Best Stylus Pen of 2020
We fell a little in love with the Second Generation Apple Pencil. Using it to swirl vibrant, smudgeproof colors across the screen in Adobe Illustrator Draw is hypnotic. The Pencil flawlessly traces our movements. It also responds to pressure to pool more paint or ink in our wake or to leave the faintest trace of color with a light touch. The Pencil is the only pressure-sensitive stylus in the test, and that's the feature that really sets it apart. That, as well as its palm-rejection support. Along with the JamJake and S Pen, the Pencil allows you to rest your hand on the screen while writing, giving you enough control to write legibly and draw admirably. The Pencil soared in our precision tests and the pencil-shaped, rigid nib makes it easy to place your lines and shapes just where you want them. Apple touts "imperceptible lag" and our testers agree.
The Pencil is a cinch to pair with your iPad. A magnetic docking strip on the right stores the pen while charging it. It's slick. The biggest problem we have with the Pencil is that it's expensive and it only works with four devices, the first and second generation 11" iPad and the third and fourth generations of the 12.9". And, while Apple claims that tilting the stylus nib dramatically creates broader strokes like an actual pencil, we couldn't get it to work. The amount of pressure we used had much more bearing on line thickness than tilt. The nib can also squeak disconcertingly during some tasks, like rearranging app icons. Still, if you need a pressure-sensitive, nearly flawless stylus for one of the four compatible iPads, the Pencil is for you.
While it's not as slick, streamlined, and sophisticated as the Apple Pencil, it is so hard to argue with the JamJake's value proposition. It does almost everything the Pencil does, nearly as well, for a fraction of the price. It is a bit thicker than the Pencil but feels similar otherwise, much like a regular pen. It's easy to pair with your iPad the first time around. Then you just tap the top, where the eraser would be, and go. Its precision and palm-rejection technology make it easy to take clear notes and detailed artwork.
We did notice the JamJake's lack of pressure sensitivity. The only way to vary line strength with this stylus (and every other stylus pen we tested aside from the Apple Pencil) is to do so through whatever app you're using. That means you can't vary the line thickness within a single stroke, robbing you of the nuance you can achieve with a graphite pencil or the top-tier Apple stylus. It doesn't magnetically attach to your device, and you have to charge it with a USB cord. The company also recommends a glass screen protector for your iPad. Otherwise, the JamJake offers a killer value for a wider range of iPad devices than the second generation of the Apple Pencil, and is an excellent option for anyone who doesn't need a pressure-sensitive stylus.
While the Meko stylus actually offers a better overall value as a two-for-one, if you don't need two of them (as in the Meko pack), the Mixoo will do the trick for less. Though it had lag on some devices in our tests, the two-sided Mixoo faithfully tracks your movements across the screen. And while it is challenging to write without steadying your hand against the screen, this stylus's mesh end provides enough traction to get the job done. It works just as well as the other generalist styluses, which lack reliable palm rejection technology. The pen comes with one extra mesh nib and two replacement disks.
Two extra disks are nice to have, because we found them to be pretty fragile. We find that ours needs tightening from time to time. We also find it harder to control the plastic disk on the screen, making for sloppier notes and less precise drawings. The pen provides a better rubber grip on the disk side. But since we usually use the mesh option, we would like the enhanced traction on both sides of the pen. For a suitable option on a limited budget, go with the accurate and comfortable Mixoo.
By the way, a capacitive touch screen is one with the ability to respond to the light touch of a finger. They include most modern touch screens, including the iPad, iPhone, Pixel, and Galaxy screens we used in our tests.
Each S Pen is device specific, and the one we tested works only with the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite. It is accurate, with a pleasantly responsive nib that glides over the screen easily without slipping and attaches to your device magnetically for easy tracking. It's the only stylus pen in the test that tracks the nib's location with a small hollow dot when you hover above the screen. This helps you join lines with precision and jump around your notes as needed. The S Pen works wonderfully with the tablet's included Samsung Notes app, where it writes and draws without any lag. The lines track your movements perfectly, and you can angle the pen to increase the width of your line when drawing. The app also easily and accurately converts your notes to text.
