HEX3's JaJa is one of the first pressure-sensitive styluses on the market, and it is also the most unique. Instead of using low-power Bluetooth 4 to talk to your iPad, it uses high-frequency sound. This not only lets it work with the iPad 1 (or any capacitive-screened device whether iOS or Android), but means that the battery lasts for weeks.
I have been testing one out for a month or so now, and some big apps have now added support. So how does it do?
The three big names in Styluses are the Adonit Jot Touch, the Pogo Connect from Ten One, and the JaJa. The others both use Bluetooth. The JaJa runs on a single AAA battery which also adds heft to the pen's lightweight aluminum body, has an indicator LED on the side to tell you when you have switched it on.
The pen tip (which is replaceable) is the disk kind, a pinkie-tip-sized clear plastic circle which pivots on a central metal pin. I like this type the best as you get the feeling that you have a fine pen tip, and the iPad gets the big finger-sized pointer it requires.
Finally, before we get to the opinions, the buttons on the side perform several duties. First, you can switch the JaJa on (not off — it goes off by itself after a few minutes of inactivity). Then you can control whatever software features have been assigned.
And third, you can calibrate the 1028-level pressure sensor. Long-press the forward-most button when you're not touching it to anything to set minimum pressure. do the same with the other button whilst pressing at the maximum pressure you're comfortable with. Do this on the iPad's screen as you're likely to press harder on something like a table top.
And that's it for the features.
The pen feels great in the hand. It's well weighted, and although the plastic parts feel a little cheaply machined, they're tough and work just fine.
Pressure sensitivity will make you smile the first time you use it, especially if you're used to using Bluetooth accessories which need to be paired. The high-frequency sound is picked up by the app through the iPad's microphone, and this information is combined with the regular stylus tip to let the app know where the pen is and how hard you're pressing it.
Of course, the apps make the experience, and HEX3 has some heavyweights on board: PDF Pen is on the list, as is Procreate and — just added over the weekend — Noteshelf.
Depending on the brush you pick, the sensitivity has differing effects. A spray-can in Procreate varies wildly depending on your pressure, whereas a fine ink-pen in Noteshelf varies so little that you might think the thing isn't working.
It's a little weird using the pen in fact. Noteshelf in particular is coded so well that you soon get used to the varying line widths. They act so much like a real pen or pencil that you only notice it when you switch the pen off (or rather, wait for it to switch off).
In apps like Procreate, with the fancier brushes, the effects of pressure can be more obvious, affecting opacity or line width, or both.
And having an undo switch on the barrel is amazing.
As for connectivity, I have tried the pen in both silent rooms and a cavernous bar/gallery filled with screaming babies and it works the same in both. I didn't try to annoy any dogs or cats with it, but apparently the volume is low enough not to drive them crazy.
Sometimes getting the pen to talk to the app is a little tricky. To make it work with Procreate, for example, you need to tap the icon with the pen, then let up, then press again as the app launches.
It's a bit like entering a cheat code on a game console.
Noteshelf seems to just work, although I had some connectivity troubles when trying to listen to music and draw at the same time. And this all depends on how the app developer implements the JaJa API.
At the very least, launching an app while music is playing will stop that music, just as if you launched a movie-player or game. And depending on the app, you may or may not be able to continue listening. I use my iPad with a Jambox pretty much all the time I'm at home, and it seemed like Noteshelf was trying to listen through the Jambox's mic, not the iPad's mic.
As I said, it depends on the app. Here's what the HEX3 folks told me when I asked about this:
The JaJa will not work while music is being played from the iPad speakers since it would interfere with the audio for the JaJa, but it should work while music is being played by Bluetooth, this just depends on the app developers and how they utilize the iPad audio calls.
I haven't yet tested the other pressure-sensitive styluses, so I can't compare, but for drawing and painting the JaJa is pretty great. I love that you can just drop in a newly-charged Eneloop AAA when the battery dies, and that it'll work with any device without pairing.
I also like the tip, which gives better accuracy (and is changeable — new precision tip should be shipping to all current owners within the next couple of weeks).
What I don't like is the plasticky feel of some of the parts (the pen lid for one). However, it seems to be feel only, as they have stood up to my abuses for weeks and still look like new.
To sum up, the JaJa works as advertised, and seems like it is built to last, despite its sometimes clunky design. Is it worth $90? Well, it's no Wacom Cintiq, but if you already own the iPad, then next to the Cintiq it's almost free.