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Lord of the Tablets: Return of the Stylus

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When the iPad launched in 201o, it challenged the Tablet PC market, offering a new tablet experience to millions of consumers.

A tablet experience that was thinner, lighter and without a stylus.

Steve Jobs was adamantly against the stylus, but we still saw a number of styli arrive for the iPad, offering sub par writing and inking experiences.

For the most part, consumers have put up with the stylus-less tablet experience, but during 2011 and again at CES 2012 and Mobile World Congress 2012 we saw a resurgence of tablets with a stylus.

Galaxy Note Stylus

The Galaxy Note has a stylus that makes a mark.

“resurgence of tablets with a stylus”

From the ThinkPad Tablet with a stylus and the Droid Xyboard 10.1 to the Galaxy Note and the just announced Galaxy Note 10.1, the stylus is back.

Google reportedly has 12 million Android tablets in use, less than Apple sold last quarter. With a new iPad 3 just around the corner, Android tablets are returning to the stylus to stand out and attract users who want to write on their tablets.

As a former Tablet PC user, I want a tablet that allows me to ink and perform handwriting tasks in a slate form factor. I was hopeful that the Xyboard 10.1 would offer a better inking experience thanks to a battery powered stylus, but it fell short. I’ve tried using many styli with the iPad and iPad 2, but even with the best inking apps, the experience was also sub par. You can see a review of the stylus on the Droid Xyboard tablet in the video below, where I show what it can and can’t do.

If Android tablets want to use the stylus to stand apart from the iPad, they need to offer both a hardware and software approach to the problem.

Without a great stylus, great palm rejection and software that makes inking on the tablet almost as fast as writing on paper, the stylus is nothing but a novelty.

The Galaxy Note phone comes close, offering a nice collection of software but inconsistent palm rejection. On a 5.3 inch device, palm rejection is a problem, but on a 10.1 inch Galaxy Note, bad palm rejection can break the entire experience.

I do think the stylus offers Android tablets a chance at taking on the iPad, but it will take more than simply a stylus to be king of the tablets.

 

 

Josh Smith is Editor of GottaBeMobile and Notebooks.com. He's always looking for ways to help you get the most of your gear and loves to talk about tech on radio and TV. Josh uses an iOS and Android devices as well as Mac and Windows Computers. Josh Smith on Google+ Email: [email protected]

13 Comments

  1. DNel

    02/27/2012 at 9:08 am

    Steve Jobs may have been adamantly against pen input, but the consumers are just, if not more, adamantly for natural pen input thus the number of styli being sold. With the introduction of active digitizers on Android, tablets consumers now have a choice between Full Windows tablets with the full text recognition and Android tablets. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple eventually goes to pen input as well (and claims that it was its idea/patent in the first place)

  2. ChrisRS

    02/27/2012 at 10:48 am

    I never had one, but I understand that the Apple Newton had pretty good hand writing recognition. I don’t know who invented it, but apple embraced pen trchnology before rejecting it. 

    • DNel

      02/27/2012 at 12:50 pm

       It’s true that Apple’s Newton used pen input with recognition and later rejected it(1990s). Though pen input has been around for nearly 40years (1950′s Styalator electronic tablet with handwriting recognition) before the Newton, it is the fact that Steve Jobs rejected pen input that has hindered the iPad and like devices in natural note taking. Now that Android is going into pen input to join Windows, Apple may have to reconsider its previous rejection of natural pen input. Apple unfortunately may have to license the technology to use pen input.

  3. Halfdeadguy

    02/27/2012 at 11:40 am

    Seriously?  Saying handwriting recognition only works 50% of the time when you misspell words and I as a human can’t read the words isn’t quite a true test.  I have bad handwriting also, but c’mon.

    • DNel

      02/27/2012 at 12:55 pm

       SO true!! Though I’ve only used Windows Tablet PC’s, the handwriting recognition does require that you be able to create some semblance of the letters for it to recognize. I’ve seen Warner’s handwriting (not very good) be recognized nearly 100% on some old inkshows.

