In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

Summary: Just because you didn't like Samsung's commercial doesn't make the stylus any less valid.


Ahhhhhh. Superbowl. Drinking beers with your buddies. Multiple rounds of tequila shots. Ludicrous amounts of food that you'll be sorry about eating the next day. Nail biting all the way to the end of the 4th quarter with two minutes to go. This is living, right? GIANTS!!!!!!!!

And yeah, the commercials. Seriously, the game was so good this year and you people are obsessing about the stupid commercials? And then Twittering about them in real time?

Do you people even have real lives? Or real friends? You're wasting your time Twittering about commercials? Ok, I won't answer that because I probably resemble that remark.

Look, the commercials are there at best for backup entertainment if the game is awful, OK? I know the mother company isn't going to be happy with me for saying this, but the whole purpose of a commercial break during a major sporting event is for you to get up and stretch, go grab another beer and a slice of pizza, or answer a call to nature.

Possibly even all of the above.

Ok, so everyone got their panties in a twist because Samsung was arrogant enough to make fun of Apple product owners standing in line for whatever next great thing they were standing in line for.

'Lo and behold, Samsung's product has a stylus. OMG SO #1998 #PALMPILOT #ANDROIDSUX. #STEVEJOBSRULZ

First, let me say that I hadn't actually seen the advertisement until this evening because during the big game I was actually hanging out with my real friends, drinking real beer and tequila, and when the thing aired, I was probably answering a call to nature.

And yes, it was a stupid commercial and probably a waste of 10 million dollars of airtime. But that doesn't make the idea of a device with a stylus any less valid.

I don't know an awful lot about the Galaxy Note other than the fact that it runs on Android and it has a larger screen than a typical smartphone (5.3") but is smaller than a 7" or 10" tablet. So it's something of a ' tweener device. From what I've seen of it on the Superbowl commercial and product information on Samsung's web site, it has the ability for users to use a stylus to record notes in applications that support it.

Presumably the Galaxy Note is pre-loaded with built-in software that already has support for the stylus, such as a generic note-taking app and other PIM functions. As far as I know there are no generic Android API's for doing pen input or doing handwriting recognition, but who knows, Samsung may have developed a bunch for this device.

Cheeky PalmPilot jokes aside... no, hold on a minute. The PalmPilot/Palm OS platform was no joke. Millions of the units were sold by Palm and its licensees, and despite the device's limitations, it was the best electronic organizer ever designed.

Unlike modern smartphones, the batteries on black and white Palm OS units ran for WEEKS or MONTHS (or for the power-hungry color versions, days at a time) not hours.

You could get to the primary Palm OS apps for contact management and calendar and note taking within a single hardware button push.

And yes, the stylus writing aspect using the Graffiti input method took some getting used to, and eventually that was more or less replaced by a keyboard on the Palm Treo, but still, direct information retrieval and entry on the original Palm OS devices were outstandingly simple and easy compared to what we have now.

And I'm including Siri with this one. Hitting the "Calendar" button multiple times would show you instantly what your schedule looked like on a day, week or month. No voice-based assistant could possibly do that faster.

Even with all of the technical achievement we have, what, 15 years later, I still do not beleive that as an organizer we've matched or even improved on the basic functions of what the PalmPilot could do with PIM on a dinky 16Mhz Motorola Dragonball processor and its original 1MB of RAM.

The fact that there are tons of people still holding on to their Palm OS devices and refuse to give them up for iOS devices or Androids or BlackBerrys or Windows Phones is a testament to just how useful and efficient those things were.

So you can make fun of the PalmPilot all you want, but I knew the PalmPilot, the PalmPilot was a friend of mine, and you, Siri, are no PalmPilot.

Okay, back to the stylus. While I agree that touch-based applications are absolutely the way of the future, the plain and simple truth is you can't do everything by touch.

