When Apple’s iPad started the tablet computing craze, one of the Holy Grails of these light and extremely portable devices was using it as a digital drawing board ala the Wacom Cintiq. In the case of the early tablets, the problems in the way were a lack of pressure sensitivity, and that the touch screens were designed to work with fingertips, not a precise stylus. The drawing instrument “solutions” were these terrible styluses with a big, marshmallow-like pillow at the end that was not ideal for fine drawing or linework, and of course no pressure sensitivity at all. (NOTE: before I go on, please spare me any replies with examples of great pieces of art done with these clumsy tools. Great work can be created with dog-chewed sticks, mud and pieces of garbage… but inventive ways of getting around the limitations of a tool is not the same as those tools providing an ideal solution for working naturally and intuitively. Thanks- the management)
Enter the bluetooth tablet stylus, where pressure sensitivity is created through the bluetooth connection as opposed to through the screen itself. There are a few different designs for this type of drawing instrument, including one with a weird plastic disk on the end, but the Pogo Connect from Ten One Design looked to me to be the closest to a natural drawing tool, so I gave it a try. Here’s my review:
The Pogo Connect is necessarily fat due to the need to house a AAA battery in the barrel, but that’s the only excuse I’ll give Ten One Design for an otherwise puzzling and poor functional pen design. The barrel of the pen is some smooth aluminum or similar metal, so there is nothing to grip and is slippery. A simple, rubberized coating at the gripping point would fix this, although it would add slightly to the already fat, crayon-like feel of the pen. The Connect is short and stubby, a trait oddly shared by all styluses for a reason I cannot fathom (has no one who designs these things ever consided measuring an actual drawing/writing tool to see that most are about 5 3/4 to 6 inches long??? The Pogo Connect is almost there but an extra 1/2 inch or so would give it so much more balance.
The tip is the best part. Ten One Design smartly made it magnetic, so it is easy to pop off and replace if needed. Supposedly there are going to be “upgrade tips” available someday but right now it’s one size fits all. It’s still the same, goofy, marshmallow-like blob as other styluses, but this one seems denser so there is a little more substance to it. However it is nothing like the end of a pencil, brush or pen, so the drawing experience still leaves a lot to be desired. On the plus side, this tip seems to have a more rubbery feel to it, giving it a little drag on the ultra-slick surface of the iPad, which is preferable to plastic on glass.
Finally, If I could give a worse grade than an “F-” on the placement of the side button of the pen, I would. It’s placed EXACTLY where your thumb and center finger grip the pen. Unless you hold the pen precisely right, and don’t let it rotate at all in your hand, you will press that button inadvertently all the time. Many drawing programs use this as an “undo” shortcut… you can imagine the frustration.
The Pogo Connect uses Bluetooth 4.0, which is a new, low-powered flavor that should allow the pen to operate for a long time on it’s AAA battery (which is a nice feature, BTW. Great to be able to swap out a fresh battery in a second or two as opposed to having to charge the pen when it’s out of juice). The bad part about using Bluetooth 4.0 is that the iPad 1 and 2 aren’t compatible, so only the 3 and 4, and the new Mini, will work natively. Supposedly you can use a “bridging” program via an iPhone 4s or 5 to make it work with earlier iPad models, but if the reviews of using such are any indication it is not a very viable option. I have the iPad 3, so no problem.
The Pogo Connect does not pair directly with the iPad using the Bluetooth preference feature, but pairs either directly through compatible drawing programs or via a specific pairing app from Ten One Design. Pairing was easy and quick with the three drawing programs I tested the Connect with: Sketchbook Pro, Procreate and Adobe PhotoShop Touch. All recognized the Connect and (supposedly) started using the pressure sensitivity either right away without any fuss or configuration, or with a little set up like selecting it as a pressure sensitive stylus, and in Photoshop’s case selecting opacity or line width as the variable.
A promising feature that the Pogo Connect is supposed to have going for it is palm-rejection technology. This would address another serious deficiency about drawing on the iPad. Because the iPad responds to touch, any contact with the side or palm of your hand will mess up your drawing. In order to use one of these weird marshmallow styluses, you have to make sure ONLY the tip touches the screen. I don’t know about you, but my hand is always in contact with the paper surface when I draw. Causing a drawing program to ignore input from anything out the pen tip would be a major step in making the drawing experience more natural. Supposedly some programs can use this palm-rejection feature to allow you to rest your hand on the screen as you draw. More on this in a minute.
