To stylus or not to stylus – my impressions of Wacom Bamboo Pen

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Tablets used to be synonymous with styluses (or stylii). These ancient writing utensils made a big comeback in the day of PDAs, Windows Slates, and pre-smart cell phones.

Then the iPad came along. Sans stylus. Designed to be used without one. An aesthetically pleasing, functional machine that works by personal, intimate touch. No stylus needed. Still, as with many things that Apple probably did not envision would happen with the iPad, manufacturers started making styluses for them. And so the question: to stylus or not to stylus.

I’ve always maintained that I don’t need a writing aid for the iPad. I thought it was for sissies and besides, we were sure to lose it soon. Then the husband expressed interest in one, for sketching purposes. So we shopped around and decided on Wacom Bamboo Stylus for iPad (for €34,44 from Pricey, but I  wanted to make sure we had something that was quality.

Now, a few weeks later, my husband is very happy with it. He keeps it carefully in his work bag. I decided to test the stylus, to see how I would feel using it for normal surfing and work activities on the iPad. He allowed me to borrow it, and admonished me to return it to the bag as soon as I was finished.

My conclusions surprised me. Essentially we do three types of things with the iPad. We direct: in the sense that we browse, navigate or trace paths that allow us to read or play; we write: usually by keyboard and we draw: freehand or with a stylus.

For browsing, the stylus replaces a finger nicely and has the added advantage of not leaving greasy marks all over the shiny screen. It swipes, it taps, it scrolls. Websites, books, games – all work nicely. Even though clicking on links is very accurate, I have the feeling that I have to look exactly where to hit the mark, whereas with the finger it feels more intuitive. I don’t think about where to put my finger, I just lay it where I think it should do its job. Writing an email using the stylus was surprisingly quick. It was almost as fast as with my fingers. And of course, sketching is a breeze with the stylus. Wacom has produced a companion iPad app – Bamboo Paper, which lets you jot down notes, sketch mindmaps or simply draw. Other drawing apps like iDraw, UYH or Tactilis work as pleasantly, although the slight delay in rendering takes a bit getting used to. The path drawn by the stylus always takes a few nanoseconds to appear on the screen, although some apps are faster than others.

You should know that the stylus can also be used for the iPhone. It’s the same as with the iPad, just smaller.

So what do I think? I think the stylus is very useful and stylish. If I’d regularly sketch I wouldn’t mind using it. Also, using the iPad outdoors in the wintertime (with gloves on) would be easier with a stylus. But I think in general I would miss having direct contact with the content. That is what in my view makes the tablet experience so enjoyable. It’s directly interacting with media, reading material and surfaces, with my fingers. I almost want to say magic. Almost. That’s not to say that holding and tracing paths with this writing utensil cannot be enjoyable. It’s just not my preference.

And yes, I’ve safely returned by husband’s stylus back into his work bag.


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9 thoughts on “To stylus or not to stylus – my impressions of Wacom Bamboo Pen”

  1. I use the (cheaper) Targus Stylus almost daily on mine. I take all kinds of hand written notes in Noteshelf. Can’t imagine using the iPad for notes without a stylus anymore.

    1. Cool! Yes I don’t think I’d pay that much for a stylus again :-)

      Re: habits, yeah I guess much of it is practice. I could probably get used to it – but I really do enjoy the tactile experience.

  2. My 6-year old daughter prefers using a stylus when playing the game “Gears” as it some times gets intense and her finger loses the accuracy of moving the ball across small areas (probably due to perspiration). The stylus avoids that problem. ;-)

  3. I use a targus stylus for painting (primarily with Brushes iPad edition), and for note taking using Notes Plus. I certainly can use my finger for these, but the stylus gives me a lot more control. And holding a brush-like object makes it feel much more like I’m painting. It’s a much more satisfying experience.

    I wonder how the bamboo stylus compares to the tarsus. I’ve never noticed the lag you describe with the Targus….

  4. I have not tried using a stylus with my iPad but would like to. A question that I am curious about. When using the stylus for handwriting, does resting the edge of the hand/palm on the screen result in nuisance screen interactions? Maybe note taking apps somehow negate this?

  5. I bought a stylus to bring an Amazon purchase up to free shipping level, and for use with an iPad sketch app. I now use it for *everything*! I have “grubby” hands, and my DH sweats battery acid. Our stylus will get serious usage, and will be replaced as needed.

  6. I use the Griffin stylus, which is very very similar to the targus. I got it for the specific purpose of takingnnotes, replacing my paper pad for all my work notes (lots!).

    Using note taking apps with fingers simply doesn’t do the ability to take notes with the iPad any justice. I dont use the stylus for browsing or anything else ( I can’t draw), but as a replacement for a pencil for paper note taking, it’s perfect. I tried a few note taking apps until I found one suited my style best; Notes Plus. The text advancing function so you can just write and write is great, beats the equivalent in other apps.

    I no longer have to lug my paper notes around with me and with dropbox sync and emailing, it’s a perfect paper replacement.

    Dan – most of the apps deal with hand resting quite well, but again I found Notes Plus the easiest to use.

  7. Thanks for the review of the Bamboo. I have been thinking about picking one up but have hesitated because of the price. The problem is, I love pens so I imagine I will get it one of these days.

    Have you used other pens? I currently have a Pengo which is very similar to the Targus and the Boxwave. The Pengo works fine, but it is cheaply made; clip already broke off! I read a bit about the Bamboo and the site mentioned that it had a narrower tip. Curious to see if it works better than my Pengo.

    If you are interested I wrote a post that compared writing to typing on the iPad. I found that typing is faster in general, but writing is a bit more natural I think. And, people around you may be less apt to wonder what you are doing writing vs. typing…

    thanks for the post!


  8. I haven’t used a mouse in years, and I’m even holding a cintiq stylus in my hands at the same time I am typing this with no problems what so ever.

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