Unfortunately, the S Pen has noticeable lag in the other apps we used in the tested. It's particularly apparent in Adobe Illustrator Draw, where we observed that lines follow the pen's nib by as much as a quarter inch. We saw this same issue in the Evernote app. While the letters appear quickly enough to almost fool your eye, not being able to see the shapes as you create them can make a difference in legibility. Still, the S Pen has less lag than any of the generalist styluses when they're used with the Galaxy tablet. It is the only pen that works with the Adobe Illustrator app on the device. (These same styluses show very minimal lag when used on the iPad.) We do like the writing feel of the S Pen, but it is thin and more tiring to hold for longer periods. All told, it's the best companion for your Galaxy Tab S6 Lite.
The Meko Universal and the Mixoo Capacitive appeared identical to us, except for slightly different clips on their lids. These styluses are a nice length, with the size and feel of a petite pen. They are quite accurate, but do have some lag, particularly when paired with the Samsung Galaxy Tab we used. We appreciate that you can alternate between a soft mesh nib and a transparent plastic disk, which protects a very fine point meant to amplify precision. The mesh glides nicely and provides more control than the slippery disk. A comfortable rubber grip makes the disk side easier to handle though and we enjoy using this universal option.
In general, we don't love writing with disk nibs. They are slick and harder to control. And, since these pens lack palm rejection technology, you have to write and draw without touching the screen. While the clear disks lets you see your fine tipped marker more clearly, it takes time for your brain to edit out the disk itself. And if the stylus lags like the Meko can, the advantage is lost. The Meko's disk also feels delicate, and loosened up over time. Definitely keep the lid on the pen's disk side for storage. Able to work with most touchscreens and providing you with two different nib options, the Meko and Mixoo are the most versatile in the test.
The Wacom Bamboo Stylus is sturdy and straightforward, with a compact rubber ball nib. It feels like a tiny, thick-walled balloon tip. The nib is more compact than most of its competition of its kind, so it's more accurate and more pleasant to use. You can get a very fine line using it, it's just tricky to see where exactly you are putting it. We like the feel of the finish, so it's always pleasant to wield. It's compact size works well with small screens, so it's a favorite smartphone option among our testers.
The tip doesn't hold its shape with pressure as well as the mesh options do, so filling in colors on an art project feels like pushing a tiny mop around. Again, without palm rejection, you can't always use the stylus and rest your hand on the screen at the same time, making it much harder to achieve a high level of detail with the stylus. Though it is well-made, the Wacom's price tag feels a little high for such a simple offering. Still, it's our favorite compact option to use with a smartphone, and it's hard to do much detail work on such small screens anyway.
The Cosmonaut's creators apparently wanted this stylus pen to feel like writing with a dry erase marker. What they ended up with is so much better. It's the same size as a marker but with a grownup matte rubber feel (and without the chemical smell and squeakiness). It finds the perfect middle ground between glide and control and is well balanced with a pleasant weight. The pen also registers at nearly any angle, meaning you don't have to worry about losing part of your line as you shift the pen. It's most unique feature, its size, makes it easy to hold, even when wearing gloves. It's also sturdier and easy to find when tucked into your bag due to the size. We like the extra physical control we get when writing on small surfaces like a smartphone and love that this comfortable stylus works with any capacitive touch screen and all the devices we tested (though the function is limited on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite according to our experience).
Unfortunately, the dry erase marker goal also offers a nice framework to explain the pen's precision capabilities. It's best for jotting down notes or sketching rough art drafts. Though you can achieve a very fine line with the Cosmonaut, it's hard to guide since the pen's chunky shape blocks your view. And the stylus doesn't feature palm rejection technology, so you can't steady your hand (though this didn't matter as much on the iPad Pro we used for testing). While it is easier to get fine details when using this stylus with a larger tablet like the iPad Pro, it's a great stylus pen for jotting quick notes on our smartphones.
