Once upon a time, all iPad styluses had rubbery tips about the size of your fingertip. Then then smart folks at Adonit figured out that you could make a stylus with a tiny, 1.9 mm tip, but have the tip emit a signal that is sensed by the iPad as if it is a larger tip touching the screen. The Adonit Jot Script, which came out in late 2013 and which I reviewed in early 2014, was groundbreaking. Other companies followed Adonit's lead, and nowadays, there are quite a few companies selling active (powered) styluses with tiny tips.
One of the most recent entries in the active stylus market is the Bamboo Stylus fineline by Wacom. Wacom is no Johnny-come-lately in this market; the Wacom Bamboo Stylus duo is now on the third generation and has been widely considered one of the very best non-active styluses on the market. And Wacom has been making pen-like inputs for computers since the 1980s. I was interested to see Wacom's take on an active stylus for the iPad, and after Wacom sent me a free review unit a few weeks ago, I've been trying out the Bamboo Stylus fineline quite a bit. Although this stylus suffers from some of the same drawbacks as the Adonit Jot Script, such as the fact that the hard stylus tip makes some noise every time you tap the screen, this is an excellent stylus that seems to me better than the Adonit Jot Script in every single way.
The tip of the Bamboo Stylus fineline is 1.9 mm, the same as the tip on the Adonit Jot Script.
The fine tip is what makes active styluses is so nice. The tip is so tiny that you can see precisely where you are going to write on the screen, and you feel like you are actually writing with a pen. With traditional styluses, you often feel like you are using the thick tip of a crayon.
Like all active styluses, the Bamboo Stylus fineline is thicker than a non-active stylus. I suppose the electronics inside requires some extra space. The Adonit Jot Script has a diameter of 12 mm; the Bamboo Stylus fineline is tapered with a thickness that ranges from 10 mm to 11.9 mm. I only slightly notice the difference in diameter when I immediately go back and forth between the two styluses. In normal use, they both seem to be about the same thickness. The Wacom Bamboo Stylus fineline and the Adonit Jot Script are the same length, except that the Wacom stylus is longer when you put the cap on it.
Speaking of the cap, one aspect of the Adonit Jot Script that I do not like is that it lacks a clip. Not only does this mean that you cannot easily put it in a shirt pocket, it also means that the stylus is perfectly round and easily rolls off of a table. The Bamboo Stylus fineline has a removable cap that offers some protection for the tip — albeit protection that may be unnecessary, as I have never seen any damage to the Adonit Jot Script tip. But more importantly, you can place that cap on the back of the stylus when you are using it, and becuase the cap has a clip on it, the Bamboo Stylus fineline doesn't roll around.
An active stylus doesn't need to include Bluetooth technology to work. For example, the Cregle Ink, which I reviewed this past May, doesn't have Bluetooth. (I have just started to test the next generation Cregle active stylus called the Cregle Ink R; it also doesn't have Bluetooth, and I'll be ready to review that stylus in a few weeks.) But if a stylus does have Bluetooth technology, it can have some extra features when you use an app that knows how to talk to the stylus.
For example, with both the Adonit Jot Script and the Bamboo Stylus fineline, if you use an app that is designed to work with the stylus, you can tell the app not to display virtual ink on the screen unless it came from the stylus. Thus, you can use your finger to tap any menu, but if your finger or palm accidentally touches the main part of the screen, the app will just ignore that input; only strokes that you make with the stylus are registered. It's a neat feature that works well with both styluses.
The Bamboo Stylus fineline takes this a step farther by also including a button near the front of the stylus, located in a spot that is easy and natural to tap with your index finger. Apps can do whatever they want with the button. For example, in Wacom's own Bamboo Paper app, you can configure the app to Undo every time you tap the button, an incredibly quick and easy way to correct while you are writing. Other apps like the current version of Noteshelf (which I reviewed back in 2012) can also use the button for Undo. In the Bamboo Paper app, you can also make the app switch to the eraser mode as long as you are holding down the button, making it incredibly quick and easy to fix mistakes and then switch right back to the pen mode. That's a neat trick that I wish that Noteshelf also supported.
The Bamboo Stylus fineline also uses Bluetooth technology to make the stylus pressure sensitive, when you are using an app that is designed to work with the stylus. In the Bamboo Paper app, you can hold down the stylus and make the ink thicker, or apply less pressure to get a thinner line. I don't use a stylus to draw artistic pictures; I use it to take notes. Thus, for the way that I use a stylus, I don't see any real advantage to a pressure sensitive stylus, but I suppose that it is nice to have. Here is an example of a line that I drew in which I pressed down harder in the middle of the line:
Right now, there are not many apps that work with the Wacom Bamboo Stylus fineline (you can see a list here), but Wacom is a well-known brand, so I expect that we will see more support in the future. For example, Wacom says that the GoodReader app is adding support, which will be nice since that is the app that I often use to highlight and annotate cases that I download from Westlaw.
