Adonit Pixel Stylus Review: A Sketchy Pencil for the iPad Pro-less

By Gerald Lynch on at

If you were a company that does business primarily (if not solely) in its tablet stylus range, you would probably have been ripping your hair out when Apple revealed its iPad Pro and Pencil combo. How do you compete when the device your third-party accessory is most often partnered with gets its own first-party solution?

You double down on millions of last-gen users left out of Apple’s iPad Pro Pencil party, that’s what. And that’s exactly what Adonit has done with its Pixel stylus. It’s built a stylus that makes up with deep backwards compatibility what it sometimes lacks in precision.

Adonit Pixel Stylus Review

Adonit Pixel Stylus Review

What Is It?

A Bluetooth stylus for a wide range of iOS devices, complete with shortcut buttons, pressure sensitivity and palm rejection.

Who Is It For?

Those that refuse to upgrade to an iPad Pro, but still want pen input. Artists or note takers that can handle some lag. Android fanboys who want to stand laughing on the grave of Steve Jobs, prodding an iPad with a stylus.

Design

It looks like a pen. Good! So it should, and it’s an ergonomically designed one at that. The Pixel measures 10.5mm thick around its barrel before shrinking to 8.5mm at its grip (where the two shortcut buttons sit). It’s perfectly weighted (in a fancy Montblanc way as opposed to like a Bic), and its brushed aluminium metal finish (in bronze or black shades) has a premium feel to it.

Shortcut buttons (notably absent from Apple’s Pencil and a key selling point of the Pixel) sit one above the other like a phone’s volume rocker down the rubber-gripped business end of the stylus, next to a notification LED that glows to show connectivity and charge status.

Adonit Pixel Stylus Review

A full one-hour charge of the Adonit Pixel from its magnetic dongle will get you 15 hours of scribbling time. In a smart power-saving touch, the Pixel sets itself to a low-power "sleep" mode when resting flat on a table, waking again when picked up.

Wide compatibility will be the big draw here. While the Pixel doesn’t support every iPad or iPhone, it supports pretty much all the ones Apple still does. So you’ll be able to get the Pixel working with both generations of the iPad Air, all existing iPad Mini models, the iPad Pro 12.9-inch version, and the iPhone 5, 6, and 6 Plus. iPhone 6S support is strangely absent, but at least Adonit is working on bringing in support for the iPad Pro 9-incher, if Apple’s Pencil doesn’t rock your boat there already.

Using It

The Pixel stylus feels great in the hand, its weight and length balancing comfortably despite being slightly chunkier than your average pen. The shortcut buttons push with a satisfying action (there’s no way you’d push them accidentally), and the magnetic charging base is equally reassuringly sturdy (if not without its own problems, which we’ll come to shortly).

There’s already a wide range of supported apps working with the Pixel, its shortcut buttons and palm rejection, including Concepts, MediaBang and GoodNotes.

Adonit Pixel Stylus Review

With considerable effort, I drew this in MediaBang with the stylus. My GCSE art teacher would be proud.

The Pixel’s performance is certainly miles better than a “dumb” rubber-tipped stylus, offering far more finesse than if you were just scribbling with your fingertips or non-Bluetooth iPad pen. Though my time with Adonit’s earlier pens has been limited, the Pixel favours well against my memory of its predecessors, too. With 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity, when paired up with an app that lets you tweak it to let the feature feel natural in your hand, the Pixel lets you sketch with remarkable detail and expression. The tip slides fluidly across the screen (with a slight friction drag that put me at ease), and the shortcut buttons (when configured) save you jumping around app menu and brush settings to let you focus on the work at hand.

Adonit Pixel Stylus Review

It is not, however a match for the iPad Pro and Pencil. It’s admirable that the Pixel can support so many generations of Pencil-less iPads, but the limitations are noticeable. I was primarily using the Pixel on an iPad Air and iPad Mini, both first generation. A degree of lag between my input and the resulting line appearing on screen correlated with the relative age of each iPad I tested the Pixel with. It was bearable on the iPad Air, but older iOS tablets struggled to keep up. With some apps I found an intermittent bug where drawing a long, consistent line would lead to erratic stops and unregistered strokes. But most annoyingly the Pixel consistently played up when I tried to write in the way I find most comfortable (with my right hand’s pinky side sat almost entirely on the page), despite setting apps to acknowledge my style. I instead found myself hovering awkwardly over the screen despite palm recognition being active, and the tip would regularly drop its digital mark off from the point I had expected it to.

I get the sense however that, rather than the hardware here being massively at fault, the software plays its part too. Whereas Apple with the iPad Pro has complete control over how its screen hardware and Pencil works with first party apps, Adonit has to just hope that third-party app makers implement its pen input successfully. But with a multitude of interfaces and potential gesture commands across disparate apps, it can be a bit hit or miss. In some supported apps, palm rejection could be so flaky or conflict so frustratingly with multitouch gestures that I turned it off altogether – surely the last thing I would hope to do with a Bluetooth stylus that has that as one of its key features.

Adonit Pixel Stylus Review

This is Weird

The Pixel charges over USB, standing tall and sturdy in a magnetic charging dongle that you plug into the side of a computer. Clearly, Adonit have only really considered this being plugged into the side of a laptop placed on a flat surface – if you’re charging out of, say, a desktop PC that has its ports facing skyward, the Pixel is going to have it resting awkwardly at a 45-degree angle. Even with the stylus standing upright in the dock as likely intended, it does uncomfortably bring to mind *that* Joker scene from The Dark Knight. Ouch.

An option to charge directly from an iPad – the device it’s most likely to be consistently paired with – would have been useful too.

Like

It feels really nice in the hand, works with a wide range of tablets and, when paired with a device that can keep up, allows for reasonably precise doodling.

No Like

Depending on the device it’s paired with, the performance of the Pixel can be a bit hit-or-miss. At times, the tip would miss its mark, and the charging cradle won’t be convenient to all users.

Should You Buy It?

That question depends on two things. Firstly, how good is “good enough” for you when the competition is so limited? And secondly, can you afford an iPad Pro and Apple’s Pencil? If you can answer that second question positively, go pay an Apple Store another visit – it’s just a more accurate, integrated writing experience. If you must pair your older iPad with a stylus you can do far worse the Adonit Pixel, especially at its reasonable £79 price. Just be prepared for its quirks, which WILL annoy, and the possibility that you might have to adapt your scrawl to accommodate them.

Adonit Pixel Stylus Specs:

Price: £79
Weight: 20g
Length: 150mm
Battery Life: 15 hours use per charge