Jot Touch – The Magic Sketchpad

10/22/2012 9:51:38 AM

Here’s that magic sketchpad you always wanted

Last month we tested ten iOS styluses and noted that an upcoming new generation of pens would offer pressure sensitivity, giving you the kind of control over strokes on the touchscreen that you’d expect from a graphics tablet. Here’s the first we’ve seen in action and it’s a big step towards making the iPad a natural drawing surface.

Description: Jot Touch

Adonit’s Jot Touch is almost identical in form to the Jot Pro, which we looked at last time (MacUser, 3 August 2012, p38, Available in red or grey, it has a sleek and solid metal barrel with a rubberized grip at the nib end. The tip consists of a small transparent disc, about the diameter of a pencil, mounted on a ball joint. We criticized the lack of a spare tip with the Jot Pro; the Touch comes with one in the box.

Getting it out of the box is another matter. The Jot Touch’s packaging looks neat on the shelf, an oversized coffin-shaped case made of that kind of brittle plastic that echoes through the whole office if you drop it on the floor while wrestling with its closures. A label around the centre holds it shut on both sides, and having cut this open you’re still thwarted by an invisible sticker at the bottom.

Inside is a two-part polymer insert that seems far bigger, heavier and more complicated than it needs to be, and tucked into the back of this is set of eight heavy printed cards introducing the stylus and the third-party apps that currently support it. It took us several minutes to get all of this out removing the cylindrical cap alone is a task worthy of The Cube and there’s no way it’s all going back in.

That cap, as with the Jot Pro, screws firmly over the delicate tip when not in use, or onto the end of the barrel while you work. New at this end is a magnet surrounding an electrical contact, and also in the box is a small and neatly engineered USB stick incorporating a matching magnetic depression. Being an active device, the Jot Touch needs power, and its built-in battery is recharged by placing it on this tiny dock, which can be inserted into any standard horizontal USB port. The magnets hold it firmly upright.

Description: Jot Touch

It’s a neat little system, but doesn’t work with the USB ports on an Apple wired keyboard, since the dock is a fraction too short to clear the edge above. When we half-inserted it, the pen seemed to charge fine, although the low power supplied to these ports might be considered unsuitable. You’d have no problems with a MacBook or most USB hubs; the ports on the back of an iMac are the wrong way round, but would be inconvenient to use anyway.

Charging is indicated by a tiny bi-coloured LED in the rubber grip, which has also gained three buttons, one for power and the other two assignable to shortcuts in software. It all feels very reminiscent of the styluses supplied with graphics tablets. Apple’s touchscreens are, of course, incapable of detecting pressure, so that job is done detecting pressure, so that job is done entirely by the pen, which transmits pressure data to iOS (it’s recommended for use only with the second and third-generation iPads) via Bluetooth.

We found this easy to set up. Turn on Bluetooth in Settings > General > Bluetooth, hold down the Jot Touch’s power button until it’s recognized, enter the standard ‘0000’ passcode, then activate support in your app. This should only need doing once. Compatible apps include ArtRage, Autodesk SketchBook Pro, Clibe and Procreate. Once we’d updated Procreate and turn on Jot Touch in its new Devices menu, it immediately announced the pen was connected.

AS SOON AS you start drawing with pressure sensitivity, it’s clear that it changes everything. The Jot Touch’s springy tip is well calibrated: you can sketch lightly without activating pressure control, but as soon as you allow yourself to press on – which does feel rather odd at first – you find yourself modulating the stroke. Procreate’s Studio Pen, for example, produces a variable-width calligraphic line for pen-and-ink drawing, while pencil strokes get denser with pressure. Brushes can vary from a fine line to a splash. At last, you can achieve real quality of line.

Description: Jot Touch

As we noted with the Jot Pro, the articulated tip gives you the impression of drawing with a precise nib while presenting a necessarily larger contact area to the screen. It makes even more sense with pressure, and vindicates Adonit’s unusual approach.

This is not the be-all and end-all of onscreen drawing. Adonit doesn’t quote a number of level but the pressure sensing isn’t as fine as with a typical graphics tablet. There’s still no friction to guide your muscles, and even in Procreate, probably the most responsive app at the moment, there’s a tiny lag between movements and marks. To say it feels as natural as drawing with real tools on paper would be stretching a point.

If you often stop for a think while drawing, you’ll find it annoying, as we did, to have to reactivate the pen after a few minutes’ inactivity by holding the power button; mounted between the shortcut tabs, it’s almost impossible to get at except using a fingernail. And has to be held for several seconds before the green LED comes on.

We also found those shortcuts – assigned to Undo and Redo by default – awkward to use while holding the pen naturally, a problem familiar from tablet styluses.

Even so, the Jot Touch is a breakthrough for art on the iPad. Although expensive, it’s very well thought-out and beautifully made. Along with its charging dock, it’s easy to carry and, for the moment at least, the definitive iPad stylus for serious users.

Adam Banks

Price: $112.5


Needs iPad 2 or new iPad. Powered USB port or adaptor for charging

Pro Pressure sensitivity. Well made

Con Need for power adds hassle. Requires explicit support from apps

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