Stylus Shoot-Out: Which writing stylus will reign supreme?

Challenge 2: Resistance

When it comes to nibs, size does make a difference. The picture above shows the HyperShield’s 8mm nib, left, and the Duo’s 6mm nib.

Unlike drawing or sketching apps, most writing-centric apps eschew zoom controls; what you see is what you get. So if you’d rather your digital notebooks not look like a first grader scribbling with their first 2B, you need a stylus that gives you enough resistance against the iPad’s screen to prevent slipping and sliding your letters all over the page when you’re trying to write quickly. (It’s best not to go too far in the other direction, either: Too much resistance, and you’ll find you can’t take notes with any rhythm at all.)

And then there’s the nib. In order to conduct properly with the iPad’s screen, nib sizes have to more or less resemble your fingertip; unfortunately, this originally resulted in a lot of 8mm rubber nib behemoths that kept writing big and clunky. The ideal writing implement allows you to easily see what you’re scribbling, so that you don’t accidentally write the next letter over the one you just finished.

To test the resistance or drag of the nibs as I wrote, I did a quick note-taking speed test: How much of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” could I scribble out with each stylus in five seconds? It turns out, not too much—styluses still aren’t as fast as a good writer with a ballpoint pen—but there was a definite discrepancy between tools.

The HyperShield, with its larger nib, was the slowest, getting out just four words before the allotted time.

The Bamboo won the speed test, writing the full first phrase before time ran out.

When writing in cursive, as shown above, the Jot Flip is almost as good as the Bamboo; when printing, however, the pen barely finished three words before the buzzer.

Both the HyperShield and the Bamboo Stylus Duo have roughly the same type of rubber nib with an equal level of resistance: To put it into words, it feels rather like dragging your pinky across the screen.

The Duo, however, has a much smaller nib—6mm to the HyperShield’s 8mm—and this gives it a slight edge on its competition: It has a more pen-like glide that, while not particularly close to the feeling of writing on actual paper, works a good deal better than the 8mm option.

Sadly, while the Jot Flip’s non-existent resistance from its plastic precision disk makes it amazing for speedy handwriting—it makes a girl seriously consider brushing up on her calligraphy—it belly-flops when you attempt to print. The Jot also has no spring to its tip, which makes for a very clanky experience moving from letter to letter. My print writing for the Flip was by far the sloppiest and slipperiest, and I couldn’t write smaller than half an inch without letters becoming indistinguishable.

Winner: Bamboo Stylus Duo, for clean, quick penmanship

Challenge 3: The writing

Yes, this is primarily a stylus test, but I’m not going to go ahead and test three multifunction tools without telling you how their opposite ends perform.

Both the Duo and Flip have high-quality ballpoint pen cartridges, but the Flip gets extra points for pen integration and style.

The HyperShield is the weakest of the three here: Its ballpoint nib is better than any dollar-store pen, but not by much. The Bamboo Stylus Duo and the Jot Flip are the clear victors, though the Jot Flip trumps the Duo by a hair. Not only is it the neatest implementation of a multifunction stylus I’ve ever seen, but it’s the kind of ballpoint pen you’d put on a high-falutin’ executive’s desk even without a stylus end. And it’s one of the few 2-in-1 pens that allows you to hide the stylus or pen end completely, so no one at your office need ever know you’re using one tool for multiple uses.

Winner: Jot Flip, picking up a few style points along the way

Crowning a victor

In my opinion, the writing stylus to beat right now is the $40 Bamboo Stylus Duo. The weight is exemplary, it excels at printing and handwriting, and the ballpoint pen on the other end is actually useful, rather than for novelty alone. Some people have knocked Wacom for its wear-through 6mm nibs, but hey, they’re replaceable. Besides, it’s not surprising to me if you use a rubber nib on a daily basis, it’s going to eventually wear through.

The $40 Jot Flip doesn’t quite meet the overall mettle of the Duo, but it’s a respectable runner-up: Weight and design make me tip my hat to this stylus, but its disc is just too slippery to be good for printing or lettering. If your iPad note-taking is primarily handwriting or calligraphy, however, I might recommend the Flip over the Duo—that same lack of resistance makes for an excellent cursive tool.

Sadly, the $10 HyperShield 3-in-1 has been bumped down to third in my writing rankings; its larger nib and body construction is better than most, but outclassed by both the Flip and Duo. That said, it’s by far the cheapest writing stylus that still provides some level of quality; so if you’re on a budget, you can’t go wrong.

Next time: We tackle the wide, wonderful world of capacitative sketching styluses. Have a suggestion for a stylus we should test? Leave a note in the comments.

Subscribe to the Tablet Tips & Trends Newsletter