Review: Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus
Digital styluses -- typically metal tubes with electronic hardware inside, as distinguished from metal tubes without electronics -- have become more common over the past year, due in part to low-energy Bluetooth 4 chips entering the market. Unlike past Bluetooth accessories, which generally ran for hours or days before requiring recharges, Bluetooth 4 accessories can often run for weeks or months on a single charge, assuming they're engineered correctly. Ten One Design was first to market with the $80 Bluetooth 4 Pogo Connect, which was followed nearly six months later by Adonit's second-generation stylus Jot Touch 4 at $90. Now computer stylus maker Wacom has joined the fray with the Intuos Creative Stylus ($100), which is the priciest entry yet in this genre.
In features and design, the Intuos Creative Stylus sits between the minimalist Pogo Connect—a metal tube with a rubber tip, plastic button, and AAA battery—and the more complex Jot Touch 4, which includes a precision plastic and metal tip, two buttons, and rechargeable battery with charging dock. Wacom built a handsome stylus with the basic feature set of Jot Touch 4 but the rubber tip style and disposable battery dependence of Pogo Connect. Measuring roughly 5.25” long with a tube-like shape that gently tapers inwards from a 0.55” grip to a 0.35” base, Intuos surrounds a rocking two-position oval button with matte plastic coating, leaving the rest of the solid-feeling metal stylus with a semi-gloss finish. Intuos looks and feels professional, with enough length and heft to feel like a marker or pen.
The top unscrews to let you change rubber nubs—three are in the package—and the bottom unscrews to let you swap batteries. A single AAAA cell is designed to power Intuos for over 150 hours, versus the “months” of Pogo Connect’s AAA cell, and one month for Jot Touch 4’s rechargeable battery. In addition to a truly beautiful, clamshell-style hard carrying case that holds up to five spare nubs and a battery, Wacom packages one AAAA cell with Intuos, which is a good thing because these smaller, thinner batteries are far less common than the bigger, better-known AAAs. They sell for around $2.25 each, which won’t kill anyone’s wallet, but Wacom’s competitors surely picked easier alternatives to service in a pinch.
Just like Jot Touch 4, the Intuos Creative Stylus offers several hardware features that will appeal to creative users: a pressure-sensitive tip with 2,048 levels of sensitivity, two buttons that can be separately assigned with features by apps, and Bluetooth 4-enabled support for palm rejection. The first feature lets apps make relatively granular measurements of the force being applied to the stylus, the second commonly adds eraser and/or undo features, and the third lets the iPad know that only the stylus—and not your hand, resting on the screen—should be recognized for input.
There were few surprises when we tested these features with compatible apps, including ProCreate, ArtRage, and Wacom’s own free app Bamboo Paper. Intuos enabled us to write so lightly in Bamboo Paper that we felt like we were barely grazing the surface of a page with the tip of a pencil; only Wacom’s thick rubber nub took away from the sensation of fine tip writing offered imperfectly by Jot Touch 4. The rocker-style buttons are less than ideal to the extent that they sit directly in the middle of a grip where your fingers should rest, but you have the choice to hold the stylus in a manner that keeps them from being touched or brings the elevated bottom button’s edge under your thumb. Palm rejection worked flawlessly in our testing, such that we were able to write sentences and draw without accidentally marking pages with digital ink or paint; the software implementation was at least equal to, if not better than Jot Touch 4’s.
Intuos’s approach to Bluetooth pairing is also worth mentioning. Like most other Bluetooth 4 devices, you needn’t couple the stylus to a single iPad or go through formal pairing with multiple iPads; instead, apps individually look for the stylus, which responds and automatically pairs on an app-specific basis if it’s turned on. So long as Intuos’s blue light is flashing, it’s on, and it’ll briefly go solid blue to let you know—in addition to whatever the app may say on screen—that it’s paired. The stylus manages its own power, turning off automatically when an app hasn’t requested it for several minutes, so the AAAA battery won’t need to be replaced constantly. When it’s powered off, the rubber tip still works for basic stylus input, just like your fingertip would if it had a 0.2” diameter. For that reason, it’s not as precise of a writing tool as the hard disc tip on a powered-off Jot Touch 4, but it’s comparable to Pogo Connect and almost all non-digital styluses.
Regrettably, like all digital styluses, Wacom depends a lot upon other app developers to implement both basic support and great functionality for Intuos’s features. While quite a few apps have added Intuos support already, developers are as inconsistent in implementing features here as they’ve been with prior styluses. You’ll be lucky if a given app not only includes pressure sensitivity, palm rejection, and twin button support, but goes further to provide an easy settings menu where you can pair and change button assignments, plus a conspicuous on-screen indication that pairing has taken place. This isn’t Wacom’s fault, strictly speaking, but developers still need to do more to reassure users that the stylus is connected and working. It’s a common issue across Bluetooth styluses, and one that Adonit has been working actively to solve since the original Jot Touch debuted in 2012.
Considered as a whole, Wacom’s Intuos Creative Stylus is a good stylus—somewhere between the Pogo Connect and Jot Touch in appeal. For $20 more than the Pogo Connect, you get a more professional-feeling stylus with two buttons and a carrying case, with similar dependence on disposable batteries rather than a rechargeable cell. It’s also $10 more expensive than the Jot Touch 4, which beyond its rechargeability offers a highly comparable feature set and finer-precision writing tip, but no fancy carrying case. It’s hard to go wrong with any of these models if the apps you use support it, but for the time being, Jot Touch 4 has small edges in hardware and software over its rivals. Intuos Creative Stylus is a nearly equivalent choice, with only its need for AAAA batteries as a glaring oddity, and its higher price tag as a small deterrent to wider adoption.