Cregle iPen review: upstart brings iPad digitizer pen to market, but not the first
(Updated – 3/27/12)
For our first review, I was anxious to test out the Cregle iPen from Kickstarter upstart Cregle Inc. The Cregle iPen is an active digitizer stylus for the iPad that features proximity sensitivity and palm rejection. For those that are familiar with sketching and writing using their finger or capacitive stylus, this is a potential game-changer.
While a digital pen paired with an iPad doesn’t quite make it comparable to a Wacom Cintiq. It’s definitely a step towards what graphic artists have been hoping for since the release of the original iPad. Granted, Cregle’s iPen doesn’t feature any form of pressure sensitivity, but it does have the ability to transmit 60 samples per second to pinpoint the pen’s location. Pressure sensitivity could also be mimicked through software to a certain degree. We’ll see what app developers come up with in the near future for this feature. The biggest drawback of a digital pen right now for the iPad though, is that the technology only works within the apps that support the device. That means that you can’t use the iPen from the home screen, or with most drawing and note-taking applications. My hope is that support for these devices increases as they become more popular.
Although Cregle initially claimed that the iPen was “the first” digitizer pen for the iPad, By-Zero actually released a similar digitizer pen last year called the Studio Pen (we’ll review that later and do a comparison). Aiptek and EFUN also currently have similar products on the market. The Cregle Team later released an apology statement on their Kickstarter page to backers. This was to clarify that when they first initiated their project, their belief at the time, was that the iPen was the first such digitizer. But they later realized other companies had licensed the same ultrasonic patents. To alleviate future misunderstanding, they stated that they would remove the, “first” statement from their postings. Cregle has since changed the wording to, “the first active stylus for the iPad”.
I must admit, I was reluctant at fist to order the iPen based on the negative commentary that was beginning to propogate on Cregle’s Kickstarter page following it’s release. Initially, the iPen was slated for release in January 2012. But that date was pushed back into mid and then late February, due to Cregle Inc. awaiting final approval from Apple for their MFI application. Final approval was received on March 8th and Cregle posted an update to backers letting them know that their iPens would be shipping. Although I wasn’t a backer for this project, I found the delays to be a non-issue personally. I would expect any Kickstarter project to experience a certain degree of, “hiccups” when trying to bring a new product to market. My real concern, was the common theme of backers complaining that Cregle’s communication throughout the delivery process was nonexistent.
During the ordering process on Cregle’s website, I was redirected to Paypal for means of payment. But never once was I prompted to add an alternative shipping address. I tried contacting Cregle through their support email several times and even updated my address through my cregle.com account. In the end, I never heard from the Cregle Team and had to miss a day of work to ensure that I received my package. Thankfully, Cregle had sent my FedEx tracking number within twenty-four hours of placing my order. Some complaints on their Kickstarter site, were from backers that were not receiving tracking info and no correspondence as to the status of their orders. Based on my own experience, I can completely understand backers frustrations regarding Cregle’s support and lack of communication. Hopefully this will improve over time as they get caught up on initial orders.
The iPen packaging is very Apple-esque with the famous, “Made for iPad” badge on the front. You would almost expect to find the iPen on the shelves of any Apple Store. Seems the MFI application delays were well worth the short wait. We’re not certain how stringent Apple’s MFI application is, but it really seems to add to the assurance of the product.
Inside the package, you will find the digitizer pen with cap, receiver, two sets of SR41 batteries, two replacement pen tips, a carrying case and a pen tip extractor. On the receiver you’ll notice a plastic cap covering the dock connector and a plastic strip over the IR sensor. Be certain to remove both, otherwise the iPen will not operate properly! While the iPen User Manual is pretty lacking for the initial setup process, Cregle’s Kickstarter page does have a more detailed video in their Updates section. You’ll also want to disable “Multitasking Gestures” under General Settings for your iPad. That way you won’t experience erratic behavior while using the pen or resting your palm on the display.
