Review: Just Mobile AluPen + AluCube
While it's unanimously agreed that Apple made the right choice by shifting the touchscreen paradigm away from styluses and towards finger-based input, it's equally understood that fingers -- particularly big ones -- are less than ideal tools for writing and drawing with precision. As iPads continue to grow in popularity and capabilities, the demand for styluses and similar tools has similarly increased, so we've seen a wide variety of new options appear in recent months from different developers. Today, we're looking at seven new styluses, none of which demands a full-length review, but each has one or two interesting features that distinguish it from versions we've previously covered. Though we do have one or two picks that are higher-rated than others, it needs to be said up front that there's no single "winner" in this particular collection, since this latest crop of styluses have substantially different shapes and thus will feel "right" in various hands and situations. If you're looking for a precise writing tool, several of the options are better than others, but if you want a way to play a virtual guitar in GarageBand, you'll want a totally different stylus that is commensurately poor for writing.
Another stylus we’re looking at today was originally introduced in mid-2010 and has been updated multiple times since then. As a collaboration between Just Mobile and the Danish designers at Tools, AluPen ($20) is distinct from the dozens of other styluses out there because of its unusual shape—it looks like an oversized solid aluminum pencil with a black rubber core, and is packaged with a leather carrying sleeve.
Since the release of the original silver version, which matches the backs of iPads, Just Mobile has released seven additional colors, most recently adding pink and gray “titanium” versions to red, blue, yellow, green, and black versions that came out earlier this year. While the colors aren’t necessarily the same as ones Apple has picked for iPod nanos, they’re equally saturated within each AluPen, such that the titanium and black versions look materially different from the silver original model, and the other versions are eye-catchingly interesting, too.
AluPen became our stylus of choice soon after its initial release for a variety of reasons: Just Mobile’s selected length made AluPen as long as the best-feeling styluses we’ve tested, such as Wacom’s Bamboo Stylus, while the hexagonal shape made it unusually easy to grip. Despite its unusual thickness, it feels very close to great in the hand, and we came to accept the results of writing with it as our benchmark for accuracy.
That having been said, AluPen has certain strengths and weaknesses when it’s judged by the standards of other styluses today. On the plus side, we still really like how it looks, and its size makes it comparatively difficult to lose, a problem with smaller, thinner tubes released before and after it. On the other hand, we were able to write a little more legibly and nimbly when using Ten One Design’s Pogo Sketch Pro, which is a little more expensive—and considerably longer—but is also a little more versatile thanks to its dual tips. Today, we would call AluPen a very good option with a fantastic assortment of colors, which represent its strongest selling point over similarly-priced rivals. Judged alone, it’s worthy of a B+ rating and our strong general recommendation.
What complicates this particular AluPen review is AluCube ($20), the first desktop stylus holder we’ve ever seen for an iPad stylus. Just Mobile has created a package called “AluPen + AluCube” to offer both pieces as a $40 bundle, a set that is currently only available in silver, featuring a black rubber core to hold the AluPen with its tip upright, and matching black rubber pads on the bottom to keep the aluminum from scuffing a table. It’s only because of AluPen’s wide color variety that AluCube’s silver metal and black rubber design seems limiting: the black and silver AluPens pair nicely with AluCube, but if you don’t buy the set, you’ll find that other colored styluses are predictably a little funkier. AluCube looks nice and stays stable as AluPen is inserted and removed from it, but it’s a truly optional and unnecessary addition to the set. Apart from the top holder, it’s most notable for using a recess in its bottom to manage—like a paperweight, nothing more—a Dock Connector-sized cable. Our feeling is that Just Mobile and Tools made AluCube mostly because they could, not because it was really needed for anything, and both the cube and the cube-aided set are worthy of a limited recommendation solely for people who like accessories for their accessories.