Mobile Technology

No alternatives: The trials of a smartphone stylus lover

No alternatives: The trials of...
The object of the author's desire, which is growing more than a little long in the tooth
The object of the author's desire, which is growing more than a little long in the tooth
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The object of the author's desire, which is growing more than a little long in the tooth
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The object of the author's desire, which is growing more than a little long in the tooth
The S Pen stylus in Samsung's latest pen-based phablet, the Note 5
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The S Pen stylus in Samsung's latest pen-based phablet, the Note 5
Apple already went back on Steve Jobs' distaste for styluses with the Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro ... could the iPhone be next?
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Apple already went back on Steve Jobs' distaste for styluses with the Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro ... could the iPhone be next?
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I need to get a new phone. Right now I'm using a Galaxy Note 3 which, while it has served me well, has gotten a bit like a sleepy old man. It's hard to wake up, slow to respond, and just doesn't seem to "get" all these newfangled websites that are coming out. So, I need a new phone. And you'd think with all of the choice out there, finding a new sleek piece of tech to slip into my pocket wouldn't be a problem. But, you see, I've had an affair of the heart and it's ruined me to the point that just any old phone simply won't do. I have fallen in love with my stylus.

As a writer who actually likes to, well, write — rather than type, swipe or thumb — I've come to rely on that little wondrous stick that slides in and out of my Note 3 so efficiently, so neatly, so sexily, so … well, you get the point.

I don't really use the full functionality of the plastic pen, I pretty much just use it to jot down shopping lists on the sticky note app and occasionally scribble a few lines of poetry down in a dark corner of a bar late at night, most of which no one will ever read. But still, I've come to rely on that stylus like a cop relies on his walkie talkie. It's become my pal, paramour and partner and I just can't leave it behind (I also have to admit that it's still pretty cool to slide out that impressive stick to capture someone's phone number by actually writing on my phone's face.)

Sure there are temptresses out there. The Galaxy S7 Edge with its sexy curves. The iPhone 6S Plus with all of its big and beautiful, um, Macness. The naughty leather back of the LG G4. The HTC One M9 with its talk-dirty-to-me front-facing speakers. But none of them harbor that deep internal beauty I seek — the stylus.

And yes, there are cases that hold styluses (or styli depending on your grammatical proclivities), and apps that allow input from them, but that just seems so inelegant (not to mention stylus input without an active digitizer inside the phone is just simulating finger touches). Plus, I'm not looking to make an already big phone bigger with a clunky case.

The S Pen stylus in Samsung's latest pen-based phablet, the Note 5
The S Pen stylus in Samsung's latest pen-based phablet, the Note 5

So, as much as I'm ready for a new phone — and the new Edge is certainly whispering to me through the ether — I find that I'm going to have to wait until the Galaxy Note 6 comes out later this year. Sure, I could go with the Note 5 right now, but if some of the rumors can be believed, the Note 6 will have a lot more power under its hood (and perhaps the water resistance and expandable storage from the S7 series), and the only thing I like more than a stylus in my phone is speedy performance.

And, before you accuse this article of being a commercial for Samsung, let it be known that I'd happily consider another brand of phone — any brand, in fact, that would just offer a built-in stylus with the same specs offered by the Note line.

There is, of course, the LG Stylo that came out in July of last year, but its screen resolution and camera pale in comparison to my Note that was released in 2013 — and will certainly be significantly inferior to what we'll find in the Note 6. So that's pretty much it in terms of stylus-phone competitors.

Apple already went back on Steve Jobs' distaste for styluses with the Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro ... could the iPhone be next?
Apple already went back on Steve Jobs' distaste for styluses with the Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro ... could the iPhone be next?

When you think about it, isn't it kind of strange that no one else has picked up on this little bit of tech? You'd think that, in an industry where brands steal from each other as frequently as The One Percent steals from the working man, surely someone else would have become stylus curious? Surely there's room to slip one in under the sleek shell of the 6s Plus? Hey, Apple already committed Steve Jobs blasphemy by making a stylus for its latest iPads (above) – Apple Pencil support for the iPhone 7 would do the trick. Or how about planting one next to the battery in that slide-out tray in the LG G5?

It makes sense that Samsung leads in this field, considering that the Note line's use of the stylus pretty much saved the gizmo from the trash heap of history, but really – no one else is interested? And considering that Samsung's stylus is still a pretty cheap-feeling stick of plastic, there is certainly room for improvement here.