The iPen receiver has a quality look and feel, but the plastic of the pen itself doesn’t quite seem to compare. Cregle should have also added a little more weight to the pen in my opinion. Subtle design features though, like the iPen and Cregle logo’s embroidered on the side and pen cap, really add to the look of the product. The included carrying case is a nice felt bag with a drawstring on the top.
When you plug the iPen receiver into the dock connector port of the iPad, you are immediately directed to a list of supported apps inside iTunes. At this time, the only app supported is GhostWriter Notes. This information was a bit mis-leading on Cregle’s website and Kickstarter page up until a couple of days ago.
Initial advertising suggested that the iPen would be compatible at launch with several apps such as: Procreate, ArtRage, ibisPaint, Notes Plus, Noteshelf and TouchDraw. They have since added the disclaimer that iPen is currently, “not working on all iPad apps”, but they are working with several developers for integration. I sincerely hope this comes to fruition, because By-Zero’s studio pen has been promising additional app support for months now with similar developers. We will update you as this progresses.
At the calibration screen, you’ll notice a target at the center or side of the screen (depending on what orientation you have the iPad currently at). Rest your palm on the iPad display and hold the iPen as you would a normal pen. Tap the dot at the center of the crosshairs to calibrate. A message should display letting you know that the iPen is now calibrated. Unfortunately, GhostWriter Notes only supports one point of calibration at this time. According to Cregle’s beta test video, future releases of Noteshelf will support up to nine points of calibration!
If you leave the “show pen shadow” setting enabled, then you will notice a sensor dot on the screen when the pen is in proximity of the display. This provides you with the location for where the receiver anticipates the pen to be. If the tip of the pen and the sensor dot don’t align when you’re in the range of proximity, be sure to recalibrate the iPen in Settings. We found that we had to do this quite often, especially if you change the orientation of the iPad or the angle of the pen. I would speculate that having additional calibration points would alleviate the need for having to do this so frequently. It’s actually surprising and dissapointing that GhostWriter Notes only supports one.
The GhostWriter Notes application is fairly basic with limited pen options and no ability to change your pen opacity or work with layers. It’s certainly not intended for graphic artists, which is a shame to say the least. I for one was extremely anxious to use the iPen for sketching. Hopefully ArtRage and Procreate will add compatibility for the iPen soon.
Another annoyance while using the iPen in GhostWriter Notes, is a slight lag when drawing or writing. It is especially noticeable if you drag the pen across the screen while you watch the expected line try to play, “catch up” with the tip of the device. This instance shows at least a half-second delay between your movement and the tracking of the device. Cregle has stated on their site that they are aware of the issue and GhostWriter Notes plans to alleviate this with future updates. With no other apps to test the device in, we’re left wondering if this is an issue within the app or the device itself? However, despite it’s drawbacks, the app does have some useful features like: wrist guard protection when using a capacitive stylus and several different paper options for note-taking.
Overall, I’m fairly impressed with Cregle’s iPen and it’s execution. Although the lack of apps currently supporting the device would make me think twice about buying another one. We should mention that there is a noticeable tapping noise while using the iPen as well. If you plan to use it in a classroom setting to take notes then you might consider a screen protector. The iPen works just as well it seems with the Zagg screen protector on the iPad and cuts down on the noise of the pen while you write. There is also a slight learning curve with the setup and use of the iPen, but after a bit of practice you learn how to adapt. I give this product a rating of
2.5 out of 5 bits, simply due to the lack of app support and minimal calibration options. You may want to hold off if you’re on the fence about purchasing the iPen.
We plan to review the By-Zero Studio Digital Pen this week and see how it stacks up against the iPen. We also plan on posting a comparison of both digital pens with the Adonit Jot Pro and Just Mobile AluPen capacitive stylus’. So stay tuned!
Update #1: Since writing this review, we discovered that ibisPaint just released an update for Cregle iPen support! The app has three calibration points for the iPen and appears to be a great solution for graphic artists. We’ll test the iPen with ibisPaint and will let you know how it works. This changes our initial rating of 2.5 bits to 3.5 for the iPen. Click here for a video of the iPen being used within the app.
Update #2: We received our By-Zero Studio Pen today and our initial impressions are very positive! By-Zero’s Studio Basic+ app is very intuitive with a great UI and nine points of calibration. So far the Studio Pen even seems to perform better than the Cregle iPen. We’ll post a review soon and plan on doing a comparison of both.
Update #3: One of our readers just notified us that GoodNotes has added iPen compatibility and has multiple calibration points! Looks like Cregle and developers are really following through! Thanks for the feedback and commentary, we’ll continue to keep you updated as more developers add support.
We tried testing both the Cregle iPen and By-Zero Studio Pen in GoodNotes, but the app crashes before we even get a chance to calibrate it. At first we thought that it was just a fluke with the iPad we were using so we tried it on a different one, but we had the same results. Finally we were able to figure out what the issue was with the app crashing. If you have the iPen receiver plugged in while starting the app, it’ll crash when you go to settings to calibrate the pen. So first, start the app and then plug-in the receiver. GoodNotes is also compatible with the By-Zero Studio Pen and worked using this method as well. The current version of GoodNotes (2.5.1) iPen support is still in beta, so we would still expect a certain margin of errors at this stage.
The calibration screen in GoodNotes is definitely the best yet. The crosshairs will go to multiple and seemingly random points on the screen and will allow you to continue calibrating until you get the desired results. Below is a test we did using the iPen in GoodNotes. I’m embarrassed to admit that my handwriting is just as bad using regular pen and paper.
GoodNotes with the iPen is definitely a huge improvement over Ghostwriter Notes. Although we actually preferred using the By-Zero Studio Pen as the tracking seemed a little better than the iPen. It’s also not as noisy to write with and feels more comfortable to hold (full review of the Studio Pen and comparison
coming soon posted).
Update #5: We tested the iPen using ibisPaint and upon initial use the performance seems good but needs work. The tracking dot on the screen is also very noticeable and distracting while you draw. Currently, ibisPaint is only compatible with the iPen. It’s definitely promising that more developers are adopting support for such devices!
New iPad – Update #6: While we haven’t tested the Cregle iPen and By-Zero Studio Pen in our labs yet with the new iPad, we’ve heard mixed reviews from consumers. Some are commenting that they’re experiencing worse lag than the iPad 1 & 2 with both devices. Cregle Inc. was going to update their backers on their Kickstarter page once they received their new iPad on March 16th, but have yet to post anything to date.
Here is the official post from Cregle Inc. regarding the new iPad:
Attention Jailbreak iPad users! Many jailbreak users are complaining that the Cregle iPen does not work well or even at all. There are reports from some jailbreak users that the pen works fine for them, so the iPen seems unpredictable on a jailbroken device at this time. We are uncertain on the By-Zero Studio Pen’s compatibility with jailbroken devices, but will update you once we confirm this.
Attention International Cregle iPen Customers! Backers on Cregle’s Kickstarter page are complaining that for International iPen orders, Cregle Inc. is declaring a customs value of 89 USD (price of the iPen in the US currently) and not, “GIFT”. So if you’re an International customer ordering the iPen, be prepared for a shipping bill from customs for roughly $30 extra.
Update #7: While we would like to post a test sketch using the Cregle iPen and ibisPaint (like we did using the Studio XO Pen and Studio Basic+ recently), we’re sad to announce that using the iPen right now with ibisPaint is just not there yet. With constant calibration and tracking issues, the level of frustration trying to draw with the iPen was not worth the effort.
We have to agree with Savage Interactive’s current decision not to include Cregle iPen support with their Procreate 1.6 release. We wish they would have supported the XO Studio Pen, but we’re looking forward to the Adonit Jot Touch and Procreate 1.6.
Update #8: Sketch Club has included iPen support with their 1.13 release!