A while back I posted a brief note about the Cregle iPen, a result of my first foray into Kickstarter. At that point I hadn’t had much chance to try out the pen and said I would come back and do a proper review at a later date and this is it.
I was attracted to the idea of a pen for my iPad in order to be able to take notes in meetings and have a permanent electronic record, rather than to bring out any artistic side in me. So this review is very much biased to the the iPen in a business context but nevertheless the pros and cons outlined below will apply to any scenario, I believe.
Having pledged my money on Kickstarter I then had to wait firstly to see if they reached their funding goal and then for the device to reach manufacture and be delivered. In fact the hold up was even more protracted than that as Cregle had to wait what seemed an age for “Made for iPad” approval from Apple. It’s not just developers that have a nervous wait to see if their app is approved it seems – that wait applies to hardware developers too.
When the iPen finally arrived it was well packaged and contained not only the pen but also a slip case for it, spare batteries and nibs and a dongle that you have to plug into the dock port on the iPad. The latter is what makes the iPen different from a normal stylus and should give pin point accuracy that isn’t possible with a finger or stylus along.
The pen itself is well constructed and feels very much like any other ball point pen in use – it is very comfortable to use. Currently it is only available in the obligatory Apple white but there have been suggestions that other colours (black and silver) would be available at a later date.
Compared to an ordinary stylus the accuracy can be very good – certainly good enough for handwriting without it looking like it has been done with a market pen by a two year old. However, that accuracy very much depends on the calibration which leads me on to…
At the time of writing this there were only two notepad type apps that were available with iPen support (it won’t just work with any application) – GoodNotes and Ghost Writer. This in itself is an issue as none of the note taking apps I use are supported so I had to invest in another just to try out the iPen.
Both the supported apps offer a way of calibrating the app with the iPen but in the case of Ghost Writer this is just too simplistic only capturing a single point on the “page” leading to huge variations in where you thought you were and where the iPen thought it was. GoodNotes captures at least five points making it’s accuracy much better but still not as accurate as shown on the Cregle videos on Kickstarter.
However, there are a number of issues with the calibration process. The accuracy is very much related to how you how hold the pen – changing the angle from when you calibrated makes a difference. Also sometimes no matter how much you calibrate it still can be a few pixels out which may not seem much but when you want to accurately write or draw a box for example it makes a huge difference.
The final issue with the calibration is that everytime that you open the app the iPen has to be recalibrated, even if you just nip off to another app to check something or look at an email or webpage, when you return you must recalibrate. This is a huge pain. Not only is it time consuming but it also disrupts the flow of working and quite often the calibration accuracy is different and you don’t get the results you expect.
All the above might be ok if the iPen’s manufacturers, Cregle, seemed intent on working with the community and app developers to improve the situation but from the experience I have of their support and the messages put out by them that sadly seems not to be the case. Any problems identified seem to be rectified in iPen 2 which, on the back of the experiences I have had, I won’t be investing in.
All in all it is a great shame as I was really looking to the iPen to be a way of ditching the pen and paper for a single iPad solution but the iPen is not going to be it.