Stylus Choices for Touch Screen Testing

Touch-Screen Testing

Touch-Screen Testing

(Updated) In an earlier blog, I discussed testing of touch screen devices. There is the ‘hardware’ aspect, where the test is to see how well the device detects touches and gestures under a variety of conditions. And then there is the ‘software’ aspect, where the test is to ensure that a detected touch or gesture has an appropriate response. For the hardware aspect, verifying stylus capability is important. The software aspect may not need stylus testing unless the app would benefit from stylus usage. This generally includes writing and drawing apps, as well as those apps with active areas which are close together. It may also be useful with apps which don’t need a stylus on a tablet but could benefit from one on a small screened phone.

Which stylus or styluses (styli) are best for testing then? If the test requirements specify which to use, that is pretty much the choice. If no guidance is provided, then it is up to the tester to choose. For software testing, it is pretty much whatever the tester likes for personal use; best would be to have some testing of a cheap, large tipped, rubber stylus (the classic) as well as a good quality ‘fine tip’ stylus. Hardware testing would be best if ‘all’ available tip types were included in the test. This might include some combination of rubber (hollow and solid), vinyl, foam and cloth (tightly woven and fibrous).

In search of my ‘quality’ stylus, I collected a set of commonly reviewed brands which sounded promising. They were:

Adonit Jot Mini (for its claimed preciseness), under $20 on eBay. Tip type is a clear vinyl disk.

Applydea Maglus (for its claimed superior tip), only available in Europe and possibly not on the market yet, so did not get one to try.

Kuel H10 (for its positive reviews and non-standard tip shape), under $15 on eBay and Amazon. Tip type is hollow rubber.

Wacom Bamboo (for its positive reviews), under $30 on eBay and Amazon. Tip type is hollow rubber.

LYNKtec TruGlide (for its unusual looking tip), under $10 to $20 on Amazon, depending on the model. Tip type is microfiber.

Trent Limer Dual Purpose (knew nothing about it, but it came up in every search for the TruGlide, and was cheap and has a pen), under $10 on Amazon. Tip type is microfiber.

Stylus-R-Us New Jersey (for its telescoping feature), under $40 from the manufacturer’s web site. Tip type is fibrous.

Stylus-R-Us Double Duty (for its finer point and built in pen), under $40 from the manufacturer’s web site. Tip type is fibrous.

Stylus-R-Us Cell (did not order it; it came along with the other 2 as a promotion), about $20. Tip type is fibrous.

I did not try any stylus with foam, as these do not appear to be either reliable or durable. If you need one of these, a commonly known line seems to be Pogo by Ten One Designs. I also did not try solid rubber, these being rare and the one I did hear about was not well thought of.

My primary test device is the Kindle Fire, so these reviews are based on that. Here are my opinions on these styli:

Stylus-R-Us are American made (or at least assembled). The customer service is very responsive and personalized. Prices are on the high end, but the quality is top notch. Packaging is very good (including a reusable case) and shipping is extremely quick (first to arrive).

When you open the package, there are sheets of INSTRUCTIONS. I followed them to the best of my ability and got good results. If you do not read them or do not follow them, your results may not be as good. The tips apparently can be damaged by improper use or contamination; some of this damage can be recovered from.

All three tips are the same material, which does indeed look a bit like a ‘ball of fuzz’. It is not all fuzz, though, as the main part is not as compressible as most hollow rubber tips are. As advertised, it takes a very light touch to be recognized, and there is no perceptible drag when sliding the tip across the screen. After using it a lot, there are no streaks or smudges on the screen (assuming you started with a clean screen). Reliability of touch was as good as I’ve seen on the Kindle, which is known to have some difficulty with touch detection.

Overall, I would say this brand would be a top choice for navigation, drawing, and possibly writing (I don’t have a writing app to verify this though). It seems to be a good choice for accuracy, although the instruction that you never use it in a vertical orientation means you can’t see exactly what part of the side of the tip is touching the screen. I suspect it would be a poor choice for timed games, as under pressure, the odds of possibly damaging the tip would seem to be high. The company has a model called the Gamer marketed for that purpose.