The Adonit Pro 4 A Luxury is indeed a stylish, well constructed option, we just don't really prefer disk nibs. They offer less friction, and thus less control than rubber or mesh tipped options. Since this stylus pen doesn't offer palm rejection, it tends to be harder to control. The nib itself feels sturdy and secure though, much more so than the Meko and Mixoo disks. Since it is so solid, you have to hold it more upright than the other disk options for the touchscreen to register your movements. It's well within the range of normal hand movement. We noticed very little lag with this stylus, even when using it with the lag-prone Samsung Galaxy tablet.
The pen is small, slender, and somewhat slick, making it tiring to hold on to. A cutout meant to snug the stylus onto the edge of your pocket or bag is clever but also very sharp. Though it never cut us, the edge is unpleasant, and we couldn't help feeling that inattentive writing would have us reaching for a band-aid at any moment. If you happen to love disk nibs, and have thick skin, this sturdy stylus could be right for you.
The Liberrway 10-Pack is tempting. Giving you ten times the stylus power for less seems like a no brainer up front. It's nice to always have a stylus close to hand. They also work fairly well, with little lag time on most devices.
Our testers don't find these to be accurate enough to do much more than navigate your screen and scribble a few short notes. When that's all we want to do, we're more likely to navigate with our index finger and type in the notes. The rubber nib is not only very soft, it's also large, so you have more of it to mash around and drag across the screen. It's hard to tell what you're doing, and you can't lean your hand on the screen and write at the same time. If you do prefer to navigate with a stylus and aren't interested in having enough control to draw or take detailed notes, these are fine.
Why You Should Trust Us
Our lead stylus pen tester, Clark Tate, is a writer who has begrudgingly morphed into a typist to keep up with our digital times. As an elder millennial, she grew up taking notes by hand, doodles and all. From the etiquette of keeping quiet during a conference to memory benefits of writing with a pen, Clark is a big believer in upholding the legacy of the quill. In today's world, that translates to a stylus. Clark works as a freelance writer and also helps environmental nonprofits with communications. That means constant note taking, photo editing, and digital artwork to keep websites and social streams compelling.
Our editorial team worked with Clark to research the current stylus market for the best options to test, investigating more than 50 unique models before buying the selection presented in this review. To test these styluses, we set up an Android Pixel 3a, iPhone SE, iPad Pro 12.9" (4th gen), and Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite with two apps — Evernote and Adobe Illustrator Draw. We also scrolled around the devices for daily use and completed standardized writing and drawing tasks with each stylus on every device they work with. Clark also passed them around to friends and family to get an array of opinions on performance.
Analysis and Test Results
A great stylus pen can help you get the most out of your touchscreen devices. They can keep your screen clean while navigating quickly and accurately, discreetly take notes in a meeting, and create digital art on a whim. Below, we break down what we learned about how faithfully these styluses record our notes and digital paint brush strokes and how comfortable they are in our hands.
All of these styluses we tested are capable of fine lines and following your pen strokes dutifully, but they are not all created equally. There are four things to consider when it comes to how precise you can expect your stylus to be — how easy it is to grip, what kind of nib it has, how much lag time they have and whether or not you can rest your hand on the touchscreen while you write or draw.
That last one is a function of palm rejection technology, which is awesome. It makes writing and drawing with a stylus a restful, natural experience instead of a task requiring intense concentration and resulting in a sore forearm. Only three styluses we tested have it, the Apple Pencil, JamJake Palm Rejection Stylus, and S Pen. And it's why they are our favorites.
Of these, the Apple Pencil gets the highest precision marks. It has what Apple calls imperceptible lag time between Pencil movements and when the resulting mark appears on the screen. The S Pen is similarly seamless when used in Samsung Notes, but suffers from quite a bit of lag in third party apps. Lag seems to be a function of how well the stylus, application, and tablet communicate. All of the generalist stylus pens that worked with the Apple iPad displayed little to no lag. The same pens lagged even more than the S Pen when paired with the Samsung Galaxy.
