Review: Adonit Jot Touch
On July 25, 2012, we opted to publish a preliminary review of the iPad's first pressure-sensitive stylus, Adonit's Jot Touch ($100), omitting a rating and final conclusions solely because the accessory was fully dependent upon third-party software to show off its unique features. Now that Jot Touch is shipping to customers and third-party developers have had ample opportunity to finish their "Jot Ready Apps," we're finalizing the review with additional thoughts and those missing pieces. In summary, Adonit has done an impressive job with both the hardware and software sides of a potentially groundbreaking new accessory, but additional work will be necessary for Jot Touch to live up to that potential.
We re-use the word “potential” because developing a pressure-sensitive iPad stylus is clearly more difficult than the average user might imagine. Virtually every prior iPad stylus has the same limited functionality, merely replacing your finger with a smaller rubber dome atop a pen-like shaft. Adonit boldly one-upped competitors last year with its original Jot stylus, instead using a transparent, pivoting hard plastic disc to offer greater writing precision than almost all of its rubber rivals. Jot Touch looks very similar to earlier Jot designs, but it’s a very different beast, adding a truly pressure-sensitive tip to the clear disc, and using Bluetooth to wirelessly communicate pressure data to your iPad 2 or third-generation iPad as you write. It also sports three buttons, one to toggle power on and off, and two for app-specific shortcut features.
On the surface, Jot Touch looks a lot like the earlier $30 Jot Pro, sporting the same fancy metal chassis, rubber finger grip, and two of the four color options—gunmetal or red. They also share the same simple tube shape, and a 5.5”-long shaft. The only obvious differences are the screw-shaped bottom, which is silver on Jot Touch rather than color-matched, and a slightly larger silver accent between the writing tip and rubber grip. Look closely and you’ll see the aforementioned three buttons as a bar in the middle of the grip, plus a small green/red light below the bar that’s almost invisible most of the time, only appearing briefly when the power is turned on or off. You still get a detachable cap to protect the tip during travel, which can be screwed onto the bottom threads when you’re using the stylus. All of Jot Touch’s parts feel first-rate, but then, Adonit’s delivered similar quality in its $20 styluses, so this is no surprise.
That’s pretty much where the similarities end—unless you’re planning to use Jot Touch with its power turned off, in which case it works and feels virtually identical to earlier Jots for writing—great for $20 or $30, but not worth this model’s extra $70 premium. Thanks to the special clear plastic tip, Jot Touch lets you see precisely where it’s writing, and can be wielded far more accurately than most iOS apps are expecting. It needs to be said that if you’re using an unsupported app such as Darren Murtha Design’s great Drawing Pad, you’ll never find a pencil tip as sharp as Jot Touch can handle, so your results may be indistinguishable from using a finger or inexpensive regular stylus. But should you run a “Jot Ready App” such as Software Garden’s Note Taker HD—an otherwise unspectacular piece of software—you’ll be able to write with digital ink as thin as a 0.3mm pen. Although you’ll have to live with noticeably less accuracy than you’d get from an actual microball writing utensil, the results will look dramatically better than the results of trying to do the same thing with your finger, or with almost any non-Jot stylus. Even when it’s powered off, you can also use Jot Touch with the iOS menu interface to perform swipes and taps, just like a finger or traditional stylus.
Adonit’s approach to offering “Jot Ready Apps” allows developers to include one, two, or three levels of support for the accessory. The most basic is “Precision Disc,” which suggests that the app takes advantage of the clear tip. Next is “Pressure Sensitive,” which means that the app is supposed to recognize how much pressure is being applied to the stylus and produce different results based on the lightness or heaviness of your input. Last is “Shortcut Buttons,” which signals that the app assigns some feature(s) to the unmarked buttons above and below Jot Touch’s power button. Apps graduate from Precision Disc up to Pressure Sensitive and Shortcut Buttons, which is to say that no current app supports the latter features but not the former.
The single most important feature in Jot Touch is its pressure-sensitive writing tip, which is said to be capable of relaying 256 microscopic levels of variations in its position, corresponding to the pressure you place on the stylus. An extra writing tip is packed in just in case you wear through or break the first one, though we had no tip issues whatsoever over roughly a month of active testing. Adonit uses a Bluetooth wireless chip to communicate the pressure variations to the iPad 2 or third-generation iPad after a simple initial pairing process; it’s worth noting that the original iPad is not supported. A rechargeable battery enables Jot Touch to be used for eight or so hours between charges, and Adonit includes a highly unique magnetic USB charging dock to hold the stylus upright when it’s refueling. All of the parts are delivered in a hard to open but otherwise nice hard plastic box that can be used to hold the spare tip, as well as a stack of beautifully designed instruction cards.