The Double Duty has the ‘best’ tip shape of the 3, just under 6mm and slightly conical. The unit is a good weight and diameter and has a decent stylus grip and an adequate pen grip. It is the right length for a pen, and carrying, but a bit short for serious stylus use on the Fire. The pen refills are standard Cross, available from Cross, stationary stores, and online, in black and blue, with fine, medium or broad points. There is also a ‘mechanical pencil’ conversion available from Cross; it looks like it would work in the Double Duty, but I have not tried it (yet). <— No, the pencil conversion does not work in the Double Duty.

The Cell tip is just over 6mm, but more domed in shape, like the majority of styli. The unit is thin and light and shorter then the Double Duty. It is marketed for phone, not tablet use. Despite this, I actually found it slightly easier to use on the Fire than the Double Duty; perhaps the thinness compensated somewhat for the short length.

The New Jersey tip does not really qualify as a 'fine point', as it is 8mm. The body is thin and smooth, but provides a decent grip. The closed length is great for most usage, and can be extended a bit or to nearly double for use on tablets or smaller flat screens. Extended, it took me a few minutes to get used to it, but then it was a major improvement in Fire stylus usage, and despite the bigger tip, seems to be nearly as accurate as the other 2, smaller tip models. The company has models which have the 'Cell' sized tip but are telescoping. Possibly one of these would be the ultimate fine point stylus for tablets.

I did not manage to cause any apparent damage to the tips with extended use even with occasional more aggressive pressure than was recommended, but mixing using my finger and this type of stylus was a mistake (as indicated), as the stylus picked up the finger marks and now leaves a trail during use. Fortunately, only one of the 3 was contaminated. Note: wiping a contaminated tip on a clean screen seems to transfer the oils back to the screen, eventually leaving the tip clean again. Contacting the company, they suggested a 'washing' process which sounds like it would cure a contamination problem which might not be practical to do by transferring the oils back to the screen.

SPIGEN SGP Kuel H10 is a tiny little thing, thin and short, with a cap over the tip. There is a loop attached to the cap which allows you to attach the cap to your device, so the stylus is always with the device. Not my cup of tea, since it flops around, noisy at best and possibly damaging at worst. The Kuel is quite heavy for its size, which helps to compensate for that small size. The tip is 6mm and slightly more spherical than most.

Detection reliability and sensitivity is pretty good, at the top end of the rubber stylus capability. There is a noticeable drag when drawing the tip across the screen, but it is not too objectionable. Looking at the screen after using it for a while reveals 'tracks' where the tip was dragged, which seems to indicate the tip can be 'worn down' by use. It does not appear to be replaceable, but the cost is not so high that just replacing the whole stylus would be intolerable.

Collapsed, it is not optimal for use on tablets due to the short length, but it does work for casual tablet usage, particularly navigation. Telescoping out the back end to add an inch to the length helps a little but not enough to make this a contender to be my primary tablet stylus. The barrel is slightly rough, which provides a pretty good grip despite its thinness.

Next to arrive was the Adonit Jot Mini. I chose the Mini over the Classic due to the smaller size, and more importantly, it has sort of a pocket clip. The packaging was very rugged. So rugged that it took me a half hour and several tools to get the stylus (more accurately, its cap) out. The cap turns out to 'screw off' of its mounting, but the instructions to tell you that are underneath the cap.

Once the unit was ready for use, I found it to be solid and well made, with a decent diameter and a nice weight. A bit short, but screwing the cap on the back end during use helps a bit. The primary attraction of this type of stylus was the claimed precision. And it initially seemed to fulfill that. The tip area is about 2.5mm, in the middle of a 7mm clear vinyl disk. It is very easy to see exactly where you are touching through the clear disk.

Moving the stylus across the screen does not have much drag and it works well for drawing and cursive writing. BUT, there is often a 'click' when you touch the screen. Some of this is because the angle of the disk is fairly stiffly held, and if you touch the screen at a different angle, the 'slap' of the disk adjusting to the screen is noticeable. But even if you don't have that aspect, there is still a slight click, as if metal were meeting glass. Even looking at the tip under magnification, I could not tell if the tip was metal AND exposed to the screen, or was covered by a thin layer of vinyl.

