Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top Stylus Options for You and Your Classroom

When it comes to writing on a tablet, many prefer to use a stylus over a finger.  This isn’t a big surprise as most of us have years of training on how to utilize a pen, but only a couple finger paintings to our credit.  We can do more precise work with a stylus, and ultimately we want this to translate to our tablet experience.  While there are some tablets that utilize a stylus as part of their core philosophy, multi-touch tablets like the iPad are very popular and do not come with a stylus out of the box.  Finding the right stylus for your needs can be complicated, but here is some information to demystify your decision. 

Here are a couple important terms to know before I share a few stylus options:

Palm Rejection:
Applications and some Active Stylus options allow the prevention of the palm of the hand acting as an additional “touch” to the device.  When palm rejection is active the user is able to more mimic the pen and paper experience.

Some stylus tips are smooth and made to glide along the service of the tablet with minimal resistance.  Other stylus types attempt to mimic the level of resistance offered by tractional writing tools.  For example a rougher, more sticky stylus will offer feedback to the user similar to a pencil or crayon.  Giving younger students a stylus with resistance can sometimes be a help in learning handwriting. 

Passive or Capacitive Stylus:
This is a type of stylus that works to act just like a finger.  With this type of product the device will treat the stylus just as if it were a finger which means any device features, such as multi-touch, will operate the same using a stylus as they would using a finger. 

Active Stylus:
This type of stylus will have greater functionality, but will vary based on device and application type.  Some of these active stylus options will provide pressure sensitive input, buttons and features that attempt to mimic real life mediums.  As an example, some active stylus products when combined with supported apps, can turn off the multi-touch properties of a tablet.  This allows for palm-rejection which helps people have a more natural writing style when using a pen.  Many people experience improved writing accuracy in this mode.

Active Stylus Options:

Multi-touch doesn’t lend itself very well to the use of a stylus.  When you place the stylus and the palm of your hand on a tablet screen at the same time, it reads that multiple inputs are connecting at once.  This usually triggers one of the multi-touch tools or options. 

These stylus options work to fix some of the problems created by writing on current tablet solutions.  Most of these choices offer palm rejection via bluetooth operability.  While this doesn’t work for all apps on the IOS, some of the best productivity apps have built in this functionality.

Paper by Fifty Three is a neat little app that allows for some creative work to take place.  The minimalistic feature set actually is a benefit because it provides an easy learning curve and keeps you focused on creating content.  As an added feature the team that created the app also has created a pencil.  This pencil has everything you would expect from a traditional pencil, an eraser tip, streamlined body and a tapered tip.  What it adds is bluetooth functionality that helps this pencil communicate with the tablet for pressure sensitivity and palm rejection.

Wacom’s business is tablets for art work and creativity.  It only stands to reason that they would make a stylus that is designed to help people be productive on their tablet.  The Intous is labeled as a professional grade stylus that offers pressure sensitive operation and palm rejection.  It works with many great apps including Autodesk, Procreate and Goodnotes.

This is a fine point stylus that offers up some features to make your writing experience as smooth as possible.  It has pressure sensitivity for control over your line thicknesses, shortcut buttons for app operation, and palm rejection.  It works with several artistic  apps including Adobe Sketch, Adobe Line, and Procreate.  It also was made to take excellent notes with Goodnotes, Noteshelf and PenUlitimate.

The Cregle iPen is a complete stylus solution that turns your iPad into a “Precision Weapon of Mass Creativity”.  It features palm recognition and boasts a faster drawing speed than traditional stylus products.  The result is more control over your note or artistic space.  When designing this product effort was placed on creating a more realistic writing experience. 

Passive or Capacitive Stylus Options:

This stylus features a comfortable and familiar grip.  It’s triangular shape is made to help starting to establish a proper grip.  Combine this stylus with the right app, and you have a great tool for building a foundation of writing skills.  It has been my experience that many younger students when given the choice prefer the feel of this type of stylus over some of the other more pen/pencil options.  It is important to note that palm rejection will need to be an application specific solution for this type of stylus.  Since not all applications offer this as part of the application, you will always have mixed results with this stylus. 

While you will need to be careful that this option doesn’t actually end up in the sharpener, it offers a look and fee of a traditional writing utensil.  It will allow students to learn the correct grip, while offering a slightly smaller tip for greater accuracy.  The biggest concern is that traditional teaching is to rest the palm on the paper.  Once you do this, you will send you app into a tailspin.  Some apps have tried to combat this by offering a feature that creates a place on the page where the palm can connect with the screen, but it will not treat it as a multi-touch.  Look for this feature in your application, and if it offers it, this pencil might be a great solution to your stylus need.

This stylus is not like a traditional writing utensil.  It is sort of like a giant crayon or marker, but with a more pointed tip.  The idea behind this product is to create a device that writes fluidly on a multi-touch display without the need for the active stylus complexity.  It attempts to allow the user stronger control through its shape so that palm can hover more effectively without the jittery writing that can sometimes occur with traditional stylus types.

I hope that you find the right stylus for your classroom.  If you have questions about this article please contact me via twitter @principalcross.

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