The company did so much right with these pieces that it’s hard to be deeply critical of its misses. Adonit’s tip feels almost exactly like using a regular pen, apart from the continued presence of the clear plastic disc, which takes a little getting used to before becoming natural for writing. Although the power indicator light is small and easy to miss, we experienced no wireless issues whatsoever after pairing Jot Touch with our iPads, and also found the battery life to be entirely acceptable; practically, you won’t need to charge it daily unless you are doing some really extended sketching on your iPad. Better yet, charging with the included magnetic dock feels a little like using something from the near future. The ability to just bring Jot Touch near the dock, have them snap together without even looking at them, and then plug everything into a USB port is seriously cool. Spare docks are now being offered for $15 a piece.
But there’s a flip side to each of these plus points, and they collectively undermine Jot Touch’s current value as a premium stylus accessory. The tip does a great job with pressure sensitivity when it’s working, enabling flowing ink-style writing and drawing that are unlike anything seen on the iPad before. Pens can write thick or thin, paintbrushes can draw big or small, and erasers could work gradually rather than all at once. On Savage Interactive’s Procreate (above), you can even use brushes that darken or lighten in-progress strokes based on the current amount of pressure being applied; release the stroke to set the color. Pressure-based input could wind up being really cool in both expected and unexpected ways.
However, even after giving the “Jot Ready Apps” a couple of extra weeks to work out their early kinks, the story wasn’t much different than it was right before Jot Touch was officially released. Some of the apps, such as Note Taker HD, don’t really seem to be taking advantage of the stylus’s wireless features, and others have intermittent performance issues that do not appear to be related to Jot Touch’s seemingly stable Bluetooth connection. One example is Visere’s Clibe (above), which offers only the most subtle on-screen recognition that the accessory was working—a little + icon next to its tools—and on initial loading, the app sometimes didn’t recognize pressure-sensitive input despite Jot Touch’s pairing and presence. When it does work, Clibe’s tools do in fact let you draw with thinner and thicker lines based on pressure, though you don’t have any obvious way to control sensitivity, and your lightest input might not be registered at all. SmileOnMyMac’s $15 app PDFpen (below) now also includes pressure-sensitive writing support, notably hinting at support for an upcoming rival product, Ten One Design’s as-yet-unfinished Blue Tiger/Pogo Connect.
By contrast, the aforementioned Procreate thankfully does specifically show a pop-up acknowledging Jot Touch’s connectivity, and works with the accessory, but not always with the sensitivity or results one might expect. Some tools change opacity when used with Jot Touch, while others change thickness, and it’s not always clear how a given tool will respond. Procreate uses one of the shortcut buttons for an “undo” feature, and seemingly doesn’t use the other button at all, or offer a menu for you to program it. Ambient Design’s ArtRage has just added Jot Touch support, and does allow brushes to operate with pressure sensitivity, but doesn’t have any obvious on-screen indication that the feature’s working.
These issues deserve to be remedied in future Jot Touch hardware and software. Apps should provide a conspicuous indication that the accessory is paired and being recognized; the stylus’s own indicator light could stand to be illuminated while in use, as well. The buttons could use a little separation from each other and the power button, as well as better support from developers. As tough as it may be for Adonit to compel developers to do this, requiring apps to include a specific Jot Touch settings window with shortcut saving features, sensitivity adjustments, and/or other controls would be ideal.
Finally, though we really like the charging dock, the stubby USB connector is really MacBook- and laptop-ready, not for desktop computers. It’s so short that it only just barely makes a physical connector with Apple’s wired keyboards—one of the rare desktop computer accessories that you might charge Jot Touch with. Otherwise, you’ll need to find a wall outlet or try to stuff it into a narrow side-facing USB port on the back of Apple’s desktop machines. A USB extension cable would have been a smart pack-in.
As of today, Jot Touch certainly has plenty of potential: Adonit has done a great job of enabling developers to add pressure sensitivity and shortcut buttons to their apps, while creating a stylus that feels great and is easy to recharge. However, third-party software for Jot Touch remains less than ideally implemented, similar to a “public beta” period, and developers need to do a better job of signaling the accessory’s connection, giving users a sense of what features are supported, and then enabling them to customize output to their needs. If you’re itching for a way to start writing or drawing with a pressure-sensitive stylus, you can jump in now and be part of the early testing; you’ll have enough of a positive experience that we can comfortably award Jot Touch our general-level recommendation. That said, there are still kinks left to be worked out, so if you’re looking for software that’s as polished as Adonit’s latest accessory, you may want to wait to buy in until the apps you care about have added more than just token support for Jot Touch’s impressive new features.