There was a little bit of buzz around Alcatel's stylus-equipped Hero 2+ phone after last year's Mobile World Congress, but the makers eventually announced that they were pulling the plug on the project and would never release it. It seems that phone makers just don't seem as taken with the simple onboard stylus as much as I am. So that leaves me a single choice for my phone needs, and the Note 6 truly can't get here fast enough for me. It's more forced loyalty than a real choice, but I suppose that's the life of a stylus-obsessed writer.

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12 comments
KeithWright
I have a Note 3 and when I have a slowdown, I back up my files ad do a clean install. Problem solved. You also have the option of rooting your phone and installing any of a number of great ROM's which significantly speed-up your phone. I'm running Lollipop 5.1 and my phone is plenty fast.
RodReichardt
I went from a Note3 to the Note 5. The 5 works a lot better. I got the 64gb version and lack of storage hasn't been an issue, yet. The phone is smoother than the 3 and works better and faster overall. Battery life is slightly worse though. I went to the Note 5 mainly for the camera. It is a big improvement over the camera in my Note 3. I hope the Note 6 incorporates the feature set of the S7 and S7Edge. If so I will be upgrading yet again. I don't use the stylus a lot but I hate to give it up completely.
tapasmonkey
Same issue here: have the Note 3, Note 4 - not enough of an upgrade, Note 5 - no expandable memory and no replaceable battery. My phone's working just fine, but a better low-light camera, Marshmallow, micro-SD and waterproofing would make it a definite buy. A stylus is a must for me now: nothing beats it for jotting down an idea with text and sketch when you're out and about.
Otto De Steene
Samsung: here an idea for your note 6 or note 7: a waterproof note phone with magnetic stylus, that when it attached to the phone feels like being a seamless part of the phones body. Sharp edges could be solved with use of softer materials. Anyhow, that would be my dream. And oh.. don't ditch that IR transmitter, and add a dual camera with 3D scanning ability on the back... That together with an even bigger battery would be really my dream ;-)
DavidBruceWorley
I have the note 3 and note 4. I like the stylus on both. I also have the iPad pro stylus. It is nice and smooth, but does not have the buttons for stylus shortcuts. Unfortunately my note 4 is on the fritz, and I bought a iPhone 6S. I do miss having a stylus on it, due to my fat fingers. Hopefully they will add a Stylus in the future.
zr2s10
I have a 2012 Note 10.1, and it's ruined me for other tablets, lol. If a tablet doesn't have active stylus, I won't even consider it. I've had it 3 yrs, and it's still running very well. But once it goes, It'll be a Note 12.2 or a Surface Pro for my next device. I'm not using a Note phone, but have considered it, if Samsung stops trying to follow Apple! I won't buy a phone that doesn't support SD cards, and replaceable batteries. I could maybe skip the battery thing, but no SD card is absurd. And glass backs are just an accident waiting to happen. I'm actually hoping MS gets their act together and releases a Surface Phone soon. If they embed a stylus in the body, I would buy that in a heartbeat!
Njall
I don't use my Note 3's stylus enough. I'd be delighted to know which particular apps you find most easily used with a stylus. I am also waiting for the rumored Note 6. Hope it's worthy of the hype about it.
zr2s10
njall, Squid (formerly Papyrus) is an excellent app for any Android, with active Pen support. You can purchase individual features without having to get a subscription. Subscription is one reason I don't use Evernote. When using Samsung devices, S-Notes is an excellent option. I use these 2 for the majority of my note taking. I typically use Repli-Go for PDF markups though, since it leaves it as a PDF. It doesn't have true active stylus support though, and latency isn't the best in that program. But like I said, it has it's uses. Especially if you need to sign and return something.
John Banister
I want a stylus, too. But, when wishing for a phone that doesn't exist, I can't stop there. I want the sapphire screen and rugged body from the Kyocera Brigadier. I want the ability to be in charge of my own hardware from the Neo900. I want the privacy capability of Blackphone. I want the battery swapability of a marine VHF with Qi wireless charging built in to each battery. I want the externally accessible full sized SD card and stylus of a Palm Treo. I want the ability for my phone to be the communications device (Mobile Data, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Glonass, NFC, RFID, InfraRed, Camera) for my laptop from the Motorola Atrix, implemented via a non-contact optical interface (if a Miele washing machine can do it...). I want Fujitsu's IR Iris scanning. And, I want the ability of LG, HTC, or Samsung to integrate it all, and sell it to me for less than $3000.