Styli, the final frontier. Seriously, when I look back at my glowing review of the AluPen in April, I can only laugh at how naive I was to think that I had bought my last stylus. The first new stylus that was too tempting not to try after that was the Wacom Bamboo stylus, and now the second in that line has landed in the mailbox: the Maglus.
The Maglus has been mentioned here at NBT twice before. The first time was when it still was an idea that needed funding on an Irish crowdfunding site. The whole idea of the Maglus was rather unique back then, adding magnets to a high quality stylus in order to make it stick to the iPad 2. The second mention the project got was a month and a half ago, when a too good to be true Kickstarter project with the same basic “magnets in a stylus” concept crashed and burned so badly that Kickstarter still has burn marks. The guys behind the Maglus didn’t fall for the temptation of simply adding magnets to an existing crappy stylus and instead designed the whole thing from scratch, which did take longer, but resulted in a completely different level of product quality.
There are probably hundreds of styli that work with capacitive screens on the market by now. Most of them are minor variations on a very generic OEM design, as was the case with my very first capacitive stylus; the Griffin Stylus. Then you have the completely different styli which don’t have that classic rubber tip at all, like the Dagi styli or the Nomad Brush. The two styli I mentioned in the beginning, the AluPen and the Wacom Stylus, are the two that are the closest to the Maglus in basic design. They have the rubber tip like all those generic styli, but uses better quality materials for both the tip and the stylus itself, which is made of aluminium for both the AluPen, Wacom Stylus and the Maglus.
Ironically, the Maglus is pretty much what the offspring of the Wacom Stylus and the AluPen would look like if they ever decided to make a baby. The Maglus has a thickness at its thickest point that is practically identical to the AluPen, but isn’t symmetrical. Instead it has two flat sides down the length of it, as if you took a round stylus and put it in a vice. These two sides are where the magnets are, so the whole point is to have a stylus that has a clear way of lying flat on a surface in order for the magnets to work properly. These two flat sides also have rubber pads on them to protect whatever surface the Maglus is attached to, so you don’t end up scratching anything by placing aluminium directly on something.
Towards the tip of the Maglus the stylus narrows down and becomes completely round at the tip. The rubber nib is held in place with a metal band that’s very much like the ones you find on generic styli, and it isn’t removable like the twist-off version that the Wacom Stylus has. The rubber nib itself is somewhere in between the Wacom Stylus and the AluPen in size, with the AluPen nib being larger and the Wacom Stylus being smaller.
As far as ergonomics go, the Maglus can look a bit weird when you see it in pictures, as it isn’t round(ish) like most pens and styli. That actually makes it more ergonomic though, as your thumb has a flat surface to rest on whereas the rest of your fingers will grip the rounded tip of the Maglus. That way the rounded edge of the Maglus will be the part that rests in the joint between your thumb and index finger, and you won’t notice that you’re holding a unevenly shaped stylus. Some great design work went into this stylus, and you more or less need to hold one to realize that.
The whole point of this stylus is the magnets. The entire custom design, from the flat sides to the rubber protective pads, is to make sure the magnets work the way they’re supposed to without scratching “Maglus was here” into the side of your iPad in the process. The magnets are of the strong neodymium type, which means that they’re very strong for their size. Before you ask, no, there’s nothing in an iPad or any other normal tablet that will get hurt by the magnets. By “normal” tablet I don’t include anything that runs Windows or any of Archos’ hard drive based tablets as hard drives is magnetic storage and can by hurt by magnets, though it’s extremely unlikely that these will hurt even those unless you do it on purpose. Still, they do include a piece of paper with a warning on it that lists things like pacemakers etc as things you should keep the stylus away from.
The point here is that the magnets are strong enough to do what they’re meant to do: make the Maglus stick to magnetic surfaces. Being a capacitive stylus the Maglus will work with any capacitive screen, but you naturally need a magnetic surface for the Maglus to stick to. The iPad 2 is what the Maglus was designed for as it contains magnets from the factory, and the Maglus will cling to either the iPad itself or the Smart Cover (not anywhere on either, but where the magnets are). Generally speaking, it seems to like the Smart Cover the best. Simply snap it to the cover and it will stick.
