Hands-on with nine pairs of touchscreen gloves
A few years back for Halloween, I was Scorpia from He-Man—a costume that not only involved a large amount of red vinyl, but also elbow-length satin gloves, which meant that every time I got a call or text, I would have to peel off one of the gloves in order to get my smartphone to respond. After about the third time, I got pretty frustrated, and you can imagine how little patience I have during the winter months when wearing gloves is an actual necessity.
Fortunately, there are several different types of gloves on the market specifically designed to solve the problem of trying to operate a touchscreen with gloved hands. To see how well these worked, I spent the majority of the week testing nine pairs of gloves on five different smartphones: an iPhone 4S, an LG Nexus, an HTC Windows Phone 8X, a Nokia Lumia 810, and a Nokia Lumia 920. It’s worth mentioning that the Lumia 920 has a Synaptics-powered capacitive touchscreen that can respond to any gloved fingertips, and the Lumia 810’s screen has a coating that makes it easier to operate the phone while wearing gloves. As a control, I also tried to operate the smartphones with two pairs of standard, non-touchscreen gloves— one knit, and one leather.
The good news is that all the touchscreen gloves will get the job done, but each has its strengths and weaknesses, depending on what you’re looking for in a glove. Here’s how it breaks down.
Agloves introduced the upgraded Grip Touch this year; the touchscreen gloves feature gripper dots across the palm and fingers so you can keep a secure hold on your smartphone, coffee cup, or steering wheel. Made from acrylic, spandex, rubber thread, and PVC, the Agloves are also knit with real silver—which not only allows you to use your touchscreen, but is also a tested anti-microbial that could be helpful during flu season. The Grip Touch gloves feel like regular knit gloves when on, and have a snug fit. Like most gloves, they’re hand wash only.
When it comes to function, the Agloves did really well overall in navigating menus, opening apps, pinching to zoom, and enlarging photos and images. Hitting smaller buttons and menu items sometimes took an extra tap or two, and texting was significantly easier in landscape mode but was still manageable in portrait position. Playing games on the handsets was a bit of a challenge; I tested the gloves using OS-specific versions of Duck Hunt. With the Agloves Grip, I’d say I hit about 85 percent of the ducks. The gripper dots were great for holding handsets with a slick finish, such as the Lumia 920, and they also succeeded in keeping my hands warm during a cold week in San Francisco.
The big brother to the Grip Touch, Agloves also has an HD version with “HD” standing for “Heavy Duty.” The HD Grip Touch gloves are thicker and have more coverage around the wrist, and are made from tough fibers to add durability. They still feel like a standard knit glove—albeit a heftier version. They also have an extra section of gripping material in the web between the thumb and forefinger, and are designed to reduce smudges and fingerprints on touchscreens.
Again, I had no trouble swiping around the handsets’ controls, menus, functions, or options. It was easy to open apps, swipe through photos, tap on URLs, and perform any number of regular actions on the handsets although smaller menu buttons were an occasional challenge. Texting was a bit more difficult, likely due to the additional thickness, but was by no means onerous. I was still able to complete several text messages, although again, I had a much easier time in landscape mode. My Duck Hunt scores suffered some, I hit about 75 percent of the birds in my game play, which is not terrible considering the heavy duty nature of these gloves.
NuTouch’s gloves feature a special conductive fiber, silver nylon, woven into all the fingertips so the gloves will work with any touchscreen including smartphones, personal gaming systems, GPS units, ebooks, and ATMs. The rest of the gloves are constructed from cotton, rayon, and spandex. While they are extremely soft and comfortable—again, feeling just like a regular pair of gloves—they’re only available in a charcoal color. Also, because fibers can only be woven so thick before the silver will no longer register, they’re not the thickest option—fine if you’re in California, but perhaps a drawback if you’re in Minnesota. NuTouch does point out that the gloves can be used as liners as well, but that somewhat diminishes the purpose of buying gloves you can use with your touchscreen.
Using handsets with the NuTouch gloves on was pleasant: My hands felt very comfortable, and the gloves had no trouble sweeping around the screen, selecting apps and menu items, pinching to zoom, or navigating maps. Texting went very well, not only was I able to send messages with a minimum of errors, I was even able to pick up speed while typing in landscape mode. Likewise, I was impressed by my Duck Hunt scores, where I hit over 85 percent of the ducks including a few perfect rounds.
Freehands has a full collection of gloves designed to be used with a touchscreen, however, the majority of them feature the ability to peel back the fabric from the thumb and index finger of the gloves so your digits are exposed for using a touchscreen. These “retractable hood” gloves come in a variety of styles from knit and cashmere, to leather and microfur. However, I was more interested in the Power Stretch styles that had fingertips constructed from silver-plated polyamide to conduct electrostatic energy to your touchscreen. The Power Stretch 2 features this material on the thumb and index finger, and a pattern of grip dots on the palm and fingers.
The rest of the glove is made with Polartech stretch material, has an outer layer that is wind resistant, and an inner layer that pulls moisture away from the skin. As they are a more lightweight glove, they can also be used as a liner under heavier gloves. I had slightly less luck operating these: Because the conductive material is located mainly on the front portion of the thumb and forefinger, it was sometimes difficult to resize images, and hitting smaller menu buttons often took multiple taps. While enlarging images, opening apps, and navigating maps wasn’t much of a challenge, texting was more difficult as the seams on the fingertips often hit the wrong letter. Landscape mode and predictive text helped out some. Likewise, playing Duck Hunt was also a bit more difficult; I hit roughly 70 percent of the ducks, which is still a solid majority.
