friendly sleep mode only as needed. Each app requires you to tell it only once that you’ll be using it with the Jot Touch, at which point you’ll reliably see a “connected” icon appear on screen each time the app launches or wakes from iPad sleep, along with a persistent smaller on-screen icon to indicate continued connectivity. Though software, Adonit has solved one of the key ambiguities of the prior model—knowing for sure that it was connected and being used by a given app.
Another critical addition in Jot Touch 4 is “palm rejection,” which leverages Bluetooth 4-provided stylus position data to figure out which writing point on the iPad’s screen is the stylus’s tip, ignoring other touch points generated as your hand rests or moves on the display. As of this point, Jot Touch 4 palm rejection isn’t working perfectly or even consistently from app to app, but when it works properly, it’s a dramatic improvement over the original Jot Touch and 99% of other styluses on the market. Psoft’s app Zen Brush, for instance, enabled us to write and draw on the iPad’s screen while our hand rested comfortably on its surface, accidentally rejecting only one out of every 50 or so strokes—an error that merely required the occasional letter to be re-completed. However, the palm rejection in SmileOnMyMac’s PDFPen worked less satisfyingly, inaccurately creating long pen strokes that then had to be erased before continuing. Working out the software bugs with this feature will be a critical challenge for developers going forward, but otherwise, palm rejection really improves the Jot Touch 4 experience.
There are a couple of other tweaks on the hardware and software sides. First, Adonit’s pressure sensor inside now promises 2,048 levels of sensitivity, up from 256 in the original Jot Touch. While we haven’t found the difference noticeable in regular use, Jot Touch 4 unquestionably enables writing apps to support dramatic and immediate switches between small, thin ink lines with little pressure and dark, thick lines with heavy pressure, as well as other implementations of pressure-sensitive input changes. The feature’s value is highly app-dependent, but it’s excellent when properly implemented, and would only be better if it worked with literally zero pressure; even so, it’s very close to that level of sensitivity now.
Adonit has also implemented a comparatively sophisticated interface to handle accessory settings, including connectivity status, a rough battery indicator, plus app-specific controls for each of the two built-in shortcut buttons and the palm rejection feature—the latter with right- and left-hand rejection toggles. This menu addresses several of the issues we noted in our original Jot Touch review, and we certainly appreciate it. We found it easy to set up the shortcuts for each of Jot Touch 4’s two buttons, and to change them as appropriate for given apps; that said, we still wish that the buttons were a bit more discrete.
The single biggest problem with Jot Touch 4 is a carry-over from its predecessor: third-party software support. As of today—nearly five months after we first began testing the new stylus, and nearly one month after it officially went on sale—only eight apps actually support the stylus’s new features, and 18 more are listed by Adonit as “coming soon.” It’s obvious from both the number and the state of currently available apps that Jot Touch 4 requires developers to implement some fairly significant new software; the stylus’s long-term viability literally depends upon these apps to appear and work reliability.
Overall, Jot Touch 4 has improved enough over its predecessor to merit our B+ rating and strong general recommendation. It’s a bit more affordable, offers considerably better battery life, and adds useful functionality that actually enhances the user experience—both in removing the need for a user to manage power-offs, and in rejecting accidental input when writing or drawing naturally. While further tweaks to the design could improve a next-generation Jot Touch’s tip and buttons, the rest of the stylus experience is all but beyond reproach at this point, leaving only the software as a weak point. We’ll need to wait and see whether apps catch up with what Jot Touch 4 offers on the accessory side, but for now, this is a very good accessory with the beginnings of good software support, and certainly worth considering if the app you like includes Jot Touch 4-specific features.