Detection was above average, but not as good as the previous styli discussed. And despite being able to see exactly where you were touching, something close next to that was sometimes selected. As expected, the whole 7mm disk is involved in detection and sometimes the edge is sensed first. It sometimes took more pressure than average to be detected, particularly around the edges of the Fire, where sensitivity tends to be less. Like the rubber styli, this one leaves 'tracks' on the screen when you drag it. No scratches that I could see, at least.

I don't know that this stylus has metal to screen contact, but better safe than sorry. It did not prove to be reliable enough detection to be my main stylus. A person who was going to use this a lot, might want to try it with a screen protector, just in case. Of course, that might reduce its detectability to an unacceptable level. Also, make sure you have a spare tip on hand, so if you lose or break it, you are not out of action until a spare tip can be obtained.

Wacom Bamboo. This one is fairly pricey for a rubber tipped stylus, which tend not to be long lived. Fortunately, they sell a 3 tip replacement pack. It is well made, with a good weight, diameter and grip, and a length which is just a tad short for tablet usage. The tip is nice, just over 6mm and nicely rounded.

I don't know what the people who complain it is 'mushy' are talking about. It seems to be stiffer than many rubber styli. In fact, possibly a bit too stiff, since it does not seem to register as reliably as even the Jot. On the other hand, it does not leave tracks as dense as other rubber tipped styli. Very nice in appearance and feel, but not reliable enough for my primary needs. <— Note, this is made of brass, painted black. Over time, the paint wears off in places, which makes for an unpleasant mottled appearance, but this does not affect the functioning at all.

LYNKTec TruGlide is available in a tethered (very short) and pocket clip (short) version. Since my primary purpose was to check out the tip, I went for the tethered version whose 'street' price was half that of the slightly longer version. It is about the same size as the Kuel, but significantly lighter, and with no cap or extendable back end. The back end does have a lanyard, with a plug which plugs into your earphone jack to keep the stylus with the unit. Not as floppy as the Kuel due to the lighter weight, but still a risk in my opinion. Particularly with no protection for the tip.

That tip looks kind of like steel wool, but it is not; it is a woven microfiber. About 7mm and nicely rounded, it glides across the screen smoothly. Oddly enough for a 'cloth' tip, it leaves tracks. Touch is fairly light and accuracy is decent. However, every so often, for no reason that I can figure, it just stops being recognized for a bit and then starts up again. The tip might be more durable than the Kuel, but in every other category, the Kuel beats this one out.

Trent Limer's greatest feature is its low cost. The tip is microfiber and looks like the Truglide, but is not a 'fine tip'; it measures 9mm. Weight is fair and length is too short for regular tablet use. The grip is not bad. It does glide nicely and does not leave a trail. Detection is at least average.

My conclusion? I have not found the 'perfect' stylus yet. For extensive tablet usage under controlled conditions, the Stylus-R-Us New Jersey is tops, followed by the Cell (until I contaminated its tip; it still worked fine, but left marks until I 'cleaned' it as mentioned above). They have a model which has the small sized tip of the Cell with the telescoping feature of the New Jersey which I'll probably end up getting as it has the best features of both of these.

For carrying with me (in the Fire case) and casual use interspersed with finger use, the Cell was my choice until the tip started to leave marks due to contamination from mixed finger and stylus use; now I generally go with the Bamboo more for how it feels than how it works, and because the tip is replaceable and does not seem to be affected by a dirty screen.

If I had a smart phone, I suspect the Cell and the Kuel would be my top choices for extensive, controlled usage, and everyday casual usage, respectively.

Perfect (for tablets) would seem to be tip size and shape of the Kuel, length and extendability of the New Jersey, diameter and weight of the Bamboo, and a securely storeable cap like the Jot if it will ever be carried 'loose'. As for the tip itself, something with the sensitivity and reliability of the Stylus-R-Us material, the durability and non-marking of the Kent Limer material and/or replaceable like the Bamboo tips. If the replacement tips were cheap enough that you could discard them if they got significantly damaged or contaminated, the current Stylus-R-Us material would be a good choice.