I recently reviewed three of the best active iPad styluses on the market (1, 2, 3), styluses that use tiny tips (around 2 mm or so) but which require power (battery or rechargeable) and are somewhat expensive ($50 to $75). But what if you just want a traditional stylus, one that is less expensive and that you can use without worrying about turning it on and making sure that there is a charged battery? There are probably hundreds of styluses on the market with 6 mm tips (some of which you can buy for less than $1 each), but for best results, I recommend that you instead go for a higher quality stylus with a 5 mm or smaller tip. It makes using a stylus with an iPad a much better experience. The one that I have used and recommended for years is the Wacom Bamboo Stylus duo, which you can get on Amazon for about $25. But several iPhone J.D. readers recommended that I also check out the Hand Stylus. The manufacturer sent me a free sample to review, and I've been trying it out for the last two weeks. I'm so glad that so many of you recommended that I check out this product. It is a fantastic stylus.
The Hand Stylus was started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2012. The goal was to create a stylus with the smallest possible tip that the iPad can recognize (around 4 mm), plus make the tip retractable by pressing a button on the back, plus make the stylus itself out of a high-quality anodized aluminum with lots of colors in a hexagonal barrel that reminds you of the feel of a Number 2 pencil. The creator sought to raise $25,000 on Kickstarter; instead he raised over $300,000 from over 7,500 backers. Clearly, there were folks excited about the idea.
The Kickstarter campaign is now long over, and you can buy a Hand Stylus directly from the manufacturer for $24.95, or you can get one on Amazon for $21.99 (with fewer colors available). They come in blue, pink, orange, green, red, black, silver or purple. The manufacturer sent me a black one.
The Hand Stylus has a great tip. There is a big difference between using an active stylus with a tiny 2 mm tip and a traditional stylus with a larger tip. The small tip on an active stylus gives you the great sensation of precision, much as if you are using a real pen. All other things being equal, I would prefer to use an active stylus with a much smaller tip.
But if you are going to use a traditional stylus with a larger tip, the one on the Hand Stylus is very good. At 4 mm, the tip on the Hand Stylus is about as small as you can get on a non-power stylus. By comparision, the original Wacom Bamoo Stylus duo had a 6 mm tip, and the second generation has a 5 mm tip. However, in actual usage, I don't notice much difference between the Hand Stylus and the Wacom Bamboo Stylus in terms of the size of the tip. I did notice that the tip on the Hand Stylus is a little bit softer than the tip on the Wacom Bamboo Stylus, so I have to apply just slightly more pressure when using the Hand Stylus. If I go back and forth between the two, I slightly prefer the tip on the Wacom, but both work very well in normal usage. Both of these products are about as good as you can get with a tradtional stylus.
In the following picture, the first generation Wacom Bamboo Stylus duo is at the top; the Hand Stylus is at the bottom:
The marquee feature of the Hand Stylus is that the tip is retractable. This certainly sets it apart from any other stylus that I have ever used. In theory, it sounds like a great feature. Stylus tips are soft rubber and could certainly be cut or otherwise broken if something sharp makes contact. By simply clicking the button to retract the tip, the tip is protected.
In practice, I question how necessary this feature really is. In my many, many years of using lots of different iPad styluses, I have never once encountered a problem because the tip was exposed. Having said that, I can certainly imagine a scenario in which an exposed tip would get damaged but a retracted tip would not. One minor disadvantage of the Hand Stylus is that if you forget that you have not yet exposed the stylus and you go to write on your iPad, you might touch your iPad screen with the metal at the end of the stylus. I did that only once, and then quickly pulled the stylus off of the screen and clicked the button to expose the nib tip.
One unexpected benefit of the retractable tip that I discovered is that sometimes when I was feeling fidgety, it was somewhat calming to be able to press the button on the back of the stylus on and off and on and off again, much like I now realize that I've sometimes done with other pens.
I prefer the feel of the barrel on the Hand Stylus over the Wacom Bamboo Stylus duo. The hexagonal barrel on the Hand Stylus feels really nice, and reminds you of a Number 2 pencil. The knurled collar near the tip of the pen ensures that the stylus doesn't slip in your hand. The Hand Stylus weighs just slightly more than the Wacom Bamboo Stylus duo (my measurements showed the Hand Stylus at 26 grams and the Bamboo at 25 grams). Put it all together and the Hand Stylus feels like an expertly engineered premium product. My father is an architect, and as a child I used to like to go to his office and play with all of the neat drawing tools on his drafting table — high quality pencils and pens, drafting templates that could be used to create perfect circles and squares, etc. The Hand Stylus reminds me of the high-quality mechanical pencils I would always find on my father's drafting table.
The Hand Stylus has a clip at the end, which makes it easy to put it in a shirt pocket or a pocket in your purse or briefcase. But if for some reason you don't want the clip, you can remove it. (The Bamboo Stylus duo also includes a removable clip.)
A real pen: the Hand Combo
One feature of the Wacom Bamboo Stylus duo that I like is that it also contains a real pen under the cap. That's what makes it a "duo". So any time that I am in a meeting with just my iPad and my stylus, if I need to write something on a piece of paper, I also have a pen with me. It is far from the best pen in the world — it's just a simple ballpoint pen — but it works fine when you need it.
The Hand Stylus lacks a pen. Instead, the manufacturer sells a different product called the Hand Combo. The Hand Combo has a 6 mm stylus tip on the back of the pen and has a twist-to-use ballpoint pen tip on the front. The company sent me a free review sample of the Hand Combo so that I could try it out in comparison to the Hand Stylus. In my tests, I didn't like the Hand Combo at all.
First, when I use a stylus, I want to primarily use it as a stylus. But with the stylus end on the back of the pen, the stylus function of the Hand Combo feels like almost an afterthought, and the stylus is much less comfortable to hold upside down — unlike the Wacom Bamboo Stylus duo, which feels great in either direction because the pen top with a clip fits on either end of the stylus. Second, the larger 6 mm tip is not as nice as the 4 mm tip on the Hand Stylus. I can't think of any reason that I would recommend the Hand Combo over the Wacom Bamboo Stylus duo for anyone who wants a pen included in their stylus.
The rubber nibs that form the tip over a stylus will eventually wear out from use, so all of the high-quality styluses on the market give you the ability to buy replacement nibs instead of buying a whole new stylus. You can buy a set of six replacement tips for the Hand Stylus for $9.95. They come in a round metal container, which is a nice change from all other manufacturers that seem to just send the nibs in a tiny plastic bag that you are more likely to lose in your desk drawer. The company sent me one so that I could see how it worked, and replacing tips was very easy to do.
In theory, because the tip of the Hand Stylus rotates every time you click the back, the tip on the Hand Stylus should wear more evenly on all of its sides even if you hold the stylus the same way every time. You would have to use a Hand Stylus and another stylus in the same way for a long time to determine whether the nib on the Hand Stylus does actually last longer as a result of these rotations. I obviously haven't done that after just two weeks of use, but this does seem like another potentially nice feature of the Hand Stylus.
The Hand Stylus is a wonderful stylus. It does a great job writing on the iPad screen, it looks and feels really nice in your hand (better than any other stylus that I have ever used), and it is reasonably priced for such a high quality product. It doesn't have the tiny tip that you find on an active stylus, but it costs much less and you don't have to worry about giving it power. If you are in the market for a traditional stylus, this is an excellent one to get.