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OEMs, just forget about the capacitive stylus already

By Taylor Martin August 22, 2014, 2:28 pm

The stylus has had a pretty traumatic life. It was a necessary tool back in the beginning of the smartphone and PDA era, as mobile operating systems weren’t designed with stubby fingertips in mind. Rather, buttons, soft keyboards, and entire UIs were fixated beneath resistive touch screens, which didn’t discriminate between a user’s fleshy digits or retractable pen tips.

Quite literally, you could use just about any ol’ object as a stylus, so long as it was strong enough to squeeze the protective plastic coating and digitizer together. The finer the point, the better.

The stylus all but died with the birth of the capacitive display, hugely popularized by Apple’s original iPhone. Basic resistive styli didn’t (and still don’t) work with capacitive displays. As the name suggests, you need an object which is dielectric to register with a capacitive panel.


And Steve Jobs’ damning words towards styli and their use on the newly antiquated resistive displays didn’t help matters. New capacitive screens and iOS were finger-friendly; users didn’t need the stylus anymore.

However, with the growing size of smartphones and their ever-pervasive use cases, some users may not need a stylus anymore, but they may want one, especially for handwritten notes, drawing, or more precise input.

The downside is that styli designed for capacitive input are inherently bad and offer hardly any more accurate input than a fingertip. Most are rubber- or cloth-tipped and a quarter-inch in diameter at the finest point, not a millimeter or two like a typical pen tip. Not to mention, a touchscreen display, which can typically receive up to 10 points of input simultaneously can’t always differentiate between a stylus, finger, or the palm of a hand. So accidental input is almost inevitable.


Samsung, however, included a Wacom digitizer in its Galaxy Note series, which uses inductive input instead of capacitive. The so-called S Pen – not a stylus, according to Samsung – brings back the precision of resistive styli, keeps the capacitive digitizer intact, and kills off accidental capacitive input while inductive input is active. It’s the best of both worlds, and shows how horrible and useless capacitive styli are.


Sure, there are some very expensive and very advanced capacitive styli, such as the Adonit Jot Pro or its newer and improved Evernote edition stylus, the Jot Script. But they’re still archaic and clunky.

The fact of the matter is, capacitive styli do not compare to an inductive stylus like the S Pen. So why do OEMs continue to release capacitive stylus-equipped hardware like it’s a useful feature?

Earlier this month, for instance, the LG G3 Stylus made an appearance in an LG promotional video. It appeared to be a close relative to the LG G3, except a stylus tucked into the top right corner of the device. A capacitive stylus, just like the original Optimus Vu came with.

Why bother, LG? If you’re going to try to compete with the Galaxy Note, compete with the Galaxy Note. Throwing a capacitive stylus in with a G3 doesn’t count.


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