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JaJa pressure sensitive stylus uses sound to communicate

We're starting to see some really great accessories for the iPad, and I would say a pressure-sensitive stylus is worth it if it works like my Wacom tablets do. While I love to sketch things on my iPad, I have always missed the pressure sensitivity I had with my old Wacom. Steve reviewed the Jot Touch from Adonit, which has some connectivity issues but otherwise performed admirably. The JaJa stylus from HEX3 does away with Bluetooth and uses ultrasonic noises to communicate with your iPad. Does it work? Quite well, in fact.

Design

The JaJa began life as a Kickstarter project. The design hasn't changed much, although unlike the Jot, HEX3 decided to move away from a rechargeable battery and instead design around a AAA battery. There are a few minor tweaks as well, like the placement of the ports and indicator light.

The JaJa is, like all styli, designed to be like a pen. I found the balance was good, although this is not a Mont Blanc pen. Still, some attention was paid to the placement of components so the overall feel in your hand is comfortable, even after extended use.

The tip uses a fine point with plastic pad, much like Adonit uses, so you can draw with precision while seeing where you draw. I like this sort of tip, although it can sometimes seem weird that you're applying pressure to what looks like a mechanical pencil. Speaking of which, HEX3 includes an extra tip and the diameter looks a lot like the .7mm lead I used to use...

JaJa pressure sensitive stylus uses sound to communicate

As a bit of a packaging nut, I should mention the box the JaJa comes in is very nice and could even be used as a case. I'm seeing a trend towards re-usable packaging, which I approve of -- considering I keep almost all of my Apple product boxes!

Functionality

Since JaJa doesn't use Bluetooth to connect, you won't have to futz with those settings. Unfortunately, there's a calibration routine you'll have to go through each time you use the stylus, and I found it yields mixed results.

First, the good news. I was worried that in high noise environments the JaJa would have problems. But even on board an airplane the pen did well. In fact, when it works with proper calibration, this is a good pen. It's even slightly cheaper than the competition.

Unfortunately, I had mixed results with calibration. And if you're an artist, constantly having to guess at calibration is not really what you're after. After turning on the JaJa you hold it up, press one of the buttons to register the "no pressure" reading, then press it down onto a surface to register the "most pressure" reading whilst holding down another button.

My old brain often forgot which button to press first, so a trip to the manual is going to be in your future as you get used to this. The worse problem with calibration is I rarely felt I was getting the full spectrum of pressure sensitivity, and I wasn't able to consistently set it up each time.

Maybe I'm too afraid of cracking the glass on my iPad, but you probably shouldn't have to press down so hard that the screen starts to discolor. The first time I calibrated, that's how hard I pressed, however. Also, as you press your finger to register the pressure, I noticed I would press even harder, because the button takes a slight amount of force to press. I'm not sure if this makes for weird calibration, but I did notice some problems.

The biggest problem I ran into was whatever I might be drawing would suddenly skip, as though the JaJa couldn't keep up or suddenly thought I was registering no pressure. Darrell Etherington at TechCrunch also found this to be a problem, as well as calibration, but it sounds like he had more success than I at getting consistent results.

Speaking of consistency, apps will vary in their response to the JaJa. This is because developers may implement support in different ways, but it really shows when you start trying to draw in various apps. Noteshelf had almost no range at all, whereas SketchBook Pro was more capable of rendering variances. According to one review, Procreate worked really well with the varying levels of pressure. I don't have Procreate so I wasn't able to test it.

JaJa pressure sensitive stylus uses sound to communicate

In the Noteshelf app (above) I encountered a lack of variance and a few dropouts

Conclusion

I really wanted to like the JaJa stylus. I am sick to death of fiddling with Bluetooth to get an ever-increasing array of accessories to work. (Incidentally, you can use Bluetooth speakers with the JaJa, unlike a Bluetooth pen, but you can't use the built-in speakers because they'll interfere with the mic input needed to register the pressure levels.)

Once you get used to it, the JaJa is a good stylus and offers a novel approach to communicating with your iDevice, plus the calibration can be a plus. However, if the calibration is off you'll wind up spinning your wheels redoing lines when they skip.

If you want a pressure-sensitive stylus and don't want to mess with Bluetooth, this is your only option. In my testing I found your mileage will vary, not just from your own sense of pressure (I could see where someone might be strong enough to inflict damage if they press too hard), but also based on how different apps register the sensitivity and react to it.

My recommendation is you try the JaJa out and see if you think it works for you. That's not always easy, but based on my own experience and what I'm reading from others, you may or may not like how the pen responds.

Pros

  • Replaceable battery
  • Comfortable
  • No Bluetooth to mess with

Cons

  • Calibration can be a pain
  • Apps aren't consistent in rendering pressure sensitivity
  • Isn't supported by as many apps as competitors

Who is it for?

If you're a student taking notes with a sometimes-need for pressure sensitivity, this is a decent bet. It's slightly cheaper than the competition, can be used anywhere and is supported by some quality apps.

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