Despite what Steve Jobs may have wanted you to beleive, there are people who actually need to write stuff down -- such as doctors. For example, physicians need to write prescriptions and take notes on medical charts. And there are plenty of folks who own things like Moleskine notebooks ("Little Black Books") that just feel more comfortable writing things down than using a touch-based smartphone or a tablet.

There are other numerous other reasons why you would want to use pen input, and a lot of that has to do with either vertical-market sort of apps (such as signature required type stuff or medical as previously mentioned) or even engineering where you need to do complex mechanical drawings.

The fact of the matter is that content creation professionals need high resolution digitizers in order to do detailed drawings, and current consumer tablets such as the iPad really do not fit the bill because the digitizers are optimized for multitouch and aren't good enough for digitization at the fine-pixel level.

And at the fine-pixel level, you want to use a stylus, not your fingers. It's like the difference between fingerpainting on a piece of paper and using a fine brush on a canvas.

The current tablets aren't up to par in terms of display technology to match digitizers that sensitive, but with true HD displays coming down the pike for full-sized tablets this year, using a tablet for content creation is not out of the question.

So, I'm not saying that the Samsung device can do any of these things or is even necessarily a good product, because I haven't tried one yet. For all we know, the current applications for pen input and note taking on the Galaxy Note could be quite limited, and perhaps the company should focus its efforts on verticals and not consumers with this product.

But let's not dismiss the stylus because you didn't like the commercial.

Is the stylus still relevant in tablet computing? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Smartphones, Android, Apple, Google, iPad, Mobility, Networking, Wi-Fi


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • Bring back the stylus

    Dig up the patent/license for graffiti and let's start writing! Swype is very good. Graffiti WAS better. Let's have some options for input.
    • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus


      Graffiti is available for Android in the Market! :)
    • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

      It's interesting it appears the Stylus was what got all the laughs from the Note when it was the Screen Size when it was released a few months ago back in The UK. It's a large smartphone, not small tablet.

      As to the advert (or commercial in America ;-D), I like it. It is hilarious to watch people camping out over night just to be the first to get a device that will soon be readily available.
  • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

    I read this whole article looking for a good reason to use the stylus -- I'm considering getting one of these myself for the nice screen and battery life. After reading this article I still see as many good reasons as I came here with: zero.<br><br>Great device, but let's not kid ourselves about the stylus - it's just not needed for anything except awkwardly shoe-horned-in features that are designed for it, but 99.99999% of Android (and iOS for that matter) is still not going to be made to take advantage of stylus input so it's all but useless.<br><br>Why else would this article be "in it's defense?"
    • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus


      How about taking notes? "Typing " on glass doesnt cut it for many people.
      • In theory, you're right

        @MaryPhelps However, good ideas need to be borne out by what actually happens when you put these things into a user's hands. Microsoft had excellent stylus based tablets and, in One Note, perhaps the best note taking app ever devised. Sadly, few used it.

        Not all great ideas make it, unfortunately.
    • Note Taking - Annotating

      Have been trying to fit either of my tablets into my work environment.
      I went back to a yellow note pad due to the lack of ad hoc writing and sketch input. The Note looks a bit small for what I want but would luv to see this epanded to a tablet.

      On the other hand, my son absolutely wants one for note taking in school.
      Not a bad idea.
      • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

        @rhonin I hope Samsung extends this to its whole tablet line and pushes the app-o-sphere towards development of real tools, esp if MS continues to not provide inking to its Android OneNote app.
    • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

      Android Market has "pen-reader." Also works with fingers. Nuff said?
    • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

      @seraph82 Did you skip over the part about vertical-oriented usage? You know, doctors, engineers, writers, journalists, students, artists, heck, even kids. If you have to beat your head and pull out your hair trying to figure out if you need a stylus, the short answer is, you don't!
  • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

    In a week, I should receive a Kickstarter project item called iPen. It's an active super accurate digital stylus or pen for iOS devices.

    Now, I'll be the first to admit that I see a very limited use for this rather expensive accessory but, you know, for those times that the job requires the accuracy of this type of cursor input, well, what can I say to you or to the Apple iOS faithful except that I'm glad I have this option available to me.