Active styluses require power to work. Some active styluses, like the Adonit Jot Script and the Cregle Ink, use a battery. It is a pain to have to carry around an extra battery, but if you run out of power it is simple to just swap out a new one. Other active styluses, like this Bamboo Stylus fineline and Lynktec's Rechargeable Apex Fine Point Active Stylus which I reviewed in June, are rechargeable.
This is certainly a matter of personal preference, but I prefer to use a rechargeable stylus. It seems somewhat wasteful to me to have to throw out a battery and replace it with a new one, plus I have to remember to carry around a battery. The Bamboo Stylus fineline is rechargeable via an included Micro-USB cord. I already carry around a Micro-USB cord in my briefcase because I use it to charge so many other iPhone and iPad accessories (such as external batteries) so I don't need to carry around anything extra to charge the Bamboo Stylus fineline.
Recharging is easy. Just pull off the rubber cover at the back end of the stylus and plug it in. Wacom says that the battery lasts for up to 26 hours. I've never come close to running the battery all the way down to 0%, so you should be able to use this stylus in an all day long meeting and then just recharge it at night.
One minor complaint that I have with this stylus is that the rubber end pops off pretty easily, which made me afraid that it might one day break off. That hasn't happened yet, but I do wish that the rubber cap stayed better attached when not charging the stylus.
There are two major disadvantages of this stylus. The first is a problem that exists with all active styluses. When you draw a diagonal line, the line is wavy if you move your stylus too slowly. For example, in the next image, I made a series of Xs in the GoodNotes app. If I draw the X quickly, it looks fine. If I draw the diagonal lines more slowly, the lines are wavy.
This issue is counter-intuitive. It seems that if I write more slowly, I ought to write more neatly. But with an active stylus and a diagonal line, the opposite is true.
This is a problem that I have seen with every active stylus, and unless Apple changes the iPad hardware to work better with active styluses, I doubt that this problem will go away. It isn't a major problem for me, but I'll admit that sometimes I reach for a traditional stylus like the Wacom Bamboo Stylus duo instead of an active stylus just because I don't feel like dealing with this while I am taking notes.
The second problem that I have with both this stylus and the Adonit Jot Script is noise. Because the stylus has a hard tip, and because the iPad has a glass screen, every time that you tap the screen, you hear a tap. I even recorded a video of this noise with the Adonit Jot Script, and I'll embed it right here because the Bamboo Stylus fineline is just as noisy:
In some environments, the tap tap tap sound on your screen is no big deal. But if I am in a meeting or a deposition or a courtroom or some other relatively quiet environment and I want to use a stylus to take notes on my iPad, this noise virtually always deters me from using a stylus that has a hard tip. And this is really a shame because otherwise, I really like the way that the Wacom Bamboo Stylus (and the Adonit Jot Script) write on the iPad screen. It's not that the noise is super loud, but it is loud enough to make me self-conscious when using the stylus.
Active styluses are more expensive than traditional styluses. The Adonit Jot Script costs $75. It is nice that the Wacom Bamboo Stylus fineline is cheaper, only $59 on Amazon. This is still a lot of money to spend on a stylus, but at least you save a little money as compared to the Adonit stylus.
The stylus that Wacom sent me is gray, and that's probably the color that I would have picked anyway. But if you want more color, the stylus also comes in blue, pink, orange and silver.
If you can get past the issue that a hard tip makes noise when tapped on a glass surface, the Wacom Bamboo Stylus fineline is an excellent stylus. Although more expensive than a traditional stylus, you get the tiny 1.9 mm tip plus extra features that result from Bluetooth, the button and the pressure sensitive tip.
I suspect that anyone looking at this stylus will also be looking at the Adonit Jot Script. Adonit gets the credit for creating this category, but I think that the Wacom Bamboo Stylus fineline is better in every way. You get more features thanks to the button and the pressure sensitive tip (when using compatible apps), it is nice to have a cap for the tip, it is especially nice that the cap includes a clip, and this stylus is even a little cheaper ($59 versus $75). I also consider it an advantage that the Wacom Bamboo Stylus fineline is rechargeable, although I can see how others might prefer to use and replace the AAA battery in the Adonit Jot Script, so you'll have to decide which you prefer.