The rest comes down to nib type and grip. The Apple and JamJake both have a rigid pencil-like nib that allows for excellent precision. The nib on the Cosmonaut is similar, but much broader, more like a marker. This makes it hard to see where you're writing, and your penmanship suffers. All of these pens are easy to hold.
Our next favorite nib type is the metal mesh tip on the identical Meko and Mixoo pens. They work similarly to the soft rubber tips on the Wacom Bamboo and Libberway, but glide where the rubber tends to drag. They also hold their shape better, making them easier to write with.
When you flip the Meko and Mixoo pens around, they have a disk style nib, our least favorite kind. They glide a little too easily, making it more challenging to write well. Luckily the disk side of these pens has a nice rubber grip. We wish the mesh side did too. The Adonit Pro4 has a higher quality, disk nib that is easier to use with less lag.
The Apple Pencil, S Pen and Cosmonaut are the winners here, with the JamJake close on their heels. They all offer completely different experiences. The rigid Apple and JamJake are mostly pleasant because they work so well with so little effort required. They feel the most like putting a traditional pen to paper. Their rigid nature does squeak sometimes though, and occasionally you feel like you may break your screen. The JamJake recommends glass protection before using it on your device.
The Apple Pencil is particularly delightful due to its pressure sensitivity, which responds to how emphatically you press the pen to the glass. This allows it to write and draw like an actual pencil or marker. The harder you press, the bolder your strokes are. No other model tested reacts to changes in nib pressure.
The Cosmonaut has a bit of padding around the tip that feels marvelous, and less dangerous, against the screen. We draw with this thing just to enjoy sliding it around the tablet. The S Pen is similarly pleasant, offering a soft tip reminiscent of a fine point sharpie.
Of the rest, we like the options with mesh nibs, which are smooth but easy to control. The rubber nibs are fine but the disks glide a little too easily. They feel like writing with a zamboni.
Good grip means you can hold onto a stylus, comfort means you want to. Of these pens, we reached for the Apple Pencil and the Cosmonaut most. Interestingly, the two options couldn't be more dissimilar. The Pencil feels like one, which we can all relate too. The Cosmonaut feels like a fat crayon covered in tactile rubber. The larger size actually lets your hand and forearm relax more.
Length and balanced weight also make a big difference. The Meko, Mixoo, and S Pen are all the same length, about the size of a regular pen. That's where the similarities end. The S Pen is very thin and light, whereas the Meko and Mixoo have normal pen proportions and weigh more. Both tactics work. What doesn't work as well are styluses, like the Liberrway, that are so short and light that they take more work to hold on to. Of these smaller options, the Wacom Bamboo offers the best weight balance and texture.
Versatility refers to how many devices the stylus is capable of working with and how many tasks it is capable of doing on those machines. For example, the Apple Pencil is extremely versatile when used with one of the four iPad devices it is made for, completing tasks from note writing to drawing to navigating with ease. It also magnetically attaches to the iPad for easy storing, pairing, and charging. But the JamJake, which is slightly less adept at its tasks, works on a wider range of iPad devices. Neither of them, though, extend their use beyond Apple devices.
The S Pen only works with one device (Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite), though it is capable of completing all of the tasks you'd expect of a stylus. Samsung also provides its free Notes app, which makes it a cinch to convert your writing to text. The other styluses seem to require a third-party app, and according to our findings, all them cost money.
The rest of the pens work with all capacitive touch screens, more or less. There are some sneaky compatibility holes here and there. For example, none of the generalist pens can draw on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 Lite using the Illustrator app. Though all of them can take notes and navigate, only the S Pen is able to draw on the device. Of these wide ranging pens, the Meko and Mixoo are the most versatile since they offer two nib types.
After our extensive testing, we're very impressed with the high-tech capabilities of the top-tier stylus pens but also recognize a wide range in performance between models and price ranges. We hope that our deep dive into the wild and artful world of styluses has armed you with all the information you need to buy your perfect touchscreen companion.
— Clark Tate