Much like the Power Stretch 2, the Power Stretch 5 gloves have full fingertips made from silver- plated polyamide, while the rest is made from Polartech stretch material. However, where the Power Stretch 2 has this on two fingers; the Power Stretch 5 features this material on every finger. The palm and fingers also have a pattern of lines designed for gripping.
It was easy enough to navigate through menus and apps with the Power Stretch 5 gloves, although I did have a few missteps. Enlarging photos and pinching to zoom was a bit awkward as the fingertips of the gloves are a little square, and I found it a bit difficult to use the secondary fingers. Smaller buttons were also a bit challenging, something that was reflected in the texting portion of the testing. I occasionally had difficulty selecting the right character, and often had to slow down while texting to make sure I was selecting the appropriate one. However, game play went smoother—I’d say I hit roughly 80 percent of the ducks in Duck Hunt and even scored a perfect round once or twice.
Designed in Canada—those people know cold—Glider Gloves are thermally insulated and available in a variety of colors from black, grey, and neutral to red and honeysuckle. The gloves are made from synthetic thermal microfibers and conductive yarns, mostly nylon, acrylic, spandex and copper (to provide the conductive part). They also have antislip grip dots along the palm and fingers, and come in thick (Winter) or thin (Urban) styles.
The grey Urban Glider Gloves I tested performed really well while navigating through the smartphones’ menus, calendars, and apps. I had no trouble getting to websites, enlarging photos, changing settings, or pinching to zoom. Texting was also a painless experience: the Urban Glider Gloves were able to pick out even smaller characters while texting, I was impressed with how well they handled texting in portrait mode. I rarely missed a character or typed an incorrect letter. Likewise, my game play went very smoothly: I hit a perfect score in Duck Hunt multiple times on multiple handsets. I also had very little trouble typing on my laptop’s keyboard while wearing these, which was an added bonus.
Glider Gloves’ other model—Winter—is a thicker version and has a longer, more fitted wrist section with a hemmed cuff. They feel very dense and cushioned while on, but not as bulky as you would think considering they’re double lined for warmth. They also have antislip grip dots and are available in black, grey, and honeysuckle.
I was surprised by how easy it was to navigate my phone’s menus, apps, and settings while wearing these gloves. I had little difficulty getting through apps, menus, settings, or features, although I did occasionally have to tap more than once to open an app. Texting with the Winter Glider Gloves was impressive—I was pleased with how few characters I missed, and often I was able to compose messages without a single character mistake—something I wouldn’t have expected given the bulk of the gloves. Duck Hunt also went impressively well, as I was often able to hit the majority of the ducks and came very close to getting perfect scores on more than one handset. Given the weight of the gloves, they handled tasks with aplomb.
The most colorful set of gloves came to us courtesy of North Face, a company who has made more than a few pairs of gloves in its time. The eTip gloves are the company’s only touchscreen offering and feature silver tips on the thumb and forefinger portion of the gloves, as well as a silicone grip pattern on the palm. The women’s eTip are available in black, grey, and purple, while the men’s are available in black, grey, red, and blue. They’re also treated with a water-resistant finish, and come with a lifetime warranty.
My personal favorite aspect of these gloves, however, was the small clip that attaches them both together—a nice feature as losing a glove is a common occurrence. While I liked how they felt on, they didn’t perform as well as I’d hoped. Much like the Freehands Power Stretch 2, the eTip only features conductive material on the front portion of the thumb and forefinger—something that makes multitouch a bit of a challenge. While it was easy enough to navigate through menus and open apps, I had some trouble touching smaller buttons and enlarging images. Texting was fair; while I didn’t often miss characters, I did often have to slow down to ensure that I was hitting the right buttons. Playing Duck Hunt went better as the majority of the time I scored well in the 80 percent range—although on a few of the handsets, that number sank closer to 70 percent. Although the eTips did well overall, I wouldn’t mind seeing some additional conductive material added to them.
Mujjo’s touchscreen gloves are of the knit variety and come in five colors (black, natural, sandstone, lavender and coral pink), as well as a new leather version that was just announced this week. Like the other knit models I looked at, Mujjo’s gloves work by knitting silver-coated nylon fibers into the fabric that helps the smartphone to pick up the conductive properties of your skin. The other fabrics used to make the glove are acrylic and spandex. Mujjo also uses yarn with antipilling properties so that they remain soft and durable.
Indeed, these gloves feel handmade. Mujjo’s website says they’re “crafted by hand” so that very well may be the case. They stretch nicely to fit your hand and are of a medium thickness. Using these gloves to navigate through menus, apps, and settings was easy. I had no trouble performing any of the standard functions on the handsets I used, nor any problem resizing images or maps. Texting, as always, was a bit more challenging: I missed a character or two, but nothing major (and nothing that switching to landscape mode wouldn’t have made easier). Game play went better, where I hit upwards of 85 percent of the ducks in Duck Hunt. Another high-end knit option, Mujjo definitely has paid attention to the fit as well as functionality of the gloves.