It was one of the funniest fake-outs in a stunning product introduction: Steve Jobs unveils the iPhone, telling an excited audience that the touchscreen device is “going to use a stylus,” a nod towards the conventional interface for such devices. But after a pause, he reverses course. “No,” he says. “Who wants a stylus. You have to get ’em and put ’em away, and you lose ’em. Yuck. Nobody wants a stylus. So let’s not use a stylus.” In one oratorical swoop, Apple’s CEO dismissed an entire potential accessory category: the sure-to-be-overpriced iStylus, which would have likely added little value to the device but sold quite well anyway.
Not surprisingly, a “yuck” from Steve Jobs wasn’t enough to stop a couple of third-party accessory makers from trying their hands at iPhone styluses, anyway—after all, no matter how great fingers may be on the multi-touch display, long fingernails and gloves can create the need for an alternative form of control. Thus we have Touchpensys Technology’s Stylus ($17) and Stylus Plus ($19), as well as Ten One Design’s Pogo Stylus for iPhone 3G ($15). Ten One has accused Touchpensys of cloning its design, an easy accusation to understand given how extremely similar their products are to one another, though as neither company’s products are works of art, the real reason to prefer Pogo over the others is value rather than anything else.
For its $15 asking price, Pogo gives you a metal tube with a spongy, black conductive foam tip at the end, as well as a plastic mounting solution that clips onto the iPhone 3G and keeps the stylus tube clipped on when not in use. You can choose from four different colors—black, gunmetal, white, or red—and Ten One also sells a $5 set of clips for the iPod touch 2G, iPod touch 1G, and original iPhone.
By comparison, both the $17 and $19 Touchpensys products come in silver, red, black, or blue. Neither comes with a mounting clip; instead, the company sells some fairly crappy looking leather cases with side mounting holes for the styluses, in hopes that you’ll buy one separately. While the $17 version is virtually identical to the Pogo, save for a rubber second end versus Pogo’s hard plastic one, the $19 Plus version has foam tips on both ends, one with a specific pressing angle of 90 degrees. We didn’t find the Plus version to be any more useful than the standard one; it is only a little more precise, but requires even more pressure to register taps.
The styluses all work the same on an iPhone or iPod touch: they’re a little shy of the conductiveness of a finger, but because of the size of the foam tips—about right for the keys of the vertical-orientation keyboard, though we’d prefer a slightly more precise main tip—so long as you apply just a little more than typical pressure, you’ll find that key responses are pretty consistent. Tapping games such as Saturday Night Fever: Dance! become a little easier to control as they switch over to a more Nintendo DS-like stylus interface, though obviously the performance will vary a bit from game to game and app to app. Stress testing revealed that the Touchpensys designs use less sturdy glue to attach the foam than the Pogo, so if longevity is a consideration for you, that’s another reason to go with Ten One’s version.
From our perspective, there’s no reason to pay a premium for the Touchpensys versions of this simple stylus design, especially considering that they don’t include any sort of device clip; even the $15 asking price for the Ten One Design version may strike some users as ridiculous given that three-packs of styluses for competing devices can be had for the same dollars. The value added by the included iPhone 3G or iPod touch clip is just enough to score the Pogo our general recommendation; we would pass on the Touchpensys versions by comparison, and in any case, we’d expect to see sexier, more precise styluses if this accessory category is to become anything more than a footnote.
Company and Price
Model: Stylus, Stylus Plus
Compatible: iPod touch, iPhone, iPhone 3G