Does it Work?
The short answer is yes, kind of.
Does it actually have pressure sensitivity, in the way that it can create thick and thin lines, or control opacity of a brush? Yes. It definitely can. Does it do so in the manner in which even the earliest of Wacom tablets could, simulating a natural drawing experience? No, the Connect falls short of this, but not really through fault of itsown. It’s mostly the iPad’s problem.
Of the three programs I tried, I think Sketchbook Pro worked the best with simulating a real drawing experience. In fairness, I did not spend a lot of time learning these programs in detail. I approached them with the expectation I should be able to open them, connect the Pogo, start a blank canvas, select a tool and start sketching. None of them passed that test, but of the three Sketchbook Pro came closest. It still took some experimentation and putzing about to get things to start working, But I was able to get a pressure-sensitive drawing going in about 20 minutes or so.
How did it work? Not great but functional. There was pressure sensitive response, but not of an elegant or precise nature. For starters, there is no almost-zero pressure. You have to apply some pressure to get a response. Just moving the tip across the screen gives you no line at all. That makes for the necessity of a heavy-handed way of drawing, which is not a very natural feel. Ten One Design claims the Connect has “hundreds” of level of pressure-sensitivity. I’m not sure why they can’t be more specific but it felt to me like far less than the old 256 levels the original Wacoms had, and with no light touch possible it seemed like all or nothing. Some of this is probably program-specific. PhotoShop seemed the best at the thick and thin variation response with a simple brush tool, but otherwise was very limited as to the types of brushes and drawing media. Procreate has what I thought was a steep learning curve, and I never really got its inking lines to work very well, but the pencil was ok. Sketchbook Pro had the better and more intuitive tools and palettes, and the pressure sensitivity worked as well there as any of the others, although not all the tools seems to respond to the stylus’s pressure features. One thing Procreate (an unfortunate name, probably meant to be clever but any humor seems misplaced) is supposed to have is that palm rejection feature I mentioned earlier. Not to put too blunt a point on it, but this does not work. At all. Not even a little bit.
After much trial and tribulation, I did the following drawing on my iPad, using the Pogo Connect and Sketchbook Pro. In honor of my vacation to Hawai’i, the subject is the late, great Hawaiian singer Israel “Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole:
A big “meh” in my opinion. That took me about 30 minutes, and most of that time I spent fixing lines that zigged when I wanted them to zag. By the end I was getting frustrated and gave up. No doubt being more familiar with the program and having a lot more practice with the Connect would make the results better and quicker to achieve, but this just demonstrates that the Pogo Connect isn’t something you just pick up and start using like a natural media drawing utensil.
As much as I wanted the Pogo Connect to be the tool every artist was looking for to make the iPad into a real drawing device, it just has too many shortcomings. I think it’s a valiant try, and it’s the best solution I’ve seen to date for the iPad, but the limitations of the platform are its ultimate downfall. The bottom line is the iPad, in being built only for touch input by the human fingers, is just not designed with the artist in mind. Apple really missed the boat on that one, creating a device only for touch input and leaving the digital artist out of the equation. The necessity of the marshmallow-tipped pen and clumsy nature of that tips interaction with the screen precludes any really natural and elegant drawing solution. I think this left a big opening for hardware like the Samsung Slate and Galaxy tablets, or the new Microsoft Surface Pro tablets, to fulfill these needs for the serious digital artist. Apple still has time to create an iPad “Pro” or “A.E.” (Artist’s Edition), that includes stylus input for a real drawing experience using a pen that is like a real pen, and not a stick with a pillow on the end. They’d better hurry up, though. I for one am thinking seriously about dumping my iPad and getting a Series 7 Slate.
My final recommendation on the Pogo Connect? If you have an iPad 3 or 4, feel the undeniable urge to draw on it no matter what the limitations and shortcomings of it may be, and have $80 burning a hole in your pocket, then the Pogo Connect is your best bet. Otherwise, stick with paper and pencil.