Review: eKids Disney Creativity Studio - Smart Stylus
Compatible: All iPads
Working in collaboration with iHome and Disney, eKids has released its Disney Creativity Studio - Smart Stylus ($50). The pen is made to work with the Disney Creativity Studio iPad app, which is normally $4, but comes free with the included redemption code. Clearly designed for children, the app and stylus are made for drawing, tracing, and coloring. What makes the accessory "smart" is the wireless connection to the tablet, with which you can change your pen style and more. Also included in the box is a Mickey Mouse-emblazoned carrying case.
Smart Stylus is just a little over six inches long from end to end, and is chunkier than most styluses we’re used to seeing these days; it makes sense for little hands. The body is mostly white plastic, although the gray grip towards the bottom has a soft-touch finish. There are capacitive tips at either end, and a power button above the grip. The tip at the back end serves double duty: it can be used as an eraser when the stylus is flipped over, and is also a button for cycling through pencil, brush, marker, crayon, and stamper effects. As for the power button, pressing at the top or bottom adjusts the line thickness.
A good stylus should be able to communicate with an iPad’s Multi-Touch display with little to no pressure; you should be able to drag the tip across the screen and have a line show up. eKids got this a little less than half right. The eraser end of Smart Stylus requires just the lightest pressure to get it going. In our testing, it took more pressure to have the pen side be recognized, or at least a second or two longer with the same amount of force. Viewed as just a stylus, it’s somewhat disappointing.
Rather than using Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to connect to your iPad, Smart Stylus’ developers decided to use an audio connection. Once turned on, the pen emits a quiet, high-pitched noise that is picked up by the tablet’s microphone, which interprets it as commands in the app. Frankly, we thought at first there was an issue with our review unit, as the tinny noise sounds something like a broken speaker. Although described as “virtually in-audible,” we were able to hear it clearly, and it very quickly become grating. There is a benefit though: no set up. The stylus automatically communicates with the app, without the need to pair or sync it.
That sound wasn’t the only thing that led us to believe our review unit was broken, and ultimately request another for confirmation. Two of the stylus’ key features are the ability to flip it over to switch to eraser mode, and shake it for “magic mode,” where the pen output becomes rainbow colored. Instead of using an accelerometer to recognize these movements and changes in orientation, eKids chose ball-bearing orientation switches. They work, there’s no issue with either. The problem is there’s a constant rattling inside the pen, and it’s not a sound we associate with a quality electronic accessory.
The Disney Creativity Studio app, which works on any iPad, including the iPad mini, features three different modes. There’s a simple blank page, Learn To Draw in which you follow audio and visual prompts to draw different Disney characters, and Activities. These include coloring, tracing, and draw by numbers. The Disney license is a big part of the appeal with this one. Notably, it can be used with any stylus or even your finger, although you won’t get the multiple pen modes.
$50 is not cheap for a stylus, although it is significantly less than the price you’ll pay for a Bluetooth-connected option such as Ten One’s Pogo Connect or Adonit’s Jot Touch. Those units feel more premium though, and sound it, too. While we appreciate that eKids was trying to keep the price down, it made too many compromises to justify the still-high cost. The stylus itself isn’t as good as $20 options from Adonit, and we’re still stuck on the noises it makes. It has a handful of neat features that kids will get a kick out of, especially because it’s Disney related. Ultimately, it falls short earning a recommendation, and is worthy of a C+. It works well enough as long as you know what you’re getting into before the purchase, but there are enough issues that many people will be disappointed.