Just Mobile made a lot of headlines when it released its thick pencil-shaped all-aluminum stylus a few years ago. And now the company is following up with its brand new take on the powered and so-called smart stylus market with the AluPen Digital. It's a beautifully designed, super-sensitive aluminum hybrid stylus with an extremely fine tip designed to give you that familiar feeling of using a ball-point pen – only with your tablet or smartphone. And the great thing about the AluPen Digital is that it just works. Straight out of the box. Although it is indeed a powered stylus, there's no Bluetooth pairing or proprietary technology involved to limit its functionality so you can use it with virtually any app that's available for iOS and Android devices. Look for our full review after the jump!
A quick overview of what's inside the AluPen Digital packaging: you'll find a single triple A battery and a quick start guide to get the ball rolling straight out of the box. No replacement tips or a carrying case included.
Contrary to Just Mobile's online description, the AluPen does not have a sleek aluminum body. But it does have a sleek, partial aluminum body. That's the silver bit. As for the top half upper portion of the AluPen Digital, that part is made out of black ABS plastic featuring a built-in clip. The two parts fit together seamlessly creating a very clean and svelte-looking stylus, but there's in fact more plastic than metal. For some odd reason we found that the end piece that creates that portion where the stylus tip is housed in is also made from plastic made to look like it is aluminum. We're not disappointed in the build quality or the design of the AluPen Digital, however, I somehow feel like Just Mobile could have done a better job with it. That being said, the AluPen Digital is exactly what we'd expect Just Mobile to come up with. Simple, yet attractive. But it's what's on the inside that makes the AluPen Digital perform like a truly amazing capacitive, battery powered stylus.
Unlike Just Mobile's classic AluPen Pro and other styli like Wacom's Intuous Creative Stylus, it is imperative that you use a battery with the AluPen Digital or else you won't be able to use it at all. Without power the AluPen Digital's capacitance-enhanced tip cannot function as it is not actively conductive without energy.
You won't find any buttons or switches anywhere on the AluPen Digital, which only bids its pen/marker-esque minimalist design even more. And you might be wondering how this thing works, right? Twisting the upper plastic body of the AluPen Digital clockwise until it clicks will power it on, and a tiny green LED light on the front will illuminate until you twist the stylus counter-clockwise to turn it off. When you twist the AluPen Digital to begin using it, the stylus tip protrudes out of its protective plastic stylus head whilst the device simultaneously powers on. What you will notice immediately is that there's a lot of friction as you twist to open and close the stylus. Not that it affects the usability, but it does cheapen the build quality in a certain way from a user experience prospective. The twisting mechanism is a little choppy and not something you'll be impressed by.
Just-Mobile's AluPen Digital has got to be the most easy-to-use and sensitive stylus we have ever tested
Compared to every single rubber-tipped stylus we've used in the past, the AluPen Digital is hands down the most responsive and highly-sensitive one we tested. Most of that is because of its very fine 1.8mm, polyacetal plastic tip that essentially performs as well as your finger does due to it being actively powered using the internal battery to replicate the same level of realism of a human finger - only in pen form. And that also means that thanks to the ultra-slim tip, the AluPen Digital is a very precise stylus to write and draw with. The tip on the AluPen Digital is even finer than Adonit's noteworthy Jot Script, albeit the difference in size is negligible in real world usage. The AluPen Digital's polyacetal tip effortlessly glides on top of glass touchscreens much better than any other rubber-tipped stylus we've used including Adonit's plastic-disc Jot Pro stylus. It's precise, and best of all it writes like you'd expect a pen to function when you put it up against the glass thanks to that fine polyacetal tip and ultra-conductive sensitivity feature of the whole stylus being powered to mimic the natural conductivity of the human finger.
While the AluPen Digital isn't as smart as some other Bluetooth 4.0-connected styli, it does work flawlessly with iPad apps such as Penultimate, which has palm-rejection already built-in so that you can actually take notes on a virtual lined/graphed paper using any passive stylus.
The only downside to using a hard stylus tip is that it makes a lot more noise when it hits the glass touchscreen unlike the soft, rubbery nibs on more traditional passive styli which don't make any noise as you write and sketch. It's very much like writing on a chalkboard with a piece of chalk as oppose to writing on a whiteboard with a dry erase marker. There's an audible difference, but the plastic tip does have an advantage over a regular rubbery nib as it is able to glide much quicker and with little to no friction over the glass. This does give the AluPen Digital the upper hand when it comes to usability. It may be slightly disturbing to tap with on a glass touchscreen, however, the AluPen Digital does replicate a very convincing ball-point pen experience on a tablet.
