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Stylus with Style

New pen releaseIt’s the rare tablet these days that includes a stylus for writing, drawing or just doodling, but those that do are top shelf in my book. For instance, the new-generation of slates that use N-Trig’s latest DuoSense Pen 2 take the smallest and lightest computers into a new realm.

At less than 0.6 of an ounce, the DuoSense 2 pen is comfortable for hands small and large. Like its first generation predecessor, the DuoSense 2 has an aluminum barrel and a pair of buttons for clicking and erasing. There’re also two smaller and thinner plastic DuoSense 2 models, but only the largest has a place to thread a thin string through to tether it to a slate or a necklace.

Rather than the dead feel that most tablet pens provide, DuoSense 2 comes with multiple tips with varying degrees of roughness that mimic the feel of a pen or rollerball on paper. Inside is a sophisticated signal generator and circuitry that interacts with the screen’s digitizer to provide 256-levels of pressure sensitivity, 0.25-millimeter placement precision and a phenomenal resolution of over 2,500 points per inch. The pen adds the ability to hover over the screen while sketching and accuracy that goes beyond what is available with off-the-shelf pens.

Sony VAIO Duo 2On the downside, the stylus works with only a small number of Android tablets and Windows 8 machines, including HTC’s Evo Flyer, Fujitsu’s Q702, Asus’s Taichi, Dell’s XTs, HP’s Slate 2 and Toshiba’s U505. It, unfortunately, leaves out all iPads and the majority of Android slates. Plus, unlike the typical slate stylus, the DuoSense 2 pen requires power and has a slim AAAA battery inside; N-trig says it should last about 18 months.

After using the stylus for a few weeks, I’m convinced that this is the way to go for slates and is a distinct step up from relying exclusively on fingers or using inexact rubber dome pens. Not only does the traditional on-screen multi-touch finger response still work, but the screen can interpret gestures and 10 individual inputs. The bonus is the ability to use the stylus and finger at the same time.

The payoff is more control of what you’re drawing or writing. For instance, with other tablets, you need to manually adjust the width of the line for each change, making intricate art work tedious. With DuoSense 2 all you do is press harder or softer to change the line’s weight. With the lightest effort, the line even starts to breakup, exactly the way that a pencil acts.

Pen cUsing AutoDesk’s SketchBook Pro software and an HTC Evo Flyer, I was able to draw items like sketching a map of Europe and the cloud of electron probability for atoms. I particularly like the erase button that works with many drawing programs.

In addition to being able to control the pad more accurately than with a finger, the DuoSense 2 pen does the best job I’ve seen when it comes to hand writing recognition. It’s still not as fast as typing but is eerily accurate – though slow – particularly compared to earlier efforts.

Software is key with DuoSense 2 technology because the pen needs to be integrated with the screen’s digitizer. In addition to many Adobe and AutoDesk programs, the pen works with Office and the Myscript family of apps from Vision Objects for scribbling notes, writing math and scientific equations and turning rough drawings into clean straight line figures. You can also use Unidocs’s ezPDFViewer to mark up essays or just make signing digital documents less of a chore.

N-trigIt all comes together when the tablet and pen are connected to a TV, monitor or projector to display it for the whole class. I used an HTC Flyer with an MHL adapter to put the output on the big screen with a Mitsubishi WD390U-EST projector for all to see, and it was instrumental in diagraming a sentence free-form and explaining how to solve a quadratic equation.

N-trig’s DuoSense 2 technology not only preserves a screen’s multi-touch capabilities but adds an accurate pressure-sensitive pen that’s easy to use for everything from drawing and annotating a report to filling in a Web form or sketching an outline. I only wish more tablets could take advantage of it.

 N-trig DuoSense Pen 2

Pen c
+ Excellent accuracy

+ 256-levels of pressure sensitivity

+ Small and light

+ Roughened tip

+ Software

+ 3 sizes available


- Doesn’t work with all slates

- Requires battery



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