One of the challenges we face when reviewing any new accessory in a crowded category is recognizing when a collection of little features elevate something that’s good on the surface to something great overall. Wacom’s Intuos Creative Stylus 2 ($80) is arguably one of those accessories – roughly the 50th stylus we’ve seen for iOS devices, but one that hits almost all the right marks. Conceptually, it’s not all that different from the original Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus, but the hardware-side execution has improved substantially in a year’s time.
Last year, the original Creative Stylus was a good Bluetooth 4 stylus with two glaring issues: it relied upon unusual AAAA disposable batteries, and sold for $100 — a price point higher than otherwise similar competitors. Wacom has addressed both of these issues in Creative Stylus 2: the new model sells for a more competitive $80 price point and now uses a rechargeable battery with 26 continuous hours of writing/drawing time between charges, versus having to replace the AAAA cell after 150 hours. A micro-USB charging cable is now included in the package, and stowed easily inside a modestly redesigned carrying case alongside the stylus and one replacement writing tip.
That tip is another of Creative Stylus 2’s noteworthy changes. The original model used bulbous 6mm rubber nubs that weren’t as finely sized as on some rival styluses, but Wacom switched to a hard plastic tip with a 2.9mm diameter. On a positive note, precision writing with Stylus 2 is far easier and more satisfying than it was with Stylus 1 – this feels more like a pen than a soft brush. Neutrally, you’ll hear more sound when writing, the taps of stylus plastic against iPad glass, but that’s hard to avoid. The only real negative is that input from Stylus 2 isn’t recognized at all unless the power is on. Like many of the recent fine-tipped styluses we’ve reviewed this year, the tip relies upon a modest electric pulse to register as a touching device on the iPad screen. This is the current tradeoff required to achieve precision writing on iPads, and hopefully something Apple will address in future models.
Other tweaks are less fundamental to the experience, but still generally welcome. Stylus 2 is now 5.6” long, up a little from 5.25” in the original Stylus, but also lighter, at 0.7 ounces rather than 0.9 ounces. The added length makes writing more comfortable with Stylus 2, but it now feels almost hollow in the back, and a little more slight when you’re handling it. The twin programmable buttons are now flush with the body rather than sticking out, reducing the likelihood of accidental presses. Wacom has also moved the power light to the intersection point of the rubberized grip and the metal body, making it blue rather than white.
Apart from those changes, Intuos Creative Stylus 2 offers very much the same Bluetooth 4-assisted writing experience we saw with the original model, albeit with some software support issues. After a super-fast pairing process, Wacom’s Bamboo Paper app worked flawlessly with Stylus 2, demonstrating everything from the 2,048-level (but practically far less obvious) pressure sensitivity to palm rejection and separately programmed button features we appreciated in the original model.
Painting and sketching benefit from clearly darker and/or thicker strokes when you press down, with lighter or thinner markings when you apply little pressure. The palm rejection continues to be superb — nearly flawless if you disable the optional iPad multitasking gestures — and when there’s software support, Stylus 2 does a really great job as a writing and drawing tool.
Third-party software support is the only sticking point. While the original Creative Stylus has a list of 19 supported apps with eight more “coming soon,” Creative Stylus 2 has five in the first category and nine in the latter. As of press time, two of the apps that were supposed to support Stylus 2 — ArtRage and PDFpen — did not appear to recognize the new tool with any sort of Bluetooth pairing or special features. So long as the power is turned on, they and every other application are capable of detecting Stylus 2 just like a regular stylus. But you don’t get any better functionality than, say, a $50 Just Mobile AluPen Digital, unless an app specifically supports both Bluetooth pairing and Stylus 2’s palm rejection, pressure sensitivity, and buttons.
Considered in totality, Wacom’s Intuos Creative Stylus 2 is a great Bluetooth stylus with underwhelming software support. If it was possible to separate those two things, we would have no reservations about giving Stylus 2 a high recommendation, as the hardware and price are both markedly improved from last year, and we’d love to use this stylus with iPad apps. However, software is critical to the Bluetooth stylus experience, and as of now, there’s just not enough of it supporting this new tool. For now, our B+ rating and strong general recommendation recognize Intuos Creative Stylus 2’s tangible improvements over its predecessor; as more software becomes available, it may well ascend to the true greatness we know it’s capable of achieving.
Company and Price
Model: Intuos Creative Stylus 2
Compatible: iPad Air, iPad mini, iPad (3rd/4th-gen)