The point of having magnets in a stylus is of course to have a place to put your stylus while walking around. There’s a reason why pens have pen clips, and this is basically the tablet version of that (as you need’d a rather huge clip on your stylus to fit it on a tablet). If you don’t see the need, fine, but it’s there – trust me.
A common misconception is that if you’ve seen one rubber nib, you’ve seen them all. In reality, the quality and responsiveness or the rubber nib of a capacitive stylus varies a lot. The cheap OEM styli you find on certain Chinese websites for a couple of bucks are proof of that, as their usage is closer to a hammer and chisel than a pen. Both the AluPen and the Wacom Stylus have very sensitive nibs, with the Wacom Stylus being the most sensitive one and by far the smallest. That sometimes make it seem unresponsive though because you naturally apply less pressure to something that looks like it needs less pressure. The AluPen is the opposite, being so permanent marker sized that ramming the nib into the screen is the more natural way of doing things.
Being in between the two in nib size, the Maglus is also in between the two in sensitivity. It has a harder, larger nib than the Wacom Stylus and so it is slightly more of a blunt instrument than the Wacom Stylus. This doesn’t translate to it being less accurate though, just as the AluPen isn’t less accurate than either of the two others either. It’s simply a bit more like using a ballpoint pen, whereas the Wacom Stylus is more like using a felt tip pen. You can’t go wrong with any of these as far as accuracy goes, so just pick the one that looks the most comfortable.
When I said that the Maglus is a bit like the offspring of the AluPen and the Wacom Stylus, I really meant it. Seeing the three of them together you can’t help but notice the 1-2-3 factor in shape and nib size (though the Maglus is actually the heaviest of them, an intentional design choice to make it require less force to press down on the scree). That’s why it makes sense to compare these three, as they’re very close in both materials, quality, sensitivity and price. Ignoring the magnets, I honestly don’t know which of these I would use. The AluPen feels a bit big now that I’ve used the Wacom Stylus for a while though, but that’s just a matter of getting used to the feel of a particular stylus. Most people won’t have all three of these though, so for a first time buyer the most important question you can ask yourself is this: do I want a magnetic stylus? As it stands right now, you can’t go wrong with either of these, but the Maglus is magnetic. That’s either a completely useless feature or the best thing since Coca Cola, all depending on what sort of situation you will use the stylus in. I cherish the idea of a stylus that attaches to my Smart Cover, so I’ll likely start using the Maglus as my main stylus from now on.
Finally, I want to quickly mention packaging. This is something that a lot of crowd funded products do a million times better than commercial companies, and the Maglus is a great example of that. The AluPen came in a huge square box that was roughly 43582.9 times bigger than it had to be and about as envelope friendly as the Statue of Liberty. The Wacom Stylus came in a more standardized box that was still way too big, and also had those plastic item holders that make me cry on behalf of the planet. The Maglus on the other hand came in what can best be described as a Smarties tube, made of cardboard and just big enough to hold the stylus wrapped in a complementary microfiber cloth. No wasted space, no plastic, and just the right size for being shipping in a small padded envelope. The only way to improve it would be to include some actual Smarties in the box, though involving “best before” dates on a stylus box might scare some people off if they see it in a store. What they did print on the box (/tube) though was a QR code, so that potential buyers who see it in a store can scan the code and be taken to the Maglus website, saving them from printing an entire advertising campaign on the box itself. I’m actually keeping the tube to carry the stylus in, as the cardboard is thick enough to be durable beyond getting the product to the customer.
Applyidea, the company (/team) behind the Maglus, is located in Ireland. They sell the Maglus on their website for €20 and they ship worldwide. That price is right up there with the other two “premium” styli I’ve mentioned here, even a fair bit cheaper – and a lot cheaper in terms of shipping as you don’t need a separate cargo ship for the packaging.