This article mainly discusses the design aspects of the human factor engineering (HFE) in regards to the handling and storage of the stylus on mobile devices. It does not go into the details of say, how well each stylus perform when taking notes, or drawing on the screen.
1) Storage and mobility
Samsung Galaxy Note was the first to incorporate the stylus into the phone design, and they called it the S Pen. It was a brilliant move, and this remains an outstanding design feature. To this day, it continues as the only phone with such design to our best knowledge.
The S Pen is lightweight as there is no battery inside, and this also means that there is no need to worry about keeping spare batteries for replacement. Unlike the Apple and Microsoft stylus which needs a separate holder, there is less chance of losing the S Pen because it has a built-in storage in the device itself. And using it is just as convenient – simply pull out the pen, and the device is activated, ready for note-taking.
Having used the Samsung Galaxy Note from version 3 to 5 before switching over to Apple (due to the infamous battery issue), I have never lost any of the styli. It just feels natural like part of the device, unlike Microsoft and Apple’s design which separates the stylus from the device.
Subsequently, Microsoft also introduced the Surface Pro with a stylus, albeit unlike the Samsung, it is a “large” tablet that is close to being a notebook replacement. There are two flaws that we dislike:
- 1) The stylus needs to be stored in a separate tab that is stuck to the side of the notebook, as shown in the left photos. I have since lost my first pen on my Surface Pro because the Tab came off while travelling. I could not even recall where and when it dropped.
2) The pen uses the less common AAAA batteries. There are both good and bad points about using replaceable batteries. When you run out of juice, you just have to swap with a fresh battery and continue with your work straight away. However, this will only work if you have a spare battery with you at all time (another logistic hassle). And it is not always easy to find a convenience store around the corner to buy those AAAA batteries!
If Surface Pro could use similar stylus pen like the Galaxy Note, it would have been perfect design – Windows tablet + Samsung S Pen. It would have been identical to the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1″ Android tablet in this aspect. Yes, we know Samsung discontinued the Galaxy Note tablet some time back, but regardless of the reason it failed, we believe the only thing that it has done correctly in that tablet design is the S Pen.
The Apple iPad is the most recent device to introduce the stylus, which they call the “Pencil” and uses the lightning connector hidden inside the top cap for charging a built-in lithium battery. The design is slightly better than the Surface Pro but not the S Pen – one which does not need any battery to work. It has three issues that we dislike:
- 1) There is no storage for the Pencil. You will need to workaround by using a cover that comes with the Pencil holder or stores them in a pencil case or bag, a solution that does not seem to match up to Surface Pro’s design.
2) Unlike S Pen and Microsoft Pen which is included with the device when sold, Apple sells the Pencil separately. Some may argue that Microsoft has added the cost of the pen inside the Surface Pro’s price. Well, that is Microsoft. But it still can’t beat the S Pen for the Galaxy Note.
3) Seriously, it looks uncanny when charging the Pencil using the iPad lightning port. It takes up space, prevents the use of the device and risks damaging the connector if not careful. The design should be reviewed in future versions.
We mentioned that Microsoft Surface Pro + S Pen with built-in storage design would be a perfect match. For Apple, we are wondering if it would attract more Samsung users to convert if they introduced similar S Pen to the Apple iPhone. Apple fans would probably think that they would never need to have an iPhone with the built-in stylus, but we are referring to the other groups that continue to love the Note’s S Pen. All the latest design have yet to beat the first one that started it all.
Out of the three styli, the S Pen is the slimmest of all. While this may be good for storage, some users may prefer a thicker stylus body for a firmer grip, especially for serious drawing. This would vary depending on the the person using the stylus. In such cases, the Microsoft Pen or Apple Pencil might be a more comfortable option.
What if the device could offer BOTH options? That is, it would come included with a slim built-in stylus for quick sketch or notes on the move (say during a short, rushed meeting or jotting down of notes in the Cab). Another thicker stylus is for cases where the user needs to perform a professional task over a prolonged period.
Below is an example of what a typical artist may be carrying today while on the move. I would add a DLSR camera to the list, but that would depend on what the person does. Imagine the burden of carrying so many devices, gadgets and accessories; it would have been better if the pen/stylus/pencil is designed to go into the mobile devices it was intended for, without a need to additional pouches/holders, etc.