Review: Adonit Jot Touch 4

Opening disclaimer: I have previously purchased a Jot Touch 4, and an original Jot Touch. The first generation model has unfortunately been made obsolete by changes in iOS 7, and so I was provided with a “keeper” review unit by Adonit, and Mobile Zap Australia, as a replacement.

jot_exampleAs an artist, and one of them “Readers”, my kit for whenever I was out of the house day to day usually contained the following:

  • A4 Sketchbook.
  • Blue lead mechanical pencil.
  • Graphite mechanical pencil.
  • Eraser.
  • Paperbook novel.

When the iPad came into my life, I had the chance to consolidate, and the linchpin for all of this, and indeed the one missing part of the iPad puzzle that allowed me to adopt the platform, was the Jot Touch 4.

The Jot Touch is an iPad stylus which, uniquely when it debuted, provides pressure-sensitivity much like that of a Wacom tablet. It’s a genius solution to the problem of iPads not actually being pressure sensitive – the iPad natively tracks the location of the touch from the stylus tip, and the pressure information is measured in the pen, then communicated in realtime over Bluetooth.

To get the benefit of this, one needs a Jot enabled app, and my weapon of choice at the moment is ProCreate. If you click on the image above, what you’re seeing is a single tool – the 6b pencil, with no adjustments made during the entire drawing session. Everything there comes from the range of pressure available in the pen. It’s been a while since I did any repetitive drawing exercises , but the range of thin and thick strokes, variations from thin to thick and back, and ability of the pen to reliably keep up with my fast scribble drawing style mean that this tool is in every way a capable replacement for analog drawing implements.

Now, obviously a question that’s going to arise is what it’s like compared to an actual Wacom tablet. Adonit list the pen as recognising 2048 levels of pressure, much the same as the current desktop Wacom technology, and possibly more than many of the “Wacom enabled” tablet devices out there. For me, however it comes down to this – how good is your muscular control, that you could be that subtle in pressing on a pen? You can see some jitteryness and straight bits in loops in the image above – that’s entirely down to me and my less than rock-steady hands.

In terms of the hardware itself, The construction quality is utterly sublime. The stylus has a cylindrical aluminium barrel in charcoal or a deep lustrous red, and a rubber coated grip area with two buttons that can be mapped to control various functions. Between the buttons is a status LED, which glows red while charging, and green to indicate switch on, or charged. The cap screws off, and can be screwed onto the base when in use. Under the cap is the nib itself – a biro-fine metal tip ending in a clear plastic disc attached in the middle with a ball & socket joint.

This combination takes a moment of acclimation, and a bit of care when the lid is off. Once you start using it however, the ingenuity of the solution becomes apparent. The iPad has a minimum touch target size – around 5mm in diameter, and this has resulted in most styli being fat crayons, whose tip thickness obscures the point at which marks are made. The Jot’s clear disc, and fine metal tip mean that you can clearly see where your pen mark is happening, at least as clearly as you would with any analog drawing implement. In ProCreate, I have the brush outline switched on, and it’s clearly visible through the disc. So, you get direct visual feedback of how the pressure you’re applying translates into brush size – assuming that’s the dynamic you’ve got enabled.

This brings up an important point – because the iPad has a hard, flat, glass screen, and the Jot Touch has a hard, flat, plastic tip, a small bit of grit could potentially get caught between them. If you’re pushing down on the pen, there’s a risk of scratching your iPad’s glass. My recommendation is to carry a micro-fibre cloth, and then clean both the iPad, and the pen tip before each drawing session. Another option might be to try a screen protector if the cleaning solution is unworkable.

Back to the stylus’ construction, possibly one of the nicest features is the recharging setup. The end of the pen latches into a usb recharging dock which is about the size of a tiny USB thumb drive. It’s held in by magnets, strong magnets, which support the pen securely regardless of orientation – mine hangs in space parallel to the floor, the charger plugged into the usb port in the side of one of my displays.  The magnets also make docking the stylus automatic – get the end of the stylus close enough, and it will auto-align and pull into place.

The battery lasts long enough that I’ve never even come close to wearing it out – Adonit claims a month of “nomal use”. Like most of my devices, I plug it in each night, but you can happily leave the Jot in a bag for days without worrying about lacking power. I’m a big fan of built in batteries – the idea of having to use something like AAA batteries for a device is one of my pet peeves, so the Jot’s power setup really is a brilliant solution.

I’d like to close with a comparison – last week I received a Wacom Airbrush stylus, which I was intending to use to replace my broken Intuos4 XL Grip pen. It costs basically the same as the Jot Touch, and while it has a different featureset, in terms of build quality I think it’s reasonable to compare them. The Wacom pen is back with the distributor for exchange because all of the internals were so poorly fitted to the case that pressing the eraser in made the tip move out. It also felt fragile, hollow, squeezable under grip pressure, and cheap. The Jot Touch is utterly unlike that which we put up with from Wacom. It’s a true masterpiece of solid, functional, spare, Modernist industrial design, and a standard to which all objects one holds in one’s hand, should aspire.

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