As long as you work with a clean tablet and not somewhere where you're sitting in front of water surrounded by sand, the plastic tip on the AluPen Digital will not cause any damage to your touchscreen nor will it cause any scratches on the glass. We don't recommend using this type of stylus with plastic screen protectors as you won't be able to enjoy the same experience that you otherwise would when using the AluPen Digital with bare glass.
During our testing we haven't experienced any hiccups with regards to skipping or shady responsiveness even at very steep usage angles, which are often associated with similar battery-powered styluses across different types of touchscreen devices. Just Mobile's AluPen Digital feels nicely weighted and fits rather comfortably in the hand. Alas, it lacks additional refinements like an enhanced grip area with some sort of a textured surface similar to that of the Jot Script, and I'd much prefer a slimmer body overall. While I don't mind the smooth and perfectly cylindrical form factor of the AluPen Digital, I can't help but think that it should have been more pen-shaped or at least narrower and tapered towards the bottom grip area than it really is. It's as long as a normal pen, but it's much thicker than your typical Parker and Bic pens at 0.49-inches in diameter, granted understandably so due to the internal battery.
Pro tip: you can slightly adjust the weight of the AluPen Digital by not using the included alkaline battery, but instead a lithium battery which is noticeably lighter.
The one and only crucial part Just Mobile failed to make note of is battery life. We're not sure how long a standard triple A battery will last with daily use. It can be as little as a few weeks or even months before you'll need to replace the battery. All I can say is that I've been using it for half an hour or so every day for the past month and I've yet to run into any battery-related issues. Because the AluPen Digital requires very little energy to run as it doesn't use Bluetooth connectivity to function, it's safe to say that battery life will be fantastically long. It wouldn't hurt to carry a spare battery with you if you're planning to travel for a while.
It's worth noting that the green LED light on the front of the AluPen Digital will turn red if you are low on juice. And the good news is that the AluPen Digital does have a fail-safe mode. Meaning it does save battery power in that it will automatically turn the stylus off after about 2 minutes of idleness in case you forget to switch it off yourself, which is always a good thing to have as a battery saving feature. Even with the tip extended, the AluPen Digital will still be able to automatically power itself off.
I'm not ashamed to admit that I haven't got the smallest amount of the skill required to put a stylus to good use like many amazing and incredibly gifted artists out there – nor do I use a stylus with my iPad as I'd much rather type than take notes digitally, which I never feel is a better alternative to physical note taking. But when it comes to sketching things in a rough first draft, a tablet is a perfectly good excuse for me to pick up a stylus and use the many helpful features that iPad apps like Adobe's and FiftyThree's productivity apps provide. And if you're someone that prefers to use a stylus in certain respects, the AluPen Digital is a solid and relatively inexpensive choice for note taking, sketch work and general content creation.
AluPen Digital effectively simulates a writing and drawing experience on a touchscreen with pen-like precision
Just Mobile's AluPen Digital is impressively as good as Adonit's more technically advanced smart Bluetooth stylus, the Jot Script, sans the bag of frills, tricks and more premium build quality. Fortunately, you'll also be paying less for the AluPen Digital in comparison. Just Mobile's battery powered and ultra-thin, retractable capacitance tip works amazingly well on touchscreens and with every app we've thrown at it. It's the smoothest, most friction-less stylus experience you can get for no more than $50. And for that reason we believe you'll really like how the AluPen Digital performs on your very own piece of glass-covered tablet. But if you're coming from a more traditional rubber-tip stylus, expect an increase in usage noise due to the nature of the polyacetal tip technology that the AluPen Digital uses. Then again it's no different from any other battery-powered stylus with an ultra-thin pen-like tip.
If you don't want to spend $100 on a more advanced Bluetooth-enabled stylus with extra set of features like enhanced palm-rejection and pressure sensitivity awareness, the AluPen Digital is the more basic alternative currently available that still writes like a pen, and it does so elegantly and just as well as the more expensive hard-tip styli out there. At $50, it merits a high recommendation from us despite not having the slimmest and most grip-tastic design.