    But, truth-be-told, the vast majority of iOS device users will never need a stylus input option because iOS and iOS apps really work well with multi-touch finger gestures.
  • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

    I wont buy a tablet until it can at least replace a tablet of paper. I always laugh when I see the adverts of college kids using IPADS in class. They always have an IPAD AND a yellow legal pad which they are using to take notes on.

    Seems to me a stylus is a requirement to turn the ipad or tablet into a useful tool.

    Without an active digitizing layer like the NOTE has, you can only draw big letters on an IPAD like a child would. But then again apple did design the IPAD to be simple enough for small children. It shows.
    • Have you seen the Penultimate app for the iPad?

      Not too bad for using a "finger pen".
      • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus


        I have been using Penultimate from "day one". A very nice app for short quick notes.
      • Yes - I have it...


        It did not however have the functionality that allows me to drop the use of my yellow note pad.
    • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

      @MaryPhelps You know, you can always type when you need text and then draw with your finger or a third-party pen.

      Also, please don't subscribe to the "it's easy to use, so it must be stupid" fallacy. We shouldn't see something being unnecessarily difficult to use as a source of pride. If we did, Windows tablets would have thrived instead of failing spectacularly, like they've rightfully deserved so far.
      • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

        @electronista Windows' software ease of use had nothing to do with the previous Windows tablet generations' failure. <br><br>

        People owned plenty of laptops back then, there were few complaints about how difficult it was. It's not like computers only really became popular after the iPad...

        First of all, at least until 2009 or so they were really expensive. A tablet PC could easily set you back $4,000 or $5,000 - a huge markup for a pen input screen, but one which certain niche business users were willing to pay. Business users at the time were the sole market for them. Nobody was making any serious attempt to build a system for non-business users.<br><br>Secondly, even when prices started to fall with the introduction of models like the HP TX1000 they were still limited by the hardware tech of the time. They were as thick and as heavy as bricks, were hot and noisy, and had battery life as short as half an hour.<br><br>The only useful software you could run with it at the time was OneNote, some light inking in Office (actually mainstream native inking support didn't even arrive in Windows until Vista, the special tablet editions of XP notwithstanding), drawing apps and a few hokey games put out by MS to try to popularise the concept.<br><br>All of those problems have now been overcome, so I predict that the market will be somewhat more receptive to tablet PCs this time around.
    • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

      @MaryPhelps Nicely said!
  • Ah, the Palm.....

    I was a heavy user of PalmOS, both the Palm and then the Sony Clie. The stylus was pretty much required given the type of tech available back then, but it was certainly totally usable, as was PalmOS and Graffiti input. That said, to compare the Note stylus with the plastic pointing stick that the Palm had is to ignore over a decade of progress. The pressure sensitive active stylus on a high-res glass display with a dense array of sensor points is so far ahead of what we had with the Palm as to make those who try and draw a comparison seem even more clueless than they clearly are.

    I bought my S2 before the Note as available, otherwise I'd have one now - gadget lust!
  • RE: In defense of the Galaxy Note's stylus

    I loved my PalmPilot, until I took it swimming. Since then I've tried a variety of PDA's and Smartphones and virtually all of them would have been vastly improved by a stylus! My 10 thumbs simply aren't designed to work well with onscreen keyboards. It's a sad fact of life, but them's the breaks.<br><br>So when it came to buying a tablet I held back for a long time. I tried various formats including a 7" device which was excellent, other than having a resistive screen. Eventually I found the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet a ridiculously undersold machine which comes with a variety of apps capable of accepting stulus input. And then I found that Graffiti is available in a cut down form for Android and have never looked back!!<br><br>Whilst others are busy tapping away one handed on their iPads etc, I take notes with the stylus as quickly as I can with a biro... and can convert them to text, or annotate PDF's etc with ease. What baffles me most of all is how little attention the Lenovo Thinkpad Tablet got from the press when it was released. For most note taking purposes it's perfect.