Adobe Ink and Slide review: Expensive, and iPad Air 2 users beware

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  • Editors' rating
    7.0 Very good
  • $199.99

Pros

  • Elegant, ergonomic stylus design
  • Good integration with Creative Cloud and Adobe apps

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Slide is somewhat superfluous
  • Compatibility issue with iPad Air 2

Most people are happy enough prodding at tablets with their fingers, but if you have artistic expertise, or regularly do on-screen handwriting, you need a more refined tool -- a stylus. Users of Apple iPads (4th generation or later) who don't mind parting with $124.99 may be tempted by Adobe's Ink and Slide bundle. This comprises a nicely designed active pressure-sensitive stylus (Ink) that integrates with your Creative Cloud account, and a passive ruler (Slide) that replicates two-finger screen contact and calls up a range of drawing templates via a single button. There are currently three free Adobe apps that fully support Ink and Slide -- Line, Sketch and Draw -- but you can use it as a basic stylus with any iOS app.

The Ink stylus, Slide ruler and carrying case/charging dock (top). Image: Adobe

The 20.3g Ink uses technology from Adonit, to whose online store you're taken when you click 'Buy' on Adobe's Ink and Slide web page. It's a handsome stylus comprising a twisted triangular aluminium barrel with a fine Pixelpoint tip at the business end and a multicoloured LED at the other end. The LED cycles through a rainbow sequence when you press and hold the stylus's single button to turn it on; you can also designate a personal colour, accessed by a double button press, in order to identify your particular stylus.

To charge the Bluetooth 4.0 LE device, you slot the Ink into its Micro-USB charging base and hook up the supplied cable to an AC adapter (not supplied). According to Adobe, the Ink lasts for about 8 hours on its battery, which takes around an hour to charge fully. The LED flashes red when charging, and then cycles through the rainbow once it's over 80 percent charged. To protect the Ink while charging and in transit, there's a cigar-tube-style carrying case -- also triangular, like the stylus.

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Setting up the Ink stylus in Adobe Illustrator Draw. Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

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The Palm Preferences menu in Illustrator Draw. Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet
To set up the Ink, you open a compatible app (Line, Sketch or Draw), tap the Pen icon at the top left of the screen and hold the stylus tip to the circular target that appears. You then tell the software which way you hold the pen, whether you want palm rejection enabled or disabled by default (you can turn gestures on by holding down an override button if you enable palm rejection), give the pen a name, and link it to your Creative Cloud (CC) account, if you have one.

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With the Ink setup and CC-linked, you can single-click the stylus button to bring up the Pen Tip menu, which lets you select colour themes (from Color CC), tool options, copy the current image to a Cloud Clipboard for pasting into other apps, and select among various sharing/distribution options -- Get Feedback (from Behance), copy to Creative Cloud, send to Photoshop or Illustrator, and Share (i.e. the standard iOS sharing options). It's a particularly neat trick to select Send to Photoshop, for example, on the iPad and see the (PNG) image come up in the desktop application.

The Ink stylus generally has a good feel in use, but we did come across a 'known issue' when testing it with our iPad Air 2. As Adobe puts it: "Ink stops drawing mid-stroke. After thorough investigation, we suspect the solution will require involvement from Apple, and we are trying to work with them to resolve the issue as quickly as possible". Adonit, which develops Ink's Pixelpoint technology, is more forthcoming in a recent update, pointing the finger (as it were) at "brand new screen technology that caused some occasional interference with both fingers and styluses interacting with the screen". The iPad Air 2's screen has a much higher frequency of entering a power-saving standby state than previous models, causing it to miss some points of stylus contact, according to Adonit. A new SDK is due 'soon' that will address the issue, the company says.

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A single click on the Ink's button brings up the Pen Tip menu, which accesses tool functions and sharing options. Image: Charles McLellan/ZDNet

If you own an iPad 2, we recommend you keep an eye on Apple's, Adobe's and Adonit's forums, and perhaps hold off on buying an Ink and Slide until you see some progress.

On a fully compatible iPad, the Ink delivers a satisfying drawing and writing experience. The Slide ruler, on the other hand, doesn't really deliver anything more than you can achieve with a two-finger gesture and seems somewhat superfluous. Many will find the $124.99 asking price (excluding tax and shipping) on the steep side, too.

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