Review: Adonit Jot Touch pressure-sensitive stylus

Adonit joins the first wave of companies adding pressure-sensitivity to the iPad. (August 26th, 2012)

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Product Manufacturer: Adonit

Price: $99.99

The Good

  • Maximum precision for an iPad stylus
  • Pressure sensitivity, shortcut buttons improve drawing
  • Well-designed charger
  • Works without power as well

The Bad

  • Limited, potentially inconsistent app support
  • Sensitivity can be on/off
  • Sound-dampened tip still makes too much noise
  • Disc picks up debris over time
  • Requires deliberate motions

In the last year or so styluses seem to have gone from an afterthought for iPad owners to highly desirable, if still not quite essential. Some of it probably has to do with the growing number of illustration and notetaking apps, but I'll bet that the third-gen iPad's Retina display is a factor as well -- suddenly, art and writing looks good enough that precision matters. Whatever the cause, precision is the raison d'tre for the Adonit Jot series of styluses. The Jot Touch goes yet a step further than the rest, using Bluetooth to transmit pressure data and shortcut commands to apps. We'll test, though, if the product is genuinely handy or just a gimmick.

Before we can get into the unique Touch features, we have to take a step back and evaluate it as a regular stylus, which is how you'll being using it most of the time -- an app has to support the Touch to fully exploit it. It's worth noting, by the way, that the stylus doesn't have to be connected to Bluetooth or even powered for basic drawing.

Like the other Jots, the Touch forgoes a foam or rubber tip in favor of a pen-like tip with a transparent disc for safety. This means that you can be much more precise, in theory, since there's a smaller contact point and you can see exactly where you're aiming. In practice the iPad's screen only allows for so much accuracy, but it's still better than what you might experience with something like the Wacom Bamboo, which is actually a fine stylus in its own right. If you need maximum precision, a Jot is probably the only game in town.



The Touch still has all the quirks of its siblings, though. The disc has a tendency to collect debris over time; it also has to rest flat, which means you have to be somewhat deliberate with your motions as you push the stylus down or lift it up again. In that regard it's not the best stylus for quick scribbles. The worst thing, however, has to be the noise it makes. Adonit says that the Touch uses a new sound-dampening tip, but it still makes an annoying sound with each tap that might drive some people crazy. Personally I can tolerate it, at least for short stretches.

Getting the Touch's special functions up and running takes a bit of effort. You first have to connect the stylus to a supplied charger, which plugs into a computer's USB port and latches the Touch in place with a magnet. The charger is ingenious, actually -- it takes relatively little time to work, and so long as you have a free USB port, it ensures that the stylus is always charged and at hand. The magnet is even strong enough to lock the stylus in at a 90-degree angle, something I discovered after plugging the charger into a Dell monitor.



After you've got enough battery life though, you still can't draw quite yet. You have to enable Bluetooth on your iPad if it isn't on already, and then go through a brief pairing process. The Touch won't stay paired forever either, so there's a good chance you'll have to re-pair every time you want to get down to business. Needless to say, it's better to avoid pairing unless you absolutely need those extra Bluetooth features.

The biggest hurdle is simply finding an app that supports the stylus. Adonit does have a page listing compatible apps -- with instructions -- but as you can see, there's just a relative handful scattered across several different categories. Unless the Touch later catches on like wildfire, it's only legitimately useful for people who use (or expect to use) a small number of titles on a regular basis, or perhaps one or two apps heavily. Which is certainly possible of course, but mainly if you're an artist.

For this review I concentrated testing on two of the apps people will probably gravitate to: Procreate and SketchBook Express. Procreate is arguably one of the best illustration titles for the iPad, and is also a flagship for the Touch, since it supports the full range of options -- aside from pressure sensitivity it exploits the two shortcut buttons, which in this case control Undo and Redo. Those work fine, but I have mixed feelings about the pressure control. It often feels like a brush is sitting either in "heavy" or "light" mode, instead of in between, which is what you might be expecting. At the same time it's hard to complain too much, since without the Touch there's only ever one pressure level. Ultimately the stylus is an improvement.



SketchBook Express' implementation of the technology is decidedly poor, though. Only eight out of 15 brushes are sensitive, and the shortcut buttons aren't assigned to anything. This is Autodesk's fault rather than Adonit's -- but it goes to show, on the other hand, that you can't expect the same extent of support across the Touch-ready catalog.



Where does that leave us, then? Honestly it's difficult to recommend the Touch to most people, even though there's nothing critically wrong with its design. The hardware could be improved in several ways -- smoother travel between pressure levels, for instance -- but the overriding issue is that the Touch isn't widely supported yet. If your favorite apps are compatible, by all means give it a shot. Otherwise I would look at far cheaper styluses, including some of the others made by Adonit itself.

by Roger Fingas


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