  4. cctv camera guy

    02/28/2012 at 8:10 am

    The Galaxy Note looks awesome! I can’t wait to try out the new stylus. Thanks for the review!

  5. Mikhail Ratchkovski

    03/02/2012 at 1:16 am

    Well, it is not like there is another option. Pens are coming to all tablets. Microsoft has been trying to get it right for years… someone will eventually succeed.

  6. Willem Evenhuis

    03/04/2012 at 10:17 am

    This is an issue I’ve been following many years. I have a Lenovo x60 tablet with a great inking and ink to text recognition on windows 7. However the convertible tablet is becoming ever more bulky and the battery is letting me down more often. Lenovo batteries are expensive. It would be nice to see the wacom technology in tablets evolve more. Right now I’m getting the impression that a simple off the shleve stock wacom screen and pen are slapped on the stylus supported tablets. Succesively a cheap and easy solution software is added. That’s where things go wrong. If a company advertise a talbet to be stylus and inking supported, it should be thought of as part of the OS, not a gimmick fun accessory. Inking is here to stay, but I think its strange the inking technology as a tried and true product as slap-on. There is still much improvement needed on the recognition part. While lots of money and R&D is invested in Siri, Pen in put gets left behind, whilst in daily life I’d like to believe it will be used more. So I urge the industry to reinvest in improvement in this technology. Then you’ll have things working out better with amazing results!

  7. Tabletsteach

    04/24/2012 at 11:08 am

    Josh, good comment. Stylus is the way to go in education with tablets. If one looses the skill of writing with a stylus (or painting too), evolution eventually may take from us a few fingers off the hand (just kidding!). I do not make a living on writing for reviewers, I am more interested on the use of tablets in science education, stop by and check our experience on that subject, my blog is http://tabletsinscienceeducation.wordpress.com/. AB.-

  8. Mike Zhu

    06/27/2012 at 5:56 am

    I really don’t see why there the simplest of implementation for the stylus isn’t used to bridge the gap until great palm rejection is possible. When using an active pen, it’s possible to let an app only accept the touches of this pen, while any other touches are ignored. Now note taking and drawing isn’t a problem anymore, and while doing that, no one ever needed multi touch in the first place, so when you are drawing or writing, no one will complain about the multi touch… Maybe a gesture is possible to activate is again

  9. sd

    07/11/2012 at 1:05 pm

    Personally, I don’t think it’s all about being king of the tablets. Experience has shown that with technology there is room for all sorts of variety (as with most anything)but the key is to do what is offered well.
    So I think the question is: Will merely adding a stylus incur frustration, or is the tablet designed to integrate a useful stylus experience?
    Apps, hardware, and actual user application all play a part. Not everyone will want to use a stylus. Probably relatively few will, given the mostly playtime experience many are seeking, and the more academic, utilitarian, professional or artistic applications that might call for a stylus…that works well. I would spring for the right model, even though my usage might be occasional, if it had the stylus incorporated, great recognition, not gimmicky or cheap, no compromises on other aspects of the tablet.
    Wish list: Full USB and at least a micro-SD; 32 GB or higher; Gorilla Glass and no glare; 8-10 hours basic battery usage; wifi (3 and 4G are simply not delivering where I live), decent weight and feel = sturdy, no-flex build; reasonably-priced peripherals; quad-core; slide-out keypad (if not too bulky…), and comes closest to matching the responsiveness of the iPad. Suggestions?

  10. Richard Scroggins

    08/31/2012 at 9:05 am

    I have a Coby Kyros which allows for finger or stylus input. I find that I use a combination of the two and I love it. I will never own a tablet that does not support both. I like the flexability.

  11. Rev Pam Crane

    10/05/2012 at 8:08 am

    Nobody seems to have remembered the Palm PDA, with its wonderful, fast Graffiti software, a very simple system of handwriting recognition. I still keep my life on a Palm Tungsten T3 – I haven’t been convinced by any of the smart-phones or tablets – and do a lot of writing in Wordsmith, which is a great little word processor for Palm OS5. I long to see Android adopt Graffiti; then I would be sold on a tablet at last; after all, they have so much else to offer.

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