Throughout my time testing Windows 8/8.1 tablets and laptops, I have never used an active stylus. The Surface that I played around with was missing the included stylus, and the various Lenovo Win8 machines I reviewed either didn’t have one, had a normal capacitive stylus, or had an active stylus that I just never got around to using because I was still new to the concept of a touchscreen computer. Whatever the reason, this is the first time I really had a chance to put some time into using an active stylus. Before I delve too deeply into this review, I want to point out that the only stylus I have ever used was a $10 cheapo that I got off of Amazon. It is by no means an active stylus; all it has is a handle and a spongy rubber tip to replicate your finger poking around at the screen. The ASUS Chi Stylus is not such a stylus.
The Chi Stylus is not necessarily an integral part of the Transformer Chi T300 experience, but if you’re a regular user of the hybrid device and you’re not a fan of getting fingerprints and smudges on the screen, then having a stylus like the Chi certainly makes things a lot more convenient. Add in the fact that the Chi has one of the better handwriting software I have seen, and it becomes clear that the admittedly steep-priced Chi ($39.99) is actually a pretty decent value.
The Chi has quite a bit of tech packed into a small, unassuming stylus. Where a typical capacitive stylus simply “replaces” your finger, the Chi actually functions more like mouse, with two built-in buttons and a variety of different features to insure that you don’t miss having an actual mouse in hand when traveling with your T300. First off is the previously mentioned handwriting tech. Hands down, this is one of the best styluses (styli?) I have tried for handwriting purposes. A capacitive stylus gets the job done, but only just barely. The stylus that came with my SHIELD Tablet is slightly better and more accurate, but at the end of the day, you’re still just dragging a rubber point across a screen. I did all of GDC with the SHIELD, and while I was able to jot down notes during presentations, it mostly ended up being chicken scratch that was hard to read.
With the Chi, writing was a breeze. I only tried it with OneNote, but it worked so well I never felt the need to use anything else for note taking. The Chi has a hard 1mm tip, perfect for replicating the feel of a ballpoint pen. The stylus has a 256 point pen pressure system to increase precision when writing, replicating writing with a real pen even further. Palm rejection technology insures that you can write normally with your palm resting on the surface of the screen without fear of your skin making unwanted marks or screwing with the accuracy of the stylus tip. Two programmable buttons make functions like erasing and right clicking just a finger press away. It’s everything you need packed into a pen.
After receiving the Chi stylus, I started using it in all my meetings. I no longer had to pull the full laptop out; I could use the screen only like a glorified legal pad to jot notes on. For instance, I had my meeting with Cory Jones of Cryptozoic Entertainment and simply propped the tablet up on my knee while jotting notes with the Chi stylus. Just like the good old days when I brought a pen and a pad of paper to class. Memories, am I right? And just like an actual pen, you’re not going to have to swap it out all that much, because the AAAA battery will last you well over 9 weeks of regular use, and the tip will basically last forever as well (not really, but I can’t imagine I’ll need to switch the tip out after a year or so even with the abuse I put it through).
As much as I like the Chi for writing and drawing, however, there are some small niggles that prevent this from being the king of kings in the stylus world. For starters, if you haven’t used an active stylus before, there’s going to be somewhat of a learning curve. When you bring the tip of the stylus close to the screen (just shy of actually touching the screen), the T300 will register it as “hovering” over the screen. This will be represented with a floating reticule, which can be a bit difficult to get used to at first. As a matter of fact, I have been using the Chi for a number of weeks now and I’m still thrown off more often than I would like with the visual representation of the “hover.”
Secondly, the stylus does not function that well as a “finger replacement.” Taps often go unregistered, and you can’t swipe on the screen with the Chi to scroll like you would your finger or a capacitive stylus. It’s a bit annoying to be using a stylus but instead of swiping left/right or up/down to scroll, you are forced to use the scroll bar at the side and bottom of web pages. It’s not the end of the world, but you’d be surprised at how annoying it can get to not be able to swipe from side to side or up and down, and instead have to hunt for the scroll bar and double tap/hold.
It’s not a perfect accessory by any means, but at the end of the day, I would still rather use the Chi stylus than not. Sure navigating web pages and the WIn8 start screen is a pain in the butt because I can’t swipe, but the excellent writing functionality and ability to allow me to use my tablet without getting fingerprints everywhere is good enough for me.