A Pressure Sensitive Lifestyle
As an artist, the moment I saw the Pixel Slate hit the marketplace, I eagerly bought it. No longer would I need to boot up my Windows PC, grab my Wacom tablet, plug it in and try to locate my missing stylus in order to begin drawing. No longer would I need to carry around a field notes bullet journal to compose my thoughts throughout my day. Traditionally, I would sit at my desktop to draw, find a hard surface to write on in order to use my small notebook or just use my phone for tasks and notes, but I’ve long since sought out a way to increase my productivity and comfort for both.
I wanted to carry around a lightweight tablet that fit into my bag, could be used as a quick tool to convey my thought and provided infinite space, flexibility and smart organization in ways that paper couldn’t while retaining the comfort and fluidity of it. I’ve never been an iPad sort of guy despite the fact that they would solve this need and I certainly didn’t want to return to the Android ecosystem by buying a Samsung tablet. Luckily for me, Google’s new device shipped with a detachable keyboard and the ability to add in a stylus, but there were a few issues. The Slate – while lightweight on paper – was quite heavy on the wrist after prolonged drawing or writing sessions and the Pixelbook Pen was thick and heavy. Not to mention, I lost two of them (go me!) For those who aren’t aware, Google’s stylus cost a hundred bucks to replace. All of these factors added up and I became sensitive to the pressure they added to my life. What was supposed be convenient and forward thinking ended up pushing me back to my bullet journal and clamshell Chromebook.
I’d almost given up on my dream of carrying around my entire digital life and capturing my thoughts at lightning quick speed when Lenovo announced the Chromebook Duet and Robby reviewed it. What does all of this have to do with a stylus, you ask? Well, quite a bit, actually. You see, not long afterward, Lenovo also announced a stylus that would pair with the Duet and though this review is about the stylus itself, it’s almost impossible to talk about one without the other as they’re a perfect…duet for anyone who wants the best combo for note taking, sketching and portability.
Universally designed for comfort
The Lenovo USI Pen is an active stylus (not EMR) that is a part of the Universal Stylus Initiative or USI for short. The idea that a universal standard by which hardware manufacturers would develop styli meant things were about to get very interesting for me as an artist.
I won’t go into everything that the initiative has to offer at this time because the guys have already interviewed USI’s chairman, Peter Mueller on the podcast, but what excites me most is that this pen was designed in so many ways for comfort. Yes, it feels comfortable in hand and although it’s not perfectly balanced, with most of the weight being toward its front end, it’s certainly ergonomic. It also has a cozy two-tone silver design. It’s far from cold and corporate, but that’s not exactly what I mean when I say it’s designed for comfort.
This pen was designed exclusively for Chrome OS as shown on Lenovo’s website. It pairs automatically thanks to USI’s new two way protocol, so there’s virtually no setup out of the box. I did have a few odd issues, but I’ll get to that shortly. Essentially, you just pull the tab to the battery and you’re done! After that, you simply bring the pen to the screen and you’re able to write instantly.
It’s nice and sturdy and survived my (relatively gentle) bend test. It also writes smoothly and there’s no noticeable lag. My lag test is generally Google Keep as it’s always the major offender for performance compared to something like Squid Note. Surprisingly, I didn’t have any lag in Keep either! Now we’re talking. After everything is said and done, Lenovo’s USI stylus just fits my lifestyle as someone who wants an approachable, affordable, lightweight pen that performs without any hiccups. Compared to my past experiences, this feels like the complete package. Like I said, comfortable.
Priced to be found…and lost
At just $39.99 USD, this isn’t exactly a purchase that will break the bank compared to the Pixelbook Pen or the Apple Pencil. It’s also not so inexpensive that it screams ‘cheap!’ You can keep this stylus and use it for any stylus enabled Chromebook or USI compatible device going forward instead of having to empty your wallet on the next proprietary one. Otherwise, if you lose it as I’m prone to doing, you can replace it pretty easily. This accessory is definitely already getting tons of attention and I believe it will continue to do so thanks to its price. I long for a day when we can just go out and buy any stylus for any screen. USI seeks to make this possible by standardizing the process just as USB has done and I think this pen sets us down that path.
The Finer Points
Being that you came here to experience how the pen feels, I won’t spend too much time on its dimensions. I’ll drop the specs below so you can get an idea, but we’re going to focus on the things you won’t generally find on a spec card. Please note, however, that Lenovo’s stylus has the same level of pressure sensitivity as Microsoft’s Surface Pen! It also works great for navigation for those of you who like to avoid fingerprints on your touch screen!
- Diameter 9.5mm
- Supported Chrome OS
- Up to 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity
- 150days battery life based on 2 hours in active use daily (AAAA battery)
- Pen Size: 137.3*9.5*9.5mm
- Pen Weight: 16g
- Pen Length:
- Brand: Think
- Warranty: 1 year CRU
- Hardware Requirements: ESD Air: 15 KV; Contact 8KV
- OS Requirements: Chrome OS
- Packed Weight: 60g
While the stylus does not officially magnetize to a Chromebook, you can snap it to many devices, if you wish. The Pixelbook Pen was quite heavy and although I could magnetize it to the Slate, it fell off as I walked around. Lenovo’s stylus, on the other hand, magnetizes to the bottom left or right of the Duet and because it’s lightweight, it stays. It’s not a very strong magnetic connection as it’s just utilizing the pogo pin magnet area where the Duet attaches to its keyboard, and it sure would fall off if you grip the Device where you naturally would, but it works for making sure you don’t lose it around the house.
Things to write off
Okay, so here the pen inks itself a bit. The tip of the pen, to my surprise, is not sharp. Instead, its nib is the equivalent of a dull pencil. That’s fine for note taking, but for drawing, it constantly threw me off. It’s hard to explain, but imagine trying to draw something amazing with a crayon instead of a mechanical pencil. You’d probably be pretty frustrated and limited. I’m exaggerating a bit, but just for effect.
I should also mention that there are no replacement nibs. I know it’s only forty bucks, but still. Nibs are so inexpensive that it almost feels like a sleight that there were none included. Perhaps Lenovo will offer a sharper nib as a replacement in their online store in the near future.
When I first received the pen in the mail, I opened its housing and pulled out the battery tab. Little did I know, I also accidentally pulled out the spring which connects the battery’s charge to the stylus itself. Yep, I lost it. User error? Sure was. Either way, I thought I was being clever by replacing it with a longer spring from an ink pen I had laying around the house. While I got it to work, I felt the battery heat up to the point where I could no longer hold it! I realized then that the spring I had placed inside was compressing the battery with so much force that it was going to make it explode. Luckily, I found the original spring and grabbed a new battery and was on my way.
Lastly, while palm rejection is going to be something many of you ask about, please keep in mind that this feature is more dependent on Chrome OS, and less so on the pen. There are several neural palm rejection flags available to try out in the OS which use machine learning to detect and block your hand as you place it down on the screen of your device, but as of OS 87 they did nothing to prevent Google Keep from zooming in and out while I wrote or to keep the Chrome OS shelf from coming up constantly. Frustrating, but definitely not the fault of the stylus.
A sign of things to come
Styli remove the barrier between your thoughts and your delivery of them. When you write as opposed to typing, it removes the speed limit on your brain, to to speak. This pen isn’t perfect, but it’s definitely a sign of things to come. I believe that we’ll continue to see more affordable and capable styli enter the market to contend with this one and some may even add in some exciting features. We’re finally entering an era where a Chromebook can replace both my bullet journal and my sketchbook and I can finally express myself thoughtfully and artistically without the need for a bulky, tethered workstation or a flimsy, limited paper notebook. Such a thing isn’t possible by hardware alone, but rather because of the synergy between a Chromebook and an amazing accessories like Lenovo’s USI stylus and I believe it’s something to write home about…erm, I mean with.