REVIEW: ICEPEN 'ZEN' Multifunction Tablet & Smartphone Stylus
ICEPEN is a Vietnam based startup that blasted 150% past its Kickstarter goal and is now in production. The stylus is a 3-in-one device that includes a standard rubbery tip, a precision tip, and a traditional twist-out pen. AkihabaraNews tested two pre-production units, and here’s what our reporter thought.
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Is excellent. The machined and brushed aluminium finish just feels...quality. It is slim, elegant, and withstood a drop from a third-floor balcony with only a slight scratch to the anodization to show for it (scientific testing at it’s best).
All three writing implements are tensioned well. The ballpoint pen extension and retraction twist mechanism is both smooth and stable providing a nice firm pressure without any hint of movement within the pen, even when writing firmly. The silicone dome stylus is both malleable and sprung so it flexes in a way that is not unlike a brush tip copic marker. It allows for a smooth yet tactile interaction with glass surfaces. The precision tip does give up some of the tactile feedback but in doing so actually improves the writing experience and allows for more pen like control on the tablet surface.
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For illustration, drawing and art in general, The precision tip is a little unreliable. The lack of tactile control makes broad, sweeping strokes difficult. The tiny capacitative area leads it to “drop” strokes at higher speeds. The flexibility of the ball joint also means that the strong forces required to create steady, straight lines often result in the tip rotating and veering off course. All the factors that make less effective for art, however, make it an excellent writing tool. The smooth contact surface on the tip with the balljoint and tension spring give it very similar characteristics to an actual ballpoint pen. It tracks the subtle curves and stops associated with writing seamlessly. The clear PVC on the tip also allows you to accurately place the tip for an almost unnaturally natural note-taking experience.
The silicone nipple tip on the other hand, struggles with writing. It is soft and flexible so the tip squirms, but often the actual contact point doesn’t move all that much. As a result many letters end up malformed. For artistic purposes however it is magnificent. The subtle grip on the glass allows for very accurate and precise line work and a comfortable, almost brush like interaction with the tablet surface. Despite it’s rather large diameter, the quality of the materials used means that the conductivity is predictable and so with very little practise, one can accurately place strokes relative to each other and connect them easily. It performed well across a range of sketching apps regardless of the stroke type and definitely serves as a great medium for artists who prefer pencils/brushes to use their tablets as places to sketchup ideas, mockups and to even create final pieces.
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Being that the ZEN is a capacitive system, it’s never going to be a perfect stylus. Wacom tablet users will have no shortage of frustration unlearning all the little things that they take for granted - there is no pressure sensitivity (but some apps fake it). Basically, the level of accuracy is never going to be as good as any tablet with a dedicated pen/stylus input system built in, but for the limitations imposed by the screens, the ZEN does an excellent job. If you are willing to learn and adapt to it’s eccentricities, it can become a great companion.
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All photos by Nayalan Moodley. Jump over to flickr to see all the above and much more in full-res.
Thanks to Mr. Thanh Ly at ZENPEN for providing AkihabaraNews with ZEN prototypes.
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