Tangram's Smart Dot is the first smart stylus we got our hands on, and it's really quite extraordinary. Styluses are good at doing one thing and one thing only, replacing your finger. The Smart Dot stylus is a genius little gadget accessory for smartphones that's more than good for sketching, drawing and note taking. It's the first app enhanced stylus we've reviewed. With the help of an app, the Smart Dot serves as a powerful wireless presentation and input device delivering an entirely new user experience regular styluses long for. Sounds impressive, as long as it all works in practice that is. Catch the full review down below!
What is it and who's it for? The Smart Dot is an elegant, slender pen-style stylus with a rubber capacitive tip and a red dot laser on the other end of it. The laser, being the fundamental aspect of the Smart Dot stylus, can be detached from the end and plug directly into your smartphone's 3.5mm headphone port and can be virtually controlled using the free Smart Dot app which is compatible with all iOS and Android devices.
With the help of the Smart Dot app you can wirelessly (over a WiFi network) control slide shows and presentations whilst having the usefulness of a laser pointer to point at things making you the most awesome techie person to ever hold a keynote presentation. We will get into all of that in more detail later on. By now you got a good sense whether or not this stylus is for you. There's a caveat to all this hybridness though, it's up there in terms of pricyness. Way up high, in the clouds kind of expensive that is. But before you scroll down to see our rating and the Smart Dot's price tag, keep reading the review.
Beyond the fact that Tangram's Smart Dot stylus allows the use of both a physical and virtual laser pointer simultaneously, it is one exemplary designed stylus in both form and function. The Smart Dot's aluminum constructed pen-shaped body measures 6-inches long, feels well made and very comfortable to use. It has a perfect heft to balance ratio that makes it great to hold. However, it does lack grip to compensate for the fine, semi-shiny smooth aluminum finish. The downside is that you end up losing that well balanced feeling when you detach the laser part.
Compared to most styluses, the Smart Dot is rich with features and accessories. In the packaging you'll find the Smart Dot to include a simplistic eco-friendly urethane protective storage pouch and a long flexible silicone strap loop. The Smart Dot features a silicone stopper which prevents the stylus from rolling off the table. The silicone strap can attach onto the laser dongle of the Smart Dot for another form of carry. It's a cool trick, but not really practical in use as you're left with half of a stylus that looks like it's missing its end cap. Additionally you can purchase different colored straps which come with a matching stopper for $15 each. The Smart Dot stylus comes with a black silicone stopper and strap only.
What's better than owning an iPhone? Owning an iPhone that can shoot a laser beam out of its headphone port of course. When you want to use the Smart Dot laser, simply detach it from the stylus and plug it straight into your headphone port, fire up the Smart Dot app and you can then press the big on-screen button to turn the laser on and off. It's simple, quick and it works like a charm. Using your smartphone to power up the laser dongle has an obvious advantage in that it eliminates the need of tiny cell batteries and added weight and bulk. The Smart Dot's laser dongle will also work with the iPad and iPod Touch, as well as various Android tablets as long as you've got the Smart Dot app installed.
As for the laser beam, it's nothing too impressive and not any more powerful than your basic $5 keychain red dot laser pointer. Visibility is decent for indoor use only and you won't have trouble seeing the dot from far away.
The Smart Dot is performs very well as a stylus. The medium sized, round capacitive rubber tip is perfect for handling multiple writing styles and is great for quick note taking, sketching and amateur drawing (see above). While I didn't find it to be very precise, it performs adequately well for occasional stylus use. The rubber tip is on the squishy side and compresses down easily meaning you don't need to force it down on the touchscreen, so it also works very well if you've got a screen protector in place. Optionally, you can slide down the silicone stopper putting it to good use in aiding you with additional finger grip, albeit a matter of personal preference. Overall I enjoyed using the Smart Dot as a stylus, but it's still not nearly as good as the Jot Pro or the Bamboo Stylus at less than half the price if you're looking to achieve fine detail.
When it's time to show off your presenting skills, the lightweight and free Smart Dot host application is first required to be installed on either a Mac or PC making sure you've got access to a WiFi network. You'll then be able to work with Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple Keynote presentations. The Smart Dot app also lets you control you computer's mouse as an air mouse.
We tested the Smart Dot presentation mode using PowerPoint on a Mac and surprisingly everything worked smoothly and accurately. The initial connection between the iPhone and Mac over a home WiFi network took a matter of seconds, not to mention it's very user friendly. All in all, it has been an effortless connection process. When successfully paired with the computer Smart Dot host app, the iOS Smart Dot app instantly recognizes input and without any lag we were able to click thru a slide and operate basic mouse controls. When in presentation mode, the app offers previous an next slide buttons as well as a laser button and a trackpad area to control the computer's mouse cursor, albeit a small area with limited control. My only gripe is that you cannot enlarge the mouse control area in the app.
Weirdly enough, the Smart Dot's presentation features except for its on board laser pointer aren't exclusive. Meaning that anyone can download and use Tangram's free app for their presentations without having to purchase the stylus or plug in the laser dongle. So what it all comes down to is you ending up with an overpriced stylus and a cheap laser pointer that powers on and off using a smartphone app.
The Smart Dot is not cheap at just under $80, it's the most expensive stylus we've ever come across. So unless you're really going to use the on board laser pointer, we really cannot recommend that you even think about buying the Smart Dot. On the other hand, if you love your gadgets and like the idea of always having a laser pointer on hand to use with your smartphone while enjoying the benefit of a well designed stylus, the Smart Dot is an okay hybrid stylus that does what is supposed to very well, albeit highly expensive. At the end of the day, Tangram's Smart Dot is arguably more of a well designed gimmick than it is anything else.