After years of testing basic rubber-tipped styluses and newer, Bluetooth-assisted alternatives, we were excited to discover something new at this year’s CES — affordable battery-powered “digital” styluses with atypically fine tips and pen-like bodies, capable of writing with greater precision than the basic models, yet without the higher prices and wireless pairing requirements of Bluetooth models. The only hitch was that three companies debuted virtually identical products at the same time: Lynktec released the $60 TruGlide Apex, quickly followed by The Joy Factory’s $50 Pinpoint Precision Stylus, and now Just Mobile has shipped AluPen Digital ($50). All three use the same technology, which channels just enough electricity through a pen-like tip to enable an iOS device to sense input. If the battery runs out, you have to replace it, or the tip won’t work.
AluPen Digital differs from its rivals in a few small ways. The most obvious is aesthetic: the design is classic Just Mobile—minimalist and clean—with a silver aluminum top half and a black plastic bottom; the other styluses use slippery, glossy-finished metal bodies. You twist the plastic to extend or retract a black tip; when powered on, you’ll see a pinpoint-sized green light on the base to indicate that the stylus is ready for writing. Even if the tip is extended, the power automatically turns off after three minutes of inactivity, a welcome battery-saving gesture.
Other changes are the large, marker-like shirt clip, which we really liked, and the stylus’s heft: AluPen Digital has a thicker body than the others, but doesn’t feel as dense. Unlike its rivals, Just Mobile chose to use a common AAA battery to power the stylus rather than the comparatively obscure AAAA standard, so replacing the cell will be much easier for users. No promises are made about the length of a single cell’s life, but rival styluses typically run for a month or two using a smaller battery than this one.
Another difference is AluPen Digital’s tip. Only 1.8mm in thickness, it’s thin enough to rival some ballpoint pens, and noticeably (though not importantly) thinner than the 2.4mm tips on Lynktec’s and Joy Factory’s styluses. You’ll be more likely to note Just Mobile’s different material choice — hard rather than soft plastic — which audibly taps against the iPad’s glass screen each time it makes contact. We didn’t have a problem with it, and it’s certainly easier to deal with than the hard plastic precision writing disc tips Adonit used to favor, but some ears might prefer quieter writing.
Your writing experience with AluPen Digital will depend somewhat on your frame of reference and acclimation to styluses in general. By comparison with the dozens of traditional, rubber-tipped analog styluses we’ve tested, it’s unquestionably capable of delivering a far more precise writing experience, enabling you to not only see what you’re writing as you write it—a problem with thick-domed styluses—but also to move more nimbly. There’s also no need for specially-designed apps in order to take advantage of the improved writing precision. Apart from the tap-on-glass sound you might notice, it’s every bit as good as its rivals as a writing utensil.
But on the other hand, AluPen Digital’s lack of Bluetooth hardware means that advanced features such as pressure-sensitivity, palm rejection, and eraser or button-assisted secondary functions aren’t available here. Even if you use an app such as Penultimate, which has software palm rejection tricks built in, you’ll probably do a lot better writing if you keep your hands off the screen. In fact, AluPen Digital delivers much the same experience as Adonit’s Jot Script, only at a markedly lower price.
While AluPen Digital’s price point and performance could easily be written off as “middle of the pack” for styluses, it’s important to understand how the stylus market has re-segmented over the past year. There are now sub-$25 options with no electronic hardware and so-so precision, $80 to $120 options with Bluetooth connectivity, improved performance, and hardware enhancements, and a new cluster of $50 to $75 styluses in the middle with improved precision but fewer hardware frills. AluPen Digital is the best of those “in the middle” styluses, priced appropriately given the quality of its experience and aesthetics, and falling short of ideal primarily due to the lack of palm rejection functionality. If you can live with that issue, you’ll otherwise love the way AluPen Digital works. It merits our A- rating and high recommendation.
Company and Price
Company: Just Mobile
Model: AluPen Digital
Compatibility: All iPads, iPods